The hot rodding hobby owes everything to racers. That's tough to realize sometimes in a world of car shows, restorations, TV auctions and "investment" automobiles. These things aren't necessarily bad-we all enjoy the hobby in our unique ways-but let's not forget the well from which all this goodness sprang.
My respect for racers came via a short, yet frenetic racing season I had in 1998. Of course, I'm talking about drag racing, and in my case it was with a 10-second Mustang LX I ran in a class called Open Comp. My home track was Englishtown, N.J., run by the Napp family. The Napps have a unique ability for sniffing out the latest racing trends, and Open Comp was a way to involve the "timeshot" street guy without giving him the ignominious label of bracket racer.
I'd load my slicks and tools in the hatchback between the rollbar tubes, drive to the track 70 miles, swap tires, top the tank with race gas and head for the staging lanes. Open Comp was cool because it was bracket racing without the breakout. You qualify flat-out to make the 16-car field (tough with 50 cars trying to get in) and that ET becomes your index for eliminations. You can run faster if you want, but you break out if you go two-tenths under your index. A four-tenths Pro tree gives it a heads-up feel, and there's no game playing at the top end with racers lifting the throttle.
I loved it, and so did my fellow timeshot artists. We had a sandbox to play in and we didn't have to turn our street cars into stickered-up race cars. The rules were simple: steel body, license plates, registration, insurance, working lights and wipers, gasoline for fuel, and a full interior. Anything else goes. We had a freaking blast. Then I heard about the World Ford Challenge. It was running Open Comp, and I had to go.
On the down side, it was in Bowling Green, Ky., and I had no tow vehicle. I figured it was time to step up to the big league and buy a rig, so I did. Shortly, a '94 Ford F-150 and a new open trailer occupied my front yard. Jeff Foxworthy would've been proud. It was sad in a way, my 10-second Mustang was now a trailer queen-and it didn't even look that nice.
In Kentucky, things went south in a hurry. My allergies turned me into a sniffling, slobbering wreck, and my pit area was half a mile from the starting line in 2-foot high grass. In tech, they said I needed a Kevlar blanket around my C4 trans to run 10s. It really didn't according to the rulebook, but arguing with the tech guy is a bad idea. I went to the local speed shop and plunked down the charge card. In a paroxysm of sneezing, I somehow wired the blanket to the trans and made my first time run. Way off the pace with a 10.50, I was not in a good mood. And now the starter motor had come loose and wouldn't crank the engine. Fortunately, my fellow racers stepped in and lent a hand. We found some new bolts (the others had fallen out) and I headed for the lanes. This time, it ran a 10.75, white smoke fumigating the top end of the track. WTF? The block was split in half. My weekend was done before it started, but at least I had a tow rig, right?
I watched the rest from the sidelines, snot rag in hand, then started home Sunday afternoon. Towing up a hill outside Ashland, Ky., the temp gauge climbs, the AC shuts off, and the engine quits. I've now got a dead F-150, which now is not towing a dead Mustang. So much for the insurance of having a reliable tow vehicle. You can guess the rest. For the record, I haven't owned a tow vehicle since, and never shall.
That summer, I gained first-hand knowledge of what traveling racers go through. Sure, some of it sucked, but the best part was hanging around kindred street racers, making laps, trading stories, drinking beer and working on cars. I wouldn't trade that for anything.
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