Thursday, January 20, 2011

My Junkers and Clunkers

This story has already been written once…I have just re-done it and added a few things. When I wrote it the first time, it was read 1785 times (www.draglist.com)…at last count…if you didn't read it when it was on draglist.com, you might get a kick out of it! I know a lot of you thought I made a lot of money doing Quick Times Racing News but that wasn't the case. I made a living, took care of my family and worried about selling enough subscriptions and advertisements to make the next month's payments!

Before I started Quick Times, I just barely made enough money to feed us, you can't make money in a sewing factory, even if you were on production and were the second fastest worker, you still barely scraped by. I was a single parent, most of the women at the time were married and helping their husbands make the house payments or car payments so they could have a little extra. We didn't have any extra. So if you know a little about the junkers and clunkers I've had to drive over the years…not by choice, by necessity…it will help you know a little more about me…if you want to know about me. If you don't, read the story anyway…you probably won't even believe it. But I assure you…every single word is true because I lived it!

When I started working at Farmington Dragway in 1979, I had a 1965 Plymouth Fury III everyone called the 'War Wagon,' for good reason! It LOOKED like a war wagon…no grill, no front bumper and I think every piece of metal on the whole body was bent or broke! When I had my garage on Depot Street in Mocksville behind P&G Auto Parts, I sold an engine to an old man and a couple friends helped me take his engine, put in the one I sold him and got it running…like a Singer sewing machine. I told him if he EVER sold that car, I wanted first chance to buy it…I had done him a really good job at a really good price. He LOVED it and was really happy with it. But it was an older car and his wife absolutely hated it because it was a Fury III two-door hardtop and they had a bunch of grandkids they had to haul around. So she made him go out and buy one of those big old Plymouths like the cops drove…four doors, big trunk, big seats…you know the drill! He came to the shop one day and asked me if I still wanted it and we made a deal. I wanted him to keep it while I paid for it and he was agreeable. When I made the last payment, I drove it home. I was so proud of that car…it was a beauty before I got hold of it…not a dent on it anywhere! It was a one-owner and he had taken very good care of it.

Anyway, it served us well. I hauled all the kids in the neighborhood around for years in that car…I've had as many as 17 in it at one time, going to the pool, the lake, the skating rink, the park, the pasture, the river, whatever! It got bumped and beat and knocked around until it looked like hell. But I had to drive it, I couldn't afford anything else. That 318 Y-block (precursor to the Hemi) still ran like a Singer sewing machine. I was driving it when I was going to school at Rowan Tech. One morning, the roads were solid ice but I wasn't about to miss a day of school…it was too important. I trucked on down Hwy 601, slowly of course, past all the guys with the 4-wheel drive trucks off in the ditches. I didn't dare stop for any of them…I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get started again! Of course, when I got there, no one else was there, so I had to turn around and come back up that old crooked, hilly road in the sleet and freezing rain…past all those guys in the ditches in their 4-wheel drive trucks. I had to stop at 'Greasy Corner' (the intersection of Hwys 601 and 801) at a service station to get the ice off my windshield wipers because they wouldn't move any more. Of course, when the ice came off, the frozen rubber came off, too…I just came on home with the metal scraping the windshield. I know y'all think I'm telling lies, but could I make this stuff up it hadn't really happened??? HA!

Anyway, by the time I went to work at the Farmington Dragway, that wonderful old car was NOT in good shape. But the engine still purred and ran like a charm. Have you ever been in a '65 Plymouth when the power steering went out? I won't even go into that, but yes, it happened. As y'all already know, it really doesn't take me long to make a mess out of any car…I always drove like a maniac and anything that got in my way was VERY unlucky!!! When it really got too unsafe to drive, I called the junk man and when he came to get it, I cranked it for him so he could hear it run to get the extra $50! I had just filled the gas tank so he siphoned out the gas for me and took my new tires and chrome wheels off and drug that thing up on a flatbed. I cried like a baby! It had been one of the best cars I'd ever had. (I have one sitting in my yard right now, too!) I guess everyone who ever read the paper knew I was a Mopar fan, mainly because they were easy to work on. Since I couldn't afford to pay someone to work on them and I had to fix them myself, that was a good thing. One thing about an old Mopar…you can ONLY get the timing 180 degrees off! With a Chevy, you could get the damn thing off anywhere from 10 degrees to 350 degrees! I HATED working on Chevys!!!

The only Chevy I ever had was a '65 'Antelope' (Impala…we just called it an antelope). That car had a 327/300 with a Carter AFB 4-bbl and even though it didn't look it, it would absolutely FLY! My friend and I were coming home from Love Valley (yes, that's correct) one Sunday morning about 4 or 5 and I had that baby all up in the wind. (Back then you could still drive on country roads at night and never see another car.) She said, "Man, I didn't know this car would run like this, it's SO SMOOOOOOTH!" She didn't realize we were just hitting the high spots!

The thing was rusted all over, the paint was that leaded blue they put on Chevys back in the '60s which faded as soon as the sun hit it and even in the winter, we had to keep the windows rolled down to keep from being gassed to death. I've already told you about the snow coming up through the floor on the way to granny's for Christmas! The rear main seal got to leaking so bad, the oil would basically change itself as long as you kept adding a quart quite often! A friend who had a wrecker and a junkyard had wanted the engine out of that one for a long time so I called him and sold it to him for $200. He junked the car, put a rear main seal in the engine and put the engine in his wrecker. I guess he was still using that same engine 15 or 20 years later when he finally had to retire due to physical problems. He sold the transmission for about $100 so he got a good deal when he got that car!!!

I don't want to bore you, but I have to tell you one more thing about that Chevy. I left Mocksville in January, 1982 in that car in the snow and sleet and freezing rain going to Atlanta, GA to the NHRA Division 2 banquet. Thank GOD for CB radios, I don't think I could have gotten there without it! As soon as I hit I-40 at Mocksville, I found a couple truckers going to Atlanta. They told me to stay between them the whole way and they would make sure I was okay (can't do that anymore). I don't know who they were, but I sure do appreciate their help. I had NEVER been to Atlanta (I had never been anywhere!) but they made sure I got off the right exit and told me which way to turn to get to the motel and how far it was. Of course, by the time we hit the S.C. line, it was just raining, but it rained like hell all the way. This was one of the most memorable weekends of my entire life. I spent most of it at 5928 Buford Hwy.

If you were around drag racing then, you will remember that address being on Warren Johnson's race cars and I was privileged to stay at his and Jerome Bradford's shop all day on Saturday. I felt as if I really was SOMEONE!!! Several of the old Pro Stock racers came around that day, at least one of them brought a little 'shine in and there was some sipping going on. Except for Warren. He didn't do anything but work. I couldn't even get him to quit long enough to answer a question. Finally, when I got ready to leave that afternoon, I said, "Warren, I didn't want to interrupt you today so if I come back tomorrow morning, will you sit down and talk to me?" He said, "Sure." So I went back the next morning (after the banquet that night) and Jerome and Warren and Buford and I and some others went to breakfast. When I got him started, I couldn't shut him up!!! HA! I'm SO glad I took a tape recorder! If I hadn't, I wouldn't have gotten a tenth of what he said! I had met him in '79 and already figured out that 'tunnel vision' of his and that's why I didn't want to interrupt him on Saturday. But it paid off for me and I think he really respected me for letting him work. I did get to watch him that day and I learned a LOT more about what makes him tick. Enuff of that.

I paid for that weekend the rest of that day! It was SO cold that morning I could not get that car cranked…it was 20 degrees! I knew enough about engines I knew I couldn't just sit there and wind on it. I would crank for a minute and go back in my room to warm up. Go back out and do the same thing all over again. I did that several times, just hoping I could build up enough heat in the engine to get it going. My very last time, I had already decided to call a wrecker or something, so I just kept the key turned and that old engine was really working. And when it FINALLY caught and fired up, I couldn't believe it. You cannot imagine how thankful I was. Then of course, you can't go from Atlanta, GA to Mocksville, NC without getting gas and after I left Warren and Jerome and crew, I headed north. Of course, the farther north I came, the colder it got. I was almost afraid to cut the engine off. But I pulled into a truck stop and got gas. I REALLY got gas. Got it all over me! Have you ever had to ride 100 miles with one leg of your jeans soaked with gas! My leg was so burned from that gas, it took it a week to get it back to normal. Painful!

The only Ford I ever had (thank God) was a '67 Mercury Cougar and why anyone would ever pay good money for one of those things, I'll never know. The front end came loose coming up I-40 one day and by the time I got to Heintz Brothers Automotive in Statesville, every muscle I had felt like I'd been run over by a freight train…it took me a week to get over that ride! I was still shaking three days later! I just left the damn thing there and told them to sell it to the junk man. They sold it for pennies to some guys who had two or three of them and wanted it for parts. I guess people who have those things need lots of parts!!!

After that, I got another '65 Plymouth Fury. I had also worked it on it when I still lived in Mocksville. It belonged to a friend's father-in-law who couldn't drive any more so they sold it to me. (I HAD to be a good mechanic…I ended up buying too many of the cars I worked on!) It's the car I had when we moved to Lincoln County. After Teresa died, I gave it to Candace to drive to school in Charlotte every week and I got my first EVER souped up street car! I got it from the man I was working for at the time and it was built by some local racers. They talked a good game and I trusted them, but talk about getting scrued, blued and tattooed…it happened on that one!!! It was nothing but a money PIT! Even so, I had a blast with it. You know you got to be pretty immature if you're nearly 40 to enjoy something like that, what can I say? (I STILL love fast cars!) A refrigerator white 'sleeper,' it sounded like it had a stock 318. It would only run about a 9.80 in an eighth mile, but out on the open road, the 4-bbl would kick in right about 90 and set you back in the seat so hard, you couldn't move! Beautiful!

It had a built 340 and a torqueflite with a Cheetah valve body and would bark the tires in every gear! When Thunder Valley Dragway in Red Springs, NC was getting ready to open, Art Johnson called and wanted me to come down and be a part of the opening weekend. I did! What a great weekend! Test 'n' Tune on Saturday…I think every racer within 200 miles was there! Race on Sunday. For the opening ceremony, 'Yours Truly' and her Duster was the first car down the track! Only I had a passenger! Brady Locklear who built the track but who had NEVER raced, got a trip down the track in a '71 Duster with a wild woman under the wheel. ME! He thought I was just driving a plain old Duster, so when I squealed the tires going into second gear, his eyes got real big! Now remember…the track was REALLY green, so when I shifted into third, the rear end of the car slipped a little sideways, he lost his breath and his fingernails turned white where he was holding on to the seat! I bet his fingers weren't the ONLY thing holding on!

They built that track backwards and there wasn't a whole lot of shutdown room and I didn't put on my brakes to slow down (4.11:1 rear), so just before we got to the turn-off, I thought he was going to have a heart attack because the highway was coming up fast. I nearly died laughing! It took him a whole ten minutes to regain his composure and he said if he'd known I drove like that, he would never have gotten in the car with me! That was fun! Any of you who REALLY know me can just see me doing what I've just described to you and laughing like a fool over it!

Whoever put the tach in that car cut a hole in the firewall right above the gas pedal with about a one and a half inch circle saw to run the cable through. It ain't no fun driving a car in hundred degree weather with 1200 degrees coming through a huge hole in the firewall right up into your face! You guys know that! But at least you only have to stay in yours for five or six second or less, I drove that thing for MILES and MILES! We would leave home going to a race and my girls would say, "Roll the windows up, my hair is blowing!" (I can hear that in my mind right now!) And I would say, "If you think I'm going to roll my window up, you're CRAZY. The meat is rolling up on the top of my foot now like bacon frying." It always sounded like you were still in second gear because of the gear and between gas and repairs, I HAD to get that thing off the road.

I was finally to the place where I 'thought' I could make car payments if I could get one cheap enough. I called my local Mopar dealer and he sold me a new 'demo' car at a good price and I FINALLY had a 'new' car for the first time in my life! A Plymouth Horizon! RED! Got a speeding ticket in the damned thing, too! It was the first car I ever had you had to put back in third gear to get up a SMALL hill! After I had paid on it for about a year and built up a little credit, I saw a 1986 black Dodge Omni GLH at the dealership. It was SO shiny and had gray cloth seats and I absolutely fell in love with it! I thought I had to have it. I figured I could afford it if Candace took over the payments on the Horizon. She was out of college and working now, so we worked out a deal. I got my first 'Go Like Hell' Carroll Shelby turbo Omni with a 5-speed. Now you might not think a turbo on an Omni is an awesome thing, if so, that's because you never drove one!

One time that summer, we had washed and waxed that little black jewel until it hurt your eyes to look at it. We were going to Knoxville Dragway to a big bracket race…one of those Chuck Varner $10,000-a-day marathons. Tammi was working for me then so the four of us girls piled up in the car along with all the clothes and their make-up and Quick Times paraphernalia and hit the road. We made a pit stop near Asheville at one of the big truck stops and we kept noticing all the truckers looking at us. I thought one of them was just flirting with Tammi until, when were going past him on the way out and he kept pointing to the car. I stopped and we got out and looked all over and didn't see anything until I looked on top. Half the top of the car was still under wax. I couldn't believe it. I was so embarrassed I could have died and I really felt like making SOMEONE walk back home for NOT doing their job. I pulled over and we got the wax off the car and hit the road again.

That car would run a 10.31 in an eighth EVERY time you wanted to run it, no matter what track, no matter what conditions! One night at Hudson Drag Strip, I talked Frank Teague into taking it down the track to see what he could get out of it. He ran a 10.30! I told him he must have been pedaling 'cause he knew if he didn't run faster than I had, he would never live it down! Candace had a Daytona at that time and we would make runs together at Hudson once in a while on Thursday night (Redneck Weekend Warm-Up). Greg would see us coming up through the lanes and he would really play up that mother-daughter grudge race thing. Those Thursday night crowds would go nuts and we had a blast!

I used to go to the D.R.A.F. meetings when I got a chance…that was the Drag Racing Association of Florence (SC)…the second Tuesday night each month. I was coming home from there late one night and some idiot ran a stop sign and I T-boned him. It must have knocked me out for a few minutes because when I came to, he had grabbed his paper dealer tag and hit the bushes, never to be seen again. (Have you ever noticed I always get screwed when it comes to car wrecks?) The law in S.C. always protects the car dealers so I lost my little car! I got another one, but it just wasn't the same. It would only run 11.80s and it wasn't black. But almost anyone whose ever seen me at races saw me in my silver GLH with the 'IRUNU2' license tag. I drove that car until I nearly drove the wheels off it! Nearly everything on it quit working, it had over 186,000 miles on that thing!

There were many six and seven week periods during racing season I could watch my odometer roll up another thousand miles each of those weekends! Mendy had wrecked it and I had gotten it fixed. Then I was on my way to Preston, MS and didn't even get past Shelby, NC when a guy ran into me in a parking lot in a car with a stolen tag on it!!! I never was able to get the car fixed after that because I didn't get any insurance money. So, I just drove it! Maybe I'm supposed to just ride a horse! A bunch of racers from eastern N.C. begged me to let them fix it, they even came and picked it up with a wrecker. I guess it's still sitting there, I haven't had the money to bring it home and they didn't do what they promised, so I got scrued AGAIN!

I had already made up my mind I couldn't make any more 5-year long car payments and I just happened to find an '84 Daytona in a garage in Charleston, WV with a foot of dust on it, but it was like a new car with only 42,000 (?) miles. I managed to get it and when I first wrote this, I said it was the only true lemon I'd ever had. Then I remembered that Dodge Charger I'd had, but that's another story, so this one was the second true lemon I've had! Never, EVER buy a car that's been sitting for a while! Everything on it was either rotten or dried up…gas lines, brake lines, radiator hoses, vacuum hoses and this one had a turbo so it had even more hoses! Not long after I got it, I was at Princeton Dragway one weekend and Phyllis Kelley and I were on the line taking pictures and here came a little blond gal in a ramp truck hauling…of all things…a Conquest! Why would you haul a car to the race track when you could just drive it for about 1/10 the amount of gas? It was just a regular old car, nothing special about it!

Anyway, she unloaded that thing and came up to the line and staged almost on the white line with her rear tires in the lights. I looked at Phyllis and she looked at me and we noticed everyone else looking at each other, so I laid my camera down and went out on the line and backed her up almost to the water box and talked to her for a minute and gave her some instructions…she had never even been to a drag strip! Then I pulled her up to stage and got her tires where they needed to be and got her staged and she took off. He car ran almost the same ET mine did. I met her in the staging lanes the next time she came up to run and put her in the other lane and she made another run, slower this time. I don't remember who did the instigating or why, but someone talked me into challenging her to a grudge race. I went to the tower and had the announcer make the challenge and say I'd meet her in the staging lanes and that's what we did!!! I think everyone there came to the fence to watch that run…I don't know whether they were pulling for her or for me! Hey folks! I WON!!! Made a new friend that day, too, even if only for a day!!!

That car was dubbed the 'Damned Daytona' because the damned thing left me sitting on the side of the road so many times, I stopped counting. I spent more money on towing than I did on gas!! I pretty much paid the car dealer to take it off my hands when I finally did get rid of it! I had just had $700 worth of work done on it and he gave me a whopping $500 for it in trade for the nearly deadly Nissan! I really think if I'd been driving another car when I had my accident in 2003, I would not have been hurt so badly! I thought y'all might enjoy reading some of this crazy stuff. Even though I worked with all of you for many years, most of you didn't know me or know much about me, especially all the hell I went through to do what I loved to do most in this world besides being a mom. I hid my problems from everyone, even my children, because I really didn't want you…or them…to know how hard I struggled. But, hey, it was a lot of fun along with all the hard work and struggles to stay afloat. I accomplished more in 25 years in drag racing FOR RACERS single-handedly than anyone ever has or ever will. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I lived a life most people only dream about and no one else has ever lived. AND…I kept my self-respect and my reputation as one of the most honest people you have ever known. There are a lot of people in this sport who cannot say that!

1 comment:

William said...

Awesome stuff, as always Becky. Thanks for posting!!