Feats accomplished only in the bliss of youth

“Age is not how old you are, but how many years of fun you’ve had.”

—Matt Maldre, Senior Web Marketing Strategist at Tribune Content Agency

“How’d we do that,” I quizzed a friend a couple of weeks ago. “Man, I don’t know,” was his reply. “But we sure had fun doing it.”

That conversation convened over recently found memorabilia: photos and drag strip trophies stirring fond memories of fun with fast cars at race tracks more years ago than seems possible. Looking at the pictures made it seem like yesterday but looking in the mirror reminded me it was more like 50 years ago.

That was a time when seemingly superhuman feats were accomplished fueled only by the blissful confidence of youth and an addiction to speed. Where the money and time came from, well that remains as big a mystery as where the years went.

That recent East Texas conversation ironically coincided with a Facebook comment I read written by someone in Canada I’ve never met, but someone who undoubtedly was making very similar memories way north of East Texas during that same era. Paul Polly’s post on the Oldsmobile W-31 Owner’s Group page about the cars we raced and the things we did to race them then was hauntingly familiar, “… every dollar I had went into that race car, best I could afford. Many a summer night I slept in the tow car. I worked two jobs back then wages were not like today. You raced, you loved it, you slept it and all you ever wanted to do was be at that race track. My parents thought I was nuts … but I would never trade one moment nor change one thing I did to race my W-31!”

East Texas in the spring of 1969 found me about halfway through a college education, give or take a party or two, at East Texas State University, (Texas A&M at Commerce today). My self-funded education program included commuting from Mount Pleasant so I could work an almost full-time job in the Sandlin Chevrolet-Olds body shop, plus a few hours for another local shop some nights.

Although already a racetrack regular with whatever used car hot rod daily driver I kept running at the time, dedicating a brand new special-order high-performance Oldsmobile W-31 muscle car to full-time race car status that year was a bold new venture for me.

Where Paul remembered, “Every dollar I had went into that race car … I worked two jobs and back then wages were not like today,” I could have written the same thing. As long as I had gas money and a few bucks for school and eats, the rest of my minimum-wage paychecks went into the race car.

To Paul’s comment, “My parents thought I was nuts …,” down here in Texas, my father simply shook his head every Friday when he saw the racecar on the trailer.

“Many a summer night I slept in the tow car,” Paul wrote. For me back then, that meant the bed of a pickup. My friend since grade school, Oscar Elliott, worked in the service department at Sandlin’s and turned all the wrenches on my car. We used his pickup for the tow vehicle because it had a camper shell to provide lodging many nights including those spent at the long-defunct Dallas International Motor Speedway. But the most memorable was perhaps at another long-gone track, LaPlace Dragway near Houma way down in south Louisiana. So far south that getting to New Orleans requires heading north.

The all volunteer, shoestring budget, pit crew at the National Hot Rod Association Springnationals at Dallas International Motor Speedway in June of 1970. Yes, it was, as I’m certain Oscar declared that day, “Hotter than a road lizard.”

While hot and humid Louisiana summer nights made pickup camper accommodations miserable without any help, Gulf Coast mosquitoes added a whole ‘nother dimension. Within 15 minutes, every opening on the camper was closed except for one tiny roof vent that had a screen. I’m not saying Louisiana has the biggest mosquitoes around, but the “state bird” sized specimens buzzing that night were cause for concern about sleep. “I say we take turns sleeping while one of us stands watch,” Oscar proposed. “Just in case one of them has a can opener.”

All I could say was “amen” when I read Paul’s words, “… you loved it, you slept it and all you ever wanted to do was be at that race track. But I would never trade one moment, nor change one thing I did to race my W-31!”

Now, to my Texas friend’s final question a week or two ago as to whether I would do it again? That’s a big “definite maybe” … provided I could be that age again. We did it then, but I’m pretty sure that blissful youth had a lot to do with the fun part.

—Leon Aldridge

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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