“The best memories of old friends and old cars are never fully captured in photos. That’s why we hold them in our heart.” — Author unknown except the part about old cars. I added that.
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An old race car still slugging away at the Texas Motorplex race track over at Ennis caught my eye one afternoon 30-some-odd years ago. As the aged hot rod left the starting line in a hail of a high winding motor and smoking tires, I smiled at the sight of an old George Jones country song title on the side of the car … “Still doin’ time.”
The double entendre struck me as funny. An old car “sentenced” to hard time on a drag strip where competition for the quickest elapsed time is what drag racing is all about.
My father took me to my first race when I was about 10. I was addicted to the automotive sport where adrenaline junkie drivers launch grossly over-powered automobiles from a standing start down a quarter-mile track attempting to reach the finish line in insanely fast times, and I never recovered. With any luck, at this age I never will.
That addiction and the thought of still doin’ time sort of came full circle with an email a while back.
“Hello, good morning, don’t mean to disturb,” the email message read. “But the wife surprised me with a very large collage on my garage wall, the focal point being this ad. Which made me wonder if you were still alive and if you remember. This ad changed my life. Dave.”
The name Dave didn’t fire on all eight cylinders right at first. But the ad Dave sent required no reminder. The small classified with a photo of a race car appeared 35 years ago in National Dragster, the official publication of the National Hot Rod Association. Better known as the NHRA, it is the largest and oldest sanctioning body for drag racing in the U.S.
I knew what the ad said by heart. “1969 Camaro convertible SS/KA, race car since new, RHS 350 glide w/brake, 5.67 Mark Williams rear, former AHRA national record holder, ran low 11s before fresh engine & trans, not on track since, asking $7,900 or offer. CONTACT Leon Aldridge, (409) 598-3377 or (409) 598-8231.”
For those with no clue of what happens under the hood when you press the accelerator pedal, the Cliff Notes version of the ad might something similar to: “Wicked fast and fun former record holding race car for sale.”
I also remembered the car by heart. I gripped the steering wheel many times, oblivious to the deafening sound of 600-and-some odd unharnessed and unmuffled horsepower butting heads with the the 6,000 r.p.m. brake limit while anticipating the green “go” light unleashing every ounce of horsepower to the rear tires in one blast.
Also still in my mind were the rear tires wrinkling in angry protest against the massive torque abruptly dumped on them while they tried to grip the pavement. And the helpless front wheels with no choice that were left hanging in mid air until the rest of the car could resolve the power struggle to propel me and the 3,000-pound car down the track in just over 11 seconds at more than 125 miles per hour.
“Absolutely I remember that car and that ad,” I responded. “Wow! What a pleasant surprise.”
“Yes,” Dave wrote back. “I am the then 34-year-old kid who drove away with your car in May of 1987.”
Dave answered the ad all those years ago and decided to come take a look at the car … to Center, Texas from Canada. Yep, he drove down in a late-70s or early-80s Mopar of some description, perhaps a Plymouth Satellite. I don’t remember now.
He arrived in East Texas a few days after calling and decided to buy the car after a thorough inspection. The only problem was he didn’t have a trailer. So, I helped him in that area as well. I sold him one I had. But that came with problems. The trailer’s wood floor had worn-out spots making it critical that we strategically park the car to avoid breaking through one of them.
The car loaded to our mutual satisfaction, I watched Dave and his trusty Plymouth hauling my old friend of a race car with which I had made many memories disappear around the corner on Walker Street. I waved and offered a silent prayer the trailer would make it all the way back to Canada.
Dave’s recent message included photos of that journey back to his home, noting one picture was crossing the border just north of Bismarck, North Dakota at sunrise on the last day of his 4,200-mile trip. He shared stories and photos of changes made to the car over the years and racing it at tracks from California to Indy and in between.
I shared more memories that had come to mind in the years since, and probably repeated some old ones. Who remembers after 35 years?
Things like the car having been a race car since it was brand new and raced by a Chevy dealer in New Mexico. That it was green from the factory, red when I bought it and raced in red for many years by Dave before he painted it yellow.
Old cars have stories; telling them is what old car guys do. Our stories made me smile again at the thought of another old race car “still doin’ time,” one I had owned and thrilled at the adrenaline rush of driving.
I need to contact Dave again and check on him and the car. His last message concluded with, “The old girl waits quietly in the corner of the garage for the new motor we developed over the long winter. I think I will load the motor in this weekend just to push back on the blues of this new world order that has enveloped us.”
“The sun’s out, think I’ll crack a beer and rub the fenders of our old friend.”
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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.
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