Wednesday, September 24, 2014

For this installment of The Checkered Past, we are going to try something a little different- a work of fiction. The author has asked to remain anonymous.

A Wild Ride- chapter one
A work of fiction by “Anonymous”  

I was born in Terre Haute Indiana in July 1934, and grew up on a corn farm in Fountain County near the town of Covington, the hometown of my racing hero, Forrest Parker. My Dad was a racing fan, and I became one too at a really young age. I fondly remember that he and I visited many dusty dirt tracks as I grew up and of course, every May we made the trip to see ‘the big one’ in Indianapolis. My first ‘500’ was in 1941, and the war years were hard for me with no racing. Dad and I missed the 1946 ‘500’ because he didn’t think it would be worth it because “that old place has got to be falling down, son.”  We went again in 1947 and I saw all the 500-mile races through college. 

During the summer of 1954 in between my sophomore and junior years of college at Purdue University, I went into partnership with a couple of buddies, Hal and Sam, to buy and race a ¾ midget powered by a tired little Crosley engine. I did most of the mechanical work on the purple ‘HCS Special,’ but we took turns driving. Sam, whose Dad’s 1952 International pickup hauled the car, spun out twice in Plymouth Indiana, and I drove okay at Mount Lawn Speedway near New Castle, but then in the third race at Rushville, with Hal driving, the crankshaft broke.

With no money to fix the ruined engine, we sold the car at a big loss which temporarily ended my dream of becoming big-time racing driver. Hal and Sam both lost all interest in racing after the tragedies during the terrible summer of 1955, with Vuky, Jack McGrath, and all those people killed at LeMans France.  Not me, though; I was a life-long racing fan no matter what happened.      

After I graduated from Purdue in 1956 with my Industrial Engineering degree, I took a job with a furniture building company in the Deep South. It was my first time ever below the Mason-Dixon Line, and I’ll tell you that it took some adjustment for a Hoosier what with the different foods, the heat and the accents. The engineering work at Mr. Johnson’s factories came easy to me, and not surprisingly, my nickname at work was “Yank,” short for Yankee which everyone (but me) found hilarious.

After I lived in the downtown hotel a few weeks, I rented a little furnished house complete with a carport to protect my prized 1947 Oldsmobile ‘Series 66’ Club Coupe my high school graduation present. With my new adult responsibilities I grew up a lot over the next few months as I learned what it was like to live as an adult. Outside of the movies once a week, I stayed home and saved my money but I sure missed going to races.  

One Saturday morning in mid-September, I was listening to the radio and checking over the Olds when a heard steps. It was the postman about ten years older than me who handed me my mail that included the latest editions of my connections to the racing world - Speed Age magazine and National Speed Sport News. “Say, I been meaning to welcome y’all to town, since I couldn’t help but notice you’re a race fan, too. My name’s Eddie.”

After a few pleasantries about races and tracks we (mostly I) had seen, Eddie asked “Y’all ever been to either of our local tracks?” I confessed to my new friend that I hadn’t heard of them. “Well,” Eddie said “They’re running tonight at Union Speedway, out five miles west of town on Union Road off Highway 23. It ain’t no Indianapolis Speedway but y’all ought to come. The fun all starts at 6 o’clock.”

Distracted, I told Eddie I would think about it, and turned to go in the house, but not before Eddie gestured at the copy of National Speed Sport News in my hand. “Heard of that new kid on the cover- Foyt? I wonder if he’s as hot as they say he is? I read my copy last night and it says he won a bunch of them ‘midget car’ races in Texas and just won an IMCA ‘big car’ feature.”

I coughed instead of snorting “I don’t know Eddie, never heard of him, but he’s probably just another of those guys that’s a flash in the pan.” Eddie grimaced “you may be right. I’ve never seen a midget or big car race like you so I wouldn’t know.”  As he turned and walked across the dusty lawn towards my neighbor’s house Eddie said over his shoulder “Well, hope to see to y’all out there at Union tonight.”

Later that afternoon my mind kept drifting back to Eddie’s invitation as I read the Speed Age article on Charlie Sacks’ Hal Ford ‘Offy Killer.’ What with graduation, moving, and starting my job, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard the roar of a racing engine, so I changed into my Bardahl t-shirt and grabbed the car keys. 

Please feel free to offer your comments, either good or bad. The second installment will be posted on October 1 2014.                  

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