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I was a Not-So-Teenage Dragstrip Back-Up Girl


Jeff Burk Photo

ver since I discovered Jungle Pam Hardy years ago, I have been a huge fan of hers. Of course, part of it is the fact that we share the same first name, but much more of it has to do with her fashion sense. That woman had style! Whenever I see a picture of her in her Jungle Pam/Jungle Jim days, my mind starts wandering and I begin having fantasies. No, not the kind that you guy-types have about her. Au contraire, my little testosterone-befuddled friends. My fantasies are much more literary, involving heart-wrenching high drama, fully-developed complex characters and, of course, many elaborate costume changes. While yours say “Spice Channel” mine whisper (while dabbing away tears of joy) “Lifetime Channel.”

In the early ‘70s, Pam was the girlfriend of Funny Car legend Jungle Jim Liberman. Beyond being the girlfriend, though, she became an icon for backing up his car after the burnout. You might think it was her fabulously authoritative arm movements that made her a legend, but I am here to inform you that it was far more likely the fact that she was the first woman to back up a car wearing go-go boots, hot pants and a macramé halter top - and that of a very loosely-woven macramé, I might add. She was hot. She had power. The woman oozed attitude.

Inset photo by Jere Alhadeff /
Main image by Ron Lewis

So my fantasy goes something like this. It’s a Funny Car final in 1972 at Maple Grove Raceway and Jim does a burnout. Pam, dressed in a red, white and blue outfit of the aforementioned hot pants, halter top and go-go boots, jumps over the guardrail to back up Jim, and, landing on the track, twists her ankle.

(Okay, at this point, I just want to point out that I don’t need any e-mails from Berzerko Bob or Chris Martin or any of you other drag racing savants informing me that there were no guardrails at Maple Grove, or that Jim didn’t race at that track in 1972, Pam never wore red, white and blue or any other minutia regarding the errors in my story. This is my fantasy, and if I want Pam twisting her ankle wearing red, white and blue at Maple Grove in 1972, well, gosh darn it, she’s going to twist her ankle under those conditions and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.)

Clutching her injured leg, she rolls on the track in agony, as the crowd gasps. What will Jim do? How can he race if the car isn’t aligned correctly? Is this the end of his career? In slow motion (and with an appropriately soft-focus lens) she looks over at me, a mere spectator in the stands who (oh happy coincidence!) also happens to be dressed in an equally fabulous red, white and blue hot pant, go-go boot, halter combo, and says “Pam (meaning me), please! Take my place!” “Oh no!” I demur, “Please, Pam (meaning her), get up! The crowd wants you!” As two male model-caliber members of the Safety Safari carry her off in a stretcher she grabs my hand and says, “I can’t do it! Pam (meaning me), please do it for me! Do it for Jim!” she gracefully sweeps her arm toward the throngs of nervous fans, “Do it for … the spectators!”

I wipe the tears from my eyes and jump in front of Jim’s Funny Car to direct him back to the starting line. With my arm raised I gesture left, right and straight until he is perfectly aligned. The crowd goes wild! I jump back over the guardrail. Slowly, dramatically, he stages. The lights flash green, the two cars leave. Side by side the cars go down the track. Jim goes on to win the race and the championship.


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