Drag Racing Online: The Magazine

Volume VIII, Issue 3, Page



or the most part, the drag racing press expends the lion's share of its efforts on news and issues of national "importance." National events, famous racers, the role of the auto makers in the sport, and the machinations of the various sanctioning bodies are the usual news of any given day, as delivered by the press. Sometimes, it's a good idea to take a step back and try to recall why most of us got involved with drag racing in the first place.

To varying degrees, a large percentage of us got involved because we liked to work on cars. And of course, we wanted to see if we could make them faster. The individual's roles in these endeavors could range from holding a wrench for your buddy, all the way up to building engines and entire cars. Once the building process was over, the bragging rights war would begin. Get two hot rodders together and, providing they both had a car, THE ISSUE would have to be settled. And that, boys and girls, is the short version of how hot rodding grew into organized drag racing.

At its present-day level, hot rodding and drag racing have pretty much become a matter of how much money can be spent, in the shortest time possible. Bracket racer or Top Fuel hero, if you have the budget, you can play. Mechanical ability -- that's just something you buy from somebody who's got it. Fortunately for me, I only have to walk up the street to my neighbor's house to get a reality check, and a quick dose of the essence of hot rodding.

My neighbor Jim has a garage that surely provokes a vague uneasy feeling among some of the neighbors. Oh, it's neat enough from the outside, save for that prime '72 Vega parts car hiding underneath the tarp in the driveway. Open up the doors and it's another story. Wheels, tires, engine blocks, cylinder heads -- you name it, it's in there. But I'll give him this much. it's not a mess, as garage/parts bins go, but it is busy. Tucked up against the back wall is his cylinder head business, walled off from the rest of the garage. He does a steady if unspectacular amount of business, and does nice work on a wide variety of heads -- imports, circle track stuff, bracket racer combinations. He also frequents Kansas and Missouri swap meets, buying, selling and trading hot rod parts for fun and profit.

Jim's garage also is home to a well-used Chevy Malibu bracket car. It replaced a Vega bracket car project that I can honestly say, without malice, was the worst looking, cobbled up mess of a race car I have ever seen. Jim didn't build it, so I can say that without incurring his wrath - I think. The Malibu is currently in transition (a roller), while parts and pieces are gathered. It wasn't even the car Jim set out after, once the offending Vega had been dispatched. But all the good Vegas that were available were two days drive away, or two thousand dollars too expensive, so this particular Malibu found its way to my neighborhood.

Rather than throw money at the new ride (and write it off against the cylinder head business), my hot rodding neighbor elected to stay true to the essence of hot rodding in general, and his own hot rodding roots as well. As work comes in and goes back out, budget for the Malibu accumulates. Up pops a swap meet, Jim is on the scene, selling some of his own inventory and scrounging parts for the race car. Once back home, it's time to work on the ride, which is what it's really all about anyway. He's got his cylinder head business decals on the car, and the Malibu should be ready for action in late April or early May.

Once the Malibu is finished, it will be decision time. Should it be a strip-only car or should it tote a license plate as well? All the parts are there for street-legal status, and what would be cooler and more true to hot rodding's roots than wheeling into the local hangout in a legit wheel standing, nine-second doorslammer? Sounds cool to me, anyway. And besides, who needs the expense and hassle of a trailer anyway.

Besides having a race car in the 'hood, the prospect of some potential crew guy duties also appeals to me. When it comes time to fire the Malibu up for the first time, I'll be there. If help is needed at the track, I'll take my turn in the rotation. As it has been and will remain a stick shift car, I'm lukewarm on the prospect of driving it -- not that he's offered. And not that he should, by the way!  I've got my eye on a used altered in Wisconsin, and a '70s vintage funny car body down Texas way. Sounds like a project in the offing. Maybe even  a story, or two or three.

So the next time you get disillusioned with drag racing and/or hot rodding, take a deep breath and a step back. Look around and you just might remember what attracted you to fast cars and the hot rodding/drag racing scene in the first place. Hey, you might even find "it" in your neighbor's garage. I sure did.




Lenny's Line [2/8/06]
Random Thought From a Random Access Memory



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