Tales of the Road
Years ago, and I mean a lot of them, I flew in to wrench for an early Trans Am race. The race was in a place called Green Valley although it was anything but green. Our car was an independent entry but my boss usually was faster than the factory cars. Practice went well for us and the race started with the Shelby Mustangs and Bud Moore Cougars on an altogether different level. We were struggling to keep pace and my boss still seemed to be enjoying himself. This was odd; he was an extremely competitive bloke and did not like the “also ran” status.
I had kidded him about not looking hero enough when he drove. He didn’t have that head tilted back look like the Grand Prix guys. He came by the pits, looked over toward me, and then gave me an exaggerated head tilt in profile. Next lap by he looks over with a big grin, and I’m thinking we must be having fun. A few laps later, the car slows and then comes in the pits. “No oil pressure,” the boss yells.
I open the hood and search for the problem to no avail. Finally, out of desperation, I pulled out the distributor and find the oil pump drive sheared. The whole engine compartment is like sticking my head in an oven; all the parts are blazing hot. I replaced the drive and shoved the distributor in place. I motion to the boss to fire it up. The engine spits but doesn’t catch so I cleverly pump the throttle and motion to try again. The resulting backfire and ball of flame catches my hair on fire and I jump back beating the fire out with my hands. It had to look like a circus gorilla act. With the fire out, I carefully reset the distributor in the correct position and stood well back to see if the engine would run. The boss fired it up, I shut the hood, put in the hood pins, and off he roared. I don’t think we ran very long after that, but when the race is over the boss says he has to fly back home and I can help drive the truck back.
I had never driven a big rig so the next day, with an experienced co-pilot, I drive the truck up and down the racetrack’s straightaway. The co-pilot suggests that I try backing the truck using only the mirrors. “It’s good to be able to back this thing up when you need to.
You might as well learn it now,” he says. I keep getting the trailer cocked and am overcorrecting so it looks like a snake trying to reverse up a slope. I finally catch a guide wire to the timing stand and we decide it’s time to leave. Off we go with wires trailing in a great cloud of dust and I’m a trucker.
Gates of Savannah
My trusty teammate and I were traveling from one event to the next. The boss had arranged for us to stay at the track in Savannah Georgia. We would do the maintenance the cars required and be ready for the upcoming races there. My teammate was driving the big rig on this stint and when we arrived at the track, we found the entrance gate closed. I got out of the truck to open it. It took awhile to get the lock and chain unfastened. My teammate drove the truck through and when I tried to close the gate after him, a loud boom shattered the silence of the woods. Birdshot clinked against the metal of the fence and tore through the tree leaves. Another boom and more birdshot peppered the gate. As I turned to take cover behind the safety of the trailer, the truck’s exhaust bellowed black smoke, and the truck rushed away. Arriving in the paddock, somewhat out of breath, I asked my pal what he was thinking, leaving me behind. Very nonplussed as usual he replied; “You know what the boss says about damage to the truck. Any holes in the truck would have come out of my pay.”
Sometime later the same trusty sidekick and I were driving west through Chicago. It was my turn at the wheel of the big rig. I had come north through West Virginia on the mountain roads, and was tired from a hard drive through the rain and ice-slicked roads.
The monotony of the flat interstate late at night made me sleepy. I started doing the sleepy dance, you know, cranking down the window to stick my head into the cold breeze and back in cranking the window up. When that part of the dance wore off, I’d give my face a sharp slap to bring me back attention for a while.
There was very little traffic on the road. I could see headlights in the distance coming toward me. I noticed them because the lights looked as if they were on my side of the road. The road was a four lane divided highway, and it was hard to tell for sure at that distance. Oncoming headlights should shine through the Armco dividing the lanes. These headlights were not coming though the Armco. The headlights disappeared and I thought I must have been dreaming. This stretch of road had very few intersections, and the driver of a car on the wrong side of the road would surely have met other traffic and realized his error.
Lights suddenly blazed as the car crested a rise. It was on my side of the road and headed straight for me. I held the truck to the right-hand lane as the car bared down. I did not want the oncoming idiot to be able to anticipate a move. The car was coming fast; I yanked on the air horns and pulled the wheel to right at the same time. The car flashed by as the truck jounced over the shoulder and across a shallow ditch.
My teammate tore open the curtain from the sleeper and demanded to know what was happening. I gave him a brief summary, and got out of the truck to check on the racecars in the trailer. In the distance, sirens wailed and I soon saw four state trooper cars, lights flashing, tearing down the road in the same direction as the car that missed me.
I got back in the truck and drove to the next Fred Harvey’s restaurant. We sat at the counter and ordered coffee and pie. Mr. Teammate paused with his fork full of pie midway to his mouth.
“Do you realize I could have been killed in my sleep?” he says. “Well” I said, my turn to be nonchalant, “Next time I’ll make sure to wake you up. I wouldn’t want you to miss anything.”
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