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Monday, September 14, 2009

Racing Cars

I like driving. I’ve said it before. When I’m in the mood, I could drive for hours as long as I have some music going. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve noticed I’ve slowed down a bit. This only occurs when my wife and kid are in the car with me. Otherwise, I’m usually pushing ten miles over the speed limit, depending on the road. If it’s back roads or wooded areas, I tend to be a little more careful. If it’s the highway or open roads, look out. I may even crank it up a bit more.

While I’ve never owned car that could be considered race ready, I have attempted to put what I did have through the paces. On three occasions, I have raced someone and won all three times. All three occurred while I was in high school and with close friends.

Now, in my hometown there aren’t a lot of places to race. On the outskirts between cities, there were more suitable locations for drag racing. In the neighboring county there was an old abandoned Volkswagen plant just off the main highway. Now, it’s an abandoned Sony plant. Yeah, economy! Anyway, leaving the main highway there is a long stretch of road that ends in an intersection with a traffic light. Cars would drag race from a preset distance using the lights as a signal. For me, I really didn’t care about this kind of racing. The ability to accelerate or shift with precision in order to beat a car based on engine and transmission performance is something I could care less about. For me, it was about endurance. This is why I can’t get into NASCAR. They don’t go anywhere except left.

However, my town was situated in the middle of the main highway and offered plenty of cross country races. You could race towards the Pennsylvania Turnpike or race towards West Virginia. In any case, you have open road, four lanes, and a lot of chances to make your move.

The first race came with my acquiring the car I drove all through high school, a 1984 Pontiac Firebird. My buddy had a Ford Maverick and we talked about racing the two. We started out at the red light in the downtown area near our houses and went all the way to the Uniontown Eat N’ Park, which was about 10 miles away. I held onto the lead the whole way there, while my copilot, a kid nicknamed Weezil, held onto the dashboard which had begun to shimmy and shake over 70 mph. I actually had no idea how fast I was going as my speedometer only went up to 85. From what my friend, in the Maverick said, he was pushing 103 and I was in front of him. The next year he bought a similar Firebird and I knew for a fact that he could beat me on a straight away as it was newer and in better shape.

The second race took place with another friend of mine who owned a 1987 Camaro. It was the typical T-Top model, red in color. For some reason he kept insisting that he had better chances of winning because of his four barrel. I laughed and said, “OK.” I wasn’t about to let him in the truth since we were going to race the two soon after he got it.

Our course led us to a friend’s house in Greensburg, about 20 miles away. We started at his house which was right down the road from mine and twisted through town and out onto the open road of Route 119 North. The first leg of this race pitted our maneuvering ability as we had various red lights and single lane roads to contend with before we reached the outskirts of town and the four lane highway. Always seeing this as a race to the finish, not just race to be in the lead, I pulled a questionable move that may have been considered foul play. As we approached a busy intersection where Routes 119 and 982 meet, he had pulled ahead and just missed the green light. I could have pulled up alongside him at the red light and waited for the lights to turn green, but I had another idea in mind.

Knowing we would be waiting for awhile and not wanting to draw attention to our racing, I quietly slipped into the turning lane and cut across 982 into the Sheetz parking lot and back out onto 119 on the other side of the intersection. This gave me a comfortable lead but not wanting to relax, I just laid the hammer down all the way to Greensburg. When I got there, my friend was nowhere to be found, although he came around a different corner in an attempt to say he had already been there and went around the block. I saw through the lie and claimed victory.

The final race occurred on February 26, 1993. One of the perks of being in the musical productions was that after our first performance on a Thursday night, we were given off Friday as a gift. Tradition held that members of the cast and crew would meet for breakfast at the Eat N’ Park in Uniontown. This was the same Eat N’ Park I had raced to before. But first, we would meet in the McDonald’s parking lot on the East side of our town and then car pool. This became an all out race, ala Cannonball Run if you will.

Some will dispute that I held an unfair advantage this time around because instead of relying on my trusty old Firebird, I pulled out the big guns. I rolled up into the parking lot with my parents’ 1990 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight Royale. My reasoning was that I needed the extra passenger room to hold at least one more person. There were cries of shenanigans by fellow cast members but I didn’t think of it that way. Besides, there were plenty of other cars with V6 engines. As we pulled out of the parking lot and onto the highway, I never looked back. I pulled into the Eat N’ Park lot way ahead of everyone and savored victory.

This was, of course, the last time I ever raced anyone in a car. Over the next four years I racked up three speeding tickets. The first was for going 66 mph in a 35 mph zone. I was driving home from working at a summer job and didn’t realize that there was a small stretch of back road that went from 50 mph down to 35 mph. I ended up losing my license for 15 days on that one. The second was a year later coming home from the same job, only by a different route. This time I got nailed doing 75 mph in a 55 mph. The State Trooper who pulled me over said he wouldn’t have bothered if I was doing less than 15 mph over the speed limit. I thought he was kidding but he was being dead serious. This one resulted in me having to complete a remedial driving course in downtown Pittsburgh to shave off two points from my license in order to keep it. The next year I managed to keep myself out of trouble since I didn’t have the use of a car for the summer…or a license, but that’s another story. However, in 1997, I managed to get nabbed doing 55 mph in a 45 mph in Ohio. I still feel like that was a bogus charge but, then again, if any state would enact the death penalty for speeding, it would probably be Ohio.

Since then, I’ve gained a sense of discipline and responsibility when it comes to driving. I don’t live under my parents’ roof and I am responsible for my own vehicle and insurance. That’s not a good reason to be a safe driver but eventually maturity made me become one, primarily. Like I said, I still manage to open it up on the highway, although my wife is notoriously worse when we go on vacation. On more than one occasion, I’ve handed the wheel over to her to get some shut eye, only to wake up and see her doing 85 mph in a 65 mph zone. She would get her Mountain Dew and the right music and just fly.

For the most part though, we try to be safe drivers because of our daughter and quite frankly, I’m just not in any rush to get another ticket. Though, there was that time in 2006 when I was going 21 mph in a school zone. That one nearly got me arrested. But that, too, is another story.


Diane T said...

You got that right about Ohio: if there's someone doing 60 in the highway fast lane, you know the car has Ohio plates!

I never had a lead foot, but now I have even more reason to watch my speed: I have an eagle-eyed teenager modelling his driving behavior on mine. No fun!

Mongo said...

Meanwhile, my two year old sits in her car seat and tells me to "Go, Go" while I'm waiting my turn at the toll booth on the Turnpike exit.

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