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Do I Have the ‘Dream Job’ For a Gear Head or What?

I was talking to our Editor, Jeff Burk, about a week ago and he mentioned the U.S. Nationals. He said he wasn’t all that fired up about going due to parking, it being a five-day event, the crowd…you know, all the “stuff” that after covering events for over three decades can wear on you a little. Then he asked me if I could go and cover the Hemi Shootout for Mopar Max. After my best reaction time in a few weeks -- I think it was about .002 of a second -- I said, “You bet.” So Barb and I will load the motor-home with travel essentials and our dog, appropriately named “Indy.” We gave her that name in memory of my Stock Eliminator win at the Indy points meet in 1992.

Then I got the really good news, the magazine will pay for my travel expenses! Man, this is like winning a race to me. I get to go to the most famous drag race on the planet, my fuel bill is covered, free tickets await my arrival and I am there on “semi-official business” to interview guys who race Hemis and get the results from the NHRA in the tower! See what I mean, it’s a dream job! (Important Notice: Don’t try to make living doing this, you will end up living in a very small trailer at the end of the street in a trailer court!)

I have a little history when it comes to Indy and the U.S. Nationals. It is probably the birthplace of my love and passion for the sport of drag racing. I am going to tell you a little story that hundreds if not thousands of other gear-heads will relate to. Their trip may not have been to Indy; it could have been to another national event, a special match race at some local track, who knows? The story inside this little “inside view” of myself is one that has been repeated across the country for almost 50 years and created a great sport, hero’s for us and a great bunch of friends for all of us.

The year was 1969. (Okay, so some of you weren’t born yet, big deal!) I had just graduated and was working construction with my best friend, Bill Rohmer. In some magazine or somewhere we read that “Dyno Don” Nicholson was getting his SOHC Mustang ready for U.S. Nationals. That story mentioned Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, Fuel Altereds and much more. We found out about the race the weekend before it was scheduled. All we knew was the race was Labor Day weekend and it was in Indianapolis, IN.

Most of our high school buddies were in Vietnam dodging bullets in the jungle, but Bill and I both had numbers in the mid-300s when they had that military draft based on the number your birthday fell. Anyway, I had something like 324 and he was 330 something. (For you young guys, that is some history that your school teacher probably overlooked.)

It was a crazy time in the world and we decided we should go the U.S. Nationals. Of course it was Friday night after work and the race was that weekend! We grabbed a sack of clothes, $200 and a map. “We’re going to the U.S. Nationals!” (Not that we had even a small clue about where Indianapolis was!)

It probably would have been beneficial to do a little planning, but we never did. We just “did stuff” and had fun. We left in my car because it was the one with the “highway gear.” My ’64 Fairlane had a 4.10:1 rear gear and his Galaxie convertible had a 4.70:1 gear as that was the only way that the 406 tri-power he had could hold its own on the street on Friday and Saturday nights.

Gas was about 40 cents a gallon, if I remember right. We could cruise along at about 55-60 mph and that little 289 Hi-Po Ford and four-speed was humming along at about 3200-3500 rpm. We took all two-lane highways as the Interstate highways were new and a lot of them were incomplete. (In my opinion the Interstate highway system is still under construction, incomplete and the roughest roads for the dollar on the planet!)

We rolled into the unknown about dawn on Saturday. We had no clue on where to go and how much it cost or anything but by God, “We were at the U.S. Nationals” even if we didn’t know for sure what that meant, yet! We found the track, entered through the biggest main gate we had even seen and pulled into the biggest grass parking area these two Iowa boys had ever parked in. That is when we realized we had left in a little too much of a hurry.

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