Saturday, August 12, 2006

Why Not Give It Your Best Shot?

OK, I am an addict. I love car racing. All forms but of it, but especially sports cars. I’ve been this way for a long time and I am not interested in any ones twelve step program to cure me. I like it this way.

I grew up in a pre air conditioning, pre television, pre Disney Orlando. Daytona was seventy miles away and Sebring not much further. It was a great place to live. I was a teenager and a car nut.

Over in Daytona a young guy named France was organizing stock car races in a new way. They ran partly on public highways and partly on the beach. It caught the attention of the news reels and became a fascination for the country. Folks were used to seeing cars make land speed record runs on Datyona beach but this was different. These ran in circles. Marshall Teague and his Hudson Hornet and Lee Petty became nation wide heroes.

Bill France was doing something else too. He was trying to convince the stock car drivers that they could make a real living as drivers. He would go on to turn the south eastern stock car circuit into NASCAR. He would also build the first super speedway. That is when NASCAR really came to life.

In Sebring they were starting to organize sports car races. The guys coming back from the war in Europe had brought with them an interest in sporty little cars like MG, Austin Healy, Triumph, Morgan and Jaguar. With sport cars the next step is to race them.

I saw my first sports car race when I was in high school in ‘53. My Dad had been transferred to Albany, Georgia to open a new Winn Dixie store. There was a Strategic Air Command Base on the outskirts of town.

Curtis LeMay was the big cheese in SAC and he was also an avid sports car racer. Using the thin disguise of creating a charity event for the Airman’s Relief Fund they held a big sports car road race on the runways at the base.

LeMay entered his Cadillac-Allard. Brigs Cunningham entered three of the Chrysler hemi powered cars he was building in West Palm Beach Florida. Lots of other people I’d never heard of showed up with lots of cars I had never heard of. Like Ferrari and Porsche. They had a D type Jaguar that didn’t look like any XK120 I had ever seen. As the weekend wore on I was astounded by the assemblage but when a Ferrari clocked a hundred seventy one on the back straight I pledged my allegiance. Ultimately the three Cunningham's finished first, second and third driven by Cunningham, John Fitch and Phil Walters. Later that year he would also finish third in the Lemans twenty-four hour race with the same car.

My active involvement with sports car racing came in the late fifties while I was in the navy and stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. I became a member of the local sports car club and through the club met some racers. It was not long before I was crewing for one of them and later going to driver’s school. That was when the addiction set in. I have never lost it.

In ’58 I became the owner of one of the first Bug Eye Sprites in the country. It cost about eighteen hundred dollars and I traded in a one year old Hillman Minx coverable to get it. The Hillman was the more expensive car but I still had to pay a little extra to get the Sprite. My car payments were twenty five dollars a month for a year. I had to take a part time job to cover them.

When I left the Navy I left racing for a while as I headed back to school to finish my degree. I attended races whenever I could but usually as a spectator and occasionally as a crewmember for a friend. I would not return to the track actively for twenty years.

In the early eighties Formula Vee was one on the largest racing classes in the world. It was inexpensive, simple, fast enough and very, very competitive. I loved it. I still do. I raced Vees until I moved to Hawaii. They didn’t have any wheel to wheel racing over there. When I returned from the islands I did not get actively involved again. I was too busy chasing a life and a career.

Then I retired. Now I have the time to spend the hours doing all the work required to put cars back together.

Like the Blind Mule if you can’t see it can’t be done why not give it your best shot.


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