Saturday, February 21, 2015

Go Farther Faster

I grew up on racing. Formula, stock, or funny cars, I craved speed. I loved to watch the races but more than that I loved to go fast in a car. I adore the recent car commercial of the little girl in the back seat as her daddy is driving. She has her own steering wheel that she is working hard as her daddy drives fast in circles and back and forth. I can tell that she feels like she is in heaven. It is a fearless world.

Interstate 30 used to be a toll road between Dallas and Fort Worth. Bridge St. ran alongside of the interstate from Brentwood to Oakland. If you didn’t want to go all the way to Dallas, that road was the one you had to take. There was a hill that I loved…Daddy would always accelerate going up the hill so that when we crested the hill our stomachs would slam into our throats. I would always squeal in extreme delight at the rush of adrenaline pumping through my body. I wanted to do it again and again.

I remember when Daddy bought a 1966 Grand Prix 2 door hardtop. My heart leaped in joy at the sight of its long low lines. I was only 11 but I could tell that it would roar down the highway eating up the pavement.   
     


Mom considered it incredibly inappropriate for a family of four. She didn’t like to drive it but I could tell she loved it as much as we did when we crested that hill.

As for me…I wanted to drive it. I wanted to feel the power surging through my hands and feet. I wanted to feel my heart leap as the fear sped away.

Daddy let me drive that big old hunk of metal down our driveway one day. It was a lane that was maybe a quarter of a mile. I am sure I scared the bejeezus out of him. It was the only time I got to do that. I know Mom would have yelled if she had known about it. All it made me want to do is to drive further faster.

My grandmother had let me drive her Plymouth Valiant with push-button transmisison from a very early age. She would get out to open the gate and I would drive through it and stop. I don’t remember how young I was the first time I did that but I would have pitched a fit if I thought my parents had let my daughter drive through anything at that age! But as for me, it felt so natural. Forget the fact that I basically had to stand up to touch the accelerator or the brake.

I hated going to the go-kart places until I was old enough to drive my own. Then…I loved it. More importantly, I was good at it. I wanted to be a race car driver. I didn’t care if it was at the Indy or Daytona…I just wanted to drive fast.

Fat chance of that. Danica Patrick has had her own problems breaking into the white man’s world of racing…I had no chance in my teen years.

When I learned to drive…formally…I sat through dull and boring classes learning all the do’s and don’ts of the road. The only part I liked was the driving. My driver education instructor was also my geography teacher. We could easily get him off of the lesson of the day by asking about his summers at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. He would show us videos of his races.

I got my first car for my 17th birthday. It was a 1970 Mustang fastback that my daddy had bought from a banker friend of his.  I almost got a 1971 Cutlass 442 but the guy who owned it came up with the back payments just in the nick of time. Oh my God, that yellow Cutlass was so hot! But I quickly adjusted to the Mustang. Even though there were very strict rules as to actually driving it, I would just go sit in it and dream of racing in my head.



The maddest I have ever been at my sister was one time when she snuck out my Mustang. For whatever reason, I was with Mom and Dad while she stayed at home. When we drove back into the driveway, it was immediately noticed by me that MY precious vehicle was GONE. Going into the house, it was quickly noted that my sister was nowhere to be found. Just about the time, as Daddy walked back outside, up drives my sister in MY car. She bounced over the curb and came to a rocking rest in the driveway. I was so angry that I don’t remember much but my dad saying to her, “you can’t even drive! You hit the curb!” And she belligerently and indignantly bellowed back, “I was driving just fine until I saw you standing there staring at me!” I think she was 13 at the time. Always sassy, my little sister. While it may be worth a smile or a giggle now, I was not amused at the time.

Over behind Bell Helicopter was a stretch of road that was perfect for drag racing. It is what is known as Trinity Blvd now but then, it was mostly an access road for the hundreds of people working at Bell to get to the parking lot. The road also led to Mosier Valley. Mosier Valley was the area of town where most of the black folk lived. Mosier Valley was the oldest black community in Tarrant County. It was founded by freed slaves in 1870 and named after a plantation that was home to slaves who had been brought from Tennessee to the Trinity River bottomland. (Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/bob-ray-sanders/article3843937.html#storylink=cpy)

On Friday and Saturday nights, all the teens of the area would gather alongside the shoulders of Trinity Blvd. Cars would line up so that headlights could light the path of the screaming vehicles that raced down the road. The bit of road used was straight and perfect for drag racing…until the end. The race was over when the cars had to stop before going around a curve to the left or into the two lane road leading to Mosier Valley. There were numerous crashes when one driver or the other was so hell-bent on winning that they slowed too late.

I never raced out there on the weekends. In the first place, I, as a girl, would never have been allowed in the lineup. Secondly, my car was fast but it was not souped up enough for winning. But I would go out there on a week night. I would set my car at the start line, allow a mental countdown and bam! Foot to the floor I would be flying down that road. Too soon the curve would loom ahead of me and I would slow down. Many years later, as my little Bronco was rolling over and sliding on its side, as I saw the asphalt and grass flashing past me, I had a split second memory of the way the road looked as I raced down it.

Fear has been such a major part of my life. I have rarely been without it. But when I sit behind the wheel of a car, fear fades as the car accelerates. I can get into a zone and zoom in and out of cars, accelerating into curves, and focusing solely on the road ahead. It is a world of its own. Caution flies out the window when the “pedal meets the metal”.

I used to drive between Fort Worth and Ruidoso New Mexico on a fairly regular basis. On one journey, we were in a Good Times Van, one of those custom vans with all the comforts of home while on the road. It had a huge engine in it and gas was cheap. Traveling down U.S. Highway 380 was perfect. Long stretches of straight uninhabited highway. I could see for miles. At one point, the highway was on a upward grade and it traveled through a cut out…an area that was blown out so that the road could go through it. Just as I crested that cut out, I saw a Highway Patrol car on the other side. Too late. Sure enough, I saw him pull a u-turn in the highway and come speeding up behind me. I pulled over to the shoulder of the road and watched him angrily walked up to my window. He fiercely glared at me and asked, “Do you know how fast you were going?????” I innocently answered, “No, sir, I don’t.” He basically yelled at me, “Well, I don’t either but it was too damn fast!!!! Slow this vehicle down!!!” I said “Yes, sir.” He turned on his heel, marched back to his vehicle, slammed it in gear and spun out as he pulled another u-turn to go back from whence he came. I slowly put it in gear and took off, feeling fairly proud of myself. I am just as sure that before long, I was once again going far faster than he thought I should be going.

I suppose I could claim that a level of maturity brought me to the point that I slowed down…but no. That was not it. Rather, it was the speeding tickets. While I have not had one in a good many years and I did not get one that day, I have had a multitude of them in the past. That, plus the fact that racing a minivan doesn’t do much for me…it’s just not the same.

I find it rather ironic that driving fast is the one thing that makes the fear go away but at the same time, fear of being stopped for speeding is the reason for slowing down. If that understanding is maturity, I don’t really like it.

I still dream of racing every time I drive on I-44. With all its curves, it would be perfect for a little sports car low to the ground and capable of hugging the road.

I think I will always feel the call of the open road, the wind in my face, me racing past life, free of obstacles, the unknown ahead, the present left behind. Maybe I will go again…one day…but maybe not.


Maybe I have found other ways to be courageous and let fear fly out the window of my soul. 

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