1967 Pontiac GTO. The summer of 1967. We were going faster and quicker come every September (New Car Announcement). Rob was going to Phillips University in the fall and I had just turned 16. Men were shot into space right and left but all I really wanted to do was go down the quarter mile.
We were money poor, but car rich. Rob had GTO demos and as any good brother would do, he let me drive them on the back road and dish out havoc to the poor F70X14’s that looked so good in red-line form. Of course, we felt that all of our friends should be driving GTOs and as a matter of fact, many of them did. Steve Neely was one of them.
Steve’s dad had the Neely Insurance agency. Our generation was the baby boomers and we were spoiled through and through. Most of our parents had seen the Great Depression and had come through the anguish of the Big One. They wanted their kids to have everything that they never had. Maybe they just wanted to live their lives vicariously through their kids.
I was Steve’s connection to the “go quicker” world. I was his tuner and spent hours trying to tweak the most speed out of his car. We ruled the street racing scene which at the time wasn’t particularly dangerous because there were a lot fewer cars on the roads than nowadays.
The talk was typical. Who had the quickest car and what was ol’ such-and-such doing to his car behind closed doors? Normal modifications included installing exhaust cut-outs and fitting a set of racing slicks at the appropriate time. The rest was just keeping the machines tuned and jacking with the timing. Also, there was changing spark plugs, changing spark plugs, and changing spark plugs.
“Going to the track” meant going to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to an abandoned airstrip turned drag strip. It was always a hot drive with no air conditioning . Steve’s GTO had the optional 3.90 gearing in the back, along with a limited slip differential. (Chevy people called them positraks.) The gearing meant that 70 MPH had you winding 4200 RPM. No telling how much gas we burned on those trips but what the hell, it was just 29 cents a gallon.
On one of the trips to Fort Smith, we finally hit pay dirt. The GTOs fit into the B/Stock NHRA class and it usually had the most cars. Most of the SS396, Buick GS, Olds 442 and 383 Mopars fit into the class. They were the kings of the street.
A/Stock cars were rare cars like the Hemi Dodges and Plymouths, and some Corvettes. They were race cars.
Steve would agonize about who he would be running in every round…..always adding more drama into the situation than really existed. But one guy always worried him the most. It was that guy with the 66 GTO that had the 3 deuce set up. The guy never talked. He just always stayed with his car and seemingly pulled the plugs out after every run and cleaned them with something that looked like a fingernail file. I could tell it bothered Steve that I wasn’t doing that. The other guy’s car was always a little quicker during time trials and I think Steve thought that was the key. I never had the nerve to tell him that the difference was probably the driver! It just burned him up….that guy in his wife beater shirt just sat in one corner of the pits all by himself and always came out a few hundredths faster.
On this particular Sunday, it was Steve’s day to win. Just six cars in the class and it would take three runs to win the coveted B/Stock trophy. Steve met the mystery man in the final. Steve knew that if he lost, it was going to be because I hadn’t done whatever that guy over in the corner was doing to his spark plugs.
Those were the days of the flag starter and the start of the race was much more subjective than today’s electronic starting line systems. When the flag drops, you go….or so the Germans would have you believe. Leaving a tad early could be done as long as you didn’t draw the ire of the the flagman. I told Steve that whatever minuscule performance difference that might exist could easily be overcome by leaving better. He bit on it. It worked and we beat the mystery man in the wife beater.
Steve was really happy as he pulled into victory lane to pick up the trophy. There they were. Probably 30 trophies lined up. All identical—“Class Winner Fort Smith Dragway”. Steve started obsessing again, but this time it was about which trophy to pick. He would pick up one and look at it really closely. This thing had to be right. Set it down, pick up another. This went on for a couple of minutes that seemed like an hour. Finally I reiterated that they were all the same and told him “JUST PICK A DAMN TROPHY, STEVE.”.
Steve picked up one more and looked it over carefully and said “Let’s go.” Now, I’m not kidding, he strolled slowly back to the car and we got in, then hopped back out and went over and picked up another trophy among the many and brought it back to Claremore.
Once we were back in town, we stopped by the store to drop off the racing slicks and Steve brought the trophy into the store and told me that he had better just leave it here based on the reason that he had told his Dad that we were going to their family lake home for the day! Of course, I was cool with that and Steve set the trophy up on the parts counter for all to observe. Guess what, the trophy was crooked and sat with about a 15-degree list. I learned a lot that day.
P.S. To Steve—thanks for taking that obsession and directing it toward making sure my homeowner’s policy is always just right.
To Paul—I hope we are well past the statute of limitations for parental actions!