Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ford vs Chrysler

Maurice and I both staggered a bit as we walked out the entrance to the old gold mine. It was summer and a beautiful night as the full moon was just now rising above the tops of the mountains. The mountains were the Black Hills of South Dakota and the year was 1961. We were not claim jumpers or robbers but just 2 drunk high school kids on a mission. We had just walked out the front door of The Inferno that was a 3.2 bar catering to high school and college kids and it was built inside of an old Gold mine. At that time South Dakota was a 3.2 state, which meant you only had to be 18 years of age to consume as much beer as you belly would hold so long as it was under 3.2% alcohol. Driving drunk was not a very big deal, in those days, because all that would happen, if the local cops caught you, was a trip to the station and they called your parents to come and get you. The punishment for your crime was up to your parents, as it was believed that home was where it belonged.[ It would take a few years before we learned that parents weren’t very good at providing discipline or preventing recidivism and that authority would soon change to the responsibility of the state.] I didn’t even know of any of my friends or associates that had really been arrested for DWI so as we prepared for our adventure we had absolutely no fear of the authorities. Our real fear should have been our fear of piling up the car because of our state of inebriation but I was 18 and Maurice was 19 and so we had no sense of mortality. Our hormones were raging as we walked across the gravel parking lot. We pushed and punched each other shouting out macho clich├ęs as we tripped in the parking lot, falling on each other. I felt the knee of my levis rip as I slid on the rocks but I worked hard holding onto my Schlitz beer trying hard not to spill it. Maurice spilled his beer and cussing loudly he got up to go back into the bar to get another. I grabbed him and headed him back toward the car saying “No time for that now as they will leave, I’ll share mine with you”. I had no sense of the danger ahead as I slide into the plush, crushed, velvet and leather, seat of the brand new Chrysler Newport never once thinking of hooking up my seat belt even though I sat in the “Suicide Seat”. Death was just not a concern. We had to drive a few miles, first through Lead and then Deadwood and our adventure would start on the other side, by the “slag piles, on old US highway 14A. The race would be 11 miles to Sturgis and would culminate at the Milwaukee Railroad bridge underpass which had a 90 degree turn at the exit. The opponents were two wise assed flyboys from nearby Ellsworth Air Force base who had challenged us to the race after a heated discussion centering around the ability’s of their 1958 ford with a police interceptor engine and our Chrysler Newport. 14A was a two lane paved road with no shoulders, to speak of, following the edge of Bear Butte Creek. It was a great race track for the first 9 miles, with more twists and turns than a Grand Prix track and the final 2 miles exited next to a trailer court and was relatively straight, past the refinery to the underpass. If the race was close then the last ¼ mile would be great, right up to the 90 degree turn.

I shouted “GO” and we were off, tires smoking, pavement squealing and any coyotes within a hundred miles were looking for cover. We were headed for Sturgis trying to set a new record. Adrenalin pumps were operating at max. Maurice completely smoked them at the start and I couldn’t even see them behind us after 2 miles. This was going to be easy money. Apparently the drunken flyboy didn’t want to lose the $50 that was at stake, because that Ford came screaming around us at the next turn as he blazed around the curve sideways with that Fords carburetor wide open keeping him on the road. As we headed for the next curve, we were on the Fords taillights sliding together on the pavement around the next curve and I handed Maurice my beer. He took a big hit and handed it back to me. “I’ll stay on his ass until the turnout and then I’ll smoke him on the inside” Maurice hollered. The turnout was just a wide spot on the road up ahead that allowed you to park and fish or change a flat tire but it was also on the inside of the curve and it was gravel. Before the Chrysler got to the turnout I felt the 4-barrel kick and the sweet sensation as the torque shoved me back into my seat. “This what it’s all about”, I hollered and Maurice just smiled and quietly replied, “Ya”. I don’t have any idea how we missed the right taillight and I felt the fear as the right wheel left the pavement and hit the gravel. The rest of the wheels followed and before we hit the guardrail, as the turnout narrowed, we were around the boys in the Ford. The Newport fishtailed as it hit the pavement but Maurice kept his foot dedicated to the maneuver and we straightened out. I looked back and the big Ford was falling way back. Suddenly I saw the Fords headlights sit back down and they were gaining on us. I shouted at Maurice, “Here they come again” as we came into a big curve and Maurice was breaking but as we came out again we were side by side as our 4 barrel was sucking about as much ethyl as was possible. We held our own but only for a couple of seconds as the boys from Ellsworth shot ahead of us for good. Maurice put up a valiant fight but the Chrysler was just no match to the police interceptor engine. We tried to keep up with them but we couldn’t catch up. As we came out of the mouth of the canyon, by the trailer court, we were clipping a mere 120 and still no Ford but then we saw the dust. Apparently the flyboys had lost it on the straightaway. The dust was so thick that we had to slow to 20mph to get through it. The dust started at a small curve where they probably lost control. We pulled over to look for the car. We could follow the tracks as the car left the road, clipping an informational sign of some type and it was flattened. Ahead in the borrow pit we could see a rock, as large as a car, but somehow they didn’t hit it and instead kept going down and went between the rock and the fence at probably 120 plus MPH. The tracks reentered the highway ahead and we jumped into our car to follow. Just ahead was the underpass and we could see the taillights of the Ford on the other side. “He musta hit the wall,” Maurice said but when we got up to them the Ford was just stopped and the driver was getting out of the car. The car had bucket seats and the passenger was lying on top of the backseat and the front seat was broken in half. The right side of the car was as straight as could be from the impact with the sign and the passenger was hurt. We had them follow us out to the other end of town where we showed him the hospital. We gave him our $50 and congratulated him with his sick buddy in the back moaning a bit and trying to shout “Hooray”. “That’s the best race I’ve had in a long time” the flyboy shouted as he headed for the hospital. Maurice and I went over to Philtown and got a cup of coffee and something to eat. We ordered and ate our meals in silence until Maurice finally said “Stock engine my ass”. ”Those bastards took us and that was a setup”. I quietly replied “ you still have your car, neither of us were hurt and it only cost us $50 to learn that a Chrysler Newport will not take a 58 Ford with a police interceptor engine.” Maurice didn’t talk to me for a week after that.

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