Excerpt from "Summer Days Hot Nights"
By Brian Doyle
We didn’t know it for sure at the time, but I think some of us suspected it: our long summer, which had lasted like twenty years, would end in a letter personally addressed to each and every one one of us. The letters were from Uncle Sam began with the word “GREETINGS:” which really meant that you had a very short period of time to join the National Guard, the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, or throw the letter in the trash, pack your things and leave for somewhere like Canada (being convenient, English-speaking, and nearby).
Having had a prolonged childhood, this was a scary wake up call for all of us. One beautiful late summer Sunday in 1967 it seemed as though we all knew something was about to happen that would negatively affect all of us.
We, (brother John, Paul Fusco and I) the Boys from B&T Texaco, had announced to friends and customers if they were not doing anything this coming Sunday, we would racing at the Dover Drag Strip, about an hour and a half from Norwalk, and there would be a convoy to the track. So, early that Sunday morning our fans arrived at the B&T at much earlier hour then most had ever been there before.
We decided that the coupe should be Awakened at home one last time.
It was started up inside the garage bay and rolled out. The beautiful noise resonated and vibrated every freestanding item within our building as well as inside the General Store. Just before Art, the General Store proprietor, was about to swing his door open and stand with his hands at his hips starring at the raging bull ragging full blast in the driveway, it was on the trailer and silent again. The dogs stopped barking. and all was right in the world that surrounded the B&T. Our little convoy left and headed out toward Dover with the sun in our faces and joy in our hearts. It was like going to your best friend’s wedding. Everyone was smiling and happy.
By 9:30 a.m. we had arrived, and the car was inspected. Once your race car is inspected you don’t change anything. Next, we found a good parking place and checked everything: fluids, making sure the specially concocted fuel mixture was up to snuff and poured carefully into and locked away in its holding tank. Then the timing was checked.
The noise was so incredible you had to love it or find yourself walking for a great distance to get away from the music being played out by perhaps a hundred drag cars. This was a place where the lion could legally roar. The locals who lived near the track all ran off together and would not return home for another for ten hours or so. Squirrels, rabbits, birds, and a few racoons took day trips to somewhere else.
The ‘37 Ford must have sensed it’s future that day as Paul grinned, put the helmet on, buttoned up the seat belts, fired up the thirsty engine, and prepared to move toward the staging area.
But wait! We had all forgotten to check the air in the tires. That task was quickly attended to by everyone who had an air gauge.
It was only seconds now and Paul had the B&T car near the starting line, but would not go any further until the water temperature was where it needed to be. The same thing with the oil pressure as it rose to the proper level. When all was right inside the cockpit, the car and Paul were both ready—and they knew it.
The engine revved like a bass opera singer clearing his throat. Then Paul pulled into the burn out box and was told that his rear racing slicks were wet. He gave it plenty of gas and spun the rear tires as smoke billowed out from under the fenders. The huge rear slicks which were wide, treadless, bald-looking tires that had to be warmed up so that they would grip the starting line pavement when all was ready for his first practice run.
Time stood completely still, and the noise numbed your eardrums as though there was no noise. NOTHING! Time and noise did not exist for a few fast seconds.
The fans who came along from B&T, some of whom had never been to a race or ever seen Paul and the Hot Rod move more than a few feet, were about to lose their virginity all over again.
The RPM’s screamed up to 6,000-7,000 as the lights slid toward green which, of course, meant hold on to your ass because we will be going full blast for the next quarter of a mile.
Green light. In a nanosecond the front end of the racer surged up and forward as the tires gripped the pavement and Paul was gone. I had seen this a hundred times, so I looked around to see the reactions of our first-time friends. Wow! I could hear Lionel scream as he had done when we were shopping in the dark junk yard in Danbury when the cows came.
Others were jumping up and down, yelling, and the veterans were looking at the time clocks to see what time and speed Paul had turned.
The clocks read 12.5 / 110 mph—pretty damn good for the first run of the day. Paul was a good driver, no wasted moves, no showboating, just an honest man doing what he loved.
We had a good day, won some money, and stopped for a bite to eat and beer. Many of the first timers had such a good time they bought the beer for the B&T guys.
It was the last hurrah, as they say. Sadly.
My brother, John, received his draft notice late that Monday when his wife came flying into the station with the mail. He immediately went to see the Navy and joined the Sea Bees. He believed he would like the work and, maybe, it would keep him out of the deadly rice paddies.
Once a week, it seemed, someone we knew was beneficiary of the “GREETINGS” from Uncle. It was like the toppling dominos game. Our lives changed and our long summer was over forever.
Our winter had arrived.