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The beginning of the end of the American Way by JW LastI remember the American Way car well!!! I was working (gophering) for Jim & Alison Lee at Maple Grove the day the Lee's car and the Am Way car collided. After a clean launch by both cars it was very eerie standing on the starting line, watching the Am Way car get airborne near the finish line and cross lanes, landing on top of our car!!! The whole thing seemed to happen in slow motion and I remember thinking to myself, "This can't be happening." Climbing into the push truck, it was even more eerie to drive down the track and see nothing but a circle of rescue vehicles that obviously marked the spot where the cars had come to rest. 

As we approached, the wing from our car was laying upside down in the traps -- the only recognizable piece of our car to be found outside the circle. Fearful of what waited beyond the circle of trucks, we parked and sprinted over to the scene. I had never seen somebody in shock before, but as we penetrated the wall of vehicles and people there was Tom Raley still strapped in what remained of the very mangled race car. Seems humorous now that as folks where attempting to cut him out of the car to watch him swat at the helping hands while continuing to repeat the phrase "Tell that f&#>+/< guying to use turn signals next time!"

Jim & Alison Lee's car after being flattened by the American Way (JW Last)After all was said and done, I remember talking to Alison Lee on the phone and she was pretty mad at the Lehmans ... thought they should help rebuild their car since the Am Way car caused the mishap. It never happened... But, it was a real nice looking car...seemed kind stupid to run the car minus the back half of the body like they did the day of the mishap ... screwed the aerodynamics all up!

BTW, I witnessed Marvin Schwartz's fatal mishap at Tucson, probably one of about 100 folks who saw it (small qualifying crowd) and was probably the closest person to it. Don't know if you want those kind of stories, but a lot of folks have asked, so I've told them. Don't tell unless asked...

Jeff Thomas on the end of the American Way streamliner experiment, 1/99

Late 50's or so, Greek fires one on streets of So. Chicago, gets a little racy, wings it and changes feet, goes under a viaduct, gets hit by a car (not hard), and Chris exits stage left, back to his shop. Next day in newspaper, a report from police says they interviewed a gentleman who said, "I came out from a side street and I think I hit a pipe with a motor in it!!" Ever hear that one?

Pat Foster on a late night '50s fueler test session, 1/99

The first time I drove the Surfers car at the beach, I ran in the right lane, close to the fence. We pulled pulled up and staged, I hit the hammer, the front end went up and the car turned right. One of the guys who was on top of a ladder with his camera went flying off of it. To this day I don't know if I hit him or if he jumped. CJ was right in back of me to see if I would be alright in the car. Remember we went though the pit fence a year before. I let the car come down and didn't hurt it, we went back a put a big piece of lead on the front end.

Walt Stevens on driving those wild and wooly '60s fuelers, 1/99

First of all let me state that I am not a traitor to the great portholes in the sky (AKA Buick). After receiving your email this morning about the Showboat vs Lil' Screamer, I decided to call Jack Ditmars. The story from Jack is that he raced the 4 engined car at Rockford Dragway (Tom McCourry owned and drove the car at this time). Jack started from the rear of the apron and the Showboat was to go in pursuit as soon as Jack got to the line. Jack won the David vs Goliath race. After the race McCourry stated "the gas pedal linkage came loose on one engine and it was running on three engines only." Needless to say Jack remembers this very well. Being a true Buick patron, maybe that's the way McCourry tuned the car for slippery tracks. If there was a little sprinkle he might even go down to two engines.

Ron Pellegrini on "track tuning" a four engine dragster, 1/99

Even as photographers, we used to wait for the air to "come in" at the Beach. Even if the temperature would not drop that much, you could feel the sea air get denser. For those of you who never got there, we used to see times drop by probably .3-.4 second between the rounds when the air came in. It used to happen at OCIR, too. Probably the worst case was at the Manufacturer's Meet one year. Jess Tyree and someone else had just done the first burnouts, so the air was full of smoke. They had just reversed toward the starting line, when the fog bank rolled over the back fence. By the time they got back to the line, you couldn't even see across the track. They ended up shutting them down and having to postpone the race until the next week. I remember everyone fumbling around in that fog trying to get cars and equipment back to the pits, and out of the track. While that was an extreme, it was like that most nights at OCIR and the Beach ... waiting for the air to arrive, and the times to drop like a stone.

Tom West on the legendary air at Lions Drag Strip, 2/99
 

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