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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

The Nightfly of Bakersfield

© Bill Ott

Sweet Music, Tonight The Night Is Mine
Late Line, ‘Til the Sun Comes Through the Skyline*

CHRR # 9
Friday Oct. 6, 2000
4:30 AM

4:30 AM? That's right… 4:30 AM at the Best Western Bakersfield and I can't sleep another minute. After all, it is 7:30 AM Yankee time (Eastern Standard Time for you Public School graduates) and I've got jet lag, heartburn, and an uncontrollable urge to drive off into the darkness. BUT… first things first.

Besides making this trip to sunny California to dig on the old racecars (and even older attendees), I was hoping to stumble across something inspirational to attempt to write about. But, guess who forgot to pack a notebook? Dr. Freud would probably have had a lot to say about that… you know – when we make mistakes we are actually doing what we subconsciously think is the RIGHT thing to do. Or he could have blamed it on something sexual or… improper toilet training… not getting that pony I wanted for Christmas many years ago… missing the US Nationals in '64. Who cares!

Just a quick pass by the AM/PM to buy a notebook, then I'm gone! But wait… a gray primer Deuce coupe at the gas pump? Yeah, and with a Hemi stuffed between the frame rails. And for the coup de gras, six Strombergs on a dual log manifold. And speaking of frame rails, how about some split wishbones to hang on each one. Yes Sir, no IFS allowed this morning! It starts up and pulls away from the pumps, disappearing into the darkness, leaving nothing but the slightly sweet smell of a too rich mixture in its wake. And oh yeah, the throaty rumble of dual pipes. Déjà vu all over again, except it was a Roadster last year. Too Cool!!

I notice the Denny's Restaurant across the street appears to be completely empty. This is when I realize that in anticipation of the next few days' activities, I've forgotten to eat since I can't remember when. After all, every morning is like Christmas Eve when you're counting down to the CHRR! Maybe THAT'S why my stomach is raising Hell!

A short drive across the street to a completely empty restaurant… eggs, coffee, and toast served up in record time, and yet, I still feel like I'm running late and GOTTA' GO! L.A. Turnarounds used to give me the same sensation, but that was when this was a totally different planet than the one we inhabit now. Remember when sex was safe and racing was dangerous?

Northbound on 99 to the 7th Standard Rd. (how hard could it be to change a few numbers on that sign? Time will tell), right then left at the Jack in the Box. What I'm dealing with now is about seven or eight miles of straight as a string road, no traffic, and a rented Mercury Grand Marquis. Seat way back, rear windows cracked open just a touch, and the Beach Boys singing Sail On Sailor on the radio. One of life's more mellow moments.

WHOA!! The sign at the side of the road reads ß Famoso Raceway. Missed that rascal by about an eighth of a mile! Back track a little and I'm pointed the right way again. A friend described the glow of light off in the distance that is Famoso Raceway after dark. It's the only light you see off in the distance and it looms larger and larger until there it is. I know the locals must take it for granted, but every time I get near the place I'm humbled for that first moment, when it hits me that I'm at the center of the Drag Racing Universe.

Turn left and head towards Gate 1. Oh no, it's locked! I can see the entire facility in front of me… and not a sound or a sign of any activity. Look at all those FEDs either covered up with tarps or parked next to trailers safely under awnings. The silence is almost deafening.

Standing at the gate, staring through the chain link fence, I'm propelled back through the years. Once again I feel like I'm that teenaged kid that stared through the fence at the ‘Big Boys'. In the early sixties, New Jersey law forbid anyone under the age of eighteen from entering the pits (I think Jeb Allen changed all of that a few years later at Englishtown).

"Dr. Freud, in my early ‘developmental' years I was denied access to the pits and had to get my NITRO fix from great distances. Could this possibly be the reason I've got this ‘disease' now?"

The sound of a mini-bike brings me back to reality, as a security guy putt-putts out of the darkness. I explain that the last thing I remember, I was driving around South Jersey, listening to the Beach Boys. That I have no idea how I got here, but, I just ‘gotta get inside to look around.

He gives me a stern glare, looks around as if to see if anyone is watching, and then, slides the gate open! After telling me if I bother anybody he'll throw me out, he mumbles something into his walkie-talkie and putt-putts away. Another positive encounter with the Security people… the woman at the gate Thursday afternoon was the only bright spot on an otherwise totally dismal day (more to follow).

The Mercury inches it's way through the totally deserted staging area, makes a slow looping right, and eases up to the starting line. Now I'm staring down the famed quarter mile strip. The entire facility is bathed in the glow of the artificial light except for the track, which appears to simply vanish into the darkness.

Shutting the car off and stepping out in to the cool morning air I take my position where the Starter would stand. Closing my eyes, the ground shakes as Lefty approaches to my right, with Jack Chrisman already staged on my left. I push the button and send them both off, reeling to the smell of NITRO. The vibes here at the starting line, in the darkness and total silence are overwhelming. Fire the next pair!

I walk all the way to the finish line in what seems like seconds, not even aware that my feet were touching the ground. Stopping at the finish line and turning back towards the starting line, I'm completely immersed in the sounds, sights, and activities that have taken place here. The triumph, the tragedy, the joy of winning, the disappointment of ‘almost' winning. This has turned into a truly cosmic experience here at drag race Mecca. Man, I'm glad to be here!

Walking back towards the Merc as the sun is starting to rise I realize that all of those who accompanied me on this journey into the past have gone ‘back to the pits' and will probably be back on some future morning. Thanks guys.

Sitting on the hood of the rental car, I make one more sweep of the entire facility, by now the sun has grown quite large in the sky bathing the track in the glow of a new day. A new day of Drag Racing. Maybe this will be a good time to drive the entire length of the track.

Cruising downtrack with the grandstands off to my right I get the urge to honk the horn, and wave to the crowd, acknowledging their cheers, after all, we just turned top time of the early morning session! Driving back up the return road I see that some of those camped have started to rise. I'm left with the feeling that if I was to fly back to Pennsylvania this morning, I wouldn't feel as though I'd missed a thing. And the racing hasn't even started yet! It's ‘gonna be on hell of a three days!

Well, time to head back to Bakersfield. I've got to go pick up the G-Man, maybe round up some more breakfast (I've heard Milt's is a good place to start). Then come right back here to try to keep up with this bunch of old geezers. Hey, maybe tomorrow I'll sleep later than 4:30 am, then maybe not. More old B.S. later.


* © 1982 Donald Fagen/Freejunket Music ASCAP


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