More Old B.S.: "Hey... That's a Girl!"
©2003 Bill Ott
There's a crazy little shack, beyond the tracks
And everybody calls it, the... Sugar Shack,
Well it's just a coffee house, and it's made out of wood
Espresso coffee tastes mighty good**
Sunday Oct. 5, 1963 Union Grove (Wisconsin) Raceway -
Time trials were moving along with the usual assortment of racers... everything from cars off the street, to all out race cars. No one paid more than the usual cursory attention to the Olds powered C/Fuel Dragster "# 98" as it made an average pass down the quarter mile... running in the low tens at 140 MPH. Just what one would expect from a car running in this class at this point in time.
Clearing the traps, the drag chute opened slowing "#98" to a stop before the end of the track just before the turn around back to the pits. As soon as the dragster rolled to a safe stop the driver jumped out and started bundling up the chute, then deposited it in the driver's compartment anticipating the arrival of the push car. As the '58 Ford Fairlane wagon approached the motionless racecar, the driver removed the confining crash helmet... sending a shock of dark waist length tresses falling.
"Hey, that's a girl!" one of the Safety Crew members blurted out, being caught off guard at the sight of a woman emerging from one of these 'dangerous' vehicles. Hardly the proper place for a lady... not in the fall of 1963.
But then again, this wasn't an ordinary lady... a fan of Kenton and Mulligan's brand of jazz, Kerouac's writings, and that newcomer on the scene Dylan, she'd have been right at home at one of those previously mentioned coffee houses. Oh, and don't forget the South American Margay (a small jungle cat) that traveled almost everywhere with her. No sir, this wasn't an ordinary lady.
So... why's a woman out here driving a Junior Fuel dragster?
Because some of her husband's friends said, "A woman couldn't do it."
Patty Hutson had been coming to the drags with husband Charlie for quite a while. They bought the 102" Schubeck built car from the team of Westerdale & Knapp in '62... dragged it back home to West Alice, Wisconsin, where she helped him put it back together. Hell, she even built the 303 cubic inch NITRO burning '49 Olds engine herself. Considering they sacrificed another '49 Olds just getting it home (burned a piston or two) it seemed like the least she could do.
Charlie, Patty & #98 circa 1963
Photo by John Pirolo courtesy of www.wediditforlove.com
Considering what it took to race back then... no Competition License required... just the quiones to jump in and do it... Charlie knew that his pals would be choking on their words... and soon! Now about this licensing business... seems that Patty didn't have one at the time. Nope. Not even one to drive on the streets! Just hadn't got around to it, but it was right at the head of the 'to do' list.
As the car and crew were making their way along the return road they had to drive in front of the timing tower. Manning the mike in the tower was Union Grove's resident track announcer Bud DeBoer. As Patty and her entourage passed in front of him he was heard to say "Hey... that's a girl!!"
It would still be a few more seasons before the novelty wears off, and the Shirleys, Judys, Paulas, Dellas, et al, would be out there competing (and kicking ass) on a regular basis.
But the girls were starting to step out... Betty Friedan's book " The Feminine Mystique" was one of the top sellers of '63... Elizabeth Taylor was the highest paid performer in Hollywood (a rumored four million for her role in Cleopatra)... Russia's Valentia Tereshkova was the first woman in space (and to orbit the planet) in June of '63. Yep, I guess '63 was about when the women were starting to get out of control.
But the ladies didn't feel obligated to do everything. No sir... once back in the pits Patty would pack the chute then jump back in the dragster and just sit there... said she liked the feel of the car, even sitting still. She also told me that the combination of the Schubeck chassis and direct drive made it a breeze to drive... always went straight as a string.
Charlie handled the between round maintenance chores... change the plugs... tip the can. Another team that either couldn't afford or understand a hydrometer. He also got to field more questions from those same friends, like...
"Did you really give her permission to drive this thing?"
"Nope, didn't have to." he replied "She never asked."
The Hutsons campaigned that old digger from '62 until the end of '64 with Charlie at the helm most of the time... except for just that month in '63. When she decided the guys had seen enough, and the "Hey, that's a girl!" comments dwindled to a trickle... she turned the reins back over to Charlie.
But she must have been doing something right. Romeo Palamides brought his jet car to Union Grove one of the weekends Patty was doing her thing in the dragster. He offered her a ride in the jet (remember that no license thing?). She turned him down, and to this day, she doesn't know why. Woulda been fun.
By the end of the '64 season they were both growing weary of the Wisconsin winters and knew that a change of climate was in order. So they sold the dragster and moved to sunny California. They both love California and still miss that digger.
Today the Hutsons still live in the Mojave Desert just north of Palm Springs. They've been sticking pretty close to the house these past few months... Charlie's health has been poor, but he's on the mend now.
Patty keeps herself busy these days still listening to jazz (and new favorite Queen) as well as editing the 'Morongo Basin Old Car Club' monthly newsletter. They both still attend the drags whenever they can and never miss the California Hot Rod Reunion. As a matter of fact if you were there last October 5th and were fortunate enough to attend the Inaugural "Ring Of Fire," you probably purchased your admission badge from Patty. She was one of the volunteers who manned the tent selling badges, T-shirts, and posters for the deal.
Among the participants in the "Ring" was Larry and Terri Anderson with their beautifully restored "Vagabond." Terri always handles the driving chores at both the Cacklefest and the Ring... but now no one is overheard to say "Hey... that's a girl!" Thanks in part to Ms. Patty and her moxie some thirty-nine years ago this exact same date. More old B.S. later.
P.S. This story was inspired by a feature Bud De Boer wrote about Patty a few years back. His story can be found on page 62 on the We Did it For Love website. Thanks Bud.
*Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs
sometime in the early 60's
**© 1963 Sugar Shack
K. McCormack & F. Woods
**Sugar Shack - Recorded by Jimmy Gilmer
and The Fireballs reached #1 on Billboard's Top
100 the first week of October 1963.