In the mid 1970’s I had a ’68 Camaro with several different engine and transmission combinations. Originally it had a 327 with a three-speed manual. I loved pulling the engine out to modify or drop in another one to see how fast I could go. I had a 396 Big Block with big valve 427 heads and four speed that really brought the Camaro to life. I loved driving fast. I loved street racing. I got the tickets to prove how much I loved it. Back then our real risk of street racing was losing our license for a few months, not like today where you can end up in jail and losing your car. I don’t recall there ever being a racing accident. I am sure there were, but I never heard of any.
Friday and Saturday nights, I would go cruising Palmer in Texas City looking for a race. I had several other friends who would do the same. Other weekends I would cruise Clear Lake. Usually on Bay Area out by the High School is where we would end up racing. Most times I would race someone I knew but there were many times I would get challenged by a Mustang or Charger that was someone I never met before. I shied away from racing a Corvettes but occasionally, I would challenge one. The common tradition was if you lost, you had to give the winner your shifter handle. I had a small box on the floor behind the driver’s seat full of shifter knobs and handles, mostly Mustangs. I lost several of my Hurst T Handles occasionally.
The races I enjoyed the most was some kid would be out in his new Trans Am or Camaro. These were factory stock, but the owners believed they were the best of the best. Some of the big block Trans Ams held their own, but for the most part they were easy pickings. I recall one time I was on Palmer sitting at the light at 146 going west. A new Trans Am with an automatic started to challenge me. On this part of the road, as you leave the light you go up and over an overpass not too far from leaving the light. The light turned green and the Trans Am got the jump on me. I got even with him when I hit second. When I hit third, I started to walk away from him. At this point we were started to go down the other side of the over pass. Then suddenly, he disappeared, like he hit his brakes. I could see him in my mirror, so I pulled over. He was sitting on the shoulder. I backed up on the shoulder to see if he was ok. Turns out that when he saw me pulling away from him, he threw his transmission into park. I guess subconsciously he was thinking he had to shift. I looked under his car and saw transmission fluid draining out. I told him he could keep his shifter handle. He gave me an odd look, I guess he was not aware of the tradition. I never found out what ended up with him, I guess he was in real trouble when he got home.
Another time while cruising Palmer there was a ’63 Nova that had a straight axle. It was mean looking. I could see fender well headers, so he meant business. At the light I looked over at him and he was an older guy with his wife and kids. I thought that was sort of strange. He was challenging me, so I got ready. When the light turned green I got him on the jump. He could not catch up once I pulled away, so I won the race. After a race we would end up meeting up at a shopping center parking lot. When he pulled in he had his window down and handed me his shifter handle as he slowly went by, he did not stop. I felt sorry for him since his family was with him. Since I was 18 years old, I perceived him as an old guy, but, he was probably about 30 years old. I could imagine the conversation in the car after the race.
I remember hearing that the Texas City Police got motorcycles to help catch street racers, so I did not go there much after that. I went into Houston. Problem with going to the city is the racing was fast on the freeways. Back then the traffic was almost nonexistent compared to today. I remember one time taking the I-45 north to 610 west exit which was a turning single lane bridge at 120 mph. I did not feel like it was dangerous but looking back I was very lucky I did not go off that bridge. There were several other times that were like this. I know angels were watching over me even though at the time I felt invincible.
One time late at night I had just installed something in the Camaro, I really don’t recall what, but I was out for a test drive. The streets were empty, so I stopped, ran the RPMs up and dumped the clutch. The car was running like a beast, every gear pulled strong. Then suddenly there was something reflecting back at me in the middle of the road. My thought was some kid was standing in the road just watching me come towards him and he was not moving out of the way. I slammed on the brakes and went right off the road. Where I left the road was on a driveway and immediately I went airborne off the culvert. I was going down the shallow ditch when the next driveway was right in front of me, so I steered left back onto the road. My right-side traction bar caught in the dirt on the side of the driveway and I spun out in the road where I came to a stop. I sat there for a second, then looked to see what was in the road. A Great Dane was staring at me wondering what the deal was. I saw a porch light come on, so I put the car back in gear and drove off. The next day I went back to see where I went off the road. You could see the tire tracks and I followed them from where I left the first driveway. I was airborne for about 20 feet where the tire tracks started in the grass. I was shocked to see that I had missed a telephone pole by inches. This was the point where I saw how lucky I was.
Fast forward to 1985. I had just bought the Corvette I still have. I did not modify it very much, so I was not out looking for a race. I was just enjoying driving at night through downtown Houston with the T-Tops off. I was at a stop light just about to leave downtown heading west on Memorial. A Porche 911 Carrera challenged me to a race. I knew I really did not have a chance, but no one was around this time of night so what the heck. The light turned green and off we were. We were staying side by side, I thought the Porche would have walked away from me. Next thing I knew, there were the familiar lights behind us wanting us to pull over. I slowed down and pulled over ready to get the massive ticket. The Porche kept going. The Officer walked up to the Vette, I handed him my license. He asked did I know the guy in the Porche. I said I did not, that was the first time I saw him. The Officer gave me my license back and told me to slow down and he left. I sat there in shock, I just got off lucky! That was the very last time I raced someone on the street. I got back on the road to head to my townhouse where I lived at the time and as I rounded the bend on Memorial I saw several police cars behind the Porche and the guy was spread eagle on the side of his car and they were searching him. I guess one of the Police was waiting at the curve for him. I drove past just ten mph under the speed limit. I have always wondered if they had been watching him for other reasons and maybe this was the thing to haul him in. I will never know but am thankful that I was let go. Another time Angels were watching over me.
I swore I would not talk about these events until my kids were over 20 years old, so they would not get the idea of doing something like this. Both my kids are very careful drivers, they get that from their Mom. Looking back, I have fond memories of driving and modifying muscle cars that young people today will never experience. Back then I could buy and modify a 1st generation Camaro for what I made mowing lawns. Now you can’t get one of those cars without a huge bank loan. I am sure I wore out an Angel or two. I never put a scratch on a car, so I know the Angels were busy watching over me.