Click here for Home
GOING THE DISTANCE
"POWER SHIFT HERE WE GO"
Photo by Genghis
FOUR WHEELS OR TWO WHEELS: Both extensions of the Motor Culture.
Writing is an extraordinary process, that allows the writer to be almost concurrently, a reader during the process. The leap is instantaneous. As soon as the writer writes a sentence and the sentence takes on a coherent form in syntax, grammar and nuance, the writer then transforms himself into the First Reader of what was written. Being the first to witness how what was written looks and influences on a page, gives way to a deep introspection of one's personality. This happened to me when I wrote "Memoir" (CLICK HERE TO SEE). Writing my memoir reminded me in a vivid way of how very much I loved cars before I loved motorcycles, and how much passion I still have for cars.
This introspective aspect of writing for me, is one the keys to why I enjoy writing so much: It tells me a lot about myself, much that would've gone unrealized without the writing process. Writing is just one avenue for introspection. I also find riding my bike and driving my car conducive to introspection. Being alone with your bike and car is an internal experience. It's like having a focused converstaion, with yourself.
Without introspection, people would just go through life in a straight oblivious line, not being able to feed off of the tangential stops along the way that make 'em more aware of themselves. This is a mental malnourishment of the highest order.
Writing is therapeutic. Introspection makes us realize, how we each tick. Keep your friends close, your enemies closer, and most all all, the inner you the closest.
Being the First Reader of "Memoir" also made me contemplate how some bikers are like me, and conversely how many others are not like me with with respect to having a passion for cars. Just the terminology many bikers use for cars, "cages," shows the deep disdain these car-hatin' bikers have for our four wheel sisters. The term "cage" implies an incarceration of persons, both physically and spiritually. The physical imprisonment is obvious: A person is trapped inside the metal (and sometimes fiberglass!) walls of a car. These bikers see cars as a spiritual incarceration of the mind, the soul trying to escape perceived conformity to the "norm."
These bikers see themselves as trapped animals seeking freedom from the symbolic cell of mainstreamism.
This spiritual imprisonment that cars represent to some bikers, takes more examination to understand.
ANOMIE: Anomie refers to a breakdown of social norms and it is a condition where norms no longer control the activities of members in society.
"Anomie" was a term that was introduced by a French sociologist named Emile Durkheim, and was popularly used in the 1950s and 1960s to describe the disaffection that teens, beats, hippies and bikers felt toward mainstream values.
Alienation was the name of the game. In some ways, the alienation that bikers felt, made bikers an Alien Nation.
I felt this separateness, this alienation from the mainstream in the '60s, even before I became a biker.
During the '50s and '60s, Durkheim's theory of anomie became the basis for criminology policy, spawning "war on crime" programs like MFY (Mobilization For Youth).
The target subjects of these "social programs" to prevent crime, were the JDs, the incorrigible youth struttin' around with greased-back pompadours and duck's asses (ducktails), and a pack of Chesterfields rolled up in the sleeves of their t-shirts. Could be a switchblade here and there, too, in their jackets that they wore with the collars turned up.
Picture John Travolta in "Grease" before he was found to be light in the loafers, one of Hollyweird's worst-kept secrets.
This was the era of the "J.D." (juvenile delinquent), when stereotypical JDs, teens gone wrong, terrorized mainstream adults, adults who cowered behind their suburban picture windows, afraid of urban hoodlums intent of stickin' em with a shiv. JDs of course, graduated to gettin' Harley-Davidsons a soon as they turned 21, cementing their status as hardened criminals in the public consciousness.
James Dean and Sal Mineo scared the Citizen Grownups, before they were outed as Christmas fruitcakes.
It's no wonder that those in the biker subculture, which was in its most fluorishing phase in the '60s, felt "anomie," since bikers were targeted by law enforcement as chronic criminals.
That's why cars, AKA "cages," are perceived with suspicion and abhorrence by some bikers. Some bikers have created their own narrowly exclusionary idea of purism, one that categorically denies any iconic stature of car culture. To them, to embrace two wheels is to forsake four wheels. To them, it's all or nuthin', man.
To many bikers, cars represent the social norm while bikes represented rebellion. "Hey man the citizens ride around in cages, not us! We're freethinkers and free people!" Even the now somehow quaint biker term of "citizens," points to how bikers viewed the mainstream. They were the citizens. We on the other hand, are not. We are cool, they are not. We know where it's at, man! That's the dominant mindset of bikers who hate cars.
When I came up in the '60s in my neck of the NYC woods known as Queens, car culture was cool. As was motorcycle culture. In fact, the two overlapped and merely represented different sects of Motor Culture. They were each two halves of the whole of Motor Culture. On saturday nights when people showed up to watch the organized street drags at Connecting Highway in Queens, they showed up on their Harleys and in their cars.
Motor Culture was big in Queens, as I described in "Memoir" and "Unnamed Vette" (CLICK HERE TO SEE). One didn't nullify the other. They were each seen as an extension of the larger Motor Culture.
I felt fortunate in my passion for cars in the '60s , because I had a separate way besides my '64 Corvette to enjoy car culture. That was to watch car racing as a spectator sport. I never had that with motorcycles. I don't find motorcycle racing interesting.
Sports are important to me. Football is all encompassing to me during football season, but that is a story for another time. From the time I was a teen, I dug sports car racing, Formula One, Indy cars, drag racing and NASCAR as spectator sports. One of my favorite cars was Jim Hall's Chevy Chaparral, the photo of which appears with this article. I made this exposure at the Bridgehampton track on Long Island in the '60s. It was a revolutionary car, with the advent of the rear wing, having been introduced by Jim Hall long before Formula One cars and Indy cars began using 'em. American ingenuity, man! I actually learned how to properly downshift (to blip the throttle to raise the revs before downshifting) both cars and bikes by reading Phil Hill's (the first American Formula One champion) book on driving technique. The same technique applies to motorcycles.
One racing series in which car racing is directly relatable to me, is the sports car racing in ALMS (the American Le Mans Series, which includes the 24 hours of Le Mans in France), where the Chevrolet Corvette factory team has just won another of many GT championships. The engineering and technology in ALMS is actually far more advanced than in NASCAR. Vettes rule, man. Vettes have a long and illustrious history in sports car racing, both nationally and internationally. 1960 saw the Corvette win its class for the first time in the 24 hours of Le Mans (France) race.
This was a case of American Muscle showing the way to the Europeans, who chose to be elitist, a reversal of Jim Clark's European F1 car showing the way to American elitists at the '65 Indy 500.
This was a Vette brought over by an American named Briggs Cunningham, that was powered by a fuel-injected 283 cube 290 horse motor. Appropriately, Cunningham's middle name was Swift.
Other great Vette highlights were numerous wins at Le Mans and in endurance races in America (like the 12 hours of Sebring and the 24 hours of Daytona), and SCCA championships (Sports Car Club of America, a race-sanctioning body). A factory Vette won not just its class, but outright in the Daytona 24 hours a few years ago, beating all the prototype machines. Who can forget the Lightweight Corvettes (named the Grand Sports) of the '60s, that weighed 2,000 pounds and were powered by monster 700 horsepower L88 427s? Awesome, man.
Today, car racing helps to fill my Sports World, just as it did when my passion for cars began in the 1960s. Formula One's teams' almost unlimited budgets (top teams reportedly have $400 million dollar annual budgets, employing hundreds of engineers and mechanics), allow F1 to produce the most advanced and best-performing cars on the planet. NASCAR drivers such as Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have had the chance to drive F1 cars, and they couldn't believe how unreal these cars are. Keep in mind, these are 1,400 pound (and this includes the driver) machines powered by 900 horsepower motors.
Formula One has never failed to entertain and inspire me.
Occasionally, once-in-a-lifetime drivers come along, who are each head and shoulders above those milling around them in a miasma of mediocrity.
These guys are my heroes.
One of those was my all-time favorite, Jim Clark, who as Formula One champion came to the Indy 500 in 1965 and beat the best that America put on the grid. Another was Ayrton Senna, another favorite of mine who died in a crash in Italy in the 1990s. Others were Mario Andretti and Phil Hill.
Another exceptional driver--and My Driver in Formula One--is Sebastian Vettel, the current world champ. Vettel is a 25 year old phenom, who just won his third consecutive championship title. He is the youngest driver to win the triple crown in F1 and consecutively, at that. To watch him drive is to witness genius. There's nothing in spectator sports like having Your Driver or Your Team win. It's the best. That's what I was hoping for when My Driver in NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Sr. died, and his son took over, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. never fulfilled his promise. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is My Driver in NASCAR, but he's not his dad.
Unfortunately, NASCAR has lost some of its luster for me. Losing The Intimidator (Dale Earnhardt Sr.) is part of it. The continued homogenization of cup cars, is another. With every passing year, cup cars distance themselves farther and farther from the stock street cars they're supposed to look like.
The cars have become so spec car-driven, that it's hard to relate to the brands of cars that they are supposed to be. In the old days, stock cars in NASCAR were just that: Souped-up street cars. There was a time when NASCAR fans rooted for the brands of Chevy, Pontiac, Ford and Chrysler, but now fans root for for individual drivers, because the cars are so similar. That is a great loss in the area of brand loyalty, always an important part of watching car racing.
As time went on, NASCAR cars have become more generic, with the different types of brand-specific looking bodies (with decals of headlights instead of the real things!) on them to identify the brands. This to me, is ridiculous. Cars in sports car racing all have functioning headlights--it is a rightly a requirement to qualify.
Also, My Driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., hasn't been winning. That puts a damper on it.
Indy cars have declined since the 1960s, precipitated by the spec car invasion in an effort to save money. In the old days, rules were lax, and teams developed truly innovative designs to compete. Those were the days when Formula One champs like Jimmy Clark, Emerson Fittipaldi and Nigel Mansell came to the Indianapolis 500 to compete and win. The Indy 500 was once considered a world-class race on a par with the 24 hours of Le mans. No more. The split in Indy cars when the IRL (Indy Racing League) created its own, weaker series, seriously damaged Indy car racing. Indy cars have devolved ever since.
I can still watch NASCAR, but not Indy cars.
2012 was the first year that I could not watch indycar racing. I didn't watch last year's Indianapolis 500, a classic and historic race that I looked forward to every year since I was a kid.
SOMETIME IN 1966:
I was driving my 1964 Corvette Stingray, "Unnamed Vette," and my close friend Willie Ng was with me. We were on the Hempstead Turnpike on Long Island. Hempstead Turnpike has long been considered one of Long Island's deadliest roads, where more than 500 pedestrians have been hit by traffic. On a report presented by New York's Channel 2's Jennifer McLogan, Hempstead turnpike was described by an accident victim this way...."It's a deathtrap...it's a sixteen mile corridor of crisis...."
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign had this road ranked the highest as the "Most Dangerous Road For Pedestrians" since 2008. According to New York State statistics, more people have perished on the 16 mile stretch of the Hempstead Turnpike, than any other road in the state.
A plan to construct a fence in the middle of this road, as a road divider to prevent pedestrians from crossing it, is being implemented.
It was also a road known for street racing in the '60s. On this day in 1966, I pulled Unnamed Vette to a redlight in the left lane. Another car abruptly pulled up next to us, in the right lane. I revved Unnamed Vette's small-block Chevy, exhaust dumpers blasting. I depressed Unnamed Vette's heavy-duty racing clutch, and shifted my brand-new Hurst shifter (the one with the handgrip knob)...."Snickt"....into first gear (that Hurst shifter felt so precise with short throws, compared to the stock shifter), while the Beach Boys sang in my head.....
Tach it up, tach it
Buddy gonna shut you down
It happened on the strip where the road is wide
Two cool shorts standin' side by side
Yeah, my fuel-injected Stingray and a 413
We're revvin' up our engines and it sounds real mean
Gotta be cool now power shift here we go....
The driver of the other car looked across Willie in Unnamed Vette's passenger seat, and gave me the competitive eye. When the light turned green, I dumped Unnamed Vette's clutch, buried the gas pedal and we screamed down Hempstead Turnpike in a blast of V-8 anger, leaving the competition behind. There was only one problem. When the driver caught up to us at the next redlight, he had lights on his dash flashing furiously, and a siren loudly blaring. Oops. He was a cop in an unmarked.
He yelled across Willie in Unnamed Vette's passenger seat, "Hey, where do you think you are, at the Indianapolis 500?" Looking back at this incident now, I realize that the cop enjoyed the moment, and especially enjoyed delivering that line. No doubt it was preplanned.
The good thing: The cop let me go without a ticket. He didn't even ask to see my license and registration.
A perfect delivery of the line, and seeing me sweat while I looked for an answer (I wasn't about to give a snappy answer, and I can't remmember what I said) to his rhetorical question, made his day. It was a true Clint Eastwood moment for him. I considered giving voice to the obvious answer, "No officer, this is the Hempstead Turnpike...," but I decided that an accurate response wouldn't be expected or appreciated.
Letting me go in a bad cop/good cop reversal, with the admonition to never to speed on his road (possession is 9/10ths of the law) again, was more satisfying to him than routinely handing me a speeding citation. The memory endures. Later.
Superstock Dodge is winding out in low
But my fuel-injected Stingray's really startin' to go
To get the traction I'm ridin' the clutch
My pressure plate's burnin' that machine's too much
Shut it off, shut it off buddy I shut you down.....