Sunday, March 18, 2007

When Driving Fast Was Cool

I'm old enough to remember when driving fast was cool.

I came after the American Graffiti era, of course; but when I saw the American Graffiti movie in the theater, none of it was strange to me. We'd tinker with our elderly American cars, and occasionally we'd race. We lived in podunk. We raced right on the spur of the superhighway that was just finished that started noplace and ended nowhere. At night you could do any damn thing on that road. The police didn't even bother to go there.

I still remember the sort of sinking feeling we got the first time we opened up a car hood and saw this sort of metal octopus atop the engine block. No more tweaking the points and condenser, tinkering with the carburetor, nothing. It was all idiot stickers and towel bar air dams on ricers after that.

Racing, real racing, made a kind of sense then too. It's like its contemporary, country music. Neither one is worth a crap now, because they are just a shiny plastic imitation of the chrome and dirt thing they replaced. They are both so popular that no one goes there any more. No one like me, anyway.

With racing, it ended, like so many things, when too much was achieved. At first, there was an interesting race to innovate the technical aspects of the car and marry it to a maniac driver that had been running moonshine ten minutes before. Now third generation metrosexuals in footie pajamas covered with mercenary scout patches drive cars that are engineered to make sure they don't go too fast. Too fast? There's no such thing. Not one of them could beat me home on Friday night after work. Country music died when it forgot what the hell country the "Country" was referring to. And no, I'm not "Ready For Some Football," you penthouse hayseed.

A car is just a box to ride around in now. It has the vibe of a European tram, if it has a vibe at all. I don't even understand the need for "cars" anymore. A two door car is a joke to me now. A vehicle is a utilitarian device. People talk with disdain about "SUVs" as if they're wasteful or something. They're just station wagons. At least they function as what they are, a big cart to haul people and things in. What's a Pontiac Sunfire, exactly? And everyday cars are all different brands of ugly, more or less. Face facts. A F-150 Lightning pick-up truck will blow the doors off a sports car. The speed limit is 65. What's it all for?

You could make a whole bowl of cereal if you went through the backseat cushions of our little wagon, and you could fit that wagon inside my truck. Our vehicles are there to do things. Not be things. Do things. How can they hope to capture your imagination? Every third song on the radio then was about a car. Every third song on the radio now is ... more than I'd care to listen to. We traded Wolfman Jack for Rush Limbaugh.

Cars? I remember fondly when we wondered only what was possible. And what we could get away with. It's over. Face it.


Icepick said...

[Race c]ars that are engineered to make sure they don't go too fast. Too fast? There's no such thing.

Here I must disagree. If they took the restrictor plates off the cars I could win the Daytona 500 in my Honda Civic. And I'd never have to break the speed limit or change tires! The reason? The race car drivers would all be dead from taking the turns at 250+ mph. (And they would all try it, too. You may deride them all you wish, but despite the polish, these guys are still the same hell-bent-for-glory types as AJ Foyt or Fireball Roberts.)

The track is too big for the power plants they use these days. They can get away with that on smaller tracks because the straight-aways aren't long enough for the cars to reach their full speed, but Talledega and Daytona are death-traps for cars that big and that fast. (Probably Indy too, but I haven't followed that NASCAR race too closely.)

It's different with the open-wheel cars because they're lighter and have been engineered specifically for those kinds of ludicrous speeds. But even with open-wheel racing one more typically sees them on road courses or shorter tracks. I'd love to know what an F-1 car could do at Talledega....

Icepick said...

Oops, that should probably read 235+ MPH, although I'm not sure that anyone really has any idea how fast a NASCAR type race car could go without the restrictions.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Icepick- I'm not sure you and I do disagree all that much.

You explain in some depth why the cars can't be allowed to go that fast. But that was where I got off the bus- once the striving for the next technical innovation married to nerve ended --and had to end -- my interest in it ended also. I can't get over the idea that I'm watching sprinters in lead shoes, aimlessly going in circles. It has a whiff of Harlem Globetrotters about it.

Pastor_Jeff said...

I was never much of a gearhead, but I had a '76 Catalina in high school that gave us some fun seeing how fast we had to go on the back roads to get airborne -- no small feat in western Oklahoma, let me tell you.

Junior had some country songs, but if you want the real thing you oughta ask his dad.

The Chief said...

I had a friend named "The Phantom" who used to ride shotgun with me in my '73 AMX - had a 401 in it with the holly dual pump - Fast cars and fast times were a way of life for us - driving fast was very cool.

Chicks digged us - the motorheads hated us and the rest of the world thought we were pretty obnoxious.

Cruising around with a cold one between your legs in the middle of the summer, windows down, Jensen coax's cranked to the max was what we did for fun. There was no “superhighway” back then, just the open road.

Then we got a bit older and got rid of the muscle cars for something more sensible and better on gas - but we were still kids so we drove them as fast as they could go too.

Driving fast really was cool... course when we were born there were only 49 states in the union.

Teri said...

Hard to beat a Nash Rambler. And Hank the third does a few good ones too. I do miss chrome and real grills.

SippicanCottage said...

Heh- That fellow the chief is one of my oldest and dearest friends.

Ron said...

They damaged country music when they Prozaced suffering away, so that singing about it meant you were simply "off your meds," not "living your life."

Hell, you said not long ago that you didn't like the Beach Boys who were among the kings of car songs back then! Which is it, pro "Little Deuce Coupe" or not?

Isn't it odd how much we "vet" suffering, or even feeling itself now? You have to have proper "credentials" to be allowed to culturally express suffering, rather than just see who is and who is not in pain at the moment... This could go on far too long. I punt.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Ron- I'm more of a "Rocket 88" kind of a guy.