I was 16 years old and engaged to a 22 year old Navy man who was currently out to sea at the tail end of the cleanup after the Viet Nam war. I had graduated from high school early. My dad and I had a 57 Chevy V8 with a 4 barrel Holley Carb that we loved dearly. My dad used to race it at Lion’s Dragstrip. So what’s a bored, ignored teenager to do? Join Orange County Street Racers! We would meet in the giant parking lot of the grocery store at Brookhurst and Orangethorpe. We’d admire each other’s cars and challenge each other to races. The 91 freeway was a brand new, perfect, almost straight and under used piece of pavement. A racer’s gift from God.
After hanging out for a while we’d pair off and head off to different sections of freeway to race. It was about 2:00 AM and I was set to race an overconfident 20 something in a newer Pontiac Firebird. We got lined up and took off in a cloud of burning rubber (mostly his.) Moments later my speedometer was pinned at 120 and we were still accelerating when I heard a thunk and the next thing I knew, I was roaring down the freeway with sparks shooting past the windows out from under both sides of my car. It must have looked incredible and the noise was fearsome but I was terrified that I’d blown up the car.
I finally got it stopped – it takes a while when you’re going that fast. The guy in the Pontiac came back and told me how bitchin it looked and that we were doing almost 170 mph when it blew. I could barely pay attention so great was my fear of my dad’s retribution.
I checked it out and saw that the exhaust pipe had separated from the manifold. It had dropped in the front to the ground but was still connected with the clamps at the muffler. I started it back up and idled down the off-ramp into sleeping Bellflower. If I touched the gas at all the noise of that big V8 engine without a muffler was incredible. It sounded like a tractor from hell. At least I was going so slow it didn’t spark very much.
About a quarter mile off the freeway I found a gas station open with an attendant. He gave me a piece of rope that we used to tie the exhaust up off the ground to the door handle.I proceeded to idle home, chancing accelerating in shorts spurts trying to balance the danger of making so much noise at almost 3:00 AM with the length of time it was going to take me to get to Buena Park at 5 mph. I made it to our street and luckily our house was at the bottom of a slope so I turned the engine off and coasted into the driveway. I snuck into the house through my bedroom window and went to sleep. Terror is exhausting.
The next morning I woke up at the crack of dawn, pushed the car into the street, started it and idled my way to Fantasy Muffler. I was waiting in front of the bay when they opened the big door. They pulled it right in and had it on the lift. I sat out front praying I could afford the repair.
It turned out that they had done the original exhaust work for my dad. A little welding and some new bolts and she rolled out good as new in less than an hour. The repair was no charge since it was their work that had failed. I shook the man’s hand and tried not to giggle hysterically. I drove home, parked it in the driveway and never told a soul until now.
They say that God cares for children and imbeciles. I don’t know for sure which one I am but I’m just glad I qualify.
And this is just one of the many times the saying was proved true.
I used to tell people that my life was an adventure into the vastness of God’s grace. It’s still true.