Monday, December 31, 2012

Highway 86 Dragway

It was in the summer of '68 that the road between Guelph and Elmira was torn up and replaced with a proper two-lane asphalt highway. Not long after, a couple of white lines appeared across the new road, a quarter of a mile apart.

The starting line was right in front of my parents' house, and the other line was a quarter mile to the south, just before the road took a gentle rise which peaked in front of Johnson's farm.

The reason our end was the start was because just to the north was the intersection of the Marden-Maryhill Road. The guys who ran on the 86 were typically in the 100 to 120 mph range at the top end. Bearing down on that intersection at that speed was an accident waiting to happen.

If on the other hand you were heading south, a car cresting the hill at Johnson's farm gave you lots of time to abort a run.

Most of the racing happened at night. Some of these meets looked like they'd had a fair bit of planning. There'd be flares at the start and finish lines, spotters at the top of the hill with walkie-talkies, and somebody with a police-band scanner. On a good night you'd find dozens of cars parked along the shoulders.

That was the golden age of Detroit muscle. Our house was set well back from the road, but you'd hear the action. That was my signal to climb out my second story bedroom window and head up to the fence for a front row seat.

There was a fellow in town by the name of Earl Vollet who was a big cheese in the Ventures Car Club. He'd built a replica of a Sox and Martin '64 Plymouth Super Stock racer. 426 Hemi with the two four barrels.

"King of the Street" according to the Mopar propaganda. I saw that car get whupped a couple of times. Once by a '69 GTO Judge and once by '68 Camaro Z-28.

In 1970 Vollet showed up with a brand new Hemi Challenger, hemi orange with a black (painted, not vinyl) roof. Automatic. That too got a spanking from a small block Z-28.

There were a number of quick Fords around at the time. The 390 Mustang GTA's were a lot quicker than the magazines gave them credit for. Ran with the big block Mopars all the time.

When the '69 models came out you saw a few Mach 1's. With the 428 and the shaker hood and the drag-pak option those were a pretty sweet car. In 1970 the 351 Cleveland motor showed up in the Mach 1. I saw several of those on our dragstrip. Had a sound all their own. I could hear the difference between a Windsor and a Cleveland 351 from half a mile away.

The quickest Ford that ever graced the 86 belonged to one of the Reinhart boys who lived on the next concession. Dad was a dairy farmer, and one of his lads went on to become a big deal in the NHL. His older brother had one of the quickest street cars I've ever seen. It was a gold '68 Mustang hardtop, supposedly with a 427 side-oiler, that had been on the Super Stock circuit the year before. At least that was the story.

From time to time Reinhart would run the car with open headers. You'd hear it fire up one concession over, and you could track it's path from the sound it made. That was a car that never hung around for more than a run or two. Anything that loud would prompt the normally tolerant neighbours to call the cops.

At the bigger meets the cops would inevitably show up. I'm not aware that anyone ever got charged with anything racing related. Thanks to the spotters there'd be a flurry of get-away activity, but there'd always be a few cars still sitting by the side of the road. The cops would join the car owners in looking under the hoods and chit-chatting about cams and carburetors and headers and axle ratios.

One night after the dust had settled I actually witnessed a couple of OPP cruisers square off on a quarter mile run. I think cops were more down to earth back then.

There were three brothers who lived on Bagot Street in town and between them they pretty much owned the 1969 Mopar catalog. One had a 440 Charger RT, another a blue 340 Dart with a white stripe, and another a black Super Bee. The Bee was the prettiest and the fastest.

Once I got to driving age it was just a matter of time before I was racing instead of watching. The first race-worthy car I owned was a factory ordered 340 Duster. Four speed, buckets, 3:55 posi, radio delete. Man was I proud of that car! Spent more time waxing it than driving it.

My very first race on the 86 was against Kenny Boyce's 67 Chevy ll SS. 327/375 with 4:11's. Four speed of course. I had no idea. He was so far ahead of me at the halfway he nonchalantly signaled and pulled into my lane. He coasted past the finish and was still ten car lengths ahead of me.

Later on I'd take my SD 455 Trans Am for the occasional rip down the quarter. It's problem was traction. Basically you didn't have any with the factory polyglas tires. I recall going up against Brian Vollet's 440 six-bbl '71 GTX. Ken Goslin had bought that car as a tow vehicle for his Hemi 'Cuda Super Stock racer.

While on paper the 455 should have had the better of that match, Brian pulled about a half length ahead in first gear while I was going up in smoke and that was it. Still a half length ahead at the finish line. Both of those cars were good for 110 at the top of the quarter.

My buddy Kipling bought a SS D big block Chevelle race car and put mufflers and license plates on it. He was the big dog for about two weeks, which is how long it took to put a rod out the side of the block. Running race cars on the street seems like a good idea, but in practice it never worked out in the long run.

There's a ton of really fast cars I could reminisce about. My '70 Dart 340 had some modifications done by the previous owner, who'd been a high school machine shop teacher. Don't know what he'd done because everything looked box stock when you opened the hood. Didn't even have headers. Cleared the top of the quarter at just under 7,000 rpm in third. If you were up for it you could grab forth and carry on till about 150 mph, but by that time the quarter mile was quite a ways behind you.

Johnny Hirtle had a brutal 69 Super Bee. He'd broke the original motor and we swapped another Mopar big block in that had been built for Super Stock racing. That was a mid twelve car easily, even with the 3:23's that he left in the back.

Those were good times. Alas, time went on. Cars got slower. The guys who drove them got older and raised families. More houses went up along the 86.

It's called the Elmira Road now and there's no stripes painted on it.

But Toyota just named their latest hot-rod the Toyota 86.

Thanks, Toyota!

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