I was at a classic car auction, it was late Sunday afternoon, the last day of the auction and the crowd was thinning when up rolled a beautiful 1969 B5 Blue Plymouth Road Runner. I looked at the VIN number on the dash and it was a real RM23 Road Runner with a non-numbers matching 440-4 barrel and a couple of interesting options. These cars were very basic, no frills cars, most of them were bench seat cars but this one had buckets and a console. As far as the power train went it was an automatic but it had a 3:55 rear end. The bids were going nowhere so I jumped in, the owner lifted the reserve, no more bids and the hammer came down. I picked up a very nice ’69 for $14,500! I walked back to look at the car and ran into the previous owner, all he could say to me was “You stole this car; the only reason I sold it is because I need the space in my garage.” All I could think was,” I had just bought my first cool car since before I got married!”
I drove the beast around some and went to a couple car shows before putting it away for the long Michigan winter. I hadn’t gotten on it real hard yet as I wanted to feel it out, although I rolled into it hard a number of times. I spent a long winter looking at it, rubbing on it and I couldn’t wait to get it back out the following spring, I knew it was a pretty potent car and I really wanted to unleash it. Over the winter I joined one of the local Mopar clubs. I was very excited to learn that they rented the local drag strip one Saturday morning in early April and you could make all the passes you wanted for $25.00. This gave the guys a chance to shake out all the winter modifications and upgrades everybody did on their cars.
I was fully aware that my car was by no means a race car, nor was I an accomplished driver. My Road Runner was a street car down to its skinny 70 series black wall tires but it sure had some power, and the 40 series Flow Master exhaust always loudly and proudly announced our arrival. That said the car was solid and felt strong, I was more worried about the weak link – the driver. I’ve never been on a drag strip before but I’ve spent a lot of time at them. Growing up, while not a driver, my dad was a member of one of the big factory teams of the 1960’s. As an adult one of my good friends races cars in factory stock, super comp and super gas classes so between the two connections I have spent a lot time at the drag strip over the years. I just wanted to get it down the track a couple times, and not back it into the wall. The one thing I learned from both my dad and my friend was go on the last yellow light, I cemented that advice in my head.
The big day arrived and I loaded up my borrowed helmet and drove the hour long trip down to Milan Michigan. I got to the track, paid my $25 and found a parking place in the pits; I was a little overwhelmed by all the big, bad to the bone, full on race Mopars sitting around. I walked up to the track to watch a few passes and saw a few street cars like mine so back to the car I headed. I pulled my one size too small helmet on, started the Road Runner and drove over to the lineup of very cool cars.
I watched as all the freshly cleaned and waxed cars left the start line. Eventually it was my turn; I was finally going to learn what this beast was going to do but I had to look the part, like I had been there before. I made sure to do a burn out to warm up the tires. Since I had an automatic I had to do a good old fashion “brake torque” like I did to my dad’s cars back in the day. Once complete I rolled up to the traps, then the starter yelled “window” at me. My amateur stature just showed, I had my window down! I quickly rolled it up almost as fast as he rolled his eyes at me.
I finally had a chance to look up and down the track; it seemed a lot wider than I thought it would be. I rolled into the first staging light then bumped the car up till the second staging light came on. Yellow, yellow, yellow (go time!), GREEN! Wait something isn’t right, this can’t be, the car is spitting and misfiring and popping through the traps and down to the finish light I rolled, “%^&@#(&”!
I drove back down the return lane barely able to keep the car running, I went back to my “pit” with no tools, got out opened hood and the car. Something was way wrong, not your normal misfire, it was misfiring on multiple cylinders. Nothing left to do but close the hood and head home,I drove out of the track and made a right turn on to the highway. Now it was evident something more was wrong, in addition to misfiring the whole car was shaking at 40 mph. I pulled up to a traffic light and put my foot on the brake to stop but, all the way to the floor my foot went before the car kind of stopped. What the “H” “E” double hockey sticks is going on?!
What a trip home this was. I could barely get the car above 50 mph on the interstate; it’s real nice having Toyota’s passing your Road Runner giving you the middle salute while your car is shaking violently. I stayed in the right lane so I could get on the shoulder in case the car dies and prayed I wouldn’t have to stop because for whatever reason the usually poor stopping old Mopar drums were more useless than usual. Finally I got home and pulled into the garage and onto my four post lift. I spent an hour going over the car, and the short story is I broke the brake master cylinder doing my burn out so that’s why I couldn’t stop. I threw a weight off my drive shaft so that’s why the car shook so bad and I broke the distributor so bad I couldn’t believe the car drove home, that’s why it misfired.
So, in summary, I made one pass and broke three things. I went into the house and told my wife what happened; with little pity she said to me “no more racing!” It wasn’t so much the tone as it was the look my racing street cars days were over, with lessons learned.