a day at the races are no more

When the armed forces left our town in the late ’60s, they left many things behind. The best thing (at least for the younger people in the town) was the airstrip. Although the town continued running an airport, there was one length of airstrip that was no longer used.

The ‘Ramp’ as it was called, was that particular length of airstrip. A quarter mile of pavement that was relatively smooth provided the young men with an excellent race track. I heard that drag racing began soon after the army left, and by the time I was old enough to drive a car, the sport had excelled immensely.

On Sundays, many residents of the town gathered to watch the races. The racers were the richer kids in town, which made perfect sense, as this was not by any means a poor man’s sport.

The best car on the track and a fan favourite was a 1970 Ford Mustang that was customized with a 429 V8 engine, beautiful blue metallic paint, and a set of side-pipes. Rob Fitzpatrick owned the car and both he and the car were instantly recognizable wherever he went.

Most of the time, racers were from our immediate area. Genie Hanlon ran a big block Chevelle, the paint was a flat black and the car wasn’t anything special to look at, but could it ever go. Wayne Delaney ran a ’67 Camaro with a supercharger that deafened everyone when he ran the track.

Of course being 17, sitting in my old six banger and dreaming I had a hot rod was torture. On one occasion, my cousin Arthur (not rich by any means, but a true car guy) managed to find an old Javelin and fix it up. With a big block V8 jammed between the fenders, the little car could really haul ass.

Some guy in a rusted out firebird challenger Art to a race. Before he began the race, he asked if I wanted to come along. Mom and dad would have killed me if they seen their 17 year old son flying down the quarter mile in that old car, but I could not have been more proud…and excited.

100 mph down the track and I soon realized that the road was anything but smooth. At one point I thought he was going to lose the car, but thankfully he managed to control the car and we got back safe. We also won the race. The guy’s firebird stalled before he even got started.

On any given Sunday, there were approximately 100 cars racing, which brought lots of tourists into our town. Add to this the money brought into service stations and garages, and the Sunday races at the ramp brought the town a ton of money.

I still remember the last race on the ramp. A blue mustang and a pickup truck were running neck and neck (nobody knew what that guy had in the truck but it was fast) when suddenly a squad car passed the crowd, and with its lights flashing, waited for the racers to make their return run to the start line. Everyone was arrested and fined, and race day on the ramp ended. Apparently someone complained about how dangerous the races were. In over 25 years of racing, nobody was ever seriously injured, and there were no accidents during the races.

For a few years afterwards, a few people tried to organize racing again, but the heyday that was enjoyed during the 70’s and 80’s was now long gone.

A few years back, a few of the town’s residents applied for a grant to start a drag racing track in the town. They obtained many safety features, including an actual starting light. (back in the good old days a blonde in short shorts waving a red flag started the races) and bleachers for the spectators. Seeing how desperate the town was for some sort of entertainment, the old hot rodders came out of retirement and began racing again, but the racing group was hit by such high insurance rates that they had to give the thing up. Right now you can drive by the track, which has been fenced off by the government, but it is impossible to gain access to the quarter mile strip.

While racing was legal on the ramp, young drivers had an outlet for their energy. You never seen any kids speeding on the streets, and there were next to no accidents in town. Once the track was taken away, the kids searched for any straight, smooth quarter mile of pavement and raced there. A kid that I knew quite well lost his life when he was racing and he hit an oncoming car. This would have never happened if he were racing on the track. Kids will drive fast, why not give them a safe place to do so? Thats my rant for today

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