Where did you go….Little GTO?

By chance, do the names Shirley “Drag-On-Lady” Shahan or Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney” mean anything to you?  I’d guess that you would have to be a motorhead, like myself, to appreciate both of these drag racing pioneer women.  Actually, if you can find it on Netflix, rent “Heart Like a Wheel”, starring Bonnie Bedelia and Beau Bridges, then, come right back here to better appreciate my post.



I’ll wait…..

In the meantime, life in the 1960’s was about Hippies, free love, Dr. Timothy Leary, bra and flag burnings and a time of much discontent.  1967 was labeled “The Summer of Love” when young teenagers got friendly and smoked pot and grooved to the music of “The Grateful Dead. Jefferson Airplane and The Byrds”. 
70 million children from the post-war baby boom became teenagers and young adults during the 60’s; the movement away from the conservative fifties continued and eventually resulted in revolutionary ways of thinking and real change in the cultural fabric of American life.  No longer content to be images of the generation ahead of them, young people wanted change which ultimately affected education, values, lifestyles, laws, and entertainment. 

The continued presence of American troops increased and a total of 475,000 were serving in Vietnam; peace rallies were multiplying as the number of protesters against the war increased.  Muhammad Ali was stripped of his boxing world championship for refusing to be inducted into the US Army. Israel went to war with Syria, Egypt and Jordan in the six day war and when it was over Israel controlled and occupied a lot more territory than before the war. In the summer cities throughout America exploded in rioting and looting the worst being in Detroit where 7000 national Guard were bought in to restore law and order on the streets.

While the rest of the world focused on other things, all that was in my head was….Drag Racing.  Running C/MP, doing a couple of burn-outs in the staging area and then a slow roll up to the “Christmas Tree” (Staging Lights), dumping the clutch, pulling a holeshot, heading down the 1/4 mile with the engine screaming and hopefully to a big win over the guy I left in the dust at the starting line….there was nothing more exciting in my life back then.


“I have a grease monkey for a daughter!” angrily screamed my mother back in 1968 as I left home for one more week-end with my not-yet-husband, John.  We were in our usual mad rush out the door in an attempt to beat the traffic on the Long Island Expressway’s miles of highway that would lead us to our favorite destination…..New York National Speedway.  The drag strip was located in Center Moriches, New York and, at that time, the LIE ended at Exit 56.  Getting to the drag strip, from that point, meant a painful crawl on a two-lane road that was backed-up with the traffic of hundreds of week-end racers who slowly made their way towards the gates of the track and the chance of winning another trophy.

Life couldn’t have been better for a girl like me who owned a 1966 Pontiac GTO, had a boyfriend with unending mechanical knowledge, a tow car and who shared his weekly paycheck to help maintain and race my dream machine.  Picture this if you will…Montero Red,  Black vinyl hardtop,  Muncie 4 speed transmission, Hooker Headers, powered by an L88 427 Chevy engine, a 5.13 rear plus…. a 1050 Holley Carburetor to top it off.  Give me a moment here.  Thinking about that car makes me very emotional.



For any non-racers, a little background on the “Christmas Tree”…

Professional drag races are started electronically, with a series of vertically-arranged lights known as a “Christmas tree” or just “tree”. A “Christmas tree” consists of a column of lights for each driver/lane. In each column, the top two lights are small amber lights connected to light beams on the track, which when broken by the vehicle’s front tire(s) indicate that the driver has pre-staged (approximately 7 inches (180 mm) from the starting line) and then staged (at the starting line).


Below the staging lights are three large amber lights, a green light, and a red light. When both drivers are staged, the tree is activated to start the race, which causes the three large amber lights to illuminate, followed by the green light. There are two standard light sequences: either the three amber lights flash simultaneously, followed.4 seconds later by the green light (a pro tree), or the ambers light in sequence from top to bottom,.5 seconds apart, followed.5 seconds later by the green light (a sportsman tree, or full tree). If the driver breaks the starting line beam before the green light illuminates, the red light for that driver’s lane illuminates instead, indicating disqualification.  Got that?  Good.

My mother was right, she had a daughter who smelled of Eau de Gasoline and, on most nights, came home covered in grease and oil.  Mom’s tantrums grew worse when I went off to General Motors Training School one summer, dressed in GM Overalls and the only girl in a class of all males.  Oddly enough, I was never subjected to teasing or worse, in fact, once they realized that I knew my way around a V8 engine, I was in like flint!  By the end of the training session, I walked away with certifications in engine re-building, air conditioning, electrical systems and carburetion.  Looking back, I gained a wealth of knowledge and have no regrets in having the chance to learn all that I did; it was a great ride. 

Only once was my mother included during a race week-end.  Thinking that if she got a sense for all that was involved and got a small taste of the excitement, she might be less critical.  Big, big mistake.  During the last trophy run of the day, as I went down the track, mother was standing on the sidelines and screamed out “I hope you lose, you son-of-a-bitch” at the car I was racing against.  Standing next to her were the friends of that driver.  They were not…amused.

Mother was permanently banned from any further attendance at that, or any, drag strip.

The typical drag racer in the ’60s spent a considerable amount of money building and rebuilding a car only to spend more money taking that car to the track but… it was worth it.  Racing events at the speedway brought the biggest names in drag racing; Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Sox & Martin, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and the two women I most admired, Shirley Shahan and Shirley Muldowney.  The luxury of having a Pit Pass put street racers like myself in the company of these racing legends for a few hours and we were ordinary people no longer.  Visions of heading for bigger and better things behind the wheel of our favorite hot rod were the only dreams on our quarter mile horizon.


Ahhh…street racing; dangerous, illegal but, oh what a rush!  We did plenty of that to fill in the void when not out at the drag strip.  Way out in Queens, New York, everyone from miles around would meet at a stretch called “Connecting Highway” late on a Saturday night.  It was a perfect 1/4 mile run that had people racing for “Pinks” and lots of cold, hard cash.  A quick tire change to throw on “slicks” and racers lined up as “spotters” blocked oncoming traffic to allow the racing to begin. 



Another favorite spot was a portion of newly-finished Interstate 684 which wasn’t yet open, located by the Westchester County Airport; that was a weekly event that drew crowds of muscle cars.  The flashing lights of police cars would eventually have everyone scattering in different directions but there was always another makeshift drag strip to satisfy that need-for-speed.  Then, on a local level, there was Main Street/US1 that ran through our home town of New Rochelle.  This was a hot spot, one more perfect stretch that ran by the former mall and the scene of one of my last street races.   One night, gunning it, going through the gears side-by-side with a friend in his Chevy Impala, we were doing close to 80 m.p.h. as we sped down the street.  There, by the mall, was a woman slowly crossing, both arms carrying packages.  We were all lucky and the good Lord was with us that night; she froze in place as we went whizzing by.  I swear that when I looked back, we left her spinning in the middle of the street. 

Like most things, the days at the drag strip came to an end.  My favorite haunt closed down around 1980 to make way for the construction of Greenwood Village retirement community which was never fully established. The starting line and part of a guardrail from the speedway still exist on some undeveloped land. 


Marriage, children and visions of a house became a priority and summoned the end of both drag racing and… my beloved GTO.  Selling it is something I still kick myself over. Tucked away is all the original paperwork, in fact, I even had someone run the VIN with the hopes of finding it but came up with no results.
That car, those years, well, they were part of my youth which seemed to vanish in the blink of an eye. 

Growing up isn’t all that it’s made out to be.

As of October 31, 2010, Pontiac became history after 84 years.  The division of General Motors that produced muscle cars that drag-raced down boulevards, parked at drive-ins and roared across movie screens is going out of business. 
Pontiac’s most storied muscle car, the GTO came about when some GM engineers took a small car called the Tempest and dropped a powerful V8 engine under the hood.  GTO stood for “Gran Turismo Omologato”, Italian for…”ready to race.”
The GTO made up 17 percent of the 5.4 million cars and trucks General Motors sold in the United States in 1968 and….the GTO even had its own hit song in 1964 by Ronny and the Daytonas.


          “C’mon and turn it on, wind it up, blow it out GTO”

It was nice to have been part of it.

From Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop…Tell us about your first car.


Stories untold…

“Stories”, a Facebook feature, creates an avenue for sharing. For a limited period of time, people can post whatever they feel important, funny, even ridiculous. It’s kind of a fun app with the ability to get creative with music and graphics in order to make your story stand out a bit more. I like to focus on things a tad thought-provoking, sometimes supportive with a hint of needed valuation for those who take the time to read my offering.

Humor and things more political, well, I save that for Instagram, always with one eye over my shoulder for the IG Police. Call it my dark side, trust me, we all have one and the person in the back of the room exclaiming “not me” can be in the darkest corner of all. It’s human nature, you know? Those things we say behind closed doors that we would never spurt out in public? Certain areas of social media provide that platform for people with the hiding behind a name and professing everything from insults to idiocy. Free speech or just the breakdown of a public facade that would find someone’s mainstream friends and followers…shocked?

Whatever. How many times do we witness a situation, an event, and have to stifle an emotional response out of fear of being castigated by others? Quite possibly, our reaction might be shared by different people, they as well, also hesitant to speak out and vent.

At present, we’re theater-goers, sitting in a vast audience of the constant world drama on the stage that surrounds us, clowns to the left, jokers on the right and feeling absolutely stuck in the middle of almost undefinable chaos. (Had to work in the lyrics of that song, don’t judge me.)

Good, bad or indifferent, this is life at present. We all know where we’ve been and are hard-pressed to figure out what lies ahead, it’s a crapshoot at best. As I frequently say, and much too often, I so weep for the future while desperately grasping a few threads of positivity.

Meanwhile, I’ll venture back into finding some words of deep meaning to share, in an effort to ignore all things negative while convincing myself that there is hope out there. Somewhere.


Off to see the wizard…

It’s been a while since there has been something to really, I mean really, look forward to; am I the only one in this universe feeling this way?

Looking back on the past few years of turmoil, on so many levels, possibly I can see a few arms raised in the distance. So much of life has been continually placed on the back burner, saving all involved wishes and hopes for another day, when things get better.

I say…enough!

Most of us are like passengers on some train, hoping that the next stop will be the right one, the place to bring us some normalcy, some peace, hell…a needed change!

With great pleasure, I’ve circled dates on my office calendar, noted same on my phone and on my work schedule. In a few weeks, I’m outta here, off to see the proverbial wizard; off to sunny skies, warm breezes and, the best of all, a long overdue visit with family. Of course, this trip will mark a very important occasion, the college graduation of our oldest grandson and all due celebration involved. As with all of my grandchildren, he is remarkable. Accomplished and focused on what I know will be the brightest of futures ahead for him.

There’s a great deal of feeling very fortunate with this upcoming trip. Mostly that my husband and I can be there to share in the celebration and help to fill the empty spaces left by the paternal grandparents who were a tremendous part of our family circle. We know their love and admiration for our shared grandson will be shining down from a heavenly distance.

So, that’s it! Call me a tad overanxious, I’ve already started my pre-packing. It’s just that feeling of excitement that begins stirring when you finally have something to look forward to!

One shoutout…JetBlue? Don’t screw this trip up!!

From Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop….Write a blog post inspired by the word: trip. Write about something you are looking forward to.