The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Royal (Auto) Affair, Part 2

I used my family's 1954 Dodge Royal for dates, errands, and cruising throughout my sophomore, junior, and senior years of HS. At one point in my junior year, I asked Dad to let me remove the hubs and paint the wheels like it was some kind of hot racing vehicle. He agreed as long as I put the hubcaps back on when I finished using the car.

I'd seen other cars at the drag strip with visibly striking painted wheels and I followed their design -- the wheel was divided into quarters like slicing a pie into four parts. Two opposite quarters were painted red and the other two opposite quarters were painted white. When the wheel rolled slowly the moving colors would flip around and be very visible.

Sometimes, cruising around with a couple of friends on a Saturday night I'd remove the oil bath air cleaner and carefully place it in the trunk on some newspaper. I never told Dad about this until much later. When you pressed the accelerator the engine noise sounded awesome (this is not a word I would have used then or like much now, but it seems appropriate in this context) as the hemi strained to suck in as much air as possible through the small two barrel carb.

From my red light experience with other teens, I knew the Dodge with its two speed powerflite automatic wasn't really that fast, but I liked the sound of that hemi when you got down on it. I knew it wasn't all that hot and I wasn't really a racer, but, what can I say, I enjoyed the idea of it. I didn't know this at the time and it may be an inaccurate observation now, but my fascination with drag racing and speed might have been a kind of compensation for the insecurities that most young males feel at that time in their lives.

Whatever. In the spring of '58 my friend and I popped the hubs, removed the air cleaner, and went out to the drag strip at Union Hill. Against all odds, I entered the car in the stock class under an assumed name, Wild Bill Cody.

The class I entered was dominated by the early hydramatic '50s Rocket Oldsmobiles. You remember those, I'm sure. They were very fast off the line. And, as luck would have it, the opponent I drew was driving one, a 1951 two door. It looked a lot like this one.

I should also note that this is the view I had of it as we got the signal to go. He was already two car lengths ahead of me by the time I'd gone 50 feet. So I just turned off the service road to the right and left the race. My ears still burn today as I remember the words of the announcer. "Looks like old Wild Bill has headed back to the corral."

Later that year, in the summer after graduation, my family moved to Texas. I had a good job driving a truck and I began saving money for college. But I did spend a little on some new cowboy boots and hat and some hot looking Moon hubs for the Dodge. Three weeks in TX and I was already a cowboy drag racer!

I had a friend in TX whose name was Red. He had a cool looking black '53
Ford two door. I remember helping him paint some slick looking flames over the head lights on the Ford.  One night we were eating a cheese burger in some diner and he nodded toward my Dodge parked outside. "How fast you think that thing'll go top end?" he asked. "Dunno," I said. "Let's find out," he said. "I know a safe place."

We drove out on a highway outside of town that leveled out for about three miles straight. It was a clear moon lit night and the concrete highway looked like a glowing ribbon of light. Red said, "Hit that sucker."

I mashed the accelerator to the floor and with one eye on the road and the other on the speedometer, I felt the car pick up speed. I pushed it up to 97 miles per hour. There was still a lot left, but I chickened out. Red was disappointed, but thinking back on it, not pressing my luck was probably wise. The car was four years old and the tires were bias plys and had some wear on them. A blowout would have been catastrophic.

That fall, I left for college and was "carless" for two years. Then in 1960 I got married and bought a Fiat. One out of those two decisions turned out great. Joyce and I have been happily married for 54 years this August. The Fiat however, is another story. A sad one.

Sorry, I just don't feel like talking about it here since I'm going on about the old Dodge Royal. But, there's another chapter to the Dodge Royal story which involves grad school. I'll be reporting on that in part 3 of this epistle.


  1. Red was disappointed, but thinking back on it, not pressing my luck was probably wise.

    Agreed. I look back on my youth in serious wonder, which is to say amazement at all the times I pressed my luck with little or no consequences.

    I'm enjoying this tale.

    1. I was thinking about what you said and remembered a host of other stupidly ridiculous things I did back then. I'm lucky to be alive!

  2. Glad to see you back on the blog. Always a great story, and well written.

    1. Glad to see you're back in TN. We're off to see Joyce's foot doc today, hopefully she'll get rid of the Frankenstein boot she's wearing.