In Anaheim, July 17, 1955, it was 100 degrees and a lot of things went wrong at the opening of Disneyland. People said it would never last. The drinking fountains were shut down so the rest room facilities could work. Counterfeit tickets resulted in overcrowding, as did the fact that once in, the crowd didn't leave. It was thought they would head out after a couple of hours but they didn't. The Mark Twain paddlewheeler almost capsized. Murphy's Law prevailed bigtime.
But none of this concerned me, because on that date I was at another opening. The very grand opening of the Kansas City Timing Association Drag Strip. Rat Rod was not a coined term then, but I had a sort of kustom one. A 1949 Ford Tudor with finned heads, dual manifold, Mallory ignition, pipes, cutouts to circumvent the already noisy Smitty mufflers. This car was shaved, lowered, primered and beastly. It just wasn't fast. In my head it was, but my head was wrong, as my folks, algebra teacher, numerous cops and my girlfriend's dad would often remind me.
The heat was brain-baking vicious, and if you know flatheads, you know they vapor-lock at sunrise. I rumbled up to the checkpoint, temp needle in the red, where they determined what class I'd run in. I was hoping for some variation of stock, but that was a loud pipe dream. These guys were pros and while they immediately recognized I would topple no records, they said I had to race in a gas class that included some pretty significant speedsters. Mainly because of add-on speed equipment that didn't really amount to that much more speed. I was eliminated early that day, but thrilled anyway. Relieved, actually. The Butchmobile (my nickname was Butch back in the day) was coughing, sputtering, dying of heat stroke. I parked it. No shade to be found.
Had I run later in the day, the Butchmobile might have locked up off the line making it look as though I had missed my shift, embarrassing me for all time to this very day. I planned to fix it all but the predesigns of a seventeen-year-old are, shall we say, fluid. And lack of funds was endemic to my caste.
But that day on that sun-scorched slab of crackling exhaust and fuel-mix aroma in the bottoms near the Missouri River, was no less thrilling than a Super Bowl. Legends roamed. Street racers smoked and watched. The real rods, '32 Fords bored, stroked and fenderless, lined up to race, their drivers in t-shirts, some showing the red circle of a Luckies pack through the cotton of their rolled up sleeves. Road Knights, Chain Stretchers, Dusters, Hi-Winders...the club names showed on plaques and signs. The Trophy Bandits built the entrance gate and the ticket booth.
Water was free. In fact a popular saying of the day, describing cheap, was "He'd sell drinking water." I spent gas money on Cokes, and returned home that night lobster-red and bone ass tired. I had run at the opening. My time? Not important. I'd disclose it, but memory's a baldfaced liar. And so am I, being a fiction writer. And, most recently, a poet. I suppose a faux memoir is not out of the question. If you were at the Mickey Mouse event in Anaheim, contact me. I'd like to hear your impressions of that day. Thanks. And a 3-fingered salute to you!