Tuesday, December 10, 2013


The Pontiac Motor Division has always offered imaginative designs. From Strato Streaks to Fieros to the Solstice, bold vision is the ethos. Chris Labrooy at Auto Aerobics has vision that borders on the unimaginable. (Photo courtesy of autoaerobics.com)   CLICK ON IMAGES TO VIEW FULL SIZE

Like most dads, mine carried a litany of snappy catch phrases that he dispersed at will. Most are unfit for public consumption, but one of the rare G-rated nuggets that he kept in heavy rotation was, "Your imagination is your only limitation." Like all of his wisdom, that little gem came with the silent caveat, "Do as I say, not as I do." But I took the "imagination" bit literally, and ultimately earned a black belt in escape artistry while avoiding a decidedly dysfunctional family dynamic (I'm employing my professional writing skills here to polish that smelly turd).

And so it has come to be that I'm still somehow surprised when the same imagination that serves the creative process gets me into so much trouble out in the real world. Some examples:

When I submit a manuscript to a publisher, this is how I imagine the review process.

In reality, it looks more like this - the eerily deserted halls of SourceInterlink Media at 10:30 AM on a Tuesday. Every desk is stacked high with unread manuscripts. Where are the personnel? 

Oh yeah. I forgot, print is dead. Everyone's out on location, making videos. A double reality slap. This is Finnegan and Freiburger, catching their breath after filling a dumpster with unread manuscripts they had brought along for ballast, but ultimately didn't need. I'm certain that some of my best work was among the discarded.

How I feel when I receive a royalty check in the mail.

Yet I don't look any richer on the outside.

A royalty check (if big enough) is sometimes celebrated with dinner at a restaurant with Saint Shellski, my long-suffering girlfriend. This is how I see the restaurant.

How I imagine my girlfriend sees the restaurant.

What the restaurant actually looks like. Middle ground.

How I see my girlfriend at the restaurant.

How I imagine my girlfriend sees me at the restaurant.

What we really look like at a restaurant.

What the dinner bill looks like to me.

How I imagine the dinner bill appears to my girlfriend.

What I remember of the above events: I worked hard for a long time and after a long wait, finally received confirmation that someone saw my work. After another long wait, I got a check for my work. Saint Shellski and I went to dinner. The next morning, we both felt unfulfilled. How else could we possibly feel? I had been robbed and she had been forced to face what a cheapskate her boyfriend is. Not realistic, but that's what it felt like. Emotions inform perception and perception becomes reality. Result: Resentment all around, when gratitude was called for.

Here's a different type of example: While e-mailing with Motormouth Ray last week, we somehow got off on a tangent about toy cars. One thing led to another and Ray sent photos of some of his treasures...

This was reassuring, as it's exactly how I see all '66 - '67 GTOs. Bonus: Studio ambiance backdrop and lighting lends an air of elegance to the nightmarish brutality of the subject.

Ray surrounded this '36 coupe with a pastoral setting that used the flash reflection as a setting sun - genius! He even used broccoli as roadside greenery! His photos inspired me to attempt my own toy car diorama photo shoot...

Not nearly as imaginative as Ray's, but still a worthwhile photography experiment, I reasoned. I fired the photos off to Ray, with a note asking how we could possibly incorporate these images into the blog. There must be some way to get a laugh out of this time waster... Then I got back to work and forgot about the whole thing.

During my dinner break, I checked e-mails and found this from Ray: "The prophecy of doom came through today when I saw the way you used your creativity to photograph your cars. Just take the pictures I sent you and send them through the cyber shredder! If I had used a modicum of creativity, I could have rocked this project." Regarding how to present these images, Ray declared, "I'll tell you this - if you make something out of these wild thoughts, I'll shit a sawbuck and cry for mercy!"

Well Ray, we both briefly savored the infectious inspiration, but somehow ended up shittin' and cryin'! That ain't right. What happened? We handily forgot that there is no "fail" or "succeed" - there only is what is - in this case, some chuckles over some silly photos to break up a hectic day. And we both got in some photo chops in the process. But with our sense of inadequacy skewering our perception, we missed that pleasant reality. Result: Opportunity lost. The day is gone. Luckily, we're both aware that we can start our day over at any time and promptly did so. But those precious seconds wasted on self loathing are gone forever - all due to distorted perception. The only cure is an ice cold reality slap.

Chris Labrooy's perception of Pontiac's Catalina design  may be closer to the styling department's intent than we realize. After all, what do we really know of reality? Just this: There's nothing wrong with thinking inside the box, when the box is this cool. (Photo courtesy of autoaerobics.com)


One of Ray's other photo submissions this week was a scale version of the Two Lane Blacktop car - in my heavily biased opinion, the ultimate icon of the street race ethos. Nearly as cool as Richard Ruth's hardball, Motormouth Ray's street race '55 Nomad carries an equally rough-and-ready attitude, but is a shoebox you could comfortably stretch-out in at a rest area and still cross the country before any pesky GTO's could catch you.

Ray's Nomad has led a long hard life. Here's how it looked around the time that the controversial (love it or hate it) Two Lane Blacktop film left the theater circuit. "The thought was, this one would remain a street stormer", according to Ray. (For the record, Two Lane Blacktop is my favorite film. - SG)

The Guarino boys (Ray at left, Mike at right), waiting for their flight to Denver to pick up another Nomad for younger brother Mike: "We were tired because we were taking a late flight and, as I remember, were very hungry. We would have eaten small children and women, if they came close. But as you can see by our looks, no one dared venture within twenty feet of us. Damn it! I don't remember what the sign said - probably 'Denver or Bust'. Mike is giving the official New York salute to casual observers."

They made it to Denver without committing cannibalism and Mike poetically declares the long flight to be worthwhile. This 'Mad was even nicer than Ray's. The stock drivetrain and suspension were deemed adequate for the drive back to New York. They spent the night at their sister's place in Aurora before beginning the road test.

Before motoring East, Uncle Ray shares his passion for vintage car crafting with niece Beth in Aurora. She seems pretty satisfied with her own vintage wheels. What about it, Ray? "Cute kid. I think she stole the riding toy she was on from some Aurora gang bangers at the local park."

The lowlight of the Guarino Bros.' cross country adventure was an epic Midwest axle bearing failure: "The right rear axle bearing started making noise somewhere around Nebraska and finally puked as we left a rest area outside of Toledo, Ohio. I thought that was the end of my life, but instead it was just the gift of a great story for future use." (Photos courtesy of Motormouth Ray)

Mike Guarino was killed in a motorcycle crash in 1988. His Nomad is now in the care of Motormouth Ray. This post is dedicated to the memory of Mike Guarino.



The Doctor is in. All the way in. He's in so deep, he's out. Way out! What does that even mean? (Scotty shot)

Renowned chassis fabricator, bass guitar master, and duly elected Mayor of Custom Metal, Oregon, Doctor Lockjaw (AKA Jamie Ford) will be answering your deepest and darkest hot rod building questions live on the air this Thursday, December 12th. Tune into Motormouth Radio (www.motormouthradio.com) at noon Eastern time (that's a brutal 9:00 AM wake-up call in the real world) to hear our own Motormouth Ray grill the good doctor on subject matter from anti-roll bar design to dive bar survival techniques. Ray's able companion Chris Switzer will ensure no questions are left unquestioned. The phone lines will be open (516-572-7440), so don't miss this opportunity to save a bundle on Doc's obscene consultation fees!

Doc's "Tetanus II" '26 T takes the stage at Champion Raceway. When tech inspectors demanded tetanus shots before checking the car in, Doc and the T earned their eternal nicknames fair and square. I've been blessed with some great mentors, but Doc is the only one I also call my best friend. I'm definitely the luckiest guy in town. (Scotty shot)


Last weekend, research led me to the July '74 issue of Popular Hot Rodding magazine, where a letter to the editor (Lee Kelly) from Joel Craft of Gage, Oklahoma caught my attention. Joel's missive (entitled "Don't Read This") addressed the frustrations of the Pro vs Sportsman quagmire that threatened to bring the National Hot Rod Association to its knees in the midst of a shaky economy, rising gas prices, and federally mandated speed limits and emissions regulations. PHR dedicated three pages to Joel's thoughts, but I'll just touch on a few. I've edited and even paraphrased Joel's words here, but have not changed the intent nor context.

The history of drag racing is built around the 'little guy' and was not intended to be taken over by 'pros'. The pros don't like having the pit area cluttered with amateurs. Neither do the promoters and sponsors. Kinda reminds you of the dad who buys Junior an electric train set, then relegates Junior to the role of observer.

The cowboys who ride in rodeos are both the little guy and the pro, and both are compatible. The system is simple. You are considered an amateur until you have built up enough points to be called a pro. How that relates to drag racing: At the first of the season, everybody joins the organization and is issued a card. Say the card is green. But if the guy accumulates the necessary points, he is issued a red card that says he is a pro. The number of pro cards issued can depend on several variables (which I don't have space for here. Google the July '74 PHR). 

When a promoter wants a pro sanction, it is issued on the grounds that he also has set a date for the 'junior racers'. The pros are happy because on Sunday they have the strip to themselves, and the little guys are happy because on Saturday they have the strip to themselves. The promoters are all grins because they have two gates, and the sanctioning organization is happy because membership has tripled. Think there won't be a gate on Saturday? Remember, not all 'big cars' are in the pro ranks. And someone is fighting to get a red card so they can race on Sunday - and a lot of people will be out there to see if the local hero can make the grade.

Decide for yourself if these thoughts from 1974 are relevant today. And keep in mind, this is a simplified and edited version of one person's train of thought. But I've heard similar concepts being pitched lately. And just today, I saw a piece on Competition Plus.com calling for John Force to be instated as President of the NHRA. They made a viable argument for the idea, too. Bottom line: Times have changed, but nothing's new. We can only hope to learn from the past. Ultimately, I find the vast array of ideas being kicked around to be encouraging - compelling, even. I'm just glad we're finally talking about it and hope we aren't too late to the conversation. Because the next step is getting into action and the time for that was about 25 years ago.



Reality depth perception question: Has this squirrely guy gone nuts, or have this guy's nuts gone squirrely? Consider your answer carefully.

That's right, it's a Littleford HandeeBox tool trailer. This one is serving a masonry enterprise, but could easily be converted to automotive duty. You know this would look great following your old Cushman service scooter around. But how many squirrels do you imagine it holds?

BONUS: Never-before-seen out takes from this post! Collect them all! Trade with your friends! Start a photo album! It's fun!!!