Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Immediately after losing the front end in the lights, but surviving the 180 MPH plow job unscathed. This excursion would prove a mere practice run for what lay ahead... (Photo by Ansel Adams)

...was Billy's boot, with the rubber clutch pedal pad bonded hard to the sole - and most of the severed foot inside, still smoking and sizzling. A six inch section of the fragged flywheel had buzzsawed itself deep into the knee bar, welded solid with the heat of impact. They couldn't dislodge it, so it remains as a cold testament to the final pass of the hottest nitro shoe that no one ever heard of. Until now. Epilogue: At the following week's race, a member of the Safety Safari was relieving himself in the trackside weeds when he found Billy's finger, with wedding band attached. It was returned to a very shaken-but-stirred Laura, sans finger.

Oh, hey! You startled me - I didn't know anyone was around. Was just finishing up a little fluff piece for Better Homes and Gardens magazine. But I'm warmed up now, and ready for takeoff.


The most photographed sign in the valley. Grants Pass residents are all damn proud that their sign kicks ass on every other sign in a two county area. Medford has a City Limits sign on the highway, and Ashland has a sign language interpreter who can explain the town's history in nine languages, for a hefty "suggested donation". (Photo courtesy of Oregon Scenic Images.com)

Medford, Oregon is a nondescript blue-collar town on I-5, halfway between San Francisco and Portland. The other two principal cities in southern Oregon's Rogue Valley are Ashland (an arts community, renowned for its annual Shakespeare festival) and Grants Pass (the preferred retirement location of crispy California hot rodders). The valley itself is known for it's natural beauty and mild climate. But last Thursday, valley residents awoke to a freezing fog that blotted out the sun's best efforts to thaw us from yet another imposing winter's night. We've been enduring a forced hibernation for far too long. Cabin fever has run rampant throughout the region. Something had to give. And so it did, on this most unlikely day. I arose early and skated over icy streets to a small garage out on the edge of town, surrounded by some of the few remaining pear orchards not yet converted to golf courses. This was Chris' Hot Rods, a cold, wet, down and dirty reality slap to the antiseptic Garage Mahals presented weekly on profoundly unrealistic reality TV shows.

Chris' Hot Rods, as seen from the shop, looking out to Chris' house. Customer cars range from an LS/6-speed Pro Touring Camaro (with a twist) to Gassers, Rat Rods, Cafe Racers and military vehicles. Unpretentious and strictly functional, Chris' place is just my speed, from the frozen mud driveway to the frozen oil-soaked shop floor. (Scotty shot)


Proprietor Chris Darland insists on keeping it real. In the shop, anyway. During off-hours, Chris pursues his lifelong passion for film making. That's why I was there. Not to partake in any movie magic, but to join him in a live interview for Motormouth Radio. The Motormouths (Chris Switzer and Ray Guarino) are longtime fans of Darland's work, both in the shop and on celluloid. Since my first appearance on the show a couple of years ago, the Motormouths have made me a semi-regular and have featured several of my friends, as well. Quite a humbling honor for this crusty old knuckldragger! Hear Chris Darland's true tales of sky jumping station wagons, sidestepping unhappy police officers, and hot rod gang warfare at www.motormouthradio.com.

Chris, as he appeared to me in a foggy sleep-and-caffeine deprivation stupor, yacking it up with the Motormouths in New York via cell phone. They were particularly interested in Chris' American Thrill Ride film (see the official review, somewhere in the SGE archives. Good luck). (Scotty shot)

Chris looked much more human-like after a few slugs of Dive Bomber coffee (the house specialty). Turning on the shop heater was another major improvement. Chris' hair is always perfect - and he had just crawled out of bed. (Scotty shot)

While we shivered our way to hypothermia in the snow capped Cascade Mountains, Guarino and Switzer slurped from jumbo containers of piping hot Dunkin' Donuts coffee (supplied gratis by one of their many corporate sponsors), in their climate controlled studio on elite Long Island. Note lack of coats, mittens and stocking caps. And not a can of Sterno in sight. Both Motormouths enjoy extended rubdowns prior to every show by a team of highly trained prepubescent Filipino girls. And their personal chefs provide freshly baked croissants to snack on during commercial breaks. Chris Darland and I shared a wad of used gum we found stuck under his workbench. My half had a fly in it. Luckily, I run on high protein fuel. (Photo courtesy of Motormouth Radio)


In the summer of 1966 I was a ten year old latchkey kid with no male role model. Wandering Medford's seedy west side streets by foot and bicycle afforded myriad opportunities to connect with colorful characters honorable and nefarious. It was a blown smallblock '35 Willys coupe in the driveway that drew me into Bill Darland's one car garage. He was an older guy (maybe twenty), whom I expected to chase me out, but Bill took pity and put me to work washing parts and handing him tools. Complete nirvana. Years went by and we went our separate ways - North for Bill, East for me. Thirty years later, I had returned to Oregon and was drawn to a clean and mean '39 Willys sedan at a car show. It was Bill's. He had no memory of me, but was touched when I told him my story. I met his nephew Chris Darland about a month later. Circle complete.



Work is steadily progressing on Jim Lindsay's rear engined Modified Roadster project at Marty Strode's Portland area shop. Marty sent some fresh images of the swingarm cradle that the (future) blown alky flathead will ride in. These guys are oh so crafty...

A clutchless Jerico transmission backs up the flatty...

... and this Winters V-8 quickchange completes the drivetrain. There was a slight delay while waiting for the QA1 coilovers to arrive, but the project has an inspired momentum now. "Steering is next. It's fun building this car for Jim. I plan to have it ready for paint by the end of March. We should be good and ready by Speed Week. Famous last words...", so sayeth Marty.  (Photos by Marty Strode)

Meanwhile, Lindsay is logging megamiles, promoting his novel, "The Little Bastards". He's using his freshly restored Duedall Comp Coupe as bait at car shows and it's working like a champ - book sales have been very strong. Lindsay and the coupe will appear at the Grand National Roadster Show in L.A., January 24 - 26 (a thrill ride of an entirely different stripe). They'll be slumming at our little Medford Rod and Custom Show on February 8th and 9th with special guest Twisty Ron Austin, who built the digger's chassis. I'll be there too, hawking my junk.  (Photos by Jim Lindsay)

Jim (left) and Marty, working like dogs in the shop. What drives Jim Lindsay to thrash so hard on the racer while the rest of his life backs up like a clogged drain? (Photographer unknown)

Spring is coming, and once the racer's done, Jim can smell some roses in his roadster, like God intended. (Photo courtesy of Jim Lindsay)



Where on earth is world citizen Maria Panova this week?

When you last saw Maria on the blog, she had parked her eight second Toyota drag car and her drift car in Russia to spend the warm winter months in New Zealand, covering the Kiwi drag race scene. But Maria gets bored easily and soon discovered karting. She has also developed an interest in dirt track stock car and sprint car racing. (Photographer unknown)

To keep herself occupied during drag season, Maria has partnered with "Rebel Racer Paul" on this big block Cuda. The fresh engine is now alive and showing mid nine second potential. Brace yourselves, Mopar muscle builders: Maria says the Cuda is a slug, compared to her Toyota. Ouch!

Meanwhile, Maria Panova punches the clock every morning and does her duty. She does it well. Maria must be considered one of the most talented photojournalists in motorsports. (Photos by Maria Panova)

But we all need to recharge our batteries at some point. When Maria's mother came for a visit, they escaped to this undisclosed location, where Mom Panova captured a rare relaxed Maria. (Photo by Ma Panova)



Sales of my Racing to America book are off to a clean start. Predictably, the first takers were the principals inside. Frank Figuls of the Les Tripplettes Plus One team in Paris sent this selfie to document their approval. These are the guys who run the little blue Renault postal truck depicted on the cover. Out-of-the-gate, book sales were strong, until I discovered a missed typo - and the fix stalled printing for 72 hours! Typical mistake for a rookie publisher, I suppose. I aged several years in those seventy two hours - an unwelcome thrill ride. (Photo by Frank Figuls)



Who doesn't love old drag race footage? No one, that's who. I'm a sucker for this stuff and have noticed this mysterious woman and her Junior Fueler in the background of more than one sixties scene. Thanks to the nitro gurus at Cole Coonce's Header Flames site, the mystery is now solved. That's a young Fran Johnson being push started in the photo. A successful beauty pageant contestant, Fran's true love was drag racing. Like many of us, she started on the street, then went legit for over twenty years, and ultimately worked for both the NHRA and Drag News. The Liberty, Texas resident died last November at age 67 and is survived by her husband Dante, son Christopher and grandaughter Grace. Thanks for your service work, Fran. And for the intrigue. (Photographer unknown)



Found!!! After decades of speculation, Steve Scott's iconic Uncertain-T show rod has finally surfaced - mostly unscathed and completely intact - from under a mountain of ferrous cadavers in this top secret wrecking yard! I can't tell you any more, other than this photoshopped image (created by crazed fan Roger Larsson in Sweden) is about to go viral and turn Scott's life upsidedown. Again. (Roger Larsson image courtesy of Steve Scott)

Scott has connected with a number of outstanding artists and is offering a variety of swag from his website and Facebook page. The latest is this Jim Kinne T-shirt design, with four different versions available. Check out www.stevescottsuncertaint.com. Pack a lunch - there's a lot to digest... (Jim Kinne image courtesy of Steve Scott)



Rod Saint (who now prefers "Roddy" Saint) has been tirelessly promoting his reborn American Hot Rod Association for a few years now. But a Facebook post on January 20th included a link to a press release announcing AHRA's State Championship Series for sportsman racers, to be competed on 1/4 and 1/8 mile tracks in every state. Follow the link and read it for yourself: http://nostalgiadragworld.com/ahrapressrelease-1-19-14.php. Stay tuned to see whether this announcement bears fruit or regret. SGE wishes the AHRA well on this and future quests, and salutes you for sticking your necks out on behalf of America's little guy racers.



This is a total kick in the pants for we fans of wee cars. SGE pal Lori Bentley Law has unearthed the obscure story of the obscure Astra-Gnome on her blog (bondorella.com). I sure wish I would've known about this one when writing my America's Wildest Show Rods book. Thanks Lori! (Photo by Lori Bentley Law)



Rogue Valley native and SGE North correspondent CC was caught in the act during a Las Vegas thrill ride with the Steve's Auto Restorations crew. CC claims to have no memory of this event. At press time, the SAR office has not replied to SGE's request for comment, as per SOP. (Photographer name withheld on request)



If your life is anything like ours these days, you don't have time to scratch your ass. May we scratch  vicariously through this guy, until we find time to do the deed ourselves.

Graphic proof of how bleary eyed I was at Chris Darland's shop: A bleary photo of Chris' rollaway. The entire shop comes across as slightly out of focus in person, but Chris knows where everything is and that's all that matters. Irony fans: Chris has invented a tool organizer that he hopes to market soon. (Scotty shot)

Until next week, just remember: We're all in this life together and none of us will get out alive. So make every day one that you can live with.