August 19, 2017

Another Missed Calling

As I continue to explore my new homeland—which is still very much foreign to my Upstate New York-raised former self—I'm still catching glimpses of what could've been my future self.

I still think I should've become an artist. Taking photographs is my meager attempt at fulfilling that deferred dream.

In my heart, I know that whatever is is probably what's supposed to be, but that doesn't mean I can't fantasize about what might've been.

If I could've played an instrument I actually liked, or if my mother hadn't criticized my singing in the car so much, I might've expressed my artistry through music. My piano teacher—who was also my Grammy—was always so proud of my piano-playing.

I stopped playing only after she died, when I was just 10 years old.

Maybe my parents thought that artistic endeavors were a foolhardy pursuit—but had they encouraged any outdoorsiness or athleticism in me instead, I might've made a bigger impact than the butt-print I left on the couch.

I was so good at golf and archery and dancing back then.

I was good at a lot of things back then.

But there's one thing that I'm good at now that took a long time to emerge. I can blame my parents or my circumstances or myself, but now it's very clear to me that I would've been a great drag racer.

I've had an inkling about the parallel universe in which I race cars for a while now, but something became very clear to me when I recently visited the National Hot Rod Association Motorsports Museum at the LA County fairgrounds in Pomona (also the site of the Auto Club Speedway, formerly Pomona Raceway).

I belong behind the wheel of a Ford Highboy Roadster, and I long to careen down the open road in a streak of "Insatiable Red."

I would've made a great drag racer.

I got my license at 16 (almost 17) but I could've started really driving so much earlier. My father wouldn't even let me take the driving test for my license on his car, so I had to use my own money to pay a local driving instructor who let me use his car.

That's before I'd ever heard of El Mirage or the Bonneville Salt Flats or the nation’s first commercial drag strip, Santa Ana Drags at Orange County Airport, which opened in 1950.

Of course, when I was 16, the 1991 version of drag racing wasn't what it was 30, 40, or 50 years before—when roadsters and dragsters had names like "The Bug," "The Glass Slipper," and "Midnite Oil" and V8 engines competed against the so-called "four-bangers."

Drag racing most likely first started when the second guy in town got a car and the two sole drivers in any given era decided to see who could go faster.

Hot-rodding started out as more of a way to strip those cars down, removing as much of the chassis as possible to reduce drag and increase speed and overall performance.

And where this style of racing diverges from, say, Formula 1 or traditional stock-car racing is that the racers were highly customized on both the inside and the outside.

It was as important to look cool as it was to go faster and win.

And there's a certain art to that, isn't there?

I coulda been somebody. I coulda been somebody else.

In fact, I could've been so many other things. And I could've written about doing those things rather than visiting museums about them.

Maybe it's not too late for me. Maybe my time hasn't passed for everything.

But since I didn't even have my own car until I was 36 years old, I've got some catching up to do.

Related Posts:
A Missed Calling
Photo Essay: A Haven for Hotrodders
Photo Essay: Under the Hood at a Hot Rod Shop
Photo Essay: The Secret Street Legal Collection at Vic's Garage

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