My story starts when Uncle Sam decided that two years in Texas and one year in Northern Pakistan was not sufficient to fulfill my commitment in the military.
So rather than send me someplace close to home (like Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City), they thought that the SAC Hospital near Riverside, CA, would be a nice diversion. Result being, I spent about a year in Sunnymead, CA, which on a nice weekend, was within earshot of Riverside International Raceway.
This essentially took most of 1970 and, contrary to my initial thoughts on the subject of living in California, was a highlight of my most enjoyable life. Even including the bus trip from Charleston, SC, to Norman, OK, the trip home from ‘overseas’ was probably typical of the day. I left the Air Station for the Peshawar Airport in an old chevy cab, caught a prop plane from there to Lahore, a 727 from Lahore to Karachi, waited---waited some more, caught a C141 to Madrid, waited some more but not so long this time. Then flew on to Charleston, SC.
At that point I must have begun to lose my tenuous grasp with reality. I hadn’t had an actual conversation with my family for almost a year and I had been in transit for about 5 days at that time. And when I asked if there were stand-by flights to OKC, the very helpful person suggested that since it was between Christmas and New Years, the flights were booked up. BUT - they could get me part of the way home, if not most of the way. Well, I could not conceive waiting for another minute in an airport and inquired if there might be another way home that would at least let me keep moving. And Glory Be, there was another option, one that was essentially non-stop and going all the way to OKC. The Bus.
Mistake #2, I put my uniform on laboring under the misconception that I would be home in a reasonable time. Three days later, the uniform had wrinkled to the point where the sleeves were about elbow length and the pants came to just below my knees. Some place in Hell Ark, I scared a little old lady and decided to shave, in the non-stop bus weaving down the highway. And I would like to apologize to the next rider that had to use that tiny little bathroom.
Anyway, back to the point, hearing high compression 950, 1098 and 1275 cc engines echoing around the paddock at the lower end (optimistic end) of their power range followed by brief blips to full power was the most mesmerizing sound I had ever heard.
When we returned to Norman, OK and school, I started looking around for a ride at our local track. Ponca City is only an hour or so north and my goal was to race there, although I was not sure at that time what car would be the best option. I really didn’t appreciate the subtle differences and associated difficulties separating a mid 60’s Mustang from an Austin-Healey Sprite.
As luck would have it, a very nice Bugeye turned up in Vinita, OK about the time I started looking and we were easily able to buy it. (Real meaning, there was nothing that would have kept us from doing so notwithstanding a complete earth meltdown.)
The HP car I lucked on to was the MIDDIV championship car from 66/67 out of St. Louis Region. This was carefully explained to me at the time but meant nothing to me because of my acute lack of knowledge on the subject. My experience at that time was driving my MGB-GT around town with the radio turned up. I couldn’t even pretend to be a famous English Racer because I hadn’t yet heard of any of them. It’s amazing how fast and talented we are when listening to the Stones or Dylan!
This path led me first to Hutchinson, KS at the old WWII airport and then to Aspen, Co for a second Drivers School. In my normal manner of waiting until the last minute and then stumbling on just what I needed, I picked up a Drivers Suit from an ad in the local SCCA bulletin, white with blue stripes not unlike something Graham Hill would have been seen in at the time although, as I mentioned, I would not have known who he was.
And I have never been mistaken for dapper, just not going to happen.
As many of you will know, getting a high strung little Sprite to a race track, passing tech, pulling out on the track amongst the minis, the spitfires, and others, leaves one with a feeling of great accomplishment (and immeasurable fatigue). Just being there.
After doing all of the things that are required to get from our one-car garage, towing into the mountains with a car that was not ever, in any way, meant to be a tow car, we (me dressed like Graham Hill, my wife and a couple of good friends) found ourselves sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Aspen Co, eating breakfast. The Sprite was trailered at the curb -- all clean from being unintentionally parked next to an automated lawn sprinkler. At the age of 27, I was on my way to Drivers School #2 and eventually an SCCA regional drivers license when we hear John Denver singing "Rocky Mountain High" over the cafe sound system.
“.... He was born the summer of his 27th year
Coming home to a place he had never been before
And he lost a friend but kept his memory...”
To My Dear Friend and consummate car guy, Tom Stuve