Rodders like Craig Walgren...
Rodders like Craig Walgren (far left) and his sons, Jim and Mike (right), are the reasons why it means something to be a rodder. Without hesitation, Craig opened his home and garage for Lil' John to work on his roadster.
It is always special when I can drive my roadster to an event. There is something refreshing, energizing, even liberating about spending time away from the office and not yet being at an event. I believe it is called freedom.
For starters, the first drive of the season was Goodguys Indy where I was asked to emcee a roast of Lil' John Buttera, who was to be honored as Goodguys Hot Rod Hero at Indy. Neat. Of course getting into a verbal volleyball contest with Lil' John is askin' to have your lips super-taped around a hot exhaust pipe and then dragged naked through a field of glass. Oh well, it meant that I could drive and I would leave the office four days early, thereby entertaining visions of beautiful days and cool nights. Hmmm, something about the best laid plans.
I wouldn't be alone, as Lil' wanted to drive his new modified. We would also pick up another rodding hero, Andy Brizio and his longtime friend Cub Barnett. (Together they remind me of the two non-identical twins--Happy and Peewee from a TV commercial back in the '60s.) Three cars seemed to be just about right.
Anytime you find yourself driving an appreciable distance, the main topic of concern becomes the car. Will it make it? Are there any maintenance items I should know? What about the other guys' cars? These are questions rodders have asked themselves at one time or another. (Well, that is if you drive your car a distance greater than from one end of a trailer to the other!) Although this wouldn't be the maiden voyage for my roadster, having already registered 800 miles, it would be the farthest--2,300-plus miles in four days. Brizio's roadster, on the other hand, is a road veteran of epic proportions with 113,000-plus miles on it since its last rebuild. Reliability is this roadster's middle name. The only car with even a modicum of lingering doubt would be Lil's roadster, as it was brand-new and screwed together in roughly five weeks. On the upside, building a car capable of making the long haul is nothing new for Lil' John since he has done it on numerous occasions, and this would just be the latest in a long line of rolling rods. Well, at least that was the plan.
Ahh, this is the view I had...
Ahh, this is the view I had of Lil' John the week before Indy. Great likeness, don't you think?
According to Lil' John, "You build a car and drive it around the block; if all is well, you take off." He believes you figure out any hiccups that occur on the road and in the matter of three to four days, you work out the bugs that might normally take you three to four months with a "normal" car. Sounds logical, even if a bit extreme, but who am I to disagree with a guy whose name appears in the Indy 500 Museum? (In 1987 Lil' John was awarded the Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award. Not bad for a welder from Wisconsin.)
Well, even Lil' John had problems. I won't go into all the particulars at this time, but I will tell you that you will be able to read all about this trip on the STREET RODDER Web site. I will also tell you there is (or was) a small army of friends who jumped in and made this project happen, and in time you will hear about each one. For now I want to give a special "thank you" to Craig Walgren and his two sons, Jim and Mike. They live in Lake Havasu City in Arizona, a border town between the deserts of California and Arizona.
The unsuspecting Walgren family received a call from me on a Sunday afternoon asking if we could "borrow" their garage, tools, and assistance to get Lil' John's car back on the road. They pitched in without hesitation and even gave Lil' a place to sleep that night as the repair took on a life of its own. (But more on that later!) Where was I? Well, I served as Lil' John's advance man and moved onto Flagstaff, but more on that, too, at a later date.
It can be a bit unnerving to find yourself broken down with your street rod, no matter how great your talents or resources are. When you are down, you are on your own. Thank goodness for street rodders, for it's there nature not to leave their own behind. Yep, I love to drive my roadster, but it's knowing that there are plenty of rodders out there who will help me in my hour of need that makes it all worthwhile.