If I were Ernest Hemingway I could better describe through flowing rhetoric just what I did this summer. But I am not; however, Ernest never drove "topless" cross-country, so that makes us even--well maybe.
For starters, on the way home from the Nats there were stops in Ashland, Mississippi, to visit TCI Automotive, and Memphis, Tennessee, to see COMP Cams and FAST (Fuel Air Spark Technology).
There's something special about getting up early in the morning and setting your own agenda--begin, stop, and continue when you want ... me, my highboy, and the highway for 2 1/2 days. Some ask, "Which is better, driving east to west or west to east?" but any drive in a hot rod is a good drive. With all the proper apologies to those who like to drive north or south, there's something to be said for getting up early with the sun at your back and settling in for the evening with the sun having set before you. The drive west will always be the best, in my opinion.
I started my cross-country drive at 3 p.m., making for a long day. I made it from Ashland to Memphis, just in time for 5 p.m. traffic, and then onto Ft. Smith, Arkansas--a drive of 350 miles in six hours. Not bad, but not great time. Bumper-to-bumper traffic is bumper-to-bumper regardless of the city, so don't any of you try and tell me about the SoCal traffic being any worse than yours! Throw in 104-degree temperatures and, oh, the so-stifling humidity, and by day's end I was "cooked."
The next morning it was 7:30 a.m. and time to hit the road. I have to tell you, every time I stopped, others would ask questions about the car, tell me stories about the one they had just like it when they were young, and ask why was I driving a car without a top in this heat and the impending thunderstorms. It's hard to explain to someone who has never experienced the thrill of the drive. Early morning cool air, no traffic, and you feel great. The car is running superbly and all you can think about is how great it is to be out of the office and on the road driving a roadster with no particular schedule in mind. While I thoroughly enjoy the early morning drive time with its cool temps, unlimited road visibility, and the excitement of what the day will bring, there's nothing like a night drive.
The second day was supposed to take me from Ft. Smith to Flagstaff, a drive of 1,044 miles in an open highboy roadster. But what the heck, the car was running great and I was up for the challenge. Or so I thought! As it would turn out, I came up 185 miles sort--still not bad since a day of 860 miles is a good day. Mother Nature decided to have some fun.
Everything was going along as planned; it was 104 degrees, bright sun, and no relief in sight. Pretty much like every other day I had experienced last summer while wandering the "soul" of our country. As I approached Albu-querque, I could see in the distance what I was dreaming of--an open road, light traffic, and lowing daily temps.
Did you know there's a twisted mathematical formula that says a roadster traveling at 75 mph cannot outrun a thunderstorm traveling at 10 mph ... no matter what direction the roadster is traveling in?
A little trick I have learned after years on the road is to watch oncoming traffic for moving wipers and headlights on--though nowadays, with new cars having daytime running lights, that one doesn't work as well. Truckers are your best indicator of all things involving the road ahead; it's their job and they pay attention. As I made time toward Gallup, I could see the dark clouds, and then came the lightening. Lightening is a rare occurrence in my world, so you could imagine how wide my eyes were when I saw seven, yes seven, bolts of lightening at one time! The sight was spectacular, but the thunder instilled a deeply religious feeling in me. I was looking for a spot to spend the night in a flash--pardon the pun.
I was in for it with 41 miles to go. I hunkered down. At least as best as I could in an exposed roadster; goggles on, Rain-X applied, and towel in hand--this was going to be a good one. The miles began to click off; first it was 41, then 35, then 21, then 6--I was going to make it! Nope. At the six-mile mark, the impending thunderstorm was no longer impending and I quickly found out that, while thunder can't hurt you, it can scare the livin' beejesus out of you. Lightening is bright! And it is that brightness that really keeps your eyes wide open.
It's true that you can stay "relatively" dry during a hard rain as long as you maintain 60-plus-mph and a relatively straight path. So, for the last six miles it was white-knuckle time, but all was "pretty good," especially since I couldn't see 50 ft in front of me. I found my off ramp and headed for the "barn." Did you know that while you may not get wet at 60 mph, you get freaking soaking wet at 20 mph? And of course there were at least 12 turns I had to make in order to get into the hotel parking lot, and did I mention one red light? The last 100 yards were the toughest, albeit soaked, I was safe for the night. An enlightening 860 miles in a topless roadster--not bad. So much for my favorite nighttime drive.
It's now 6:30 a.m. and I was about to drive 660 miles from Flagstaff to home. Another great drive that I would do "topless" while enjoying the joys of an early morning start.
OK, I have admitted my flawed character, but please tell me why women in mini-vans take your picture--at night with a flash! Ladies, it's nighttime and the flash is very disconcerting not to mention momentarily blinding. It was bad enough I had to deal with lightening.
There's next summer when I take my drive from Goodguys Indy to the L.A. Roadsters' Father's Day Show. It's a "not-for-wimps" affair--hammer down, wind in the hair, and bugs implanted against your forehead. Does it get any better? Any takers?