The Observer is a person who always needs some new adventure out there on the horizon to look forward to. A trip booked a few months out, a class to teach or take at some point, even a new restaurant we’d like to get to and get thrown out of after they catch us filling up a Ziploc bag with free ketchup. So it goes.
Currently, the thing we’re looking forward to in September is the East Coast Timing Association Arkansas 1-Mile Challenge, which is going down on the runway of the old Eaker Air Force Base in Northeast Arkansas at the end of the month. Now known as Blytheville International Airport — as if Blytheville actually needs an International Airport, with flights to Madrid, Paris and Standard Umpstead — the one thing that the airport has going for it these days is an 11,602-foot runway, built to the exacting standards of Uncle Sam before the airbase closed in 1992. While the Air Force has long since winged off to places where the tax dollars fly free, that runway is still good for going really, really fast. For the past few years, the East Coast Timing Association has been meeting up there on the regular and throwing anything with a motor down the runway as fast as it’ll go: cars, trucks, go-karts and motorcycles, some of them going from zero to over 200 miles per hour along the one-mile strip. Pushing a brick of steel, iron, aluminum, rubber and plastic through the air as fast as possible by burning dead dinosaurs is a very American thing to do, and we’re planning on being there to watch a bunch of vehicular loonies do it better than pretty much anyone else on the planet. It’s gonna be a hoot.
Though we’re currently driving a Honda with two balding tires and a whopping 120 horsepower under the hood, The Observer has had a long love affair with speed, started originally courtesy of Hot Wheels cars but nurtured to fuller flower by our uncle, who used to take The Observer and our brother out on the freeway in his Datsun on nights when he was supposed to be babysitting us and see if he could snap off the speedometer needle. Not quite upstanding babysitter behavior, but it was a start of a lifelong fascination. We moved on to lusting after our brother’s friend’s 1969 Dodge Charger, a former “Dukes of Hazzard” General Lee clone with a bright yellow paint job done with a brush and an engine bay filled with a stout 440 big block. We were aboard that one during land-speed attempts on the freeway at night as well. Above 130 miles an hour in a car with only lap belts (never used), the engine settled into a deafening rumble that seemed to come from inside your body, the big ol’ Dodge on tires bought who knows where and in what condition seemed to get up and float along on the very air. How close we came to going home to Jesus on those nights, we’ll never know, but we would have died happy.
From there, we moved on to our own rigs: a 1963 Chevrolet coupe we built in high school from the ground up before wrapping it around a tree just before the junior prom, and a 1981 Chevy pickup that was the test bed for a 355 small block we built with these two hands. Four bolt main block, new pistons, aluminum intake and a pair of the famous Chevrolet “double hump” heads we scrounged from a junkyard derelict. It was a whole summer’s worth of slaving on the roof, poured into an engine that, in actuality, probably didn’t make as much horsepower as a 2018 GMC Yukon does these days. But what a thrill it was to fire it, smell the new paint on the block and heads heating up, and know the high-speed ballet of mechanical parts slinging around inside that block had been assembled not by some nameless drone on an assembly line in Detroit, but by Yours Truly. And the first time we laid twin, smoking black marks on the world? It was like the heaven we’d likely come close to in the backseat of our brother’s friend’s Charger.
Education and marriage, child and mortgage, put a damper on our Need for Speed long ago, but The Observer is thinking of getting back into it. After we’re in proximity of speed in Blytheville, it may be an urge that’s impossible to resist.