Speed Demonizing

Week of June 11, 2003

Speed Demonizing
Gentlemen, start your engines: After reading the piece on street racing in St. Louis, I was bothered by the romanticized portrayal -- specifically, the "better than sex" comment [Matthew Everett, "2 Fast 2 Last," May 28].

As an active auto racer here in St. Louis, I'd like to point out another option for the street racers besides Gateway International Raceway: Autocross, or Solo II. Instead of just racing in a straight line, competitors have to negotiate a course marked out with orange construction cones. No wheel-to-wheel racing, no chance of wrecking your car or hitting innocent bystanders. This may sound simple and rather easy, but until you actually are in the car, you will never understand the thrill of this sport. The skills you use and learn in Autocross can be used directly on the street. No, I don't mean slaloming through a construction zone. I mean in the situations where your car may slide -- evasive maneuvers for avoiding our wonderful Missouri drivers.

These events are held on closed parking lots with full insurance and safety regulations in place. Helmets are required (loaners can be provided), as is a safe and properly functioning vehicle. Cars are classed by modifications and type of car. Everything from Acuras to Ferraris come and drive.

Please let your readers know that anyone with a valid driver's license and a safe car can come compete. For more information, please see www.stlsolo.org or www.solo2.org.

If you think you've got what it takes to really be fast and you've got a car you think is hot, prove it.
Shawn Manny
St. Louis

Those were the days: Being a self-proclaimed geezer, soon to collect Social Security, I believe I have earned the right to comment on the practice of a good old-fashioned street rumble.

I grew up in Los Angeles, actually Beverly Hills (hate to admit it, but it's part of the history). During 1953 I received my learner's permit. This allowed me to drive under the supervision of a licensed driver -- which in those days meant anyone at least sixteen with a license. We street-raced like crazy. We cruised drive-ins and gunned our engines, offering everyone and anyone a shot at the Wilshire Boulevard Grand Prix. We knew no fear except for the ever-present cops, who knew our cars like their favorite doughnuts. Sure, we got tickets and hell rained on us. I poured every nickel I could get into my beloved '51 Chevy convertible, with a modified GMC truck engine making it go faster and look better.

In 1956 I was graduating from high school and hounding my parents for new wheels. I had promised better grades and had somehow delivered. My dad took me shopping for a new car. We settled on a '56 Chevy hardtop coupe with the biggest "power pack" engine, power everything at the time and an electric radio with a rear-seat speaker. Turquoise and white with matching interior and major whitewalls.

Several of my acquaintances indicated keen interest in my beloved '51. One by the name of George dropped by for a test drive, and on a beautiful smogless LA day I handed him the keys and watched him drive off to the purr of my twin fifteen-inch glass-pack mufflers. Unfortunately, George had the speed bug, and it really bit him hard that day. He got into a drag race right in front of our high school, and in the process he hit two people in a crosswalk, injuring both of them seriously. The repercussions were swift, long-lasting and costly. Although I was not in the car and not driving, I had loaned George the car and it was registered to my dad. A private settlement was reached with the injured people, and the damages were split by our fathers. I was to help repay out of summer employment. I think I made an effort, but I doubt that I ever totally repaid my share. I have no idea what happened to George. Needless to say, he didn't buy my car; after getting it back from the police impound and cleaning it up a bit, I sold it to another friend. I raced my more powerful '56 sporadically, but the accident and the ensuing legal problems hung over my head like the proverbial sword.

Last week I was driving home from the airport in my sedate four-door import sedan (well, not too sedate, because it can go from zero to 60 in eight seconds, but who's counting?). I'm waiting for a light to change, and a middle-aged guy pulls up next to me. I glanced over, and for a brief second I was back in the groove, slipping my car into neutral and gunning it a little to see if he'd rise to the bait. Of course this was purely a fantasy, as my car wouldn't make a sound with its crappy stock muffler. Regrettably, or thankfully, it was not to be. We both accelerated from the light like the law-abiding citizens we were or had become. But the feeling was there, just as it was almost 50 years ago. As Johnny Le said: "You can't stop kids from hanging out and showing off their cars."

If I remember correctly, it's not better than sex -- although both in the same night was definitely a critical high.
Ron Silverman
St. Louis

Shotgun Justice
Armed and dangerous: I am the victim of Bobby Phelps, and I will not quietly go away as he and his family wish [Bruce Rushton, "Legal Affairs," May 14]. The lies in your article about Mr. Phelps' supposed handicap are laughable at least. Mr. Phelps was very handy with a weapon and could easily handle the weight of a shotgun. I will be at every hearing and will fight to keep this man in jail for the safety of myself and my child.
Amanda Woolbright
St. Louis

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