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Close But No Tickee

Close But No Tickee


Hey, the good guys and Goodguys have been really persistent in touting their autocross activities, and that is really a good sign. It means they are putting the use back into the street rod.

I say back into, bucko, because it isn’t something new, you know. And it goes back to well before the first Street Rod Nationals. It may even go back to chariot days, but probably not before the wheel. Mostly because it is so much more fun if wheels are involved. I mean, trying to ride your stick horse through a StickCross doesn’t seem like much of a giggle.

To the point, I brought the auto cross idea to street rodding at the very first Rod & Custom Magazine Street Rod Nationals. You’ll notice, I put the correct name in here, referance to R&C magazine, because that is what it was advertised as.

That event was kind of a brainchild of Tom Medley and Tex Smith during asundry trout fishing expeditions in the deep river canyons of Northern California. Tom had heard of a sort-of national rod event in Wisconsin or some such, and we assumed it could be done same as I had been involved with when we started the national drags with NHRA some years prior.

We just didn’t know if there would be any enthusiasm for such an event beamed directly at street rodding. Some background: I once had an Austin Healey in Germany. Nuff said. I was introduced to some closed course automotive hijinks by car enthusiast clubs on The Continent, and I thought they would work equally well in America. But some things called sports cars had already been introduced to the Colonies, and they were doing some very timid types of hijinks or their own.

I drove the Healey in a number of these events, which didn’t have an official name back then, won a few, and loved them all. Comes the first Street Rod Nats, Medley, Bud Bryan, and I were huddled together in Tom’s motel room. “Geez, now that we got all these cars together, what can we do with them?” Now we thought about it! Out there in the parking lot we had over 300 car nuts from across the US, and the only thing we had really planned was a car show to be held in a farmer’s hayfield two days hence. I remembered Germany.

“OK, what we need is for the Peoria rod club to round up a large, vacant parking lot. Someone needs to find a bunch of empty cardboard boxes or traffic cones, and we are in business.” That was my solution, and it was instantly named a StreetKhana. The Peoria club fanned out through the motel area to tell everyone we would meet in two hours at a local theatre parking lot for a driving event.

I had the club members set up the traffic cones and cardboxes to simulate street conditions, as well as home garage parking problems, etc. Someone had a wristwatch that was a stopwatch, and we were off. I ran a couple of cars through the makeshift course, got some times, and then the crowd was off. It was an instant learning process for most present, with some interesting things as by-products. Such as the Itty-Bitty C-cab T nailing the tight turns, and a passerby Corvette smoking the tires everywhere.

Original? Of course not, and it wasn’t even new to hot rodding, because clubs in the Omaha-Lincoln Nebrasha area had been doing Go-Who’s for several years. And, sports car clubs were doing slaloms that were called AutoCrosses. But, the idea was there, as was the need. The need continues to exist. In earlier years, the NSRA continued the StreetKhana, usually to an enthusiast audience of a handful of rodders. And Ken and Marilyn Grimes became perennial winners with their Ohio based fad-T. But, the return just there for all the effort needed. The event dwindled to oblivion.

Now, it has shown its head again at the Goodguys event, for the exact same reason the event was invented. It is entertainment. For the spectator as well as the participant. It is noisy, it is smoky, and it gets some adrenalin flowing in hardening arteries. The Goodguys have picked up the name those sporty car guys have used for decades:AutoCross.

But, doods, if you do your homework you will see that I included an expanded version of this AutoCross in mailings to NHRA car clubs during the 1950s. It is much more difficult, it is more inclusive, and if you put on the thinking cap you can see how this can become a stand-alone event ideal for a minimal hard surface area. Think of a butterfly course, electronic timing, teams…anyway, you have the framework, you are just missing that one tiny next step to put some jive back into street rodding. We’ll see if you pick up on the challenge.