Fast Times with a Quarter-Mile High -- by J. R. Andres 
Wednesday, August 12, 2009, 06:23 PM
Posted by Administrator
The summer was almost over and the waves of Lake Huron gently curled and rolled onto the white sand beaches of East Tawas, Michigan. It was August 31, 1964, and we were planning our next cruise before heading home. Was it going to be the pier or Main Street? We sat there on the shore listening to “The House of the Rising Sun” on our Philco transistor radio talking about girls and cars, swapping lies about our conquests, always trying to outdo the other guy.

Suddenly the music was interrupted by a news flash that said Don Garlits had set a quarter mile record of 200 mph at Island Dragway in Great Meadows, N.J. The announcer seemed out of breath, hardly able to contain himself. We looked at one another and wondered how such a feat was possible. Garlits had gone where no man had ever gone before and it was the stuff of legends as far as we were concerned. It warranted a special news report that was tailor made for a motley group of Detroit 16 year-olds who thrived on a need for speed at a time when the automobile was more than just a means of conveyance from Point A to Point B.

From Ted’s Drive-In at the northern end of Woodward to the Totem Pole in Royal Oak, the story seemed to become larger than life as it was told and retold from Eight Mile to Square Lake Road. For street racers it was an event that rivaled the first man in space. The “quarter-milers” had a hero, someone to look up to, someone to emulate. He was one of us.

It’s difficult to imagine any radio station interrupting their playlist to announce such an event today, the significance to the populace being way down on the list of daily newsworthy happenings to all but a few gearheads who still maintain the lifestyle that has fallen from favor in the “green” world which surrounds us.

The primal excitement of top fuel drag racing continues to this day at strips throughout the country and it was once again evident at the recent FRAM Nationals that fast times and quarter-mile highs are available for the price of a ticket, an E-ticket of sorts that rekindled memories of that day 45 years ago when a simple guy from Tampa Florida accomplished something that others continue to strive for today. It all seemed so important in 1964 and for three days in July 2009 it became important once again.

Photos by J. R. Andres, Nate Jacobsen, Deborah Hepper

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