Two Rounds with Jim Croce

I Wreck my Corvette on the Way home from Charlotte One Night

 

 

INDEX

These are articles, stories and accounts of my life, as I recall them, and are copywrited. Unauthorized use will be pursued at my determination, to the degree that I am inclined. Any hard feeling caused by memories that don't match yours are unfortunate and you'll just have to get over it! Feel free to contact me if you have a request for their use. I am not writing for prose or poetry, but just to tell a story. Neither do I try to be politically correct. I consider that an act of cowardice, trying to placate the uninformed, ignorant of history folks that are filled with ego and braggadocios, demanding that their perspective be the prevalent one.

 


Our car owner, Joe Frasson, from Minnesota, had entered a car in both the Sportsman race and the Grand National race being held in Charlotte, early in May, 1973. There were only three of us full time crew members, and it was a freakin’ fiasco getting two cars ready for the same week of racing, but it was Joes contention that we would be eating and sleeping at home and that a 90 mile drive each day was less costly for him to pay for than to us all to stay in a hotel and eat out every night. That was easy for him to say, because he was flying into town and would be staying at a Charlotte hotel, but the thought of sleeping in our own bed was appealing to both Mike and I.

We all had stayed up all night Tuesday night to finish preparing the Grand National car, and Mike and I had left at four in the morning on Wednesday, to get a good place in line outside the track. The closer you got to the pit entrance when the gat opened determined the order in which you got thru inspection and got your assigned garage stall position. I had followed Mike and the race car hauler in my ’70 ‘vette so that I could come home early and continue working on the Sportsman car that needed to be at the track on the following day.

I had only owned this ‘vette for less than a year, and months earlier I had made some arrangements with a local engine builder to ‘blueprint’ the bottom end, port the heads and install a big block intake manifold with a 650 cfm short track carburetor, and a newer torque converter for the 3-speed automatic transmission. The LS5 454 cubic inch big block started out at 390 HP, and we had run it on the engine dyno one evening prior to installation and it pulled right at 440 HP, a huge increase in power, and I was ‘feelin’ it’

I had also just recently installed a set of ‘scuffs’ that I had bought very inexpensively from a competitor that failed to finish the race at Martinsville, earlier in the year. These race tires were only run about 20 laps before the motor blew on this car and the owner was happy to get any money for his used tires. It was one of the few times that a treaded tire was used at a track and I was convinced that they would surly enhance my driving ‘skills’, even though I had been explicitly warned not to use them on the street, because they had absolutely no rain deterrent formed in the tread pattern. I mounted them anyway, and had decided that I had made the right decision, as I was quick to notice an increase in cornering speeds, particularly in circling Hearon Circle that provided the round, one way interchange at I-85 and the Ashville Highway. I immediately saw an increase of almost 4 miles per hours before tire squeal would commence, but in hindsight, I may have over estimated my ability to evaluate tire compounds and tread design, but I was happy with the recorded durometer rating.

Mike and I had unloaded the Grand National car, gotten thru inspection without issue and had moved the car to our garage stall, and I had started home, leaving Mike to do the many details that were still unfinished on the intermediate track car. He was to drive the race truck to the shop that evening after the track closed and we would put the Sportsman car on a trailer and tow it to the race track in the morning.

As always, we were behind in race car preparation and I was in a big hurry to get back to the shop, so I hit the interstate, hell-bent on making the 90 mile trip in about an hour, ten. I had been up and down I-85 so often that I knew where most eateries and all Waffle Houses were and this evening I had decided on a barbecue sandwich from a little diner just south of Gastonia, N.C., and as expected it was less than a 4-minute encounter, and I was on my way. I was really looking forward to this barbecue sandwich because you could always count on at least an inch thick coating of dripping coleslaw, alleged to be a secrete blend of sugar, vinegar and mustard, to be heaped on top of the pulled pork and sauce would always run down all sides, making it a juicy and face defiling adventure. If you were deft enough, you could catch the dripping sauce with the extra long home made French fries abundantly coated with a light vinegar seasoning. I was beginning to love living in the Carolinas!

It was back on the interstate, and noticing the time, I quickly hit the loud pedal with a long leg, wanting to get this ride down the road. This particular ‘vette had a tall gear in it, and with the recent motor upgrades, it would really sound sweet at about 85 miles per hour. I was a proud pappa, as I inserted my new Jim Croce 8-track tape and searched until I found ‘Alabama Rain’, then hammered down.

Just as I approached the North Carolina/South Carolina border there is a slight erratic right hand sweeping curve as you approach the Grover exit. It was at the exact location that a number of things occurred to me simultaneously. I noticed that the sky had suddenly darkened and it had begun to rain! Should I turn the wipers on? Was I going to fast for these tires? Could I catch all that barbecue sauce running down my moustache with only one of those long French fries?

To hell with the barbecue sauce, I WAS going too fast for these tires in the rain, and I had no way to turn on the wipers because I was too busy trying to keep both of my elbows out of my butt hole while trying to keep this plastic bucket of bolts on the highway! It was not working! I am not a masterful driver! No matter my instructions to the steering wheel and the pedals, this car is neither smart enough, nor quick enough to respond to my deft instructions. I had already snapped one 360 degree spin and as spin continued into round two, I suddenly looked up and out the driver’s window, and in the distance I barely make out the sharp leading edge of the end of the guardrail that signifies the entrance to the Grover exit road. As the spin subsides, I am still sliding at a very fast rate of speed while anticipating what is sure to be very painful experience. Time suddenly slows to a crawl, and I actually start thinking ‘let’s get this the hell over with, the uncertainty is killing me”. I am certain that I am going to be impaled by the upper guard rail, but as I inch closer I can see the possibility of perhaps the top guardrail going over my legs and the bottom rail grazing the bottom of my legs, so I frantically try to re-steer the car in a manner that will make the impact at right angles thinking that I will lessen the cross section of my torso on impact.

Still, nothing that I am doing is having any effect on my trajectory, and I am getting pretty pissed at this situation that I have gotten myself into, and I am running out of ideas, and ‘ol Croce was no help whatsoever, still bitchin’ about the rain in Alabama.

Then I hear an abrupt change to the squealing sound, and thinking that the motor may be ‘going south’ I reach forward and turn off the ignition switch, but the sound continued. At the same time, the car is changing attitude in a manner that is bringing the rear end into the direction of the slide, and it is now apparent that the front wheels have come to the shoulder of the highway and the rougher surface is slowing down the front of the car, making it apparent that the impact is more likely coming from the rear.

All of a sudden there is a loud crunching sound, followed by a loud bang, and now it’s dead silent. When I was sure impact was inevitable, I had released my grip on the steering wheel, tilted my head back to the headrest, slouched down and clasped both hands around my testicles.

The absolute lack of sound was frightening, and fearing the worst, I began to search for feelings somewhere, anywhere, everywhere. My first concern was if I had been ‘chewed on’ anywhere. I could feel no actual pain, but felt several rivulets of fluid running down both sides of my face, and when reaching for my ever present Goodyear ball cap, no visor was felt and I was close to panicking as I reached for the top of my scalp, happy to find the dirty and greasy, but moist clumps of poorly managed hair. The next few minutes brought much relieve, as it appeared that I had all my limbs and they were in full functioning order, and tasting the dripping fluid, I determined that it was merely an abundance of sweat. I felt down both arms, my chest and both legs to again make sure everything was connected before deciding to get out of the car.

The door was jammed slightly, but once out of the car, I inspected the damage and discovered that I had torn the hell out of the left rear corner of the car, as the guardrail had split open the rear section of the bodywork and found its way to the left rear tire, tearing it open and coming to a stop less than six inches from my seat belt mounting bracket. One lap around the car gave me the courage to attempt repairs in an attempt to continue home.

The car cranked right away and I pulled it way from the guardrail and eased my way up the exit ramp, with a loudly flapping rear tire, hoping to find someone to help me change the tire, hopefully in a well lit area. I found a quick-stop store and as I parked the car, it drew a lot of attention for obvious reasons, but I was concerned about the degree of horror being displayed on several of the onlooker’s faces until I figured out that they were looking at the large red spots that were on the front of my shirt, and I am sure that I furthered their anxiety when I discovered that it was only the barbeque sauce and licked it off my fingers as I walked into the store, while brushing the coleslaw from my eyebrows and moustache and picking the French fries from my shirt pockets.

I ended up getting a wrecker to take it back to the body shop that was next door to the race shop near Hearon Circle, where I had it painted to match the Sportsman car. It was fire engine red with a flat blue hood adorned with five hand painted white stars. The painter had become a friend who owed me several favors and he quickly had it repaired and painted while we were at the races in Charlotte. A new rear bumper section, all new tires, one new wheel, some tail lights and a lot of fiberglass resin, and I was all done with the exception a few little detail projects that always remain after any body work and painting has been done.