This was a trip to San Diego, California to deliver a race car that I built and bring another crashed race car to Oklahoma, and then, eventually to my shop to repair.
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Any town in Texas can be one hot tempered bitch in the summer, and this summer and this town was no exception, and this was as bad as I have ever experienced. It was mid July, 1980 and Texas was in the midst of one of the worst heat waves in its history, and I could not have chosen a worse month to deliver a race car to San Diego, Calif. I had only been building Winston Cup cars for about 4 years and was still trying to build up my business, so I had agreed to deliver this customers new car, even though it meant driving to the Left Coast and back by myself. I love to drive, and can go long distances, but at this time I would have given a big ‘ol cold watermelon to have a co-driver in this miserable heat.
I had just been in Merit, Texas the day before, visiting a customer who had, months earlier, picked up a new car at our shop that we had custom built just for him, and I had just left his race shop after helping them get the front end settings dialed in and the corner weights set for an upcoming race in Phoenix. Their car had just been painted and the smell of fresh paint and slightly irritating odor of fresh bondo dust still permeated his shop and was lingering on my clothing and skin, and this heat was making that bondo dust residue was irritating my fore arms and around my neck.
The trip had been smooth sailing up this point, and I was right proud of my new (to me) race truck. It had belonged to the Huggins Tire Company that had the NASCAR Goodyear tire franchise, and was a 1970 C600 Ford Cab Over with a 330 2V engine coupled to a 4-speed transmission going thru a 2-speed rear axle. It was a typical box truck, but Huggins had moved the cargo box back and installed a smaller box to house a large air compressor to service the race car tires, and we had cleaned out the compressor area and modified the rear window of the truck to give us access to the box and converted that area to a sleeping compartment, and there was plenty of room once inside the compartment, but took some maneuvering to get thru the small back window.
The Winston cigarette company was trying to get their name out and about around that time and had offered to do some body work and paint the entire truck for free if I would let them do it in their trademark red and white colors and add their logos to the side and rear of the truck. I had just acquired my first Winston Cup race car at that time and Dale Earnhardt was driving for me, and I wanted a nice looking truck to go to the upcoming race in Daytona last July, so I was eager to let them underwrite the costs of a new paint job, and the large Winston logos would lend me some credibility in the racing world as well.
When we got back from the Daytona race, we had prepped for the coast to coast trip by going thru the mechanicals, tuning up the motor, greased all that we could, touched up the interior and checked the tires, brakes and all the fluid levels which turned out to be fine, but I had no understanding of air conditioning work at that time, and so paid no particular attention to that area of the motor compartment. This would turn out to be an issue, especially here in this mid-Texas heat.
I was driving alone this trip, but two 12 hour days of driving getting to Merit were uneventful, the temperature was palatable and I noted nothing out of the ordinary and I was feeling proud of my new, shiny travel ‘toy’. I had left Merit late in the morning and was making the expected 6 hour bee-line for Sweetwater, in west Texas as I was accustomed to stopping at the small town watering hole at the Union 76 truck stop, where tender, tasty steaks and attractive waitresses always awaited the parched and hungry traveler passing thru there. About mid-day, the temperature seemed to be increasing at an unusual rate, and checking the instrument gauges, I didn’t notice anything alarming, but was becoming increasingly uncomfortable as that bondo residue continued to be irritating.
I was somewhere between Baird and Elmdale on I-20, maybe 15 to 20 miles out of Abilene, when the air in the cab suddenly became very hot, very quick, so I eased the rig over to the side of the road, tilted the cab forward to check things out, but was unable to determine what the issue was at that time, or to hazard a guess as to the probable cause of the problem. I got back on the highway and limped into Abilene, looking for some reasonable solution to this heat issue, and as I came nearer to the edge of town, I saw a large auto repair shop with a parking lot large enough for me to get the truck and trailer turned around in and get myself parked.
They took a quick look and said they could help, but I was going to have to unhook the trailer before they could pull the truck into one of their service bays. I got the trailer backed into one corner of their lot, drove the truck to the front of the shop and returned to the trailer to lock up the hitch and chain the tires together, and as I was leaning over to lock the hitch, a ‘cowboy Cadillac’ backed into me from the side, knocking me to the ground, and I lightly struck my shoulder on the tongue of the trailer. I was instantly pissed and ready to confront what I was sure was going to a big ol’ cowboy or farm hand that smelled like cow shit, and was preparing to make sure that he understood my position on this matter.
The freakin’ asphalt in this town was hot with a capitol ‘H’, and I had rolled over and gotten up on both my knees as quickly as possible, and when I looked to the side, my eyes fell upon first one, then two very nice looking, tan legs, the kind of legs that change shape and contour as you change your viewpoint. As I kept looking upward, I kept seeing more leg and still more leg until I finally saw a pair of cut off shorts. Cut WAY off! Damn, what a sight! My temper was cooling off quite rapidly at this point, but my hands were still on the blistering pavement, so I began to stand up quickly, and all I could see was more skin, with only a small tube top interrupting the view. Nice, smooth, well tanned skin, and finally the attractive face of a long, dark haired beauty with prominent cheekbones, a cowboy hat on her head and a pair of those silver sun glasses like the highway patrol guys in the Carolinas’ wear. I could not see her eyes, but a tear had begun to fall down one cheek. Shit, now I can’t be pissed off at all!
“I’m very sorry”, she said, “I’ve had a bad day and a rougher week, and I was just not paying attention” she continued. It seems her boyfriend had left her, she was looking for work, but could not look very far unless she could get the brakes on her pick up repaired. “Brakes, hell”, I said, how about getting that rear view mirror fixed! She bent slightly and looked in thru the back window to see what I was talking about, then figured out that I was pulling her leg, and began to smile.
No major damage was done to either of our vehicles, so we both headed inside to cooler conditions of the shops waiting room, filled out our paperwork and sat down in the waiting room across from each other, and began an extended conversation while awaiting the news about what we were going to need to be get out of here.
As the afternoon wore on, I learned that she called herself ‘Pete’, was of Native American descent, and that the name ‘Pete’ was short for Eck’a-pe’ta, a Comanche name given her by her grandmother meaning ‘first daughter’. Further conversation revealed that her mother had died at childbirth, followed two years later by the death of her brother by complications with smallpox, and that her American father left soon after. I began to share with her the reason that I got into stock car racing was the fact that my wife and I had lost a daughter at 8-1/2 months due to a pregnancy complication, and that two years after that I lost another daughter and the pregnant wife in an auto accident near our home. The conversation soon morphed into our belief in a Supreme Being, and if He existed, what rational He used to decide who left early and who stayed behind. She stated that, while she was proud of her Comanche heritage, telling me that a number of her friends were attending college, and a large number of local professional folks were also of Native American descent, and that she was related to one of the Comanche warriors that were used as the Code Talkers in WW2, but she had a lot of serious questions regarding their religious beliefs and attitudes toward their ‘Creator’.
She spoke hesitantly and with reserve during the long afternoon’s encounter while continuing her puzzlement with the idea, that if there was a God, why did He seem so inconsistent? As I was about to offer my same questions and concerns about that very same line of thinking, the shop manager came into the waiting room and notified her that her car was ready, but that my repairs required a part that would not arrive from Dallas until in the morning. I thought that we had hit it off quite well, and realizing that I was without a ride, I asked that if I bought her dinner, would she mind giving me a ride to a motel, and I looked up to see the broadest smile I had seen from her during the entire afternoon.
She had seen me checking her out all afternoon and did not seem to mind at all, even giving me several opportunities not afforded to other customers in the waiting room by sitting with her back to them while facing me, with plenty of leg crossing and seat adjusting to keep me focused on her. During the afternoon gazes, I had become convinced that her tube top and cut-off shorts were the only two articles of clothing she was wearing, and as she rose to pay her bill, she seemed to stretch in a manner that might have been perceived as ‘showing off’, but I was not shy, and took advantage of every second of her dalliance and exposure.
She waved at me to follow out the door, which I took as a positive response to my request, and I replied that I had to go to the truck and get my suitcase, and when I got in her pick up, the air conditioning was running full blast and I took a deep breath, as she said “let’s go eat as we are, you can change later”. At that particular moment in time it appeared that each of us was pleased with how our pheromones were interacting with each other, and reclining into our seat backs we headed off to a local, off the main road eatery.
Dusk was sneaking up on us as we pulled into the diner, and over a really nice steak dinner, she continued with her opinions and observations regarding the possibilities of the existence of a Supreme Being. It seems that the Comanche word for God is Ta-a’pah . ‘Ta’ meaning daytime and ‘ap-ah’ meaning father, which translates to God being the Father of the Day according to Comanche culture. ‘Pete’s’ viewpoint seemed to be that her disappointment and inability to understand Gods plans and pursuits could be left behind with the onset of the night. This was getting easier to believe as the evening wore on, as she loosed up, smiled more and became a little more ‘touchy-feely’ tone to her conversation.
I began to see some of her outlook in my past and current behavior as well, I began to share some of those thoughts with her by telling with her that the accident that took my family had occurred at early morning light, and the day at the hospital was a horrendous array of details, revelations and decisions. It seemed an endless array of details, taking a seemingly unending amount of time to work thru, but in fact as I got to the parking lot it was just getting dark on the same day that this all started on. I got in my car and not having a particular direction drove around endlessly for the entire night, feeling somewhat comforted by the fact that if I could not see or hear much, not much could bother me. I could control my audio input with the radio, and controlled my visual input by concentrating on the often long black ribbon in the foreground. I ended up two states away, slept during the entire day and drove all night to get home. Driving and the night had become my friends.
“Enough of this downer talk, lets have go relax”, I said. We left the diner and continued our ever-evolving interaction after dinner by spending several hours driving around Abilene and watching the waxing moon that was watching over west Texas, eventually ending up at the motel where I was going to stay for the evening. The evening turned into night, then into late night, followed by early morning and then following sunrise and breakfast, and when she was taking me over to the auto repair shop, I asked if she would consider continuing with me on the trip to San Diego. She seemed genuinely interested and after a moment of pondering, she said that if I would follow her home to drop of her pickup and wait while she gathered some clothes that she would love to help me chase tumbleweeds as far west as we could find them.
Arriving at the repair shop just before 8:30, we found the repairs to the air conditioner were almost done, so I set about checking the race car and the trailer tires, loading my suitcase and ‘Pete’s’ suitcase and clothes hanger. For a lady, she traveled quite light.
We hit asphalt about 9:00, setting our sites due west, expecting to reach Las Cruces by sundown, and it wasn’t long before we began that intermittent chatting about this and that, family and movies, likes and dislikes, but the conversation eventually returned to our conversation that we started yesterday regarding our ultimate beliefs about our maker, beliefs and outlooks. She shared some interesting facts about her heritage that seemed unusual to me, especially the fact that her great, great grandmother was captured in an Indian raid and made to be the wife of a warrior, and that subsequent daughters were expected to marry white men.
We continued traveling thru the sparse and barren land of west Texas, passing thru Westbrook, Midland and Odessa, finally stopping for lunch just a few miles west of the Pecos River. ‘Pete’ had been sitting on the passenger’s side of the seat for most of the trip, chatting and speaking in a pleasant manner, but the warmth of the previous evening was not as prevalent as it was then, but as we pulled the rig into the parking lot, she scooted over towards me and got out of the truck on my side. It was becoming apparent that we shared some sort of kinship and would at least be good friends.
Over lunch, and for the balance of the day, she was somewhat more outgoing, and seemed genuinely interested in the race car, how it worked, who drove them, and seemed amazed that we traveled so far just to go around in circles. The talking about racing got me a little more awake and spirited, so I reached for and inserted some eight track tapes that I had brought along as entertainment for the trip. I had a race sponsor at one time that owned a music shop and as part of a deal to race at Charlotte, they had outfitted the truck with quadraphonic speakers, and you could really get pumped up. We listed for over four hours to Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles and others. I could get really stoked listening to this music and ‘Pete’ was equally affected, and by the time we reached the Rio Grande River at Las Cruces, we were wide ass open and loving every minute of it!
It had been dark for about half an hour when we stopped and got a room with a nice view of the river. After we took in our bags, we sat on the back end of the trailer for some time, looking at the moons reflection in the river, and it was again apparent that she was much more relaxed and outgoing in the reflection of the moons light than during the daylight hours. It wasn’t long before we went inside, cleaned up and while getting dressed to go to dinner we continued talking about our favorite music, what we liked most and what effect it had on us. I blurted out that if we didn’t calm this discussion down, we might not make it to dinner and she asked me to explain. I began telling her that doing anything connected to racing along with a nice lady in certain clothes and certain types of music, that I might get a little ‘out of line’ and she asked me what that meant, and I went on to explain that some of the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac music we had been listening to, was known to put me in a particularly amorous, even aggressive, mood, maybe too aggressive. She asked what type of ladies clothing I was referring to and I said a dress was particularly appealing to me.
She didn’t say a word, but grabbed her bag and went back into the bathroom, emerging in less than three minutes in a short, sleeveless dress, and had applied some additional eye shadow.
‘Pete’ was a beautiful young lady, with just a touch of Native American features, the most prominent of which was her smooth, high rounded cheekbones, long dark hair and bright green eyes that seemed to alternate from piercing to translucent. They seemed to be able to welcome you or turn you away in an instant, but always moving in a warm, gentle way, at no time appearing cold or aloof. She was easy to look at and displayed an aura that made her exciting to be around.
She looked over at me and could tell that I ‘impressed’. She asked me to tell her more about the effect of this music that I was telling her about. I told her that while I was fond of Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles, I most enjoy listening to the Allman Brothers, particularly anything with Dickey Betts on it. He is one bad ass ‘axe’ man, and my favorite of all time is their renditions of Jessica or The Midnight Rider, which I play every time I am going to a race and on the way home. I often visualize what I have learned about myself when I am headed into a romantic opportunity by imagining that I am The Midnight Rider, riding a horse named ‘Libido”, with an ‘Ego’ saddle, while carrying a shotgun loaded with ‘Nerve’ and having one saddle bag filled with ‘Imagination’, and the other full of ‘Testicles’.
She maneuvered around until she was directly in front of me, put her hands on her hips, and with those green eyes right in front of my face, she said “Show me”!
I showed her three times!
It was more of the same, all the way to San Diego, and once at the race shop, my customer spent a large portion of the day showing us around his shop, race equipment and all the trophies he had won. Guys are like that, don’t ‘ya know. He took us to dinner, and ‘Pete’ wore a dress very similar to the one she had worn earlier, and it was apparent that it was having the same effect on both of us. We completed dinner, went back to the shop where his employees had loaded up a crashed race car that he had sold to another racer in Woodward, Oklahoma that I was going to deliver on the way home. We made a hurried excuse about being in a hurry to get home and we both hurried back into the truck, cranked up Fleetwood Mac, and listened to Gypsy, the Chain and Rhiannon, as we beat feet East out of El Cajon. We got no more than 20 miles out of El Cajon, and while listening to the vocal displays of Stevie Nix we both had a strong, and simultaneous desire to inspect the sound quality of the truck from the sleeping compartment, so I pulled over into a rest area. It took us almost an hour to make a complete sound check of that compartment.
As we traveled, Eastward now, the moon was continuing to wax towards its eventual fullness, and she continued to muse over the reasons she might be more comfortable in the evening hours than during daylight, many of which I was able to identify with completely. It seemed to her that the moon was more inviting and calming as opposed to the suns demand for attention. You cannot see as far in the dark, enabling you to absorb and enjoy that which is closer to you. With less distraction, you are able to contemplate inward and learn more about yourself. The moon does not provide heat, but it does provide warmth. The more we talked, the more I learned about myself, as she verbalized many thoughts that I have had over the years in a straightforward manner, without judgment or labels.
I know that I have always enjoyed the comparisons of light vs darkness, work vs pleasure, failure vs success, pungent vs aromatuic, disdain vs love. You cannot fully appreciate the victory if you have not tasted defeat, and my past life and my current line of work exemplify these comparisons. Preparing a race car for an event requires a tremendous amount of late night hours, worries and concerns, and once at the race track, our work requires that we work in an extremely loud, poor smelling environment, dirt and grease at every turn, with speed and danger ever present, and you sweat like hell during the day in intense heat and sunlight. Fast practice times and great qualifying speeds provide an enormous return on your emotional investment.
But, the track shuts down at 5:00, and within a matter of an hour or so, you are able to be transformed into an evening replete with an air conditioned restaurant touting their own brand of aroma in a dimly lit environment, and soft music playing. You can look across the table at a very delectable damsel, and watch the candle light dance in her eyes while inhaling her own brand of enticement, stirring your emotions, igniting your imagination, and you contemplate what manner of pleasure will reveal itself tonight. It is a veritable cornucopia of senses to be encountered and enjoyed. It is clearly a distinctive change from the daylight encounters.
I had driven well into the early morning hours and ‘Pete’ had fallen asleep, but was becoming restless in the seat. I had been driving with the window down to help stay awake, and noted that it was a surprisingly cool morning, so I pulled over into a rest area somewhere west of Tucson and we slept until the heat of the morning woke us both about the same time.
Breakfast in Tucson, and we jumped back on the black ribbon, heading towards what was left of the suns intrusion into the windshield. The trip home is always longer than the trip out, I assume because you are more comfortable at home and are anxious the get there, but as I would occasionally glance at ‘Pete’, it became apparent, that an attractive woman always looks ‘fine’. No matter what their hair and make up would have you believe, a woman with internal beauty always has that beauty on display. I was not as anxious to get home on this trip for some reason. I knew she could not continue to travel with me all the way home, so I was determined to ingest as much of her aura as I could in the time we had left together.
As we pulled into El Paso, and the shifting of the gears made ‘Pete’ stir, and noting that it was dark outside, the first thing she did was search for the moon, then said flatly: “I wanna eat Mexican!” Shit!, I don’t like Mexican food, and she sensed my hesitation, but said that they could get steaks at most any tourist restaurant, so I found our way to the Border Highway that runs parallel to the Rio Grande and went across a bridge into Juarez, Mexico. An official looking guy at the Mexican side of the bridge had some issue with the race car on the trailer, but ol’ ‘Pete’ reared up in his face and let him what I thought was a pretty aggressive verbal ‘bitch slap’ in Spanish, to which he just looked her over, smiled and waved us by. I asked her what she said and she told me that called him a donkey, and that we were just going to eat and that if he would let us pass, she would show him her tits on our way back. He must have truly been a donkey, because there were at least three ways to get back into the US right there in El Paso, and a real guy would have asked to see them first!
We found a place that she liked, and we actually did enjoy a good meal as I was able to order a really nice steak, although I was nervous about the race car on the trailer. It was pretty well torn up from a crash at Riverside, but I could not tell what might be appealing to any of the locals, so I lobbied for a table near a window in the restaurant, where I could maintain at least a minimal vigil.
I had been paid a huge deposit for building the race car, and had received an interim payment as we were building it, and while in San Diego, I had received the balance due on the race car plus a lump sum for my travel expenses in cash, so we picked the nicest hotel that we could find, and spent that night in wonderful comfort. Most racing adventures were spent sleeping on the road in the trucks sleeper while another crew member drove, and when at the track, you are often crammed three, and some times four, guys in a room to save expenses. This evening in a room with a very pleasant companion was a sweet diversion from that type of environment. Besides, she smelled better, and was easier to look at!
After a lazy breakfast in the hotel, and checking on the race car and trailer, we climbed back into the truck and headed towards Abilene. We were both quietly aware that this would probably be our last day together, but we still were able to enjoy the day, spending additional time chatting about what she had learned about racing, and what I had learned about her ‘moon fetish’. It wasn’t until late in the afternoon, when Abilene road signs began appearing along side the road that she scooted over to the middle of the seat, smiled and said “let’s listen to some music”. When I asked what kind of music she would like to hear, she grinned real wide and said “you know, your music”, clearly indicating to me how she was wanting to spend our last evening together.
It had been over eight hours of driving since we left El Paso, but you would have thought that we had just started by the way ‘Pete’ was behaving. It was dark as we pulled into the outskirts of Abilene, and as we pulled into a parking lot near her apartment, she noted that it was full moon, her favorite kind, and she was acting more than amorous and apparently open for anything that I would like to enjoy that evening, and invited me and my tapes into her ‘abode’.
And, I accepted!
Shakespeare wrote that ‘parting is such sweet sorrow’, but it can be a pain in the ass as well. Neither of us wanted to say goodbye, yet each wanted to say the last words, and it gets to be a small contest as to how you appear at this moment, knowing it will be how we remember each other for quite some time. Finally, I just said “I’ve gotta go!’ I had to be in Woodward, Oklahoma by lunch, and knew that I had better hit the hardtop soon, so I waved goodbye and headed out one more time, to one more place.
Highway 183 out of Abilene went straight to Woodward, but it was not as wide, nor as smooth road at the time, and I did not get to the race shop until after 2:00 in the afternoon, and the entire trip was uneventful, boring and void any form of entertainment, but the guys at the shop seemed happy to see their ‘new’ car and the ‘race’ talked jolted me back to a more recognizable environment. We ‘bench raced’ for a few hours and it was determined that they would leave the car on the trailer and I would take it back to my shop in the Carolinas to make the repairs, and add some improvements. We agreed on an estimate to replace the front snout, repair the rear clip and to change the seat rails to accommodate the new driver’s aluminum seat.
I had been invited to stay long enough to have dinner with them, so after a rare home cooked meal, I set out on the trip home to the Carolinas. After checking the map, and remembering what day it was, I decided that I would try to make the trip home non-stop. It looked to me 1100 miles and my experience has been, that pulling a trailer, that would be a 24 hour drive if things went without incidence, and off I went, hell-bent for home, anxious to test my new found affinity and affinity for the moons light. It wasn’t long before I encountered the impending darkness, and lacking the companionship of late, I charged into the night, guided by the light of a full moon. I did not want to listen to the more stimulating music, for obvious reasons, so I fumbled thru my box of tapes and found nothing that suited me for awhile until I found a pair of older Eagles tapes, and as I was listening to one album and then the other, I was particularly struck by the lyrics to Peaceful, Easy Feeling, Witchy Woman, and Life in the Fast Lane and wore out the speakers listening to them and those songs in particular as they reminded me of the previous weeks passenger and how she had left a lasting imprint on me.
I will never be able to look at the moon again without reminiscing about
the role the moon plays not only in my life, but that of one Texas Comanche