From the beginning, Gertrude Arfons and June Arfons, Arthur's wife, had failed to hit it off, and little by little the whole atmosphere soured. Soon there were veiled hints from the wives that one or the other brother was being exploited financially. "And then we began to argue," Walter says. "All of a sudden we just couldn't seem to get along. Arthur is hard to work with, anyway. Things has got to be done his way. If I have a good idea and try to work it out, nope, he won't want to do it that way. We have to do it his way. And when you start arguing like that, you just can't work together." The brothers ended their business relationship by splitting up the old mill, which had been left to them by their father, and Walter feels he was even scragged on that last financial deal of their partnership: "I always wanted the piece that he has now, and that held up the deal for a year, because he wouldn't have no other piece but that. I didn't want the old mill and the old house, they were all run down and just junk, and the part he wanted had one new building and a nice piece of land. But he was stubborn and so I had to take the old junk. We had two and a quarter acres in all. I have less than an acre now, and he's got all the good land."
Arthur says they divided the property fairly, "and I thought, now that we've split the place right down the center, we own nothing together. I thought, 'Well, hell, there's nothing to argue about now,' but things never did heal up." And so they went their separate ways into the drag-racing world, each still building Green Monsters, each claiming that the other was benefiting unfairly from the Green Monster label and each steadfastly giving the other the brush as they fabricated their weird creations in the shops on Pickle Road.
It only took a few years for the Arfons brothers, operating individually, to enter the royalty of hot rodding. Trucking their various Green Monsters from strip to strip, they flourished in that honky-tonk atmosphere of blocked-off country roads, amber-lighted dragways, dusty abandoned airports in the Midwest, baking in 105� of heat. Their purses were sometimes guaranteed and sometimes merely promised and sometimes simply ignored; their spectators were death wishers salivating at the prospect of a hot car going out of control, serious young men of the business who saw life as a succession of motor tunings and valve jobs, and the kids, dedicated ones for the most part, whose hobby was acceleration and whose heroes were the Arfonses and Craig Breedlove and Mickey Thompson and Don Garlits and the other folk giants of fiat-out speed. Walter expanded, kept several different Green Monsters running at once, watched his nickels and dimes carefully and became financially solid even as his heart trouble was retiring him as a driver. Arthur remained what he had always been, what a close friend affectionately called "a one-man circus." He refused to allow anyone else to drive his cars ("If somebody got hurt in my car it'd probably ruin my life," Arthur said, sounding like Walter, only more so). His narrowest squeak was at Chester, S.C. in 1957, when his Allison-powered Balony Slicer rolled 14 times after a front wheel tore loose. The strip was torn so badly that it had to be closed for repairs, and the car was a total loss. "Arfons had to be dead," said one of the race promoters, "and when we got to the car he sure looked dead. But he ended up with a couple of cracked ribs and a permanently bent finger." As soon as Arthur left the hospital he was out dragging again. "It was all I knew, and I enjoyed speed," he explained. "You know how real good music affects some people? You can just get in a trance, not over this damn jazz but concert music or something like that. Well, power affects me the same way as good music. It just takes over. I can be a little scared, but as soon as I get the engine fired nothing bothers me. I'm off in another world, all by myself, and that car is moving out and the noise is blasting my ears off, and fear is something that doesn't even exist. Sometimes I'm scared to death later, sure, but never when I'm in the car."
During those years on the strips Arthur's and Walter's cars frequently showed up at the same places, but the brothers maintained their antagonistic stances. Well-meaning friends tried to reconcile them, but nothing worked. "It was a terrible thing to see," says Jim Tice, president of the American Hot Rod Association. "Each one of them is a good friend of mine. They'd come to my house and stay with me, both a couple of wonderful guys, but you couldn't mention one of them to the other. I could never get them together."
When, a few years ago, it became obvious that Walter and Arthur Arfons, along with one or two others, had become the best hopes to return the land-speed record to the U.S., the brothers found themselves signed up to commercial sponsorships, Walter with Goodyear and Arthur with Firestone, and thus ended any easy route to a reconciliation. As standard-bearers for the two biggest rubber companies in the world, with gross annual sales in the billions, the brothers became the cutting edges of forces vastly more powerful than themselves. Goodyear, nicknamed "The Gumbo Tire & Rubber Co." by its archrival, and Firestone, derisively called "The Flintstone Tire & Rubber Co." by its competitor on the east side of Akron, had been feuding far longer than the Arfons brothers. Top brass of the two industrial giants might crack jokes and play golf together at the snobbish, conservative Portage Country Club, but underneath the friendly badinage was competition of the bitterest kind—"all-out, bloody, stinkin' war, as rough a competition as any two companies ever got into," says a Firestone spokesman. Victor Holt, a former All-America basketball player at the University of Oklahoma who went to Goodyear to play for the company team and stayed on to become president, sounds a typical battle cry: "We're the No. 1 in the business. We have been for 50 years. Firestone's our No. 1 competitor. The thing has fluctuated up and down. Right now we're over half a billion ahead. But they're still our No. 1 competitor, and they're tough as a boot!"
For something like half a century Firestone had the automobile racing world almost to itself. Every year it could take advertising space far in advance, trumpeting to a world of potential tire buyers that the first 10 finishers at Indianapolis had run on Firestone tires. Firestones won big American road races and many of the races abroad; dragsters ran on Firestones, and so did stock cars at dirt tracks and sports cars at Sebring and Elkhart Lake and Daytona. Then Goodyear jumped pell-mell into racing, and what had already been a hot competitive situation turned into an industrial bloodletting. Explains Victor Holt: "When we came into racing five, six years ago, hell, this was an insult to Firestone. It's as if they'd come out with blimps. Now we're over in their ball yard and they don't like it. And we're in it to stay. The only place we haven't whupped 'em is down in Indianapolis, and we're still workin' on that one."
The record shows that Goodyear has whupped and been whupped in return, and the Firestone forces are holding their own even though their near monopoly in racing publicity has been ended. But Holt's enthusiastic statements are merely standard table talk in the rubber city. Every time a big race is run the folks get together on Firestone Parkway, Goodyear Boulevard, Seiberling Street, General Street and every place else under the miasmic, burned-rubber canopy hanging over Akron and argue about the results. Insults fly back and forth:
"Listen to the Voice of Firestone: 'Blooey!' "
"Did you hear about the new Good-years made in China? Chungking Specials!" ("Chunking" is an old and serious tire problem in which chunks fly off the tread.)
"That wasn't a sonic boom. That was a Firestone tire blowing!"