right?" said Jack, looking at the ceiling.
that," said Wilbur, slapping his hand down on the counter, "the
sucker's going to give me two cars."
I could see Jack
biting his tongue.
$15 since he had no money of his own to post as the bet. They moved to a
backcountry street called Schultz Road for the showdown. Malcolm shot off the
starting line and passed his opponent before shifting out of first gear. By the
time he shifted to fourth he had a six-car-length lead. He coasted across the
in his Plymouth Duster to the starting line, rolled down the window, handed out
his money and kept driving home to La Porte.
The sport of drag
racing began on the back roads of America—two kids facing off to see whose car
ran quickest. Only in the early '50s did it become organized into a
full-fledged professional sport with drag strips, sanctioning bodies and stars
like Don Garlits and Ronnie Sox. But professional drag racing is only the tip
of the iceberg showing above water. "It wouldn't make any difference if
they had a drag strip in every town in the country," says Kniola. "They
still would have street racing."
Jack Kniola works
during the day for a welding-supply company and at night runs Kniola Automotive
on the U.S. 20 bypass around Michigan City, Ind. The only speed shop between
South Bend and Gary, it also serves as a gathering spot for street racers. Any
night during the summer there is someone at Kniola's willing to test his
of my customers will race on the street more times than on the strip,"
Kniola admits, "because it's simpler for them to put something on and test
it right away. They don't want to wait to go to the strip on a Sunday. They
don't want to wait a full week, or two days, or even an hour. They want to try
it now. They roll out to the first stretch of road they can find without
A drag enthusiast
can peel his wheels at any intersection, but usually he wants to test them
against someone else with a reputation for having a heavy foot. After a street
racer puts down his acquaintances, he starts looking around town for new
competition, at the same time sneaking up to Jack's counter to order new parts.
According to Jack: "The young kid coming up with a lot of money in his
engine, trans and chassis wants to beat the top car in town. That's his status
symbol. He wants to beat Malcolm or Ted or Frank. At the same time guys from
out of town will hear about the Robin Hood of street racing in this city and
they'll bring their little band of merry men over to this guy's forest and want
to race him. Generally the guy who races the car doesn't put up the money. It's
his buddies who have confidence in their champion. They find a back road, they
race, and the winner takes the purse."
For the last
several years the Robin Hood of street racing in Michigan City had been Malcolm
Garrett, who in the best traditions of professionalism held no nine-to-five job
but worked on his car and the cars of others in a garage behind Kniola
Automotive. On almost any evening one could walk into Jack's and find Malcolm
sitting atop the disposal can next to the soda machine, perched like a patient
buzzard. He had long, rinse-water blond hair, and a half tooth in front gave
him a sly, evil look. Malcolm wore bowling shoes, red and green with a white
dot showing size 7� on the back. He kept his two cars out back: a maroon 1968
Dodge that seemed perfectly bland and the anonymous gray Dodge of older vintage
with eight pistons stacked on its hood. "That's my street fooler,"
Malcolm confided one evening. "I'm going to put a 340 in it that'll look
like a 273."