SI Vault
Hal Higdon
December 18, 1972
Malcolm's car seemed to be a real dog, but like all true street racers he was a crafty master of the oldtime drag-racing fundamental: always make them think they can beat you
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December 18, 1972

Look Slow And Be Set To Go

Malcolm's car seemed to be a real dog, but like all true street racers he was a crafty master of the oldtime drag-racing fundamental: always make them think they can beat you

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They also want a straight pavement wide enough to accommodate two cars side by side, not too much slope to the crown, and no side traffic. The street racers used Schultz Road for a while, but that posed hazards because of a sweeping turn just beyond the measured quarter mile. "You got a car that was even a high 12-second machine and you couldn't handle it out there at the end of the quarter," recalls Malcolm. In addition, one of the farmers used to come out on his front lawn and fire his shotgun at the cars racing past. They shifted to Tryon Road, where another farmer would throw lead balls with spikes implanted in them onto the road to puncture tires. Homeowners understandably dislike cars minus mufflers roaring past their front yards at midnight, and usually they call the police.

One night several years ago the street racers blocked off a section of Highway 2 near Westville for an event. Indiana State Police Lieut. Tim McCarthy passed on another road in an unmarked vehicle and saw cars lining up on both sides of the highway. He turned around, and, as he approached, the flagman motioned him into position for the next race. Just before the flag dropped, McCarthy stepped out and began writing tickets for parking, loitering, improper mufflers and any other violation he could find. The flagman received a ticket for standing on the highway. Street racers complain at what they call harassment, whereas McCarthy complains that when he brings the racers into court the judge often refuses to suspend licenses. The police find it difficult to obtain convictions for "engaging in a speed contest" unless they catch someone in the act, so they usually must settle for "harassing" tickets.

On another occasion the racers decided to test the runway of the municipal airport. They had run several races when a police car approached. Everybody exited in different directions. Big Ted drove his car into an empty hangar and closed the doors. Malcolm jumped out of his car and let it roll, headlights off. He lay in the ditch as the police car passed, then rose and retrieved his car which, unnoticed, had rolled to a stop at the end of the runway.

The current favored racing spot in Michigan City is a frontage road that was built during the construction of Interstate 94 and parallel to that expressway. Besides being straight, smooth and away from any houses, the road offers security because of its location in a flat and relatively treeless area. Thus the headlights of approaching cars, police or otherwise, can be seen from nearly a mile away. During the summer a group from Michigan appeared towing a Camaro to challenge the town champion. There was much bargaining at a local drive-in, and money began to emerge from wallets. Malcolm was selected to drive a Nova belonging to Big Ted.

Near the Interstate, the Camaro driver began doing burnouts to warm his tires. The roar of the Camaro's unmuffled engine echoed through the countryside. At that moment police cars, which had approached with headlights off, blocked both ends of the strip. "All drivers bring their licenses," the police announced over their loudspeaker. Everyone got a ticket except the driver from Michigan. He hopped the fence of the expressway and may still be running.

Nobody knows for sure whether the police had been attracted by the engine noise, like moths to a flame, or simply had spotted the caravan moving from drive-in to countryside. Normally, if the police notice a group of teen-agers heading out of town in hot cars, they follow. The drivers in another match earlier in the year had to visit four different locations before they could race. Everywhere the racers went, the cops came right behind them.

Young drag enthusiasts more often attract police attention than pros like Malcolm, since, yearning for fame, they announce their intentions to race well in advance to their friends. The news spreads and crowds gather. "If you plan in advance," advises Jack, "the guys with the concessions in the pits will be law-enforcement officials and they'll be selling 30-day suspensions." Malcolm agrees to race, races, collects and is back perched on the trash can next to the soft drink machine before anyone really notices he was missing.

The rallying point for street racers, in addition to Kniola Automotive, is whatever drive-in currently is fashionable. It used to be Azar's on Franklin Street, but the management kept calling the police. Everyone shifted to the Red Barn, but non-spenders were shagged out. The crowd then began congregating at McDonald's where, if one person bought a Coke, a carload could remain for the evening. Then McDonald's got tired of burnouts in the lot and put in speed bumps—so the current rallying point is the parking lot next to Kroger's supermarket.

But the greatest hazard faced by street racers is neither ticket-happy police nor belligerent drive-in managers, it is their own occasional lack of sense. "When I see some of the narrow roads they run on," says Lieut. Tim McCarthy, "I wonder why more of them don't get killed."

Jack recalls a race where the rear end of a car slid off the road, its front bumper clipping the second car, which spun into a barbed-wire fence. "Neither driver dared claim the damage on his insurance for fear of getting canceled." A racer known as Taco failed to brake in time and went straight off the end of one road, finally grinding to a stop in a cornfield. "He only races on sanctioned strips now," says Jack. Another Kniola regular recalls two friends who drove at 100 mph into the side of a cement viaduct. The other car in the race left, and police found the bodies an hour later.

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