The first runs weren't scheduled until 7, so I headed back into Victorville to see if I could find a cup of coffee. The 25 minute ride into town was way different than it had been the night before. I'd thought I was driving in the middle of nowhere, but there were quite a few patches of houses - small, scrubby desert neighborhoods that looked about like the desert towns I remember riding through as a kid when we went camping back in the '70s. The dawn light was amazing - it made everything seem like an abandoned set for some Jim Jarmusch film.
This was back in the dark ages, when many Ebay listings didn't actually have photos. A '49 wagon project came up for auction in Guerneville, CA. I'd emailed the seller for details, but there weren't many; he was selling the car for his friend's widow, and neither knew much about it. He did say that the car was parked on the side of the house and I could go look at it.
I was mostly interested in the brakes. This was back when I was using my '49 Crosley convertible as a daily driver, and the cable brakes were the bane of my existence. Swapping to discs (correct for most 1949 Crosleys) was high on my priority list at the time. Given that the starting bid was something like $150 I figured I couldn't go wrong. I borrowed someone's 'real' car and drove out to Guerneville, getting good and lost on the way, so I didn't get to the house until just before dark. I don't remember too much about the car except that it did have discs and seemed fairly straight. I took some polaroids with a flash and headed home.
When the auction ended a couple of days later the car had gone up to about $300. I bid $350 at the very last second, only to lose the car by $1. I immediately emailed the winner, (you could do that back then - not now) who turned out to be John McKnight. I told him I'd be interested in buying the stock parts if he was planning to hotrod it, and offered to send him pictures of the car since he was in Arizona and had bought it sight-unseen. He said he wasn't sure what his plans were, but that he'd keep me posted. Eighteen years later, here we are standing on the dry lakes, still talking about Crosleys.
Crosleys are only a part of John's automotive interest. He's been hotrodding since the sixties, and has been a fan of speed trial racing for a long time. In fact, the only other time we've met in person was when we were both at Bonneville in 2009.
We stood around, waiting for the racing to start. I'd heard awful stories about the wind and dust at the Dry Lakes, but it wasn't bad at all. I knew it would get hot later in the day, but with the wind it was almost brisk, with a bit of moisture in the air, which probably made all the carbureted cars happy.
John's lakester came up in the rookie line and got the once over from the officials. The driver was cleared for 175, but no more. They got him stuffed into the fuselage - a tight fit - sealed the cockpit, and waited for the signal that they were clear to go. John and the rest of the crew hopped into the push truck and off they went!
The Gentleman Racer has some good photos and details.)
While I've wanted to go to El Mirage for years, there was also an ulterior motive for this trip. A few years back I'd located and then picked up a Crosley roadster body and frame for John. After everything had been delivered he realized he didn't need the frame and wanted to run an ad in the club newsletter to sell it - ironically, I'd been ogling the frame when I picked it up, because it had been modified for racing - piquing my interest because that's the plan for my Crosley Super Sports project. When John found out I was interested, he said I could have it... the question was how to get it back from Arizona. This trip was a perfect opportunity.
His teammates got word that there wouldn't be time to make another run today, so they started packing up for home. The wind had picked up and the EZ Ups were flapping - it was time for me to start heading home as well. I said my goodbyes and slowly cruised through the pits on my way to the main road, Super Sports frame hanging out the back of the truck, waving goodbye.