by Rod Johnson
Some of this story may sound familiar to many, especially the guys who are old motor heads. What is a motor head you say? Let's define it as a person, usually a guy, who is totally infatuated with fast, noisy machines such as cars, trucks, or boats. If one has this condition in their youth, it is often carried throughout life to one degree or another. As a motor head's age increases and his testosterone decreases, the degree of craziness acted out with these machines usually tends to decline, though not always. Sorry, that was a mouthful but I think you get the point.
Like most towns in the 1950s and '60s, Belgrade had its share of youth, who upon getting their driver's licenses, used their cars for much more than transportation. Most had been driving some on camp roads, which were considered by parents to be a good place to teach kids to drive. Often, kids had been driving old pickups, homemade, cut-down tractors, and other farm-type vehicles for years before they were old enough to get a license.
At that time a license could be obtained at the age of 16. Driving fast and spinning tires was commonplace, as well as occasionally going to either stock car or drag racing tracks to watch competition. If anything will stir a motor head's innards, it's a pack of stock cars coming into the final turn at oval race tracks like Unity, Wiscasset, Beech Ridge, Oxford Speedway and others.
The terminology of those times for motor heads included terms like: burn rubber, light 'em up, three on the tree, four on the floor (and a fifth in the seat), three deuces, four barrel carbs, three quarter cam, slush box, dynaflow, glass packs and many more. Engines were talked about by cubic inches such as 409, 396, 327, 312 T-Bird, 427's, big blocks, small blocks, hemis it goes on.
The marked, quarter-mile stretch that we drag-raced on was just south of Belgrade Lakes Village on Route 27. We called it Dalton's Flats or just "The Flats." A white line was painted across the road about where the entrance driveway to the Community Center is now; a second line, one quarter mile south. On Friday and Saturday nights cars would intermittently appear and line up to see who could cover the quarter mile the fastest.
In my day Jimmy Sawyer and I would battle it out, he with a 1961 Corvette 283 with 3 deuces, me with a 1962 Austin Healy 3000 with 3 SU downdrafts. We would often each take a heat, but the winner always had to face the mother of all vehicles: Joe Tinker would mop us up with his '67 Corvette 427 cubes making 425 horsepower.
Often, guys with names like Hoss, Skip, Larry, and Birdbrain would show up from Rome with whatever buggy they had, lay down some rubber and smoke, then blast their way back through town and up over the hill towards home. Boys named Barry, Stretch and Kenny would show up from the Depot and North Bel. and show their stuff.
The quarter mile of road was black for several summers, and lots of bragging stories were forever circulated as to who could do what with their souped-up machines. Those were the days when Detroit was making some big powerful engines, gas consumption didn't matter and the local kids were tinkering them to squeak out every ounce of power. As the Beach Boys sang, "C'mon and turn it on, wind it up, blow it out, G.T.O!"
Oh yeah, it really happened, and being an old motor head, I, for one, get the willies just thinking about it.
Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.