Renewing Old FriendshipsYou never know what past encounters you might reconnect with later in life.
Such was the case when I attended the St. Ignace Car Show back in 1988. There, 20 years after the fact, I renewed several friendships that began during my years of campaigning my Top Fuel car, Rat Trap.
The St. Ignace is a major car show not too far from Detroit, where a great number of show cars and Detroit executives always attend en masse. As part of the festivities, the organizers included a Lake Michigan boat tour for the VIPs in attendance. On board were Larry Shinoda, NHRA founder Wally Parks, and famous Hurst spokesperson Linda Vaughn, three folks I worked with in 1968 when I was running my Top Fuel car. Linda is an old friend. We met when she was on the Hurst Olds racing campaign, specifically when she was attempting to get Hurst Olds and American Bandstand together, the show being the main sponsor for my race car. My St. Ignace rental car roommate, Neil Diamond, and I also reacquainted at the event after many years (Neil and I had done a photo shoot back in the '60s for American Bandstand). He was the featured singer for the St. Ignace banquet.
While the boat ride was a lot of fun, it was really great to talk with Linda again. She was always a great friend; working with her and Hurst brought back great memories. But my "friendship" with Wally was another story. During my time running the Top Fueler, Wally and NHRA always gave me fits. I was always in the teardown garage getting checked with a fine-tooth comb, while they let guys like Don Garlits get away with plenty. I guess, in hindsight, I should have been flattered that because I ran so hard they felt it was important to check my car so often. But I really think it was because I gave their "stars" a tough time. More than once I put their headline racer on the trailer in an early round of competition. Frankly, there was never anything so satisfying.
So, when I ran into Wally on the boat, it wasn't the friendliest encounter. I started the conversation by asking, "You remember me?" "No," Wally said shyly. Then after a few moments, "Yeah, I remember you."
After I gave Wally a piece of my mind, I eased up a bit. The tension lessened and the rest of the event rolled out as planned. I know Wally was surprised that Neil Diamond and I were so friendly. I enjoyed that it bugged him.
The boat docked and we headed to the show the following day. I trailered my '56 SR2 Corvette to the show and enjoyed a weekend of driving around. The highlight for me was giving a ride to Clare MacKichan, the designer of the original '56-'57 Corvette. He had come up to the car during the event and wanted to have a closer look. I not only let him look over the car, I gave him a ride and we had a chance to compare notes on the '56-'57 Corvette- the prettiest Corvette design ever created, in my opinion. I started working at Chevrolet in 1965 and really missed the early years of Corvette. MacKichan filled me in on a number of things.
First, he noted the design change in 1956 had been a monumental change for Corvette. The move to rollup windows and a real hardtop made a huge difference in public perception of the car and perhaps even saved the Corvette as a Chevrolet model. The rollup windows and hardtop may seem to be small changes, but in reality it took Corvette from a unique novelty car to a vehicle you could drive every day.
Relationships with folks like Linda Vaughn, Neil Diamond, and even Wally Parks, and meeting guys like Clare MacKichan happened because of the SR2, which seems to draw crowds wherever it goes. Corvettes have a knack for having that kind of impact. The wave between Corvette fans and simple car club conversations start from common interests, and Corvettes are great to talk about. Even 20 years later.