The Model Citizen: The Race That Never Happened
"For that twelve year old, this might as well have been the Summer Nationals!"
It was a long, long time ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 1970. Color me a car crazy 12 year old, frustrated because while funky things were happening automotive wise here in the States, I was living as a U.S. Army dependent in Pirmasens, Germany. Therefore, I read every car magazine I could get my hands on, collected Hot Wheels cars with a vengeance and built every model that was available. If a neat American car showed up in town, I was sure to be the first to know about it!
Then there were the races. Being a kid, I never understood all the details. Just every so often I'd hear, "Sunday, at the airstrip, be there!", so I'd peddle my Raleigh Chopper bike there to soak in a day of cars, glorious cars!
You have to understand the Army's position. I don't believe these races ever "officially" happened, or that any of the cars ever really existed. They just sat incognito at the back of the motor pool or behind a barracks under a tarp. Officers ignored the conspicuous lumps that amazingly came alive on race day. You just had to be there!
I believe that the sanctioning body called themselves "The Pirmasens German American Timing Association". The track was the Army post runway where a crude and portable strip was quickly set up. And then the cars would come….
A good number of American cars made their way to Europe by way of army transport. There was also the option of purchasing a new American car through the Post Exchange. A franchise dealer known as "Kardon" would handle all the details. If you were a young GI bent on having a Boss 302, you could finance it through the "Soldiers Exchange" bank, wait six months for delivery, and then try to keep gas in it with your military ration book! Anyway, this is where the cars came from.
Race day brought out a lot of folks. Being a true bracket race, just about anything could show up. Enthusiastic but homesick Americans would race whatever they happened to have. Local Germans who also were enthralled with anything American showed up to take their shot at drag racing. Cars running the strip ranged from new Super Bees to VW Beetles. It was fun watching an Opel Kadette get halfway down the strip before a Barracuda got the green light and swallowed the poor Opel whole!
While there was a full compliment of new Mustangs and Mopars present, my favorites were always the "real" race cars. Teams of GIs would pool their time and resources to build interesting racers from what they could scrounge locally.
VW Beetles, extremely plentiful and cheap in Germany, saw a lot of tin knocking. There was the "B.C. Rattler", an orange brush painted oval window sedan with it's cropped fenders, filled in quarter windows and handmade scoop below the rear window. The Rattler was more show than go, but still, it was my favorite car. As you can see, it had character!
Another contender was the burgundy 1964 Ford Fairlane known as Snoopy. It had a funky hand made fiberglass nose piece, a lot of real racing parts from J.C. Whitney and was motivated by a Chevy 327! I wondered awhile if this was actually a missing Thunderbolt, but it was most likely a six-cylinder car mated with some wrecked Chevy's powerplant!
The strip hero was as close to a dragster as you could find in Germany! No doubt the subject of many midnight missions at the motor pool, this silver Volks was transformed into a drag screamer that could wipe the smile off the face of any new Mustang that went up against it!
The car had a Chevy small block engine where the driver used to sit, leaving the driver to pilot the vehicle from the rear center. The hoop roll bar stuck out the rear window, as did the back of the driver's head. This was the only car that could pop a wheelie for the enthusiastic crowd!
You may ask me, Just what does this all have to do with modeling? Well, I do have both the silver VW and the BC Rattler under construction at this time. It's exciting as these heros of my youth leap into 3D from my small black and white photos, and of course, my memory! The next time you have the urge to build a drag car, think back and remember some unsung hero of your youth that deserves to be immortalized in plastic. Sure beats doing yet another Petty car! And you'll get to relive this every time you show your model! Folks will want to know the history.
No matter how humble, the drag races in Pirmasens are forever etched in my mind. For that twelve year old, this might as well have been the Summer Nationals!
Of course, young Tom brought along his Polaroid Swinger instamatic to record the races for future generations. These may very well be the only surviving photos of the event. Enjoy, and remember, if Army Intelligence comes nosing around… you know nothing!
Copyright 1999 by Tom Geiger, All Rights Reserved, Used with permission.