It's 1960...or maybe 1961. I'm in my room, hidden by the clouds way up there on the third floor, so far away from the rest of the clan that my mother rarely climbed the second set of stairs. In the 20-odd years we lived there, I can remember her visiting (inspecting?) maybe a dozen times, and she was usually not in a good mood, looking for my skin books and tobacco stash—literally inches from her feet beneath the boards on the floor. The old man, on the other hand, I never saw up there, only to hear him yelling loudly from below when he was pissed that Elvis' second album or the screaming engines on the Indy Nationals LP that wobbled at 331⁄3 rpm on that rickety record player were beginning to make him curl.
One of the cuts on that drag race vinyl was cosmic. It was Junior Thompson driving his 1941 Studebaker sedan—make that his scurfy, stick-shift, supercharged small-block Stude sedan. Such was the cadence of the clutching and the pitch of the motor that it actually loosed adrenaline and goose bumps, and I'll undoubtedly hear him whacking those gears forever.
Drag racing was barely out of pajamas in 1960. It was rough and it was tumble. Function always ruled over form. It was about getting the most from the least in the pockets of your jeans. You couldn't just go out and buy everything. Mostly, you had to make it out of nothing. But drag racers were hardy, a crafty cabal, and their garages and workshops were never dark, never empty. They put together the best package they could manage with the assets and resources at hand and likely didn't spend more than a couple of months doing it. And without a freaking doubt, the car had a clutch. The automatic transmission, that skunk slushbox, the absolute savior of most door-car racers today, never made it out of a car driven by a young mom or an elderly lady.
There was protocol and there was procedure. You didn't learn to drive a clutch. You learned how to feel the clutch, up your leg, up your spine, boring however minutely, all the way into your brainstem. I certainly appreciated the talents of stick-thrashers like Ronnie Sox, Herb McCandless, Dave Strickler, and Ed Hedrick, but when I think of the absolute mugger of the four-speed manual, I think only of Ken Dondero adroitly pushing the pedals on the Candy Red Panella Trucking BB/GS Anglia. The supercharged small-block would go to 10,000. No time to think about anything, only minute parts of a second to react. Ken ran a best of 9.74 at 149.50, a virtual whirlwind of machinery and protoplasm unequalled. Pure bliss.