It was 1960, the year I graduated from high school, and I was riding shotgun in a 1957 Ford Fairlane driven by Paul Troutman, a friend and classmate. Paul lived on Leigh Avenue, across the street and down a little ways from my house, and we had played together since my family moved to Charlotte from Alabama when I was 11.
Paul and I were following two other neighborhood friends, Ernie Cook and Larry Baucom, a left-handed pitcher whose nickname was “Fireball.” He had graduated high school the year before and bought a souped up ’59 Chevrolet Impala.
We were on that long, straight stretch of Brevard Street, next to the railroad yard in North Charlotte, when Paul decided to pass. He says it was my idea. Maybe I did egg him on a little, I don’t remember.
Paul accelerated, rapidly closed the gap between the two cars, and then whipped his Ford into the other lane, trying to get around Fireball before he realized what was happening.
Paul was slightly ahead when Fireball saw the Ford and floor-boarded his Chevrolet. At that moment the game was over –Fireball’s Impala was faster — but Paul didn’t give up. The two cars ran side by side for a couple of seconds, gaining more speed, into the 60’s, in a 35 mph zone.
Paul didn’t take his foot off the gas until he saw two cars headed toward us. And then he braked, trying to get back in line. At the same time, Fireball braked, trying to help us pass. Both cars were still running side by side and we were headed for the two cars in front of us at a closing speed around 90 miles per hour, maybe more.
That’s when I think I had an out of body experience. I wasn’t afraid because I wasn’t in the car any more. I was watching.
As Paul’s Ford zipped past a telephone pole on the near side of a graveled parking lot he whipped it left, off the highway and onto the edge of the parking lot. Somehow, he maintained control. The two cars flashed past us as we bounced across the gravel. And before he hit the telephone pole at the far end of the lot Paul whipped his car back onto Brevard Street and fell in behind Fireball.
Smooth as silk.
Coming Friday: She Was Not Poor