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Sunday, March 30, 2008

road trip: b&n modified roadster --- part 1

i’m delivering this story in 3 parts - acts, if you will.

when i was a kid, in the 1960s. . . back when i first started going out to the bonneville salt flats, the baddest of modified roadsters (usually, a 1927 model-t body that has been streamlined ahead of the windshield. you can do anything you want as long as you don’t cover the tires and wheels. the cockpit can also have a tonneau cover and roll cage faring.) was the b&n automotive #120 modified.

a brief bio:

after several years in and around the world of drag racing, in its pioneering years, northern californians bert peterson and noel black came together to form b&n automotive and started racing on the salt flats.

after success with a blown gas hiboy, they wanted higher speeds and therefore built, what would become, the world’s fastest roadster.

a few weeks ago, while talking on the phone with my dad, i learned that our partner, jim lattin, had rick peterson (no relation to bert peterson), a veritable magician when it comes to fabrication, restore the historic modified and would be inducting it into his antique race car museum in encinitas, california with a reception at the museum.

after receiving further details from jim and b&n automotive archivist, john sprenger (later a partner with bert following noel’s death in 1970), i decided i needed to be there for the ceremony.

john sprenger

the year noel was killed was my first year to become a part of what would be known as “the b&n bad guys.” i was just a kid shagging parts and receiving melvins from bert’s son, steve, and steve’s friend, frank “jive-ass” silva as we ran the motion 1 streamliner, which was hoped to break the wheel-driven land speed record of 354 mph.

frank "jive ass" silva

it was the greatest time of my youth!

mee sook and i left pebble beach on friday, march 14 at around 1030 hours under a cloud of clouds and intermittent showers on the day prior to the roadster’s induction. we were going to take rt. 1 down to santa maria, then cut over to i-5, but with such a late start we headed east to salinas and jumped on hwy. 101 going south. by the time we reached soledad, the sun was shining and the wildflowers were beginning to open.

i drove east on 46 from paso robles for the most scenic stretch of the day’s drive. the mostly ag-country was bright and green after a fairly moist spring and speckled with fields of mustard blooms and california poppies that were so brilliant the fields looked like they were ablaze.

a quick stop at a fruit and nut stand, alleged to be james dean’s last stop before being killed just west of there, we were on i-5 and heading over the grapevine.

after jumping off of i-5 and onto i-210, it wasn’t long (now approaching 1600 hours) before we were knee deep in traffic as we headed east out of pasadena.

i cannot believe ron wants to move us down to this mess!

before heading down to our hotel in san marcos, we were on our way to my old neighborhood in west covina to visit some very dear friends; popsie and leo, whom i have not seen since june, 1981. before going to their house, however, we stopped by the old thriftimart, now some other small chain grocery store, to grab a bouquet of flowers for popsie (we picked up some chili and lime pistachio nuts at james dean’s last stop for leo). as the automatic door opened to allow us entry, i passed an old mexican man on his way out who was looking at me like he knew me. i’m sure i looked like i was looking at him like i knew him, too.

“is that you, greg?” the old mexican asked.

it was leo!

what are the odds of that?

he had run down the road to grab some avocados for guacamole and was on his way out as we were on our way in.


after hugs in the doorway, leo split to get the avocados to popsie while mee sook and i, the only non-spanish speaking people in the market, grabbed a bunch of flowers and headed over to the old neighborhood.

i first met popsie and leo around 1972, not long after they moved into the neighborhood. they quickly became the big brother and sister i never had! i did a lot of growing up at their house. i learned about jazz, how to cook real mexican food and more things than i can mention in this blog. i have missed them dearly and i am so happy to be back in-touch with them after all these years!

it was like i had been over there only a week ago! except that we were all older (gj, their son, who was born after i first became a part of the family, is now the age popsie and leo were when i first started hanging out with them) and leo had remodeled the house, nothing has changed; popsie is still as beautiful as she was when we were young and leo is still the short mexican with big arms and a heart to match.

just like in the old days, we listened to music, ate enchiladas (with popsie’s special sauce) and talked, talked, talked!

i have never loved two people so much, who are not a part of my family, as i do them.

they are the family i have chosen to compliment my family.

their oldest daughter, yvette, whom i used to baby-sit along with her sister nicky, now lives in, of all places, reno and has been there for the past 5-years, or so. i cannot believe it! there’s a good chance yvette used to listen to me on the radio and never knew it was me, since i don’t use my real name on the air.

small world!

far too soon, we had to leave to drive the rest of the way down to san marcos.

the ride down was bittersweet, having seen my good friends and missing them already! i love them dearly!

not-so-bright and not-so-early the next morning mee sook (a little hungover from the wine at popsie and leo’s and the jack daniels and mota in the hotel room) and i headed down to carlsbad to have breakfast with “the gunslinger”, a friend whom, up to that morning, i had not yet met.

i have known of bill for several years and have been carrying on a phone relationship with him since july, but this was the first time we were to meet face-to-face.

again, it was a great time with a great friend! the food, pretty good and satisfying, was not nearly as close to my heart as popsie’s enchiladas. still, i would be willing to return for another meal. it’s just a tough one to top popsie’s cooking! sorry, al!

after breakfast we drove down the coast another couple of miles and up the hill to find jim’s museum. after making sure of its locat, which was not as easy as googlemaps lead me to believe, we went to the hotel for a brief nap before coming back for the festivities.

upon our return, jim’s museum was all i expected and more! what a great collection of historic race cars and antique motorcycles. i had seen several of the cars and bikes at jim’s old museum in pomona, but it was not as extensive as the new locat here in encinitas; indy cars, including ralph de palma’s 2-man miller roadster (besides building winning cars, harry miller designed the engine that would later be known as the offenhausser, which ruled indy in the 40s and 50s), sprinters, midgets (in all variations) and several cars i have been fortunate enough to have driven over the years, including, of course, the redhead streamliner!

mee sook, who knew absolutely nothing about any of the cars, or the places where they raced, for that matter, was completely captivated by all the vehicles, especially the more exotic cars, like the redhead.

but, it was the b&n modified we were all there to see!

and what a great job rick did recreating the look of the car from its heydays back in the mid-60s! the paint (ice blue and midnight blue accents with black cobwebbing in the lighter color) matched the 1967 paint job with the lettering it had in 1965.

i was also able to visit with more friends i have not seen in years! too many to name, but they all asked if my dad was there. when i said “no” they all wanted me to tell him hi, which i would do in two days time.

i was able, of course, to spend time with jim and his son, bill, and john sprenger and frank “jive ass” silva from the b&n bad guys.

damn, we’re all getting old!

when the time seemed right, mee sook and i slipped quietly out and took a short drive down to san diego before returning to the hotel room in san marcos.

it was a wonderful day, but we had more driving to do the next day!


Tickledrop said...

Enjoy your storytelling. Was hoping to see one of your marvelous pictures of the california poppy field in the central valley hills coming in from the pacific ocean.

Sounds like a great road trip!

Life is short -- keep in touch with the friends you love!

Tickledrop said...

Enjoy your storytelling. Was hoping to see one of your marvelous pictures of the california poppy field in the central valley hills coming in from the pacific ocean.

Sounds like a great road trip!

Life is short -- keep in touch with the friends you love!

Todd Whitton said...

I remember jive ass doing double flips off our diving board. Also a week of girls comming in and out of his party van. Also his smokeless pipes. He was a bold dude. John Springer was cool . I hope to see those guys this year. They need help with jetting. I remember Burt jetting your ranchero . And the next run you killed it.