17 States in 20 Days with One Pair of Underwear | Day 1

WASRED leaving home

The first thing most people say, and polite ones think, is: ”Are You Nuts! Boston to Scottsdale in a 32 year old 308?” There really is no reply that would satisfy, so I don’t bother.

I think about it this way: If in 1978 you bought a brand new Ferrari and the dealer said. Here it is, perfect. But whatever you do, don’t do a 2600 mile trip in it! You would say; Gimme back my money!  My 308 chassis has well over 150K miles on it, the engine has been rebuilt three times, each time to an improved standard. We redid the engine and gear box 30K miles ago. The ignition, suspension, brakes, exhaust system, and oiling system have all been replaced, updated and/or improved where possible in the process. The air conditioning is on the floor of my garage where it can’t break anyone's heart. The radio is new and the top still leaks on the passenger side of the windshield, exactly as it did when I bought the car 98K miles ago.  That all sounds pretty positive to me.

Boston to Scottsdale is about 2600 or so miles. I have highlighted the interstates I want on a Rand McNally map and I am set to go. I calculate that I have about 2 ½ weeks to get there and three or four days to get back. “Positively doable”, said the March Hare and “Hardly a challenge”, agreed the Mad Hatter. And so we sat down to tea.

This is the beginning. Wasred Speedometer

The first stop on this trip is Philadelphia. It is an exceptionally warm day for early May, high eighties, and the trip down is uneventful. The Wilbur Cross parkway in Connecticut is, by law, devoid of heavy trucks. On this trip I would learn to appreciate roads so blessed and there were very few. The New Jersey Turnpike is considered the most trafficked road in American. It could be the most traveled road in the world. While that may make it significant, it is unquestionably the most boring road in America and therefore perhaps the world. But it does have one redeeming feature. For a stretch, and a consequential one, travelers are treated to a grand view of New York. Not just a silhouette, but a picture in which significant landmarks such as The Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building clearly stand out. You have to look while you are doing 70 MPH and dodging trucks, but it is worth the risk.

On this trip, this was to happen again and again. Boring, at times soul numbing roads suddenly yielding a piece of sky or rock or newly planted fields or man made sculpture that made you think, ‘Wow! That is special’. I remember driving on the outskirts of Santa Fe shortly after it had endured a rare downpour. The ground cover was a vibrant yet subtle sage color, almost like a down, in the same areas where I had seen nothing but sand and low dry brush the day before. In the same way, many of the people I met far exceeded my expectations in terms of warmth, generosity and interest. I hope somehow in this narrative to introduce you to some of the more interesting specimens.

My goal is to meet the people and visit the places that influence the car culture of each major city along the way. I cannot do them all. Of necessity I must skip some important towns, leaving them for another time.

Philadelphia and the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum are my first destination. The Museum is really the motorsports activity center for Eastern Pennsylvania. Aside from the fabulous cars and the ever growing number of dioramas that bring them to life, the museum hosts car club events and a guests speakers.

“Dr. Fred” as Dr. Fred Simeone is known, is a retired neurosurgeon who now indulges his passion for collecting historic motor cars, many of them significant racing machines. He has built a museum that allows him to share his collection with other enthusiasts. Saturday mornings, the museum fires up a car or two and they drive it around the paved yard of the industrial park where his Museum is located. Thereby giving the local motorsports community the opportunity to experience a dimension of these motorsports icons available to few in the world. 

I first met Dr. Fred three years ago when Sam Hallowell and I stopped in on our way to an event in the Baltimore area. He was very gracious and we chatted about his collection for what I thought was a generous amount of his time. His assistant, motorsports author Harry Hurst explained how the museum worked. Dr. Fred caught up with us as we were leaving, thanked us kindly for coming, invited us back anytime, and darted off again. He is a most intelligent and engaging fellow whose enthusiasm and capacity for detail is quite remarkable. He also has boundless energy. He reminds me a little of the White Rabbit in Alice Through the Looking Glass. (Characters from which dot this narrative) 

Today my meeting is with Harry Hurst. On the way in I bump into Dr. Fred, who tells me that he is delighted to meet me, and asks me what I do. There is something humbling about not being remembered by someone you cannot forget. He expresses more encouragement for the brief outline of my plans than the first time he heard them.  Though I am certain he is far too busy to entertain the concept, he would make a great companion on the trip I have just begun. One could never fall asleep around him, he simply wouldn’t permit it.

Harry and I chat for a few minutes in his office, he grabs a few books that are sitting on a credenza piled high with folders, stacks of papers and more books, and we head for the door. On the way out we bump into Dr. Fred who wishes me a good trip and then jumps into the driver’s seat of a clapped out 3 Series BMW in which his three companions are settled and waiting.  I met them briefly in his office. They are lawyers, I believe, and they are traveling with him to Washington for a meeting with government officials. They will discuss amending a tax law which adversely affects cars collectors. What a guy!

As the car trundles off, it appears to be riding on a completely collapsed suspension, mere inches off of mother earth. But a-trundling-it-did-go, leaving behind three quarters of a billion dollars of cars spanning at least 60 years of automotive history. Anyone of which would have appeared safer and possibly more comfortable than the car they were using. And considering that I was driving off in a well used, 34 year old sports car, maybe Dr. Fred and I have more in common than I initially believed.     

It should be noted that in my experience, it is not uncommon for men of means and automotive knowledge to drive street cars of little value. They see their collections are “automobiles” of historic importance and value. They see what they drive as transportation. It starts, it stops, ergo, they go.

Harry Hurst

I am sitting in a diner in Philly with author/photographer Harry Hurst. He was brought up in central Florida and Sebring was his turf as a young photographer. He now works several days a week at the Simeone Foundation Museum surrounded by some of the cars he probably shot as a kid. He is a comfortable fit there. We talk, naturally, about books. He has written several and gives me a copy of the book he wrote with photographer Dave Friedman, 12 Hours of Sebring 1965. He believes that this race was the most important in the history of the event. It was the first time SCCA sports racing cars were invited to compete against the LeMans prototypes of Ferrari and Ford. It was won by Jim Hall in a Chaparral. The book is amazing and I recommend it highly. MMR will review it shortly for the Racemaker Book Review section on the site. He also gives me the book about Craig Breedlove, the Land Speed Record holder of the sixties.  He tells me he met him and that he is a terrific guy. Breedlove will apparently be speaking at the museum in the near future.

I ask him about this favorite non-fiction book and he immediately replies; Tom Burnside’s American Racing. I have the book and this is not the first time I have heard this. Burnside understands not only the image but the moment. I have a favorite image in the book in mind, and I ask Harry if he does also. He says the same shot. We grin.

How about fiction? I ask. He thinks for a minute. Stand On It! He says. That is the original title for the book that was eventually renamed Stroker Ace and made into a horrid movie with Burt Reynolds. It also is my favorite in the semi-fiction category (it is based on the exploits of racer Curtis Turner) , and one of my top ten all time reads. Favorite passage? I ask. The part where Stroker and fellow stock car driver Lee Roy Harber are ordering breakfast. Lee Roy orders “a short stack, and a mess of hash browns and a pile of toast about his high and, mmmm, four eggs.” How do you like your eggs? She said. He thought about it for a second. “Well, now that you ask,” he said, “I really like them little buggers”.  I really like Harry Hurst. He is the real thing and if you have an opportunity to hit a Philly diner with him, I promise you will learn a lot. I did.

Books by Harry Hurst:

  • Glory Days of Racing
  • 12 Hours of Sebring 1965

We finish dinner comparatively early and I feel fresh enough to get somewhere down the road before finding a place to sleep for the night. The temperature has cooled somewhat. So I drive back into town and I look for signs to Interstate76 and Pittsburgh. The drive along the Schuykill River at night is one of my favorites. There just aren’t many cities that offer such a pretty view for what must easily be 10 miles. The river is not that wide and on the opposite shore are lovely boat houses. I am reminded that Grace Kelly’s family had a home over there. Apparently, her daddy was very successful in the construction business and her family had something to do with rowing on the Schuykill. I guess she was a princess before she ever saw Monaco.

It is now 10:00PM and I am on Interstate 76 moving quickly enough. Just after Lancaster about 45 miles from Harrisburg, my destination for the night, an old familiar problem resurfaces. The engine begins to run on 7 and sometimes 6 cylinders. It is too late to stop anywhere for help and I can’t keep up with all the trucks I have passed in the past hour so I get off the interstate and take local roads towards Harrisburg. The engine is missing on the long uphill runs and even more so as the gas level goes below the half tank mark. It is disheartening as I realize that service stations in the small towns through which I am traveling are all closed.  With a huge sigh of relief I spot a Sheraton Hotel across the street from a self serve station. I fill up and check in. It is now past midnight and I have probably driven over 500 miles. No problem sleeping. A fine beginning.