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So it came to pass in the early spring of 1991, that my family hauled home a wrecked, filthy, and decaying Karmann Ghia. Soon, Dad and a group of his buddies set upon stripping the car down and cutting out some extraneous bits, absence of which would greatly improve the Ghia’s potential as a racecar. Dad, Doug (who’d sold the Scoot to my dad), and dad’s longtime work friend Smitty were the core Dunlap Garage Racing Team.. Wheel-wells were cut wider to accommodate racing slicks. The inner-fender was cut out to eliminate weight. All the glass, from the windows to the tail-lights was removed, and the mountings for the headlights and tail-lights were capped over with pop-riveted pieces of scrap ductwork tin. The doors and quarter panels lost their inner shells and bracing, and were welded together in one continuous panel. The driver would enter and exit the car via the window, just like the Dukes of Hazzard. The floorpan was cut just ahead of the transaxle mounts, and the mounts were raised 3″ in order to drop the body 3″ without sacrificing camber balance in the touchy old swingaxle rear-end.

I hung around the garage, helping when I could, watching when I couldn’t help. We all learned exactly how much lead body filler had gone into the production of a Karmann Ghia; as Smitty sliced inner body panels out of the car with an acetylene torch, rivulets of molten lead streamed out onto the garage floor, solidifying into little sticks, teardrops, and beads as it hit the cool concrete. As a curious and mechanically-inclined 14-year-old, I was assigned a lot of tasks that were non-critical, but fiddly, and best suited to smaller hands anyway. Using a pair of tin-snips and cardboard templates that Doug had made, I cut out the front and rear firewall panels out of ductwork tin. Then, marking the penetrations for wiring, throttle cable, and fuel lines, I set about creating these apertures with a punch and a mallet, then fitting them with rubber grommets. I was also the lucky sod who got to install the firewalls, pop-riveting them to mounts welded to the rollcage and body. Again, due to my small hands and ability to fold myself into a Karmann Ghia’s trunk space, I got to thread the various cables, tubes, and wires through the firewalls.

When I couldn’t be useful, I mostly tried not to make a pain in the ass of myself, for fear of being sent away from this exciting project, though one night I gave in to teenaged mischief and called the radio station we always had on in the garage and had “Can’t Drive 55” dedicated to the guys. One thing I really learned from all that time hanging around the garage and the race-track was how to give and take a hard time. By my last year out at the track, at the year-end banquet and awards ceremony, I knew I’d arrived in the adult world of giving guff. I’d wrecked the car in a “Powderpuff” race midway through the season–the accelerator cable stuck, and I simply couldn’t let off for the upcoming turn, so I shot off the track, hit one of the retaining walls, and rolled the car. (more about that later, perhaps) So, at the awards ceremony, trophies were distributed for high-points winner, most feature events won, etcetera. Then, the gag awards started rolling out. One dude, who didn’t devise a trademark paint scheme for his car, but left it in its original junkyard trim, with the exception of removing the glass and interior, and the addition of hand-painted numbers on the doors—well, that guy won an award for the most beautiful racecar. One guy, known for being terribly cocky and hot-tempered won an award for sportsmanship. And I won an award for the dubious honor of having the only rollover of the year. My dad had had a trophy made, with the year, my name, and the title of the award, then, he cut the little car off the top of it with a hacksaw, created a black plastic undercarriage to cover the stump where it had been mounted, and glued it back onto the trophy upside down. I still have and treasure it. It’s in the curio cabinet to the left hand side of the fireplace.

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