1998 The Daily 5AM Duel

OK, so my blog is starting to read that the only accomplishments I've achieved are driving cars and screwing around. In order to reinforce the fact that the thought that I'm a super talented person who just has a lot of interesting experiences - I have a fully new story to share regarding cars.

For a good one and a half years, every day when I got up to go to work, there was a 3 out of 5 possibility that when, after warming up my 1978 Z/28 to drive to Starbucks Retail Operations in Seattle from Renton that the "5AM Daily Duel" as I like to call it was on.

My 1978 Z/28 had 55,000 original miles and looked like it rolled right off the factory with the sole exceptions that I had dismantled the 5.7L engine (that's 350 cubic inches to you, kids), added a roller cam and rockers and a more modern Holley Double Pumper™ Four Barrel Carburetor. Usually Q-ships are cars that don't look fast but are. My car was a Q-ship if only because it was fast to begin with but the sleeper part was that it was faster than any 1978 Z/28 that ever rolled off Chevrolet's glorious assembly line.

I named it "The Menace".

The Menace is loose again.


I'd burble out of the garage onto Benson Road South and would pretty much let the 4-speed roll down hill in neutral... looking for a Camaro natural nemesis: A white 5.0 Mustang of about 1986 Vintage. The man who drove it was about my age (25) and his car was a stick too. His car looked stock like mine but clearly wasn't. When he woke in the morning I'd wager he was also wondering if he'd tangle with me too. 



There were two lights before we would hit downtown Renton at the bottom of Benson Hill. When we did spot each other, clutches were popped, V8s roared and since the streets were empty we raced to the exact same spot: the last light on Grady that turns onto 167 for 1/8th of a mile and then to 405 to I-5. The race stopped when we got to I-5 if only that driving 140MPH 3 times a week in an urban setting is just plain fun, er, dangerous.

I think we only ever made eye contact once in the 1.5 years and it was the first day we tangled. There was no posturing. No ridiculous exhaust sounds whose barks were worse than their bites. Just two Pony Cars whose owners love to drive them the way they were built to be driven. 

At that last light before the interstates, there were two left turn lanes. The inside one was the one the "loser" got stuck in. The outside left turn lane was the one to be in as it was an easy clutch pop and redline in first to that onramp and snicking the shifter into second or in my case, throwing the Menace into 2nd, you were golden. The car in the inside turn lane had to fall in behind and the chase was on to the I-5 onramp. There was no looking at the speedometer..... it was flat out Mustang GT versus Z/28 pride on the line.

To this day, I can't tell you the winning percentage of who had to watch the other guys tail lights to Interstate 5 North. I even remember the guys license plate and a bumper sticker, the sticker read "FoMoCo".

Now, just because I ended up behind him enough times to know that doesn't mean a thing. I'm pretty sure to this day he can see my Z/28 logo on my rear gas filler door and my RATT sticker placed very subtly low on my rear bumper; Dangerous but worth the risk.

But the very first time we ever tangled, he saw Chevrolet tail lights at every stop.


Nobody ruled the streets at night like me.


Summer of '93

Summer, 1993

I had just started a new full time job, freshly out of high school and attending community college. I was hired on at Denny's Chevron on 192nd and Benson Highway in Renton, WA. At this time I'd call myself about "shade tree" as far as hands on mechanics go but an above average understanding in things mechanically related.

My boss was "Wes" and working for him, there was nothin' that couldn't be done. What he lacked in tact and reading ability he made up for in wizard-like mechanic ability. He rebuilt Rochester Quadrajets ™ or Carter Aluminum Four Barrels (AFBs) hell, any carburetor in 45 minutes. If you have never seen, heard of or worked on a carb, look one up: They're complex.

Under Wes' tutelage I became not quite a master mechanic, but became an accomplished mechanic who was instilled with fearlessness that only true gear heads develop, minus taking classes. I went on to be the "Van Man" as vans are a pain in the royal ass to do tune ups on, generally. Their engines require contortions that Wes just wasn't gonna put up with, the lanky 20 year old me grudgingly knew when a van pulled up - Wes' eyes sparkled and he'd smile at me with his missing tooth prominently... I was gonna bleed.

My eye got better at knowing how much to bite off one Sunday. The shop was closed Sundays - I was working so that meant my '62 Chevy 2-DR street racer and classic was in the garage but it didn't need nuthin' done, minus friends and fellow weekend road warriors stopping by to talk shop or ask for a hand.

My 1962 Chevrolet Biscayne 2-Dr and a pal I sold it to.. waaaaaaaah!

And out of the blue, and rare for a Sunday, a guy called in from outta state and was desperate. He needed a new water pump on his Chevy Truck or he was stuck in Washington! Well, he may think he didn't want to be stuck here but I sure as heck wanted to help him get his California butt back to California.

"Shops Closed," I told him. But he was desperate.

He told me it was a V-8 and I thought, "oh hell, I can do that."

So I told him to bring it in and give me three hours. At that time I could swap a V8 water pump in 30-45 minutes if pressed so that'd be no sweat.

He walked in, handed me the keys and off he went!

I was confident. All the tools, great air powered stuff, lifts, disposal, anything you could want!

I pulled the truck in and popped the hood and dove in. Radiator and fans, pullies, etc off. And I see the water pump. It's odd lookin. It's a diesel!!

I had never done more than an oil change on a diesel motor - and a water pump on a diesel Chevy 350 is much more time consuming and involved than a gasoline Chevy V8.

But I was proud and fearless. Yeah, I was sweating now now, between the summer heat and the dawning realization of the task that I just bit off was more than I could chew.. and definitely above my pay grade. Due to my childhood I knew it was on me and there was no internet, no phone line and nobody home to help me.

I was alone at the gas station half way through a job on a Sunday. Real quiet. Only success or humiliation could result.

I got in my car, locked the place up (it was open 24/7), and bombed down to the auto parts store. I think I turned a 13.1 ET as I banged home top gear and the roller rockers on the hood of my 283 with 327 cranked hotted up motor responded to my needs and at the same time soothed me with its silky smooth power.

Long story short is I got it all together, test drove it, and it all ran fine. I only charged the guy what I quoted (about 1/3 a diesel job) and off he went. I lived weeks in some pretty deep anxiety waiting for the long distance phone call that I screwed something up.

And some nights, like tonight, I wonder where the truck is that I most certainly over torqued the bolts and Permatex Blacked™ the water pump back on to and smile. I'd bet $100 he never had another water pump problem. That's the Smith Quality Guarantee™!

This story popped back into my head as roughly two weeks ago I was woke from dead sleep to hear a V8 being broken in about 3AM. It was revved loud and long and there's only one man on the hill I can think of that'd have ability, balls and "I don't give a shit" attitude is Wes. I'd bet $100 it was him. There is a art to mechanics. Yes, it is technical but when you can hear every part moving, time your beast by laying your hands on the distributor - not unlike using the Force instead of the timing light - it is as close merging with a mechanical, non-biological entity that I've experienced. Including Cortana, Siri, or whatever half-assed assistants we're stuck with today.

I smile thinking that. But if it was just any dumb ass that woke me up with breaking a new camshaft in, miles and miles away with extended 5,000 rpm, uncorked exhaust revs, I wanna beat him.

Pulled off a Hail Mary Christmas mechanical miracle before? Tell me about it in the comment box!