I arrived in Texas City, Texas in 1947 just after the blast that leveled a large portion of the city killing more than 600 workers and residents of that small refining community. Being just born, I was not aware of my circumstances nor the tragic impact of this event. Later in life I was.
My first 13 years were spent oblivious to dire things in life, such as the Texas City Blast. In this little community, I was busy doing the things most kids my age did. We played in the pastures that surrounded our place, built forts and played cowboys and Indians, flew our kites which we made out of momís plastic table cloths. Rabbit and quail hunting, gigging flounders in Moses Lake, crawdad huntingÖ it was fun to be young. Cub scouts and little league were mandatory; everyone participated. It was the all-American thing to do.
But, the best part of my youth was spent in my grandpaís garage watching him work on boat motors and lawnmowers. Grandpa Watson was Choctaw Indian and Irish. He was born in Alabama, moved to Gilmer in 1890 and slowly made his way to Mount Belvieu, where he made his living as a driller for a local company. Spindletop No. 7 was one of the first holes he drilled.
He was a bit of a rounder in his youth but found religion later in life. Grandpa and I would spend hours just tinkering in the garage. I washed and cleaned everything he repaired. I took apart and he reassembled whatever we were working on.
One day, I drug in an old Moped. I thought it had potential; Grandpa thought differently. Grandpa supplied the tools and I went to work. I wish I could tell you that when I was finished it purred like a kitten. It didnít. I pushed that Moped all over the neighborhood for days and couldnít get it to fire one time. I learned a simple lesson in mechanics: ďIf someone throws something away, there is a good chance itís junk.Ē I can still smell the burning oil and gas and see the blue haze of smoke exiting the garage.
I remember going to my first NHRA event. Just south of Houston, on I-45, was the Houston Dragstrip. I took my motherís 1958 Delray. To this day, Mama doesnít know that her Delray went to the track.
The year was 1964 and Don and Roy Gay were the owners. I think it was a match race between two local disc jockeys racing their 1964 Pontiac GTOs. I canít be real sure about all the specifics of that day but I do know that was the day I got hooked. The hook was set and my life would change.
Everything about it was exciting. Months and years would pass and I would go to a lot of tracks and races just as a spectator. I remember meeting Linda Vaughn ďMiss HurstĒ, Ronnie Sox, Butch Leal and Tommy Ivo, in Dallas. I thought these people were gods of the sport. Later, I worked with a guy in Houston who at the time was racing a Ď71 Mustang ďSuper StockĒ but was building his Pro Stock Pinto. We became friends and I found myself working on stuff I had only read about in Hot Rod Magazine, or had seen from the grandstands.
In 1973, I was in St. Louis at the PRA Nationals. Ed Sigmon, from California, was driving our car at the time. I can still see Landy and me sitting by his car, smoking cigars. I remember Cha Cha in Houston and Harry Schmidt, in the Blue Max, at College Station.
I have come to understand over the years that these people are certainly not gods nor anywhere close to that. Grandpa would probably be as close as they come in the flesh. These are people with extraordinary abilities to make cars fly. I mean really fly.
Today I get to meet more of these people as I walk through the pits at Ennis for the 26th annual AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals. Iím ready and Iím excited.
The event will feature some of the legendary drag racers from all around the world.
Believe me; Iím not deluded in anyway thinking that I am somehow best friends with any of these racing legends. However, sometimes in my mind weíre the best of friends. Itís always fun for the mind to kindly let us perceive events of the past.
David Hill is a resident of Waxahachie and a longtime racing fan.