It Was The Best Of Times – August 2013
IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES …….
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That quote is the beginning one of the most famous lines in English literature. Written by Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities” could be compared to the story of my life. Perhaps you can identify also. One of the most disappointing things I have ever experienced is when I first was exposed to an incurable disease that has been my fate ever since the age of 14. I was with my older brother when I was exposed to it. We must have been in a crowd of maybe 2,000 people. Little did I know how contagious it was, and that no matter what treatment the doctor prescribed, I would suffer the results of this disease for the rest of my life. But then, like I said, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I caught the disease at a small airstrip in the town where I was born.
It was at this McMinnville address that I first witnessed cars, side by side, racing with officials who started them with the wave of the flag and indicated the winner by pointing the finish line flag to the left or to the right. It was a mild case of the disease, but I had a little setback when my older brother entered his car, a ’56 Chevy small block with four two-barrel carbs. He seemed to have caught the disease as well. Even though I tried to treat my disease on various straight stretches of coastal highway, or sometimes even from stop-light to stop-light, the cops saw to it that in my case, this disease was indeed, “the worst of times.” Seeking professional help for my condition, I heard about a drag race at Balboa Raceway in Eugene, Oregon. It was my first time as a driver. I was so nervous, when they backed me into the waterbox, I went so far backward that I backed into the property-line fence that marked the edge of the property. On this day, “it was the best of times” as I won my class at my first event ever. Yes, the ’68 GTX 440 did its job, but at the same time, “it was the worst of times”. Because they did not have the trophies on hand for the winners, I was told they would send it to me. Do you think I ever received it? Like I said, “it was the best of times” because I had won my first race, but “it was the worst of times,” because I never received an acknowledgement of that fact. (However, I will always have the memory.) It was not long afterward that the word was out that Balboa Raceway was out of business. In the fall of 1970, I purchased a new 383 cubic inch Plymouth Road Runner. Immediately after signing the papers, I drove it from the show room floor heading south of Tillamook on Highway 101. There is a nice straight section of highway leaving town. Immediately, the speedometer registered 120 mph and I considered it “broken in” for its future as both a daily driver and a race car. It seemed the cops were always watching for me. After I moved to the Willamette Valley, an officer stopped me after I had just done an “acceleration test” leaving the town of Hubbard. “If I ever catch you again, Mr. Kauffman, I am really going to nail you” were his exact words. Several weeks later I received a letter from the DMV and was required to file an SR22. My disease was getting more serious. Indeed, it was “the worst of times.” In 1975, I began a regular treatment program for my disease with group therapy at Woodburn Dragstrip. By then I was teaching school at Hubbard, Oregon and it was a short drive in the ’70 Roadrunner 4-speed to get my fix. During those early years, I did not really have much success. Oh, there was an occasional trophy, but at least, it kept me off the streets. 1978 was the first year of the NHRA Division 6 Team Championships. The race would be held at Seattle International Raceway and Woodburn Dragstrip would take a team. Each team had 32 members, and even though I had not been at the top of the points on the Woodburn Team, I earned my way to the finals where I faced fellow Woodburn Racer, Joe DiFillippi. What an honor to be crowned the first ever NHRA Division 6 Heavy ET Bracket Champion. Still today, that Wally looks mighty fine. Yes, “it was the best of times.”
The opposite was true in 1979. I did not even make the team for the ET Finals which were held at Portland International Raceway. In a matter of one season, the pendulum had swung and it was “the worst of times.” However, when 1980 came around, again Woodburn Team was on its game. The NHRA Division 6 ET Finals were held at Woodburn Dragstrip and it was an honor to face fellow Woodburn racer, Ron Burch in the finals. What could have been the “worst of times” as I broke out by .001 was actually the “best of times” due to the fact that Ron broke out by .002. In the space of 3 years, I had earned two NHRA Division 6 Heavy ET Championships and this time I was headed to the NHRA Winston World Finals at Ontario, CA. Yes, it was the “best of times.” 1980 was the first year ever for Bracket Racers to compete for a National Championship, due in a large part, to the leadership of Gene Bergstrom who convinced Wally Parks of the merits of such a program. With no corporate sponsorship, I was privileged to compete with the best in the nation at the 1980 NHRA Winston World Finals. To say that I was nervous, would be an understatement. What a thrill to earn my way to the finals. Because NHRA had combined the Northwest with the Southwest into one division in 1980, I first had to meet the California racer for the right to represent Division 6-7 in the World Championships. Winning that preliminary race, earned the third Wally of my racing career. But now it came down to the big one. The first ever Bracket Racing World Championship. Three rounds of racing on Sunday for the big Wally that said “World Champion” because this was the official NHRA Winston World Finals. It was again “the best of times” earning the crown of 1980 NHRA World Champion. It was a privilege to attend the banquet and talk with Bob Glidden, Shirley Muldowney, and Wally Parks. The memories, the photo albums, the ET slips, the friendships shared, the 3 Divisional Wallys and 1 World Championship Wally — all because I caught a little disease at the age of 14. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I prefer to think about the best of times.
Elvon Kauffman has been drag racing since 1975. He has been a NHRA Northwest Division Bracket Champion twice – first in 1978 when he defeated fellow Woodburn racer, Joe DiFillipi at Seattle International Raceway and secondly, in 1980 when he again defeated a Woodburn racer, Ron Burch at Woodburn Dragstrip. He was the first and only World Champion in Heavy Bracket, winning with his 1970 Plymouth Road Runner 4-speed at the now defunct Ontario Motor Speedway in October, 1980. Elvon’s variety of life experiences become the basis for the stories he shares in Straight Talk, a monthly column produced by Woodburn Dragstrip.