American Jet Cars
Stories & Comments
Chip Tatroe
 Bar


As the school bus pulled up to the stop kitty corner from our house (1967, 8 or 9) and I saw the truck in the driveway on any given Thursday or Friday afternoon, my heart and mind would start racin', hoping that we were going with Dad that weekend to wherever he was headed.

Could be Dallas, Houston, Long Island, Bristol, Fort Worth, Gary or just west across state to Norwalk or east to Marion, Dragway 42 (home track) or any of the other tracks I'm forgetting. Which track really didn't matter.

We always got excused absences from school, they would say that we would learn more about life with Dad, on the road, than we ever could in a classroom. We would leave that evening, drive all night and arrive at the motel the next evening, say in Texas, check in, eat and go to bed.

Get up the next morning have breakfast, sometimes Chuck, Jimmy, Doug, Ted, Freddy and or Walt would be there, sometimes it was just us boys and Dad.
Chuck always had a Coke with breakfast. We wouldn't even get the whole question out before Dad would say, "no you can't have Coke with breakfast."

When we got to the track Dad would go and check in and we would run through the pits counting the Funny Cars, Top Fuelers, Fuel Altereds, Wheelstanders and whatever else was there.

Yeah 32 Funny's, 16 Dragsters, 4 Wheelstanders and 4 Altereds and Willy Borsch was one of 'em !! Sometimes E.J. Potter with his 327 motorcycle, Art with the big Green Monster,The Dud dragster, or his Jet Vette or even "TV" Tommy Ivo with whatever he was running at the time.

Then we'd go back and help whatever driver needed help. Fred and Teddy usually had their kids with them too, so I would help Chuck and Dan would help Jimmy. If it was just us and Dad then we got different things to do. Fill the fuel tank, dust the car, check the tires, help untangle and pack the chutes, pass out pictures, run for coffee or pops and then wait for our turn to run.

The time trials and test -n- tunes would go all afternoon and then there' was always a break. At that time we would pull up into the burn out/staging area for the first run. The Jets made three runs per show then. They started the elimination round, started the final round and were the last to run for the night.
Always after the break and before the racing started the national anthem played.

This is the part that really made me write this story, memory, down......
During the national anthem Dad would stand next to the car, sometimes with his helmet tucked under his arm, always with a hand over his heart......
He stood so straight and proud it seemed like he was ten feet tall and always, always had tears running down his face. As a kid then (10 or 13 yrs old) or even as an adult now looking back I don't know the words that describe how that made me feel......

This larger than life man, my Father, the builder/driver of Rocket, Steam, Jet and Turbine Cars, who had covered the quarter mile in 4 seconds, sometimes drove two different Jet Cars at one event, did 250-275 + mph 3-5 times a night sometimes twice in a weekend for almost ten years, saw 600 mph from a standing start in less than a mile at Bonneville, would tear up during the national anthem.

When we got to help him/them get started and "pull the plug", we would stand next to the car and watch the gauges climb as it started, then get the signal to pull the plug and toss the cord into the truck. Then either run over behind the guard rail or get in the truck.

The truck would back off over to the side of the track, behind the starting line. It felt like we were in a hurricane, it would rock back and forth and be showered with debris and who knows what ! Until the explosion from the afterburner would happen then all we could see was smoke.

The truck would then chase down track ( after it cleared enough to see again ) to find Dad and whomever else just ran gathering up the chutes and talking or laughing. Tow them back to the pits and do it all over again.

On the way back home, usually we kids were riding in the back of the truck.
There was a bunk bed of sorts that was over the nose of the car but wasn't quite big enough for three boys. So I would crawl into the car and sleep or pull the chute down off of the car and wrap up in it.

On the long trips we would get home just in time to get ready to go to school Monday morning. Our hair was so stiff with track dirt, rubber, smoke, Jet and Nitro exhaust that water would just run off of it for a few days. All I could smell was what was in my hair (which was and still is a bit of heaven) and my ears rang so loud that the first day back in school I was kind of in a daze, more heaven ! I remember wondering "where are we going next weekend ?".

Among all of those memories I have this video clip in my head of standing on one side of the car and looking over at Dad, with tears on his face on the other side.

I have to wonder, can I be that proud of who and what I am?

Chip Tatroe 2004


 < Back >