Lakeland Raceway

The Car Returns To Lakeland 1

June 2002 – The 55 Chevy featured in the Monte Hellman film “Two- Lane Blacktop” was originally constructed by Richard Ruth expressly for the 1971 film. There were other versions of the car used for “in car” scenes and such, but the main “star” car was a real street/strip 55 Chevy that pretty well epitomizes what a “hot rod” 55 was during the early seventies. No one “restored” these cars in those days, and most were built for speed. The trend to make them ultra slick high dollar show pieces would take another 20 years to materialize. This trend also jacked up their value to the point that seeing one as a purpose built street/strip car would be a rare sight indeed.

Allen McDaniel lives in the Tupelo, Mississippi area and saw the film when it was originally released. Apparently he has long been a fan of the film, and most likely, a bigger fan of the car. The film is no “Citizen Kane”, but has developed a sort of cult status amongst car folk and independent film maker types. It starred Warren Oates, James Taylor, Dennis Wilson, and Laurie Bird. Only Oates had prior acting experience. The “plot” if that’s what you call it, is that the two street racers (Taylor and Wilson) are plying their trade on the mean streets of Southern California until they encounter Oates, who they see as a mark and challenge him to a cross country “race” to Washington DC. The prize for the winner is to be the loser’s car. This sets the stage for an “Easy Rider” like sojourn throughout the American west and into the south.

This journey eventually leads them into the Memphis area, where the rock musicians turned actors decide to do some legit drag racing in search of fast cash. When they arrive at Lakeland Raceway, they are surrounded by lots of period perfect drag machinery, and the race track where I saw my first real drag racing. When I first saw the film, I was astounded to see Lakeland prominently featured. I had no idea. About fifteen minutes of realistic race footage from Lakeland found it’s way into the completed film.

Allen is a very nice fellow who has a passion for old cars (he has eleven) as well as the aforementioned film. Therefore, he chose to take a straight but plain Jane 1955 Chevy “210” sedan (like mine) and “convert” it into a “150” business coupe and duplicate the movie car. The car has a 468 cubic inch “Rat” motor with loads of go fast stuff added. Accuracy to the movie mobile was a priority, as Allen’s “duplicate” features many of the exact same parts on its motor as the original car had. A quick overview reveals a Weiand tunnel ram intake with twin Holley 450 mechanical carbs, fenderwell exhaust headers, and a roller cam. The result is a real healthy exhaust note and some serious horsepower.

The car also has a fiberglass flip front end, and radiused rear wheel wheels for the race size rubber that is attached to the stock width differential. (it’s a twelve bolt Chevelle unit) Ladder bars, no front bumper, a handmade aluminum hood scoop, and the prerequisite grey primer round out the “appearance” package. The interior features a roll bar, cut down “race” bucket seats, no back seat, (business coupes and hot rods don’t do back seats) “racing” belts, a Hurst shifter for the Muncie four speed, and an old “cup” style tachometer on the dash.

Allen got almost every detail of the movie car precisely duplicated. However, he purposefully left off the straight tube front axle, and stuck with the Chevy’s A-arm independent front suspension. He felt it was a better choice for a street driver.

We felt it was a given that we should do at least a few shots on the old abandoned drag strip where the original “Two-Lane” 55 gained it’s 1 & 3/4 hrs. of celluloid fame.

The Car Returns To Lakeland 2

October 2004 – I couldn’t resist, and had to pass on this account of my latest “last time ever” to visit old Lakeland International Raceway. Those of you that dig “Two-Lane Blacktop” might find it interesting.

This time my pal Greg Friend recruited Maryland resident Walt Bailey to bring his “Two Lane” camera car to the former Lakeland International Raceway. Dave Rasmussen (a friend of mine and Greg’s) met Walt at the Route 66 fest in Springfield Missouri, and suggested he visit the hallowed grounds soon since there wasn’t much left.

The stench of development is in the air near Lakeland, so Walt took Dave’s advice and headed for Memphis. The window of opportunity to get onto the track was only briefly open. When Walt arrived in town a week after talking to Dave, Greg promptly made the arrangements for the visit on Monday morning just hours before Walt was due to leave.

This was another proper reason to visit my old haunt though as Walt’s 55 is the genuine “camera car” and had an integral part in making “Two Lane Blacktop” the cult classic it has become. Many of the films scenes were shot from this car aboard platforms mounted to it’s flanks. It mattered enough to both Greg and I that we both split from work early on that afternoon and documented this car on it’s old stomping grounds.