1946 in Los Angeles. The young guys were back from the war, a lot of them wanted to blow off some steam before they got down to their new peacetime lives. Used cars were cheap in LA in 1946, something for sale on every street corner, now that the American plants were making new cars again. Many of the vets, with all sorts of mechanical savvy they’d learned in the service, bought the old cars—mainly Ford roadsters—stripped them down, hopped up their engines, and raced them at night for money on city streets.

The good citizens of LA demanded the cops do something, and the cops came down hard. Under the pressure, the hot-rodders discovered a Paradise in the dry lakes a few hours north of town, up in the Mojave, especially El Mirage. The lakes were perfectly flat racing surfaces, the rodders could do anything they wanted out there, and there were no cops.

If you were between eighteen and, say, thirty in Los Angeles between 1946 and 1950 or so, you spent some of your summer weekends out at El Mirage watching the cars race. You camped out on the lakebed overnight—think beer, sex, and the occasional car wreck. Think Burning Man with cars.

And imagine a fourteen-year old, a sort of a mama’s boy, a neighbor kid in Hollywood finding three vets souping up a ’32 Ford roadster in a garage down the street. Imagine him becoming their friend, imagine him street racing with them. Imagine him running off with them out to the Lakes.

Mr. Horsepower

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