Triggered by news out of Watkins-Glen, N.Y., that Watkins Glen International is in need of a sponsor for its NASCAR spring Cup race after Centurion Boats pulled out of the final year of its contract, this column comes as a very special Christmas memory.
The year was 1967, and my father decided that an MGB sports car — don’t worry, it needed a lot of work — might be just the right gift for a young man — me — who was shaving and looking for just the right vehicle to get from our Highland Street home in Bangor to outer Broadway for the week- day lessons taught at Bangor High School.
Boy, was I impressed, as were several of the other boys, who had also worked diligently to procure sports cars of their own.
Bar Harbor was the town of our “racing” activities, and it was not unusual for five or six of these British beauties to be making their way through the delightful tourist town, then head toward the scenic Acadia National Park Loop highway until we reached the top of Cadillac Mountain for lunch.
We had an MGB, an MGBGT, a TR250 (Triumph), an Austin Healy 3000, a Sprite, and a TR4A. My cousin’s TR4A was the real classic of the bunch.
The old Knights’ Auto in Bangor was the place where boys hung out to admire all the brand-new British cars as they came off the assembly line in England, then crossed the ocean to their new home in Maine.
My, our cars looked grand in the midday summer sun. We could display the best of the gymkhana moves, usually saved for the pros. The maneuvering skills were practiced at home in such places as Bass Park or Shop ‘n Save parking lots after hours — hey, I had a connection — but we saved the good stuff for the coastal routes.
The real Watkins Glen racing dates back to the Watkins Glen Sports Car Grand Prix in 1948 on public streets or near the village.
For boys of 16, Bar Harbor served us just fine. Oddly, none of us were ever issued a ticket for screeching tires or sharp turns.
I eventually sold that car — it was bright red, with all the British fixings — to a gentleman, who promptly painted it purple — yikes.
I heard it had crashed, so I made my way to the junkyard in Veazie and retrieved the wooden gear shift knob for $5. I still have the thing.
Every once in a while, I take the knob out and admire it. It was the crowning piece of my sports car collection. I would later own a TR6 and a Camaro, which always takes me back to that special Christmas day which represented a right of passage for a boy, who still longs for the gymkhana maneuverings of the winding road and the smell of leather and walnut of foreign cars.
No, we never made it to Watkins Glen as spectators, or as participants, for that matter.
Those were pre-synchromesh driving days, but we had fun nonetheless, changing gears carefully and trying to outdo each other.
30-Second Time Out
With basketballs bouncing everywhere these days, I was given a nice Milo flashback and an early Christmas present the other day when former Penquis Valley High and Bowdoin College hoop star Harry Lanphear checked in to offer his two cents’ worth on all this dormitory building in Maine.
By transferring from Michigan to the Milo-based Penquis, Lanphear added his name to early PVHS hoop success with the likes of David Carey, Brian and Jamie Russell, Scott Larson, and Eddie Grant.