By Tim Whyte
As I head off to the NASCAR races at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana this weekend — a weekend in which Fontana affectionately is re-dubbed “Fontucky” — I’m thinking a lot about fine cars and fast women.
Wait. That’s fast cars and fine women. Oops. My bad.
Anyway, fast cars. This weekend I will be watching professional racers driving fast cars. Really, really fast, really, really loud cars. There’s a radar monitor at the entry to Turn 1 at Fontana, and the fastest cars will hit 205 or 206 mph before they slam on the brakes to make the turn.
It reminds me of some of the times I have driven cars fast. Not 205 or 206 mph, mind you. But fast. Thankfully, I’ve settled down and become a much safer driver in my advancing years.
A few weeks back, we were having a newsroom conversation, in preparation for a feature story, on the times when any of us have gotten out of tickets.
And for me, my best stories weren’t about the times I got out of tickets. They were about the times when the police officer or sheriff’s deputy had me dead to rights, and threw the book at me.
I confess, I’ve gotten all too familiar with traffic school. Thank God they do it online now. Of course, I am not advocating unsafe or fast driving. I am just admitting a personal flaw, one that makes my right foot feel disproportionately heavy.
I actually have gotten out of a couple of tickets — not recently, but many moons ago — because I was with The Signal.
One of those times, I got pulled over for speeding on Newhall Ranch Road. There were only two cars on the road at the time — mine, going faster than it should have been, late at night. And the sheriff’s deputy, who paced me from a half-mile back and, once he had what he needed, he hit the gas of that sheriff’s Crown Victoria and caught up with me in no time flat.
The deputy recognized my name when I gave him my driver’s license, and he let me off with a stern warning.
Another time, I made an illegal U-turn on my way to cover a sheriff’s drug bust, and the deputy let me off with a warning once I told him where I was going. And, he reminded me that I can’t break traffic laws just because I’m covering the news.
Another deputy pulled me over for speeding once, and he wasn’t impressed that I was the editor of the paper. He was going to write me up, until I let it “slip” that my brother-in-law was one of his fellow Santa Clarita Valley deputies. He let me go. Then he went back to the station and snitched on me to my brother-in-law, and told him to tell me to slow down.
My brother-in-law then gleefully announced it at the next big family dinner.
Perhaps my best ticket story, though, was my first one.
I was 16, and the ink wasn’t even dry on my first driver’s license.
I was driving my first car, which had been my grandmother’s ’73 Oldsmobile Cutlass. When I got it from Nana, it was an odd burnt orange color. Later I would paint it dark blue and put chrome rims on it, and when I arrived in the student parking lot at Saugus High School with the fresh paint and chrome wheels, my buddies said, “Wait. You’re fixing that thing up?”
It was indeed a grandma car — but it had a 350 V8 under the hood.
One night, I was coming up Tourney Road toward Rockwell Canyon Road, with three of my knucklehead football buddies riding along. We pulled up to the intersection of Rockwell and McBean Parkway.
One of my friends, from the back seat, said, “Hey, Tim. See what she can do.”
I was an idiot 16-year-old who mistakenly thought he was indestructible. So, of course.
The light turned green. I mashed the gas, and 350 cubic inches of American muscle did their thing.
I hit 90 mph by the time I got to College of the Canyons. And that’s where I saw a sheriff’s patrol car, pulling out of the COC parking lot. He was just a blur as I went past, but there was no mistaking the black-and-white.
Slammed on the brakes, like I was entering Turn 1 at Fontana.
He didn’t pull me over right away, so for a couple minutes I thought I’d dodged the “first ticket” bullet. My pulse was racing nearly as fast as the car had been going, and I broke out into a cold sweat.
Turns out, he’d called ahead to the station. And I’m pretty sure it was a different deputy who actually stopped me, all the way down Valencia Boulevard, near Cinema Drive.
They damn near wrote me up for reckless driving. They didn’t, but they gave me a speeding ticket that would choke a horse.
It was a VERY uncomfortable conversation when I got home.
My mom and I agreed, I would go to traffic school, which was a very different experience back then. You had to spend two eight-hour days in a classroom, and they showed you those scary, awfully graphic films about the deadly combination of speed and stupidity, with names like “Red Asphalt” and “Decade of Highway Death.”
I completed traffic school, and told myself the Big Lie that I would never, ever, ever get a speeding ticket again.
My mom and I agreed we would not tell my grandmother about my speeding ticket. Nana, may she rest in peace, was a notorious worrier. We didn’t want to upset her, so my ticket would just be our little secret from Nana.
A few weeks later, my mom got a speeding ticket, too. You see, I come by my lead foot honestly. My mom was once notorious for testing the speedometer on her ’78 Mustang. It only went to 85 mph, and more than once I remember seeing that sucker pegged at 85 on the freeway and searching for somewhere else to climb.
It’s hereditary, I guess.
We were at my grandmother’s house a few weeks after my mom and I both got our speeding tickets, and someone — I don’t remember for sure, but for now, let’s blame my sister, because why not — let it slip that my mom had gotten a ticket.
Nana just about had a stroke, on the spot.
My grandmother, in full hyper-worry mode, said, “JoAnne, when did YOU get a ticket?”
Your parents are always your parents, no matter how old you are. So my Mom didn’t miss a beat as she deflected HER mom’s attention, and threw me right squarely under the bus, laughing and pointing at me as she did so:
“Right after Tim got his.”
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. On Twitter: @TimWhyte.