Unlike today, going over 100 mph in 1989 did not get you arrested in most states and counties and many of the young and dumb, myself included, regularly exceed 100 mph on the city highways or side streets. I was even more tempted to do such crazy things because my parents had just bought a 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass that I had read maxed out at 112 mph and I often got to use this car when going out with friends. This one was a beautiful light blue, with a blue interior that included a front bench seat, it had a 2.8 V-6 with 125hp, and a 4 speed automatic with overdrive which had the shifter on the column.
The introduction of that Cutlass was a big deal in 1988 because it was the first front-wheel drive Cutlass, the first in a new class of manufacturing plants for GM, and a car given to the then leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, to show all Russians how great Democracy can be. In others words, it was the failure that was GM during the 1980s and 90s, as that amazing new plant had employees getting injuries due to the robots not working as designed causing people to do the work that was not designed for them, the cars had paint peel when using a car wash, interior parts of the car where often crooked, and came apart or broke within the 1st year of ownership, other GM division had almost identical cars for nearly the same price, it only came as a 2-door when 4-door cars where the vehicle of choice and while the suspension was decent, the engine was lacking enough power. Thankfully, the GM of today is a far cry from the mess it was due to Mary Barra and the current management team pushing them to be at the top of the their game again. All the issues with the car my parents bought did not come out until years later, and at the time my parents bought it, I did not care because I saw it as a sexy 2-door coupe that screamed, “race me”.
It was a warm spring evening during my junior year in high school and a bunch of us from the youth group I belonged to where going to meet at a friend’s house located a few miles outside of town where most of the homes had their own small farm. I’m not sure how I talked my parents into taking their car instead of my 1977 Chevrolet Nova, but I am sure whatever the reason, it was not rational, I just wanted to drive the new car. While I do not remember the specifics of how I convinced my Mom to use the car, I am sure I left the house quickly to ensure she had no time to change her mind.
I got myself behind the wheel and quickly turned on the car to see the beautiful green glowing digital display light up, put the car in reverse to back out of the driveway and then headed out. The drive started out fairly calmly for me, as I was very much a lead foot driver at that age, but that evening I decided to at least start out driving within the speed limit to prevent from getting a ticket. As I made a left turn on to Centennial Blvd, the main Boulevard near our home, I put in a cassette to blast from the stereo, and while I do not remember what song or band I was listening to, I do remember it got my heart racing with excitement.
I proceeded to drive on the main boulevards towards highway 126, the one of 2 highways connecting our city, then turned right to enter the highway on ramp. Since I had just spent the prior summer at my uncles in Southern California, I often made sure to enter the highway quickly, ensuring sure I was doing the speed limit by the time I was merging into traffic, but once up to speed held a moderate speed of 55 mph to 60 mph. I put myself in the slow lane to enjoy the drive as I was more interested in singing and dancing to the music versus driving fast. There were two things keeping me from speeding that night that included the Police Officers who often hung out on this specific highway on Friday and Saturday nights to catch young kids like me, and the stoplight near a Warehouser lumber mill which often turned red, which I knew I would have to hit the brakes for anyways.
Highway 126 is a 4 lane highway for much of the drive through Eugene and Springfield, but it eventually turns a sharp left at a stop light in the Thurston area then becomes a city 4 lane boulevard. After making the left turn, I continued on my way keeping a modest speed but this time being in the very left hand lane as I knew the right lane would eventually end when I would enter the countryside. It might sound silly today, but I do remember at the time that I thought having mirrors on both sides of the car was pretty cool since many of the lower end vehicles charged extra for a passengers side mirror, so I would frequently look at it as I would imagine a truck driver would with theirs.
While looking at the mirror I noticed a large Chevrolet Blazer coming up on my right and my young, dumb teenage instinct was to not let them pass me on the right only to get stuck behind them when the road went to 2 lanes, so I started to lay on the gas a little harder, then they did the same. Both of us kept adding speed until we both exceeded 95 mph in a 35 mph zone, and with less than a mile to go until the lanes merged I figured I had this down and would win. All of a sudden the Blazer hit the brakes and got right behind me then blue and red lights started flashing. At the time, the Police did not use SUVs on a regular basis, so I figured I was in the clear to race a big SUV as there was no way it could have been the Police, but obviously the Springfield Police had been ahead of their time as they did a large SUV in their fleet.
My heart sunk and I knew my parents would be super upset with my dumb move, so I quickly moved to the right, hit the brakes and got ready for the worsts, which I assumed would be a ticket I could never afford to pay or maybe even jail time. As I started to slow down and move to the right, I could hear the big V-8 of the Police rig rev up as if it was going to race me again, then it quickly passed me on the right while the officer in the passengers seat stuck his head out the window and yelled at me to slow down. At that point I was not sure what to think except that I knew I was going the exact speed limit during the rest of my trip out to my friends.
During the rest of my drive I ended up pulling over so a firetruck and other emergency vehicles could pass by which made me wonder if it had something to do with the original Police vehicle being in such a hurry to pass me as well. But once with my friends, I let it all go and we went out as normal.
The next day our local newspaper had a story about two teenage boys who died in a car accident at similar speeds to what I was driving, just a little bit farther than my friends house on the same road within minutes of me getting to my friends. I put two and two together then realized they did not pull me over because they where on their way to try and save other teenagers who where not as lucky as me. I would like to tell you that I learned my lesson that day about speeding, but like many teenagers, it took more than 1 stupid move to convince me to slow down.
Have you ever encountered a moment when you where sure you could end up in jail or have a ticket you could not afford to pay, only to have some magical luck in getting out of it? I’m guessing or hoping you would not have been dumb enough to race the Police on city streets like me, but have you ever not noticed a Police car because it did not look like one?