|How "The True Ballad of The
Great Race to Gilmore City" Happened
Briar Cliff College, Sioux City, Iowa
Rolfe High School visiting artist 1975-76
I was an Artist in the Schools for the Iowa Arts Council, visiting
Rolfe in the 1975-76 school year with English teacher Betty Knoll as my
host. As it happened, my schedule forced us to split my week of residency
into two visits, one near Thanksgiving and one about the end of February.
During my first visit, Betty asked me if I wanted to go see the
basketball game against Poky that night. "We've got a good team this
year and we're going to beat them," she said. I was all for that, but
the outcome was otherwise. Rolfe was good, but Poky was better. We weren't
too disappointed, though; it was the start of the season, and the Rams
would meet up with Poky again.
Then during my second visit, Betty said "We're playing Poky again,
and we've improved a lot. Do you want to go?" I said, "GO,
RAMS!" but 'twas not to be. Poky beat Rolfe like a drum, and everyone
left the gym feeling blue. I thought to myself, "It's not fair, Rolfe
has to win something." I went home, unfolded my road map, and started
writing. The form was easy, close to a classical ballad, and the plot was
borrowed partly from my youth -- yes, I did live in the car culture! --
and partly from books of my friend Henry Felsen such as Hot Rod and
Street Rod. And Rolfe finally had a win (on paper, anyway) though
not without its dramatic catastrophe before a happy resolution.
The True Ballad of The Great Race to Gilmore City
Big Ralph from Rolfe had a black Corvette
The fastest one you ever met
A 454, dual AFB's
That car had power like a dog has fleas
A set of Hijackers all around
A pair of Thrushes for that low down sound
Four Cragar mags and Mickeys on the back
A terror on the street or on the track was Big Ralph from Rolfe.
Now Ralph made it known far and wide
He had no equals for that Corvette ride
On his slower days, just to pass the time
He'd beat a bunch of Smokies to the Minnesota line
All the cars he raced he left in the dust
So far back they couldn't hear his exhaust
Big Ralph thought he had the last word
But you can bet he never heard of Peggy from Poky.
Now Peggy had a TransAm 455
That just for starters ate Hemis alive
Dual quads, hot cam, a bored out block
But outside it looked just plain stock
Sweet innocence in baby blue
‘Til she fired it up, and then you knew
That Firebird could go like a jet
An easy match for the black Corvette of Big Ralph from Rolfe.
They set up a meeting one moonlight night
Highway Three was the racing site
From the junction of Fifteen to Gilmore City
Let it all hang out and take no pity
The bet was on and the word spread far
The loser was going to give up the car
They lined the road for miles to see
If Ralph would win, or if it would be Peggy from Poky.
The flag went down and the squeal and the roar
Made the earth shake all the way to Thor
With a ton of torque and a thousand horse load
They left rubber on a mile of road
He had the traction but she had the speed
All the power they had was the power they'd need
Peggy thought she had an easy ride
Until she looked over, and there beside was Big Ralph from Rolfe.
Nose to nose and wheel to wheel
Came those screaming shapes of steel,
She went into second at one twenty four
His tach read ten-five with room for more
With a hand like lightning he went into third
But he just couldn't leave that baby blue Bird
And through the thundering night they sped
With Gilmore City just a mile ahead for Peggy from Poky.
Before Ralph would let her beat him down
He'd run wide open through Gilmore Town
He put his foot through the firewall
And the Vette shot ahead, winner take all
But as he passed the city line
Peggy caught up and gave him the sign
He tried to shut down but was going too fast:,
He wiped out the town and it looked like the last of Ralph from Rolfe.
When they'd seen the last of the smoke and the noise
That black Corvette looked like Tinkertoys
And Peggy was sure there was nothing to do
Until she heard a voice coming through
Said, listen honey, I'm all right
But I think I'll need a ride home tonight
She said, you don't need another word
Cause you just won a baby blue Bird from Peggy from Poky.
Well folks I think you know the rest
That TransAm soon became joint possessed
And Ralph and Peggy formed a racing team
The likes of which you ain't never seen
You can talk about Indy ‘til you're blue in the face
But there’ll never be another like that race between Ralph and Peggy.
(Editor’s note: Phil Hey is a professor of writing at Briar Cliff
College in Sioux City. He has done over forty residencies for the Iowa
Arts Council and has fond memories of visiting Rolfe High School and
enjoying Betty Knoll hold forth exuberantly in her classroom.)