By Wendy Nugent, Harvey County Now
NEWTON—Muscle cars lined up, tire-to-tire, engines revving and adrenaline racing while someone stood facing them, yards down the road, signaling the start of the race.
It was just like in the movies and it was Saturday nights on 36th Street in the Newton area, as red-blooded American teens took part in drag racing.
Most attending lined the road in their cars, sometimes numbering 100 people, as drivers floored the gas pedals as tires turned faster and faster on the teens’ precious vehicles they worked hard to buy, vehicles they worked hard to get to run, vehicles that might be fine one second and blow out the next, during the quarter-mile race.
Newton native Richard Monares recalled these memories of his high school days in Newton and now he belongs to the Mid Kansas Muscle Car group, which is putting on the Newton Car Show on May 1.
Monares plans to enter his 1973 Camaro painted in a shiny bright color.
“They call it Appy Red, but to me, it looks orange,” Monares said.
This isn’t the first Camaro Monares has owned.
“Back in high school, I had a ’71 Camaro,” he said. “I bought one of those when I was 16 years old.”
That first one was the one he’d drag race, with others who went out of town, as he phrased it, since there wasn’t much housing out there, like there is now on 36th Street.
“Back then, they just put the concrete road down,” he said. “We called it Paradise.”
They even had their racetrack marked with the start and finish lines.
“Back then, the police used to watch us,” Monares said. “They’d sit on the highway and watch us. The police used to tell us back in the day there are worse things you could be doing.”
At least the police knew where they were.
This was in the mid to late 1980s and probably continued a little after that, Monares said. They used to cruise Main Street on Saturday nights and then have their drag races later, which wasn’t legal. On Friday nights, they’d go to Wichita, a place with legal races.
“That was just the thing to do back then,” Monares said, adding sometimes, a group from Wichita came to Newton and that some guys raced for money.
Monares won some races, but not all.
“There’s always somebody faster,” he said. “There were times when people would blow their motors and would have their car towed back home.”
No one was ever injured out there, though, he said.
The car Monares is going to enter in this year’s car show he purchased late last summer at a farmer’s auction outside of Augusta. It pretty much was in the condition it is now when he purchased it.
“It’s got a little over 61,000 original miles,” he said.
He and his wife have tossed around some names for the vehicle, although they haven’t come up with anything.
“Right now, the only thing she refers to it as is the Beast,” Monares said. “Me and my wife have talked about it. We’re still debating. It’s not official yet, but that’s what she refers to it as. She hasn’t quite got herself to drive it yet. She’s a little afraid of it.”
The Beast is an automatic 355.
Monares has made a few improvements to the Beast, such as replacing the headliner, putting in new engine mounts and fixing small mechanical things.
He said he also needs to redo the inside of the trunk area.
“They’re never done,” he said about vehicles.
Monares is the manager of the body and detail shop at Conklin Cars in Newton, so he had it buffed and a ceramic coating put on it, too.
Monares didn’t have a relative share an interest in cars like lots of others do. He just decided to take some auto mechanics classes at Newton High School and after high school, he attended body and paint school.
“That’s pretty much all I’ve done my whole life besides high school jobs,” he said, adding that in high school, he worked at Kmart in Newton.
A friend of his had an interest in paint and body work, which influenced Monares, and then his auto teacher, Bill Mills, supported his interest in paint and body work by bringing an old truck to school.
“I think he brought it from the salvage yard,” Monares said. “He dented it and said, ‘See if you can fix it.’ It wasn’t supposed to be a school for body [work], but he knew I liked it.”
Muscle cars Monares has owned include 1970, 1971 and 1973 Camaros and a 1967 Chevelle.
Initially, he wasn’t sure which of those is his favorite.
“It’s hard to say,” he said. “Probably this [current] one since it’s the original drive train.”
The Friday, May 30, cruise before the actual car show has vehicles meeting at 6 p.m. at Newton High School, 900 W. Sixth St., departing at 6:30 p.m. to begin cruising.
On the day of the show, vendors and car show entrants are to line up at Sixth and Oak streets, since groups should line up together so they can park together. Gates open at 7 a.m., and the registration table opens at 8 a.m.
For food truck/tent/vendors, gates open at 6 a.m. Food trucks are required to be in place with all support vehicles gone by 7 a.m.
The show will give out 86 trophies and that presentation starts at 3 p.m., weather permitting. If it’s too hot, the presentations will begin sooner and folks will be notified by the DJ, if necessary.
The three charities benefitting from the show are the Community Chaplain Response Team, Heart to Heart Child Advocacy Center and SafeHope.