Engine rumbling, the War Pony pulled onto the track.
Left foot on the brake, right foot on the gas, Ozzie George gunned the car’s engine, spinning and heating the tires. Burnt rubber drifted in an acrid cloud over the drag-racing pits.
The car eased up to the starting line, an opponent alongside.
One hand on the gearshift, one on the wheel, George stood on the brake and pressed the accelerator. He stared straight ahead. The engine screamed, building power.
The car shuddered, but the brakes held.
The racetrack’s orange “get ready” light flashed on.
The War Pony was ready to launch.
At 38, Ozzie George is man addicted to speed.
While his neighbors on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation spend their free time hunting or fishing or watching TV, George is under the hood of the War Pony, replacing carburetor jets, inspecting the spark plugs or pulling out the engine and dropping in a new one.
Four years ago, George traded a Chevrolet engine and a few hundred dollars for the 1974 Chevy Vega, which was buried in a garage under boxes, clothes and furniture. It hadn’t run in six years.
George revived it and named it the War Pony, after a car in a movie he’d seen. He planned to race it for a summer, then sell it.
That was $5,600 and hundreds of workshop hours ago. To get parts, George barters and saves his pay from the Potlatch lumber mill in St. Maries. The United Parcel Service deliveryman knows him by name.
“I’ve never stopped. I’m always interested in going faster,” George said, standing beside the car. “This thing’s surprised a lot of people at the track.”
He’s drummed up sponsorships from five smoke shops and a fireworks stand. This year, the tribal bingo hall signed on, contributing $500.
“He’s been at this a long time and there’s a certain measure of respect for him,” said tribal press secretary Bob Bostwick.
Even the Coeur d’Alene tribal council signed on this year. After several years of turning George away, the council contributed $650.
“It’s a considerable endeavor by a tribal member, and they feel it worthy of support,” said Bostwick. “The advice to him was to press the accelerator and go fast.”
George grew up around the reservation, tinkering with cars and racing along the rolling highways of the Palouse wheat country. He figures he has owned 50 cars. The most expensive, a Dodge Challenger, cost $2,500.
“He’s a friend of mine, but that doesn’t preclude me from writing him tickets,” said Idaho State Police Cpl. Bob Kirts. “He usually admits it when he gets caught.”
These days, George says, he does most of his racing at Spokane Raceway Park, near the airport. He never has won a trophy, but he thinks he’s getting closer.
Soon, George plans to replace the War Pony’s camshaft. After $189 and three hours of work, he will have shaved about a second off his quarter-mile time.
“That’s the object of it, to go faster and faster,” he said.
At home in Plummer, Idaho, he’s hard-pressed to describe exactly what he likes about racing.
The sound of power, maybe, or the thrill of the launch. Perhaps it’s just the adrenaline rush. After four years, he still gets butterflies in his stomach while he’s waiting to race.
George also has run into an unsettling phenomenon: young fans. When he dropped a wrench recently, a boy jumped the fence and returned it - in exchange for an autograph.
“What do you sign? ‘War Pony,’ or what? It’s nice having fans, but I’m there because it’s fun for me.”
With the engine revved up to a jackhammer roar, George let his foot off the brake and floored the gas.
The rear wheels spun, the front wheels jumped off the ground. The car bolted down the track.
Gripping the shifter tightly, George was thrown back in his seat.
The car shook as it gained speed.
George shifted, and the War Pony surged ahead. The tachometer, mounted on the dashboard, rattled against the windshield.
He shifted again. The engine roared. The car was going 104 miles per hour. The passenger compartment grew warm from the engine heat.
Then it was over.
The race had lasted 12 seconds. George braked - 90, 80, 70, 60 mph - and turned his car back toward the pits.
“That’s why I do it,” he said, chuckling. “It’s a blast.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day's top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter