I’ve never wielded much power. As an adult, the closest thing to power I ever had was when I owned a publication with three employees. And, while I may have never been drunk on power as a kid, I was drunk on horsepower.
I was 16 and stupid. While growing up I drove the back roads behind our farm in a beat-up 1964 International pickup that would shake violently when you hit 55 mph. When I received my driver’s license at 16 my father handed me the keys to a 1967 Ford Thunderbird with a big block 390 engine that generated 315 horsepower. It wasn’t long before I was traveling the highway to the city and back at 80 miles an hour or more.
On one of my typical morning races to classes I came over a rise and saw that my life might end in seconds. A cement truck had been rear-ended by a semitrailer, ejecting the driver from his fully loaded 30-ton cement mixer. Without a driver, the truck meandered lazily in a circle on the four lane highway.
When I first saw it I was two football fields away, traveling towards it at about 120 feet per second. The only thing I had going for me was sheer panic and teenage reflexes. I jammed both feet on the power disk brakes and locked up the bias ply tires, creating a terrible screeching sound and the stench of burnt rubber on my 4,200 pound car.
I cut my speed in half. I pulled as close to the ditch as I could and passed by unscathed. As I looked in my rear view mirror I saw someone shaking their fist at me.
I never drove that recklessly again, but I have a friend, who I’ve known for 40 years, who still loves raw power on what he calls “U.S. steel.” He owns a 2012 Shelby GT-500 with a supercharged 5.4 liter engine which generates a whopping 550 horsepower. He knows of his addiction to horsepower but he is experienced enough and has the right temperament not to abuse it.