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Thread the Needle!

Abraham Drimmer April 16, 2014 All Things Hoon 3 Comments

Welcome to “Thread The Needle!” A weekly column that explores the rich history of motorsports by way of the thrift store t-shirt.

Throwback Thursday is tomorrow, but try telling that to the Bonneville’s salt flats racers. They live in a never ending #tbt, a consistent, era-less state of motorsport. That’s hardly a bad thing. If you’ve been paying attention the last few weeks, you’d of already noticed that I don’t play good and bad. For me, quality is shades of grey, no not those shades of grey, get your mind out of the gutter, this is highbrow automotive journalism. Well, it was last week. This week we’re going low-brow, we’re going to talk about “retro”.

Before we do that, lets pay the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association the respect they deserve. Racing on the Salt Flats isn’t controlled by a monolithic organization like Formula 1 or NASCAR is. No one group truly owns the history of the sport. Given the lack of direct lineage, the USFRA does an excellent job of maintaining the motorsport tradition of Utah’s Salt Flats. They’ve been running their World of Speed series since 1986.

This week’s example is a relatively straightforward read. Nothing we haven’t seen in shirts prior, in fact its got a little of everything. A touch of computer (or computer inspired) gradient, some tastefully done (if not on the nose) speed lines, but what demands the most of my attention is the event title design. It seems to recall the cover of ZZ Top’s 1975 album Fandango!. Which is interesting, because ZZ Top and the USFRA seem to be mining the same vein of cultural history. No, not precisely the same vein, I don’t think Ab Jenkins would’ve cared much for that “Rock and or Roll” music had he been alive to witness its rise to relevancy. Still, it doesn’t take a cultural theorist to see the link between ZZ Top’s aesthetic and the cars featured on this shirt. They both draw from a sort of Hot August Nights zeitgeist, a pseudo-historical memory shared by the kinds of people who wish a malted still cost a nickel and all engines were carbureted. 

I know that all sounds like an indictment, but you’ll have to trust me that it isn’t. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong or right with using history as a plaything. I think it is an immensely complicated topic far beyond the scope of this column. What I do know is that USFRA and for that matter all Bonneville Salt Flats racing associations have a very interesting position in the whole affair of historical context. Civil War reenactors and Japanese rockabilly granddads can’t truly effect history (although they can effect the way we perceive it), but Bonneville, well that never really ended. It’s relevance might have waxed and waned over the decades, but people kept showing up, and the records kept getting broken. Maybe what we perceive from the outside as retro revivalism is just a different way of seeing the present? They don’t hold history (represented as records) on a pedestal, they go out and try to knock it down. I like that.

  • "…the kinds of people who wish a malted still cost a nickel and all engines were carbureted."

    All my engines are carbureted. Are you saying they've raised the price of malts?

    • FЯeeMan

      I keep reading that as the kinds of people who wish a mullet still cost a nickel.
      I'm not sure why, but that's what I'm seeing. Still seems to fit.

      • What, haircuts have gone up, too?