Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Rochester Road Kings

In the summer of 1953, the Rochester Police Department cracked down on hot rodding in town at the behest of the village council, which had expressed its displeasure at increasingly frequent incidents of reckless driving and exhibitions of speed. According to an August 6, 1953 report in the Rochester Clarion, Chief Sam Howlett's enforcement effort in response to the council mandate netted fifteen unlucky hot rod drivers.

Just two years earlier, in 1951, the editor of Hot Rod magazine had founded the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) in southern California. Wally Parks' goal was to “bring order out of chaos” and create a safe environment for hot rodders – one that did not tolerate reckless driving or illegal street racing. In the same year, the Michigan Hot Rod Association was formed for the identical purpose, and in 1952 the MHRA hosted its first Autorama show to generate funding for a dream racing facility at New Baltimore, Michigan.

In Rochester, some local hot rodders formed their own club along NHRA guidelines and called themselves the Rochester Road Kings. The NHRA handbook cautioned that club names should suggest “skillful and sensible driving,” and further warned that “names that include such words as 'Maniacs,' 'Killers,' 'Hell' or 'Wrecks' have a tendency to give the public the wrong impression of hot rodding.” The membership oath of the Rochester Road Kings required inductees to promise “careful and considerate driving on public highways and … strict observance of the Motor Vehicle Codes.”

The pamphlet shown here, containing the governing documents of the Rochester Road Kings club, is from my Dad's personal memorabilia collection (no, that's not his name written on the cover). He may – or may not – have been one of the hot rodders the Rochester police were hoping to shut down back in those days, and it is possible that he may – or may not – have received an occasional ticket for exhibition of speed or excessive noise. Any former hot rodders out there with a story to share?

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