Marcia Barker, 63, a retired L.L. Bean inventory manager living in Boonton, N.J., on her jalopy racing car, as told to A.J. Baime.
For years while I was working at L.L. Bean in Maine, I owned a land-speed racing car. I set my fastest speed of 192.9 mph at Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine, in 2013. (That was not in my car but someone else’s Corvette.)
I had a friend named Frank Walka who came to Maine once a month to help me work on the car. When it was time for me to retire, Frank asked me to come to New Jersey where he lived, with a plan to build a jalopy race car.
Jalopy racing is for old “four bangers”—mostly prewar four-cylinder cars. In land-speed racing, you are lucky to get out three times a year. I had all these friends who raced jalopies, including Frank. They were racing all the time. So I gave away my land-speed car and moved to New Jersey.
Frank and I went all over buying parts. We bought a 1932 Ford engine, a 1928 Ford Model A chassis from a junkyard, and a friend gave me a 1923 Model T body. I bought every transmission I could find, hoping that one would work, and boxes of parts, enough to build a car and a half. I spent about $3,000 total.
Frank and I built the car over the winter of 2017 into 2018. He did the work on the engine. I bolted the pieces together, built in the seat belt, and painted the car. The last two weeks before I took it racing for the first time, we worked long hours. I named the car “The Flying Seven,” after the land-speed racing car I used to own, and we used a No. 7 billiards ball for a gearshift handle.
When I raced the car for the first time—a year ago at BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Pa.—it was so exciting to see how it would do. It was very bouncy, and performed better than we expected. Top speed so far is 53 mph.
Jalopy racing is not overly serious. It is not about winning—it is about friends racing together. We race on drag strips, on oval dirt tracks, even hill climbs. I have raced this car in New Jersey, Long Island and a lot in Pennsylvania.
Frank has his jalopy and I have mine and we travel together. We are also building a new land-speed racing vehicle. Retirement has been great. I could not imagine having any more fun.