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Hot Rods, Pink Bellies, and Hank Ballard by Bob Bracken

Hot Rods, Pink Bellies, and Hank Ballard by Bob Bracken
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Unlike most of the hot rod books of this genre, this 140-page work has no fictitious heroes and villains fighting over a damsel and racing towards “dead-mans” curve.

All of the stories within this book are based on real memories of actual events that have been a source of amusement to Bob Bracken and his friends over all these years, while being told over and over again during bench-racing sessions that still go on to this day.

It chronicles the period of adolescent coming-of-age from pre-teen to young adulthood that most of us “gearheads” experienced in our quest of everything automotive.  The journey begins as Bob and his buddies have reached the ripe old age of eleven.  His first real awakening is described in this excerpt from chapter one.

 “During my once-over of the magazine rack I spotted the July 1958 issue of Rodding and Restyling; one of the many little hot rod books available at the time.  Only this one was different; on the cover of this particular issue was the most beautiful car I had ever seen.  It was a red 1932 Ford “three window coupe”…chopped, channeled and otherwise heavily modified with a look that just screamed hot rod!  It was named The Ruby Rod.  “Holy crap!! I thought, “this car is unbelievable!!!”  I asked Dad if he would buy me the magazine… with the featured article of the car that would have a profound effect on the rest of my life; some (mostly) good things and some things not-so-good.  Either way, it was definitely a defining moment in my young, already car crazy life”.

Bob was very impressed with the car but not prepared for the news that his cousin Eddie worked for the owner of the car, in the next town over from his North Jersey home.

I ran out to greet Eddie and within the first sentence I told him of The Ruby Rod.  I was shocked and surprised when he told me that, not only does he know of the car, but he works for Andy Kassa’s Texaco gas station and Andy is the owner of The Ruby Rod: “Wow!! This is truly unbelievable!”  Now I actually have a connection (sort of) to this car”!

Finally Bob and his friends, after a number of failed attempts, got to see their inspiration.

“About two weeks after our attempt to see the car we crested the hill of Brook Ave. on our bicycles and as we started on the downhill side I could see something red in the distance.  Could it be?  Was it The Ruby Rod??  There it sat…right on the corner of the gas station lot!  It looked just like it did on the magazine cover”!

The book continues telling the story of the group’s teen years, progressing from the struggles to attain a driver’s license to acquiring their first car.  Bob’s first car was reminiscent of what most of us had to settle for.

“Well about two weeks before my drivers license “road test”… my next door neighbor…advised me that the Chevy dealer that he worked for…had a used car he thought would interest me.  It was a 1958 Oldsmobile 98 four door sedan.  He said it seemed to run good, and they only wanted $65.00 for it.  I wasn’t in love with the car, but nevertheless, I bought it, as I didn’t think much beyond the engine and price.  I think what sold me was the Rocket V8 324 cubic inch engine”.

Bob drove the car for a while before acquiring his first real performance type car.

“I went right over to Fred’s house and handed over fifty bucks for the ’56 Ford.  Cool, now I own a “neat” looking car…a tudor hardtop, stick shift V/8 no less”.

The story of Bob and his friends continues as they buy even nicer cars and have many adventures racing on the street and strip.  Their activities parallel those that many of us experienced as we passed through those years in many communities across the U.S.  Bob sold his muscle car and bought a ’38 Chevy coupe so that he and his family could participate in street rod events over the next three decades before eventually buying back his favorite high-performance vehicle, a ’62 Ford convertible with a killer big-block V8.

However, to quote Paul Harvey, “Here is the rest of the story”.  Bob’s tale of awakening as a gearhead comes full-circle back to The Ruby Rod, when it again enters his life.  You will not be able to guess how unless you cheat and read the last chapter first; but that will just destroy the journey.


Brachen '57 Ruby Rod

Bob’s ’57 Chevy Two-Ten sedan with a 270hp 283 cubic inch V8, 4-speed and 4:88 posi gears.

Ruby Rod




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We give this book 5 stars Picture1