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Sun, Nov. 17

Annals of Jerome Secret Indy 500: The race between Mustang and Camaro

Rebuilding the collapsed highway wall in Jerome was a technocrat’s dream. For every vertical beam, were eye beams dug into the bedrock underneath the road.  The holes for them were drilled by Zack Druen, hanging off the crane cable. The wall to the immediate left is hand-stacked and still stands. Both walls are  marvelous engineering feats. Photo by Bob Swanson: www.SwansonImages.com

Rebuilding the collapsed highway wall in Jerome was a technocrat’s dream. For every vertical beam, were eye beams dug into the bedrock underneath the road. The holes for them were drilled by Zack Druen, hanging off the crane cable. The wall to the immediate left is hand-stacked and still stands. Both walls are marvelous engineering feats. Photo by Bob Swanson: www.SwansonImages.com

One of the handsomest teenage daredevils in Jerome was Zack Druen. Loved by many girls; admired by the guys.

He was notorious for riding his skateboard through the steep streets through town and on to Clarkdale.

When Zack was old enough to drive, he bought himself a blue/grey Chevy Camaro. Zack and our son Max were good friends and Zack would often pick up Max to take him down to Mingus High.

Max said the Camaro was so souped up, he could hear Zack starting up his car from four blocks away.

When Max was 36, he told me this story.

For a few years during the 1990's, Ray Cleveland was Chief of Police in Jerome. His cop car was a super-powered Ford Mustang. He was not beloved. He loved the motorcycle gangs and liked to strut around as though he was one of them.

And he liked to give the teenagers a hard time, and, truth be told, some needed to be given a hard time. Sadly, some were already addicted to meth and other hard drugs, although none of the kids, or the dealers, names of whom were known to Ray, were arrested.

About the mid-nineties, when half of the incredible unmortared stone highway below the Eagle's Nest collapsed and had to be rebuilt, the road between Jerome and Prescott was closed at night for quite a few months. Zack was on the crew.

He was one of the few that was willing to dangle off the crane, night after night, drilling holes in the bedrock under the road to anchor the eye beams.

One day Ray Cleveland approached Zack, "Feel like racing me over Mingus Mountain and back?" Zack was in disbelief. "You'll probably arrest me if I say yes," Zack said. He was in his late teens. "No, no," said Ray. "Your car is the only possible contender. There won't be any arrests."

The race was on. It was Jerome's private Indy 500 race just outside of our home town, but with no howlng fans.

Anyone who has driven the 18 miles of that road up to Mingus, and down to Prescott Valley knows there are many perilous switchback curves, some with unprotected drop offs at that time. During popular weekends, there is bound to be at least one accident.

The upside of this private race between a cop and a young daredevil was that there would be no traffic and both lanes would be open for passing without fear of meeting another vehicle.

Max rode shotgun with Zack. "It was a neck and neck race, with some absolutely hair-raising passes," Max said.

The finish was a dead heat. No winners. Thirty-two minutes for a total of 36-mile round trip miles. Incredible. "Zack never drove below 80 miles-an-hour and sometimes he hit a hundred or more," said Max.

"Were you scared," I asked Max. "Oh yeah."

When Ray Cleveland finally moved on, rumor was that a lot of guns mysteriously disappeared from the police's property room and sold by him.

As an aside: my husband Walt said something to Alice Butcher last year about Zack 's daredevil ways and she rolled up her sleeve and showed him a scar from a car accident out to Sycamore Canyon.  She said, "There's a club here of kids with Zack scars."

I'm so glad I did not know the half of what the Jerome kids got into as teenagers. Those of us who live here say about stories like this, "Only in Jerome."

Diane Sward Rapaport is the author of Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona's Richest Copper Mining City. The book is widely available in the Verde Valley and Jerome. www.homesweetjerome.net. The stories for "Annals of Jerome" are not part of the book.

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