Along the Way
Throughout our lives, we each meet someone who has made a difference. That difference may not be world changing or even a major headline. It can be as simple as, they chose to make a difference in how they lived their lives. When I find one of those people and they graciously share their story, I like to write about them.
A short time ago, I sat down with Ed Scharf, someone I have known for several years. Ed was a mechanical engineer at PPG Industries, Natrium Plant where we both worked.
Ed began watching drag racing in 1964. Watching the cars smoke the tires and speed off down the track sparked a love for the excitement and speed of fast cars. It was back then he decided he wanted to be part of the racing community. He reminisced about when he was young, riding his bicycle around his neighborhood and seeing guys building hot rods in their garages. That was in the early1960s in a town named Library, Pennsylvania. Ed dreamed one day he too would own a fast car that people admired.
In 1968, he was a junior in college and with a little extra money from a summer job in a coal mine he purchased a 1965 Pontiac Tempest LeMans. He soon realized he could convert it to a GTO by changing the engine to a 389 with a quadrajet 4 barrel carburetor. He purchased a motor from a junked GTO and along with his brother changed out the engines and went racing. This was the car he began racing at the Pittsburgh International Dragway.
I asked if he remembered his first run in what I called his dragster. He quickly explained he did not consider his car, a dragster. A dragster has a 240 inch wheel base; I consider what I drive, a Drag Race Car. He then went on to explain, how he felt as the converted GTO left the line that first time. The feel of acceleration as the car came up to speed had him hooked from the very first run. His Pontiac crossed the finish line in 14 seconds at 104 mph. He reminded me in those days he drove his car to the track and raced. When the day was over you drove it home. He spent the week working on it so he could do it all over the next weekend.
After graduating college, he was hired at the Natrium Plant as an engineer. Along with his new wife, Marlaina, the couple moved from Pennsylvania to New Martinsville to begin a new career and life. But, that new job which paid $880 a month was not only going to help start a new life and home, it was going to enable him to purchase the car of his dreams.
Ed and his wife visited Webber motors and found nothing at the dealership. He decided to order his car. Lee Watkins, who was a part time car salesman sat down with Ed and his wife to make out the order. When Ed explained the options he wanted, Lee asked what he intended to do with the car. Drive it just like any other car? was Eds response. Lee then looked at Marlaina, her response, “Hes the one choosing this car, whatever he wants is fine with me.” That was 1971; Ed and Marlaina along with the Dodge Challenger R/T are still together today.
The Dodge cost $4200. They traded in the converted GTO and financed the rest, $3500 at the First National Bank. Ed and Marlaina were the proud new owners of a 1971 Challenger R/T with a 440 CID engine which produced 390 Hp complete with three twin barrel carburetors, a $253.00 option. The average price of a gallon of gas in 1971 was 36 cents. Economy was not an option, but its future was to be a drag racing car. That was 44 years ago.
Ed ran his car at four drag strips in the area. National Trails, Quaker City and Cherokee Dragway were all near-by racing strips in Ohio. Keystone Dragway is now Pittsburgh Raceway Park and is located in Pennsylvania. In those days, he drove the car to the tracks, changed tires, raced and then changed tires for the ride home. But, soon he began making improvements to the car and began flat towing it. This required disconnecting the drive shaft before each trip. Finally, he bought a flat bed trailer and began trailering his Challenger to the tracks. As he told me several times during our talk, “It’s been a work in progress for all those years.”
In 1975, Ed and Marlaina began their family. Their son Mike was first, followed by Jennifer, Christopher and finally Amanda. They are all grown now and have lives of their own. I asked if growing up any of his children shared his passion for cars. Ed explains that they did not at the time, but these days his oldest son Mike, has developed a love for cars. They now spend time working together on his son’s 69 Camaro. And sometimes they just spend the afternoon talking these days. Something Ed clearly enjoys.
Finally, I asked Ed, since he’s now retired, has he ever thought about going down that quarter mile strip again? The answer was not what I expected. When writing a story, I start with an idea of a subject you all will hopefully enjoy reading. I wanted to write about Ed and his Dodge Challenger. A story of a man who lived his life with a passion for cars. A man, who has the love and support of his wife and will celebrate 45 years of marriage this fall. A man who raised his family in our community while making a career as an engineer. And when he could, he pursued with a passion his love of cars as a work in progress. This is a story about all that. But, I also found out there is a new challenge in Ed’s life.
My final question of returning to the track brought a change to Ed’s face. He paused, “I miss it, but I am just too tired now. I am on chemotherapy and I’m way too weak. That is part of why I decided to rejuvenate my car with the help of my son Mike, so I can run it on the streets again.” He went on to explain his doctors say he might be cured, but he knows there are no guarantees when it comes to cancer. He’s a man who’s faced a life changing disease and decided not to let it define him, but to inspire the way he lives every day. Ed Scharf is someone who makes a difference in his life. He approaches life and his love of cars, “As a work in Progress.” That’s all anyone can ask as they look at life Through the Lens.