SAN TOSTITO, California. To an outsider, this sun-baked town in central California has two distinctive features–its isolation deep within the Oye Como Valley, and its flatness. “God looked down on this little patch of earth,” says long-time resident J.R. “Sonny” Barker, “and said ‘That’s where I’m gonna put me a drag strip.’”
As a result, drag-racing fans have been flocking to San Tostito since the mid-50′s, bringing their money with them to spend on t-shirts spray-painted in garish colors honoring drag racing stars, but often leaving behind a trail of social and economic woes when the season ends in the fall.
“It’s really time for America to wake up and smell the nitro,” says Marty Dunham, editor of Overwrought Quarterly, a sociological journal that obsesses about minor social phenomena. “The seasonal workers who follow the drag-racing circuit are a ‘Grapes of Wrath’ just waiting for another Ernest Hemingway or whoever wrote that book to come along.”
Into the breach has stepped a religious order, The Little Sisters of the Fuel-Injected Funny Car, who have made it their mission to minister to the lost souls of the drag racing pits. “We see men and women who have lost their hearing, or lived on nothing but Cheese Curls and Pepsi-Cola for years,” says Sister Donna Garlits. “Many of them sniffed too much glue putting together plastic model muscle cars in their youth, and now can barely balance their checkbooks, like most Americans.”
Model dragsters like I *sniff* made as a kid.
Drag racing is a sport in which two cars or motorcycles race a set distance down a straight track. The winning vehicle is the one to reach the finish line without exploding first. The link to Christian theology is provided by the “Christmas Tree,” an electronic device with multicolored lights used to start drag races. Each side of “the Tree” bears seven bulbs, which light in descending order until Mom and Dad come down and you can open your presents.
The sisters’ work over the past half-century is expected to produce their first saint this year when Theresa de Martino, a Bakersfield resident who crusaded against illegal street racing, is canonized by Pope Francis. “I have always been a huge funny car fan,” the pontiff said in his weekly racing column ”Run What You Brung” in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. “I am thinking of adding custom headers to the Popemobile in her memory.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Fun With Nuns.”