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Medford dragstrip heats up memories

I recently visited the dragstrip at the Jackson County Sports Park in White City. It was the opening day of their season, and I was there to witness a particular 1966 Dodge Coronet come out of retirement.

It hadn’t felt track under its tires since 1992, when owner Jered Hall parked it after several successful seasons. He’d quit temporarily to concentrate on school and work. His plan would be to upgrade the chassis, engine and cage in a few years.

Racing has been a Hall family pastime for years. Larry Hall, the father of Jered, Shannon, and my artist friend Lane, raced his ’68 Roadrunner at the same track in ’79 and ’80.

In 1997 Jered Hall got the dream promotion for which he’d worked and hoped. His income doubled and included great benefits. Unfortunately, the increase came at a cost. Insufficient training and double shifts created a highly stressful situation. Jered suffered from sleep deprivation, and the pressure proved too much. In June of 1997, he took his life. He was 28 years old.

“Jered always said he would never sell his car,” his dad remembers. “I kept it in the garage for several years until his friend, Todd Loye, contacted me about running the car in Jered’s memory.”

Over the next several years the two worked on the car wherever they could find space. Because of limited funds and Lyme disease-related medical expenses for Jered’s mother, Dee, progress was slow. Then Todd suffered a severe motorcycle accident, rendering his right arm useless. Larry said, “I finally had to face the reality of selling Jered’s car.”

Enter family friend Matt Rodgers. Matt and his family live and breathe racing. He owns Rodgers Racing Engines, building drag and sprint car engines for racers countrywide. Jered and Matt had been boyhood chums. They watched their dads race one another. At the strip, Matt told me, “Larry planned to take Jered’s car up north to sell it so he wouldn’t have to see it anymore. But I said, why don’t you sell it to me, and we’ll race it?” Larry agreed and things went from crisis to best possible scenario.

Meanwhile, Matt’s father, who was working on his ’68 Firebird, met with an accident and died in 2014. For the past two years, Larry and Matt have worked together, painstakingly bringing Jered’s Coronet up to 2019 standards. “I’m thrilled that I get to be part of the project. Working with Matt is a lot like working with Jered,” Larry confided. “Sometimes while we’re working, I just start to cry, a mixture of joy and profound sadness, because I miss Jered so much. Sometimes we just stop working and share our thoughts. We always end up feeling rejuvenated and glad for the experience.”

The car still looks as it did the day Jered left it 27 years ago — the same vivid blue, with his name on the sides. It won’t be changed. “This is and will continue to be a true labor of love,” Larry added, knowing Matt’s reverence for keeping family cars.

The line-up of hopefuls on the lanes waiting their turn represented makes and models of every description. They’d come to dial in their times. Lane lit up like a kid. Being at the track resurrected great memories for him. We moved down to the Christmas tree (signal light) to watch a few cars burnout to heat up and soften their tires for a good grab. But the announcer spoke into the mic and told the waiting crowd that Larry Hall would make the first run of the year in the beautifully restored ‘66 Coronet in honor of the son they’d lost.

Larry and Jered’s dream was realized after all, with “a little help” from their friends. “It was a thrill,” Larry said of his pass, “and Jered was with me, just like he is all day, every day.”

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com and view photos related to this story on her Facebook page.