Songplaces

Lake Avenue, Rochester, New York

Rev On The Red Line by Foreigner

Share this post

Runnin' all night on lake avenue
It's a piece of cake
If you know what to do
'69 Z28
In the world of street racing, there are hoons, Mat Rempits, and hashiriya. There are balonies, rubber rakes, skins, and wide weenies. You can haze the hides, bang shift, dig out, and end up in the weeds. And if those terms aren’t clearer than a cataract on a swamp-riddled alligator’s hide, then probably you should cut a wide swath around methanol or nitro “juice burners.” Because, despite appearances, drag racing terminology is not for sissies. In fact, there are entire dictionaries devoted to the terminology alone, and no two dictionaries are alike. Which means, based on the results of just three narrowly differing Internet searches, there are roughly 140-something trajillion terms. Imagine: entire conversations taking place that hover just above your ability to decipher them. It’s a quantum leap through the time/space/language continuum, if such a thing even exists.

Louis Grammatico is firmly in touch with the terms. His late-‘60s-early-‘70s street racing days taught him a thing or two, such as: winning the race wins the girl. And so he set out to win the girls. Which he did - but it was only later, as rock star Lou Gramm in the band Foreigner, when girls really began to hurl themselves in his direction. By the time this particular song came out in 1979, they were hurling themselves in even larger numbers, because as everybody knows, girls love a rock star, paired with rock stars who are also street racers, equals rock stars whose craniums are loaded with street racing terms. Ergo, rock stars are not sissies. Or something like that.
'70 Barracuda 440
Lou’s life as a road warrior began “runnin’ all night on Lake Avenue” in Rochester, New York, the road so named because it runs from State Street all the way to Ontario Beach Park on Lake Ontario. His racing vehicle of choice? A Chevy Nova 396, which was 375 horsepower - 25 horses below the bragging rights he claims in the song. Not that it matters… 375 is a lot of ponies (although the mechanics of HP to MPH is so awesomely mystifying we’ve decided only a multiple degree-holding bona fide physicist can get to the bottom of it).

The chances of finding a good race on any given night on Lake Avenue back in the day were better than even. Favored for its straightaways, Gramm and his partners in crime (literally - street racing is and was illegal, hence the song’s verse about outrunning the law) would race from stoplight to stoplight, revving their engines (on the red line), bringing down clouds of smoke from the tires, and bang shifting as soon as the light turned green, squealing off into the night. See how we subtly incorporated that street racing term? It’s almost like you’re learning subliminally.
1968 Z/28 Camaro, typical type of car used to race on Lake Avenue. Singer Lou Gramm and Tim Crozier met the first time in 1978 while driving this car. Thanks to car owner Tim Crozier for all photos used in this article.
[This is where we planned to give you the quick tourist overview of Lake Avenue. But regardless of the intricate - or simple - searches conducted, we found next to nothing about the avenue itself. One blogger got rather zealous over how gorgeous the scenery is, saying a drive down the street was all one would need to get a good snapshot of the city, and the visitor’s guide for Rochester talks about Lake Ontario, but has nothing about Lake Avenue. In fact, just about all we can tell you is that there is a restaurant called NOLA (for New Orleans, Louisiana) located there, and the Lake Avenue Baptist Church! (exclamation point included in the virtual brochure for the church, presumably because they’re very excited to exist). So we’ll just move it right along.]

A muscle car fanatic since the day he got his drivers license, and an avid car collector still, Gramm has bought and sold enough classic cars to supply a small country with tire swings. These days a good muscle car can pull in over $45k - about the median price, in this economic Armageddon, of a single family home. At those numbers, we doubt he’s out there tearing up the street in his fat fender, flopper, door slammer, or rat motor. But if he is, we’re sure there’s plenty of middle-aged women waiting for him over the finish line.
~ Shawna Hansen Ortega

Comments: 10

  • Susan W. from Rochester Ny....greeceYay!!! I live right near there!! Like 5 mins away.....I'm very proud of such a great song about us.
    I love the song, and Lou!!
  • Nick Porter from Rochester New YorkMy dad used to party with lou after shows in Rochester where lous ma lived he raved lake ave a bunch
  • What Up from Rochester, NyMy family lived on Fulton Avenue, which is a block away from Lake Avenue. My family moved to Greece in 1968. I remember as a child on hot summer nights with the windows open, I would hear the cars screeching and revving up their engines. So, now I know the cars were actually racing. Cool!
  • Rosemary Peppercorn from Rochester, New YorkJim Sullivan, it was a Sunoco across from you and not Mobil. It still is a Sunoco. My uncle used to work there part-time -- more than half a century ago.
  • Rosemary Peppercorn from Rochester, NyLake Avenue -- I grew up 5 minutes from it. It starts off downtown, blocks from where the Kodak headquarters are (Lake Avenue changes name to Exchange Street), and where I worked for years, and a PBS station is across the street, and I worked there, too. The part of the street named Lake Avenue starts where there ar some short old buildings on either side, then it passes the Maplewood neighborhood (where I also lived), with solid, older homes from the early 1900's. Then it passes what used to be a beautiful seminary that looked like a castle, and then beautiful cemeteries on both sides of the street (my mother is there), and it's very pretty. Keep going, and there are houses built in the 20's to 50's. Then a public school, then church I was married in, then keep going to my high school (Charlotte High), then it passes the now-dying business district in the village of Charlotte ("Schlot"), part of Rochester, and then Holy Cross, which was my elementary school, and an 1830's lighthouse, and a funeral home across the street (sad memories for me), then Lake Ontario Beach Park, where the Genesee River pours into the lake, which looks like the ocean -- it's one of the Great Lakes. Charlotte Beach is where kids and cars congregated for decades. At the turn of the century it was a major amusement park that died as the country went into World War I. YES, ask me about Lake Avenue. It was once the center of my life. I never in my life heard the term "Red Line." I knew if you caught it at just the right time and went 35 mph all the way down Lake Avenue, you would avoid ALL the red lights. :)
  • Tdiggs from Rochester, NyI lived about 3 miles up Lake Avenue as a kid, by the time I was old enough (or brave enough) to head to the beach the drag racing days were over. I do remember going to Abbotts (ice cream) down at the beach as a kid and seeing all the "hoodlums" in their leather vests, and big cars. I can remember the smoke shows down in the parking lot, and how by sun down no self respecting suburbanite would be caught dead down by the lake. I remember having the windows open in the summer nights and hearing those cars tearing up the street. It was a different time, and except for a little speed, a little booze and some other smoke shows, no one got hurt. I don't ever remember any stories about anyone shot, stabbed, what have you despite the fact that the competition was fierce, and the girls were hot! If you want to see pictures of the time Lou sang about, and the location of Lake Ave. visit the face book group "People that partied at Charlotte Park in the 80's'...it explains a lot!
  • Jim Sullivan from Lake AvenueI grew up right at the corner of Lake Avenue and Denise Road in the '50s & '60s. Many a summer night I tried to get to sleep with my window open, praying for a wisp of cool night air to blow in. There was a Mobil gas station directly across the street, the old one with the flying horse logo on it. Many a night cars coming up from the beach would stop at the light, revving until the green launched them out of a cloud of smoke into the night. The cops would occasionally show up but by then the smoke had cleared and the culprits had to be all the way to Kodak Park by then. What memories!
  • Foster Venturini from Suffolk,viriginiahello iam the owner of this 1968rs z28 camaro i believe once own by lou gramm............. i have all doc,s on this car very rare in this day and time very interesting story
  • John Hoer from Newport News, Virginia.... a good friend of mine just bought a Dark green 1968 Rally Sport Z/28 that was once owned by Lou Gramm..... neat story!
  • Mike Simone from Rochester, NyI can vouch for that story. I am in my mid-40's and was probably the last generation to be able to race down Lake Avenue. My buddy had a '71 Olds Cutlass with an engine from a '66 442 dropped into it. At the end of Lake Avenue, down my Charlotte Harbor on Lake Ontario, there was a massive parking lot. Every Friday and Saturday night the cars would all meet down there showing off who had the greatest car. There were many nights when smoke shows were going on for hours. The police were always in force to make sure that nothing got out of hand. It's too bad that it's now been turned into a tourist area and lost that edge that Lou was talking about.
see more comments