Ok, here we go again with the Legend off on a tangent for a Legendtorial theme. But hang with me here and see if you agree.
Did you know that the Great Sphinx of Giza, the best known one in the world is NOT the only one. There are several in Egypt and even a few in Turkey. There are Greek and Egyptian legends and stories about The Sphinx but little is really known about any of the great monuments. Some are believed to be fierce animals that destroy anyone who would cross it. Some are believed to be benevolent and kind to mankind. Such is the Great Sphinx of Giza, a kind one of those. But the reality of what it signifies is a mystery that evades resolution as no one seems to really know. Apparently the Egyptians, with all their great historic contributions to mankind, failed to properly chronicle who, or what, the Great Sphinx means. It exists, but the true history of the ancient wonder of the world is elusive at best, and subject to imagination at worst.
While we are on such subjects, let’s look at the Aztec Civilization as well as the Mayan and Inca civilizations. The stone statutes on Easter Island. So many other mysteries such as Stonehenge where the reason and meanings for the existence has been lost to history because it wasn’t recorded or, if it was, the records have not yet been discovered. So much of history is a mystery because it was not recorded, period.
Now, let’s look for a minute at the Native American tribes and their traditions. Most tribes past down, from father to son, verbal records of past events and history of the tribe. Sometimes there may be a written record, but most time it is word of mouth passed down generation to generation. Apache, Cherokee, Souix and several other tribes I have studied can record their history back to the very beginning of their known time. To them, the history of the tribe is important and is a large part of their tradition. Having served on a board for Native American relations a few years ago, I was indoctrinated into some traditions and stories that go back to far beyond the discovery of America in 1492. It is most interesting and while some of what I heard is, at best, legend passed down, most is a record of what has happened over the experience of the tribe.
As you may have already guessed, my theme for this Legendtorial is the mantra that I keep repeating over and over because it is important to me. The true history of the sport of stock car racing is seriously in danger of being a manufactured fantasy put forth by some NASCAR folks, as well as a plethora of folks coming onto the scene now looking to enrich their bank accounts by books or videos that are based not on fact, but on suppositions. We all know NASCAR is now about entertainment rather than sport, but the history of this sport is rich with the best of what sport is all about and what the history of this Country is all about. Frankly, I’m sick of hearing some of the “stories” being put out there.
I grew up with this sport. The short tracks around the Carolinas and Georgia. Thanks to my Uncle Bobby from April through September it was at least one race a week and most times two or three races a week. I got to see the best of the modified drivers and even more important to me, the best of the Late Model Sportsman Drivers. For anyone who may not know Late Model Sportsman morphed into The Busch Grand Nationals which now exists as The Nationwide Series. I watched the Late Models run all over South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, and names like Jack Ingram, Joe Penland, Butch Lindley, Harry Gant, Billy Scott, Haskell Willingham, Dink Widenhouse, Sam Ard, Lil Bud Moore and so many, many more were the guys I would pull for. I was watching Ralph Earnhardt, father of Dale and Grandfather of Dale, Junior, manhandle race cars under dim lights and in heavy dust for several years. Those weekly races were the catalyst of my desire to be a race driver more than the Grand National because it was those weekly warriors that I interacted with every week. Where are the records? Well, from what I understand, NASCAR determined that the Daytona Beach Landfill was the proper place for all those records. What a crying shame that is. I have some scrapbooks with some newspaper clippings of those races and some old Southern Motorsports Journals that reported on the weekly races, but for the most part, the only real record of those races exist in the memories of those who participated in the sport and those few who truly loved to watch.
Many of you have attended events put on where many of the drivers from “yesteryear” sit and tell the stories of those races. This is the best way to get the true stories, although granted there are sometimes embellishments to certain races, but that is the best way to understand what our history is all about. To me, those things are important.
It amazed me, just a few weeks ago, when I was talking with a young man from Chicago who is very much into NASCAR stock car racing. The subject of Fred Lorenzen came up and this young man did not know who Fred Lorenzen is. I am not criticizing the young man, just the system that has allowed Fred Lorenzen, the Golden Boy, to be forgotten although he will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January. The sad thing is, Freddie was from Chicago as well. I have never forgotten the female sports reporter for the ABC network at Darlington in 1994 who did not know Buck Baker when he walked up and even when I introduced him to her she did not know he had won THREE Southern 500s the race she was there to cover. It just makes me sad that such things happen.
There are books out now, probably a few hundred, written by newcomers to the sport, some by those claiming to have researched all available NASCAR records, and some by folks that come out of the woodwork to make a few bucks. Honestly, for the best record of NASCAR history, I would go with “Driving With The Devil” and Greg Fielden’s “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing." While there are other “good” books around, those two are really all you need to give yourself an education in the history of the sport.
It’s also easy to see that there are many folks out there wanting to make a buck with videos made, many interviewing icons of the sport, with some very clever “editing” of comments to make it more entertaining as comedy than as a historical record. That sort of burns me!
I take a great deal of pride in being associated, though not officially, with organizations like The Historic Speedway Group, Our Racing Heroes, and the Augusta International Raceway Preservation Society. The men and women in these groups are dedicated to accurately preserving historic sites and records of the sport and in recognizing those men and women from the early days that gave so much to make the sport a viable entity to be enjoyed by folks like me. I have a great deal of respect for those individuals giving so much of their time and resources to continue the preservation of the history.
All of my thoughts here came about as I have watched the Forum Posts on the site over the past couple of months where it seems an almost daily post that we have lost another one of the pioneers of stock car racing. I am well aware that those early pioneers are getting aged now, some in their 80s and older, and while my joy is hearing the stories directly from the mouths of those individuals at the events I am privileged to attend, I realize that time will, by its very passage, silent those stories as the years continue to unfold. While this site has worked hard to preserve so many of those memories in video and the written word, there are still things to be recorded from the memory of Rex White, Junior Johnson, Bud Moore, Reb Wickersham, Gene Hobby, and so many more.
The true stories from the sport of stock car racing sometimes seem to be a Disney fantasy. For instance, J. B. Day, who passed away, last month, was reported to have ridden his bicycle from Easley, South Carolina to stock car races in Atlanta, Martinsville and North Wilkesboro while he was still a teenager. I had the privilege of hearing him tell that story. This past weekend, I saw the bicycle he used for those trips. Mr. Day has left us now, but judging from the crowd at the event this past weekend, his memory will live on for a long time to come, as it should. He is another icon of the sport overlooked by the NASCAR mainstream.
As this summer winds its way into fall, there are events coming up in Augusta the second weekend of September and in Hillsboro, NC on September 27th, as well as the Dawsonville Moonshine Festival in October where many of these pioneers will be there to talk to you in person and tell you the stories. There will be events in Mooresville, both at The North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame and a Memory Lane Museum where, again, you can experience the first hand contact with these pioneers. Then, never forget the Stocks for Tots event in December in Mooresville.
The history of the sport is important to me because it is, in a way, a record of my life, sort of my biography yet to be written. Almost every part of my life from age five ‘til now, at age 68, has involved NASCAR stock car racing in some way. I have loved it, I have cussed it, but I have always honored it, especially the early days when things were so much different than now and, in my humble opinion, so much better than now. I will never get tired of talking about or writing about the importance of remembering from where we came so we can make sense of where we are and, with a little luck, have a realistic expectation of where we are going.
“Our Racing Heroes?" A great organization to recognize pioneers of the sport who seem to have been overlooked by today’s fans but without whom we would have nothing. “The Historic Speedway Group?" A group of men and women who have miraculously restored one of the historic tracks of early NASCAR and who host an event each year which is the benchmark of such events. Hard to say enough about that group of great folks. “The Augusta International Preservation Society?" A small group of individuals who have done an amazing job of recognizing the impact of the Augusta, Georgia area on stock car racing and who induct those into their Hall of Fame those who really gave so much to the sport. “The Dawsonville Moonshine Festival?" Well, I’ve never been to that one but I’ve heard of the great things they do there. I have visited the Dawsonville Museum and it is well worth the trip to see what is on display there.
Yep, I’m getting old, probably too old to be taken seriously by the younger folks, but surprisingly, I communicate with most of them very well. So, my young friends, soon the torch will be passed to you to carry into the future. Learn the history and learn the names of those who made that history. The organizations I listed above can help you with that. Beware, however, of the hucksters putting forth what they believe to be, or what they want to be, the history of the sport. When the torch is passed to you, be sure the flame is bright.