Actually, that line is probably best known from the advertisements on television some years ago when a cigarette manufacturer was seeking to promote its product to the feminine gender. If I recall correctly, it was during the time when women were involved in promoting their status in equality and the cigarette brand was reinforcing the females’ right to smoke just like men were doing. Not wise, all the way around, and looking back, I don’t know how successful that marketing campaign actually was as I haven’t really seen that brand of cigarette advertised in a long, long time. I guess I could run down to the corner Mini-Mart and see if they are still selling, but since Coke came out with those “Share a Coke with” and made some of those cans the “Legend” can, I can’t go in that Mini-Mart without being mobbed for autographs. And I don’t even need Dave Fulton’s sign to attract attention!!
Seriously, what brought this ad campaign back to mind, was having lunch in the restaurant attached to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Saturday where several of us gathered for a most excellent adventure. You can check out the video Dangerous Devin has posted on the website for just a small taste of some of the things we experienced Saturday. And, while I have the opportunity, I want to thank Buz McKim, the NASCAR Historian for the Hall of Fame, for coming in on a Saturday to provide a personal guided tour for our group. His wife Gwen joined us to make it even better. Thanks to RR member “Bumpertag” Darren Grigsby for arranging that for us. I’m telling you, this site has some really dedicated members! Anyway, back to the story.
When we sat down for lunch, by the time I got to the table, the only place left was the “head” of the table, sitting between Paul Lewis and Harvey Tollison. I assume that place of honor was reserved for me with the great expectation that I would pick up the tab. Having already maxed out my Visa credit line (A NASCAR Visa no less), I had to sneak fries off Paul’s plate when he wasn’t looking just so I could have something to eat. As the meal was served and Paul was speaking, a story of his life, a much-shortened version of it, began to be revealed. I started to entitle this Legendtorial “The Valley of Shadows” as Paul tells us he grew up between two mountains that allowed sun to shine on his home only four hours a day. That would be East Tennessee as Jeff could confirm.
The story sort of began with Paul telling us about walking the path beside the river to school when he was a kid. Of course it was told to us as a three-mile walk but he didn’t use the old well-worn phrase about it being “uphill both ways”. He did, however, reveal that as the youngest of the Lewis clan, he would be the last in line walking through the snow. He told us that by the time the other siblings had made the footprints, each one in the others, that the ground was bare by the time he stepped into the hollowed out indention and his feet would be dry when they got to school.
Paul continued to talk about his youth and his involvement in racing and those of us fortunate enough to be sitting within hearing range were mesmerized by the stories. But the entire conversation was best summarized when Paul talked about starting his first Daytona 500. He said he was sitting in the car getting ready to roll out when he looked towards the packed grandstands and thought to himself, “I’ve come a long way”. What a profound statement that was, both at the time he thought it and when he spoke it Saturday. I can only imagine that from the seat of a race car leaving the pits at Daytona that those grandstands could easily resemble at least one of the mountains from Paul’s youth that blocked the sun from long exposure to the valley.
But taking this thought even further, as I have looked at a picture I snapped with my cell phone of that group gathered at our extended table, we have all come a long way. Most of you know that this very website was the inspiration of Paul Lewis bestowed upon Jeff Gilder. Jeff has taken what Paul wanted so badly to preserve and made it a part of the internet that attracts fans of the old days as well as fans who want to have their say about the events of today. Paul is humbled to the point of almost embarrassment for being given credit for this, but we assured him it was his association with Jeff that got this off the ground.
Looking at the photo of the group at the table, I see Paul and his lovely wife Linda, Brownie King, Larry Eury, Bill McPeek, Dennis Andrews, and Harvey Tollison, all deeply involved in racing throughout the years and all with many stories to tell. It just happened that Paul was the one sitting the closest to me so it was his stories I was hearing at lunch. Even more, as I look at that picture now, I realize that the folks sitting at that table represent years and years of racing knowledge, racing history and/or simply the love of the sport we gather here to celebrate each Tuesday. I get to hear the stories many times as I spoke of last week in the Legendtorial about the “Perks of being the Legend”. The perks seem to get better and better as time moves along.
RacersReunion® has done a good job of recording interviews with many of the pioneers of the sport. There are many folks who spent time attempting to record in writing some of the stories, sometimes almost unbelievable, of the sport in the early days. I have heard stories of a young Big Bill France and his total dedication to building the sport. Bill Blair can entertain you for hours talking about his Daddy’s involvement in early NASCAR, in fact, even before Big Bill established NASCAR. These interviews are archived in the videos section of the Stock Car Page on RacersReunion®. Even so, there is so much more to be done.
I am always amazed by the memories of most of the drivers that build this sport. Every conversation I’ve ever had with Rex White amazes me with his crystal clear memory of the early days. Same with Ned Jarrett, Richard Petty, and others with whom I’ve had the occasion to sit down and talk. Sometimes the stories jog my memory to go back to my reference books and look them up for further reference. It is then that I find these guys are walking history books. We all know of the horrendous accident at Pocono that almost took Bobby Allison from us and how he lost some of his memories from those injuries. Yet when I was sitting Bobby and Donnie in Mooresville last December, the stories of the old days were flowing like that river Paul Lewis walked beside in his youth.
I have often said I’ve been around the sport for a long, long time, in excess of 63 years actually, (not trying to plead seniority) and I freely admit my memory of the early days, say the 50s, 60s, and 70s, are much clearer than the more recent years. Or, that could be, as my friend, Harlow Reynolds likes to say, “The older I get, the better I was”. But I do remember those early days quite well because, I suppose, it was my total obsession. I lived it, breathed it, slept it, and ate it. I’m still a huge fan, but other things in life seem to take priority now, and rightfully so. But even having said that, I sometimes wonder what I would be like if I had never been introduced to stock car racing at such a young age.
Every time I think of the privilege of being able to hang with the Paul Lewis’s, Brownie Kings, Larry Eurys, Bill McPeeks and…… well you get the idea, I am wowed as to how far the sport has come and how these men represent the builders of that sport. It is amazing, truly amazing.
Our group had a great day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame this past Saturday and I thank each and every one of you who came out. My thanks to Buz McKim for sharing his Saturday morning with us to give us some insight to stories, some f which I have never before heard. Truly, as Paul Lewis said “we’ve come a long way”. The sport today is not what it was in the “Golden Era” if you will allow me to use that term, but years from now, new fans will look at today’s racing with the same reverence we older fans now hold so dear. Part of that reverence has to be the fact that with every visit we’ve made to the Hall, Ms. Frances Flock has accompanied us. Her husband was another of the builders of the sport and Frances keeps his memory alive with her perky, always cheerful presence at these events and the many events she attends.
Yes, I’ll say it again. We have come a long way. No longer stepping in the footprints in the snow as Paul did, but making new footprints into an era to be remembered in years to come. What a wonderful life. And, yes, I’ll say it again because it is my line to use as I see fit: “HONOR THE PAST, EMBRACE THE PRESENT, AND DREAM FOR THE FUTURE”.