I have to admit that there have been many times over the past year or so that I have considered giving up this weekly portion of “Racing Through History”, not because I am tired of doing them, but because they sometimes seem to be repetitive in one way or another. Out of pure curiosity, I checked my laptop, where all of these pieces are written, and discovered that with the exception of four weeks total, there has been a Legendtorial every week since December 7, 2010. Interesting that the date thought not the year, is the date FDR promised us would live infamy. It is possible that there were other Legendtorials which were a part of the computer we lost in November, 2010, before I purchased this laptop. Regardless, this means we are coming up on the fourth Anniversary of the birth of the Legendtorial.
This week’s offering is not titled because the title I had originally planned has now received great publicity by the posting of an Aunt of the young man killed in the tragedy in Up-State New York. So, in as much as “an open letter” was already used, I decided to go with no title, but nevertheless post a personal letter, as follows: Dear Historic Speedway Group: I have decided to address this letter to the group as a whole rather than to call out the names of all the individuals who made this weekend so very special for me as well as so many others. All of you have surely heard me comment on what a wonderful event you host each year, but this year, the Eighth Annual event, will always remain special to my memory. Each previous year I have been treated as a very special part of the racing fraternity in which I never really earned membership through my racing, but you all have overlooked that detail. For that, I express my deepest appreciation. You all have made dreams I never dared to dream become reality. There are many words that can be used to express my appreciation, but after careful thought and consideration, I have decided that the best choice is a simple, very heart-felt “Thank You”. I have attended six of your eight events now and each year is better than the year before. I must say, however, that to exceed what happened there this past weekend is going to be a difficult thing indeed. With some other endeavors, I would have my doubts, but knowing you folks, I have it is a certainty that when the Ninth Annual Celebration of the Automobile rolls around in 2015, we will be in for another treat. Thank you all for all you have done and continue to do to honor the past of our wonderful sport of stock car racing. Yours truly, Tim Leeming aka The Legend Now that the official “thank you” is posted for all to read, I want to throw out a few comments here.
We all are here on this website because the true history of this sport and of NASCAR is of great importance to us. With the exception of a few listeners who hang on to snoop into our business, the listeners to this show support our efforts to ensure what is recorded as history is an accurate report of the way things were. Any of you who know me personally, or have ever spoken with me by phone or e-mail, know the history of the sport is important to me because of the folks who made that history. Many of these same folks come together in Hillsborough, NC, once each year to relive those days through memories, stories, fellowship, music, and a camaraderie that is unmatched in any other assemblage. When I say this, I know Jeff is going to disagree with me, but I promise you it’s true. I know I like to talk a lot and most people accept that about me. But one thing I have learned since I’ve been allowed to hang around with the true Legends of the sport is to listen more than I talk. I am telling you true, when you get to sit around with Bill Blair, Rex White, James Hylton, Reb Wickersham, Bill Mangum, just to name a few, and listen to the stories, you get a true insight to the sport. I will repeat the oft used qualification that I have been around the race tracks since 1952 and most of my life has revolved around racing.
I have also often repeated that the history of racing is the history of my life. Either way, it is important to me that such events as the Celebration of the Automobile continue and continue to grow. These dedicated folks work so hard to bring racing folks together and Saturday was a great example of the result of those efforts. I hope everyone involved with the History Speedway Group has gotten some well-earned rest before starting efforts for next year, which I’m sure will get underway before October becomes November, if not already underway. I want to take a moment to share two stories from this weekend with all of you. Names will be withheld as I do not wish to cause embarrassment to anyone, but these stories are worth the telling. Friday evening, at the Big Barn, I was standing outside talking with a large group including quite a few pioneers of the sport. We were surrounded by beautiful cars and some race cars. When Larry Laney fired up the Hemi powered number 43, 1967 Plymouth, the ground shook under my feet. I absolutely loved that sound and that feeling. With all the noise, most of the crowd drifted away, but one pioneer race driver remained with me to watch Larry load the Plymouth in the trailer. When the engine was silent, and the driver and I were semi-secluded in the dimness of the night, he began to tell me what this event has come to mean to him. Like me, he never won a race, but he was a stalwart of the fields “back in the day”. As he talked, the lights from the Big Barn reflected in the tears filling his eyes as he explained that this one event each year was everything to him. He was thanking me as if I had anything to do with the event, but I think what he was really saying is that he is so grateful to be included each year that he just wanted someone to know it. We talked probably 15 minutes as he told me what it meant to him to be included each year. When I told him that I remember watching him race many times, he grabbed both my shoulders and looking straight into my eyes said “you know what I mean then”. Yes, I know what you meant. Not sure if he shared this with anyone involved with The Historic Speedway Group, but if he didn’t, here’s the story. My other experience happened Saturday as I was walking down to the track on one of my four or five walks down that way. I ended up walking along side a well-known driver from the “good ole days”. As we walked we talked and he was expressing the same feelings I had heard from the other driver Friday night. I didn’t see tears this time, but I detected a constricted throat as he told me the story of how this event has come to mean so much to him. When he raced, he never got that much recognition although he was well-known, but at Occoneechee, all the pioneers associated with the sport are stars! All of them.
Sometimes I don’t think the folks in the Historic Speedway Group realize what they have done, and are doing, for the preservation of sport’s roots. I guess I can never adequately explain, because I actually can’t understand it myself, how this old man with nary a race win to his credit, can be hanging out with the folks I’m allowed. To have Bill Blair grab me by the arm and drag me out of the motel to go to dinner, and to be driven by Bill Mangum to the restaurant, and hanging out with all the other famous folks there is something I would have never imagined. Bill Blair and his wife Sheila work hard with “Our Racing Heroes” and are doing an awesome job. Frances Flock still comes to these events and represents the memory of her one true love, Tim Flock. Sybil Scott will not allow the memory of her father to fade away. Margaret Sue Turner Wright is there representing the memory of her father Curtis. So many more to name but I’ll stop there rather than risk being a “name dropper”. I do have to tell you though, that I was able to personally apologize to five members of the Wood Family for all the bad things I had to say about them back in the day when the number 21 was beating my guy. To say there was a gracious ending to that conversation is an understatement. When I mentioned my emotion when Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500, we got a huge cheer from the crowd. As I drove the 240 miles back to Columbia Saturday evening, the weather was as perfect as the day I had just experienced. I actually turned off the a/c, rolled down the window and enjoyed the wind as I did back before I bought cars with a/c. The final 15 miles of my trip were heading due west of I-20 just as the sun was setting behind a cloud bank. All the way home, my mind had replayed the day at Occoneechee and as I watched the sunset, it reminded me that without the efforts of all the people gathered in Occoneechee, the sun would set on the real history of this sport we call NASCAR. Can’t wait until next year.