The year of 1965 was the year NASCAR, Big Bill France in particular, decided that the Plymouths and Dodges would not be allowed to run the 426 Cubic Inch Hemi because, flatly stated, the Hemi was stomping the competition on the big tracks. Seems G.M. and Ford could only envy what the Mopars had. Ford Motor Company, of course, the chronic complainer in all things NASCAR, back in the day, put so much pressure on Big Bill that NASCAR outlawed the Hemi. Consequently, the Mopar Teams, which included Petty Enterprises, Cotton Owens Racing, and Ray Nichels, chose other venues for their racing with drag racing being the main resource.
The year of 1965 was also the release of the movie, "The Sound of Music" starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. This year marks the 50th anniversary of both these memories. If you have never seen "The Sound of Music" it would not be worth my time to try to explain the story to you other than to say it is a story of adversity and triumph. Much like, I'm thinking, the story of the climb of many of the early stars of NASCAR from the adversity of poverty and moonshine liquor to become heroes to those of us being raised in the Southeastern U.S.
But, back to the movie I mentioned. I have always been into music, most specifically singing as I never learned to play an instrument. I tried the guitar once and that was a disaster to likes of which is only equaled by the sinking of the Titanic. I was a little better with the piano lessons my mother gave me. She could play beautifully and tried to teach me, but my fingers just could never get the hang of that. I only learned of my grandparents' musical talents shortly before my Uncle Bobby passed away. When I was visiting him one day, he was showing me pictures from his youth and one photo was my mother's father and mother and a couple of their cousins playing instruments and obviously singing. It was then that Uncle Bobby told me the story of the little band they had and that they sang gospel and country music all around the midlands of South Carolina. I was amazed.
My love for music, I think, is almost, please note almost, as intense as my love for racing. When I was in the fourth grade, two of my female classmates heard me singing on the playground at recess and told the teacher I was really good. It wasn’t long before I was entertaining the class. When I was in the fifth grade, I was talked into performing in the school talent show. I'll never forget I sang a Perry Como song "Round and Round" which starts out "find a wheel and it goes round and round". Sort of funny when you think of the subtle connection of that song to racing. As it worked out, I got second place in that talent show behind a sixth grade girl who did ballet. Funny what that did to me about ballet. I have never seen "The Nutcracker" at Christmas time, or any other ballet.
All through school I was in the Chorus and in the 11th and 12th grade, thanks to a dear wonderful teacher, Lelia Lucas, I was in the "show choir" which allowed me to be a part of the small group that did special performances and appeared on television for a Christmas special. The one thing Ms. Lucas taught all her students was a deep appreciation for Broadway Musicals. We did songs from "South Pacific", “Oklahoma" "Carousel" "My Fair Lady" and "The Sound of Music". Oh how I loved those days. My signature song was "Edelweiss", which, incidentally was the song I used to audition for The American Idol Experience at Walt Disney World in January, 2009. I made the show too and I do believe if I had been allowed to sing that song I would have won that contest instead of finishing second to a night club singer from Memphis, but it was fun!
So, have you all gotten used to me going off on tangents every Tuesday night recently? I know some of you have to wonder where all this is leading and others of you are sure I have finally reached the age of mental lapse some others of my age fight daily. Well, let me tell you. The title of this Legendtorial is the first line from the "Sound of Music" song, "My Favorite Things", which Julie sings in the movie to calm the seven von Trapp children during a thunderstorm. Tonight, I'm going down the road of "My Favorite Things" as relating to racing. Let me be clear that this discussion is limited to my favorite things, or should I say memories, as related to our sport. I would, in no way, want to compare this small sample of racing memories to my favorite things involving my present life and my family as there is simply no way to compare wonderful life and family with a sport. Yes, I am well aware that I could have gone directly into the list of favorite things about racing without all the musical background but there are at least some of you, I think, who enjoy knowing more of my background before I became The Legend. If you do, e-mail me. If you don't, e-mail me too. Otherwise, how would I know? Ok, after raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, we are going forward, without music.
Of course, my most favorite thing about racing these days is being allowed to represent this awesome website, RacersReunion, as "The Legend". This has allowed me to travel around and meet some of the most wonderful people I have ever encountered in my 68 years on this planet. I have been allowed to be a part of the induction of some true pioneers of the sport into the RacersReunion Hall of Fame in the Memory Lane Museum in Mooresville, N.C. I am allowed to participate in the Hall of Fame ceremony for the inductees to the AIRPS Hall of Fame in Augusta. I have been honored to participate in events in behalf of Autistic children and to be a part of the Stocks for Tots for the past five years. I have been included in the company of some of NASCAR's greatest stars and have become accepted by those stars as one of them. Just look at some of the pictures or lists of those with whom I hang out.
I have been honored to be included in a 45 minute video interview in Bill Blair, Jr.’s shop in Thomasville, NC, which Bill has aired on-line as a part of his program of "Our Racing Heroes". I have also been included in a production by HBO Canada for the series "Sports on Fire" which is airing on Canadian television. That program is not yet available in the U.S. but the producer in Canada is working on that. If and when it airs here, be sure to watch it. I have been allowed to see the show on a private channel and to see myself included with some of the folks interviewed lets me know that I am recognized for being a part of what I love, but even more so, that RacersReunion is recognized as the premier racing history site. This very show is heard in over 170 countries on Tuesday nights.
Looking back over the years I've spent around race tracks, one of my favorite things was being able, even then, to meet and interact with folks from all over as we spent weekends in the infield at almost all the tracks. I've talked about those stories in other Legendtorials through the years. There is one Legendtorial, "White Lines, Infields and Time with Heroes" that addresses some of those memories. Perhaps my Editor can attach a link to that Legendtorial to this one for easy reference to the days of those good memories. ("White Lines, Infields and Time with Heroes")
I still remember awaking inside the motor home and walking out into the morning sunshine at Darlington, or Daytona, or Charlotte, or the other tracks, and being greeted by the smell of wood smoke from campfires, which I don't even think are allowed in infields any more. As the morning turned to lunch time, charcoal grills gave the air a new scent that would, invariably make me hungrier than I would have otherwise been.
Another of my favorite memories is standing next to the infield fence, especially at Darlington, when the cars would come down for the parade laps. My introduction to Darlington for the spring race in 1957 especially stands out because I was holding tightly to the infield fence in turn three where I could hear the rumble of the cars proceeding through turns one and two, not yet being able to see the cars, but certainly feeling the earth trembling beneath my feet and the wire in the fence seeming to be electrified as the cars approached. The memory of seeing those convertibles appearing before my wondering eyes that day is as fresh as if it were 10 minutes ago. Certainly a favorite memory.
All the years of traveling, as a family with my mother and father and brothers and friends to all the races down south filled my memory banks with favorite memories I can't begin to sort out to talk about without hours and hours to spend and I know you folks aren't up for that. I can already see Bopper going nuts about me taking up too much time, not to mention Jeff looking at the clock wishing that his "wordy" Legend would hurry up and finish.
These days, my favorite things don't include too much about the present status of the racing I'm seeing. Oh, as I have said before, several times, I continue to watch every week because that is my sport, in spite of the efforts of certain someones to put fans like me out to pasture. Even so, I have to say that a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, especially in the history section, is still one of my favorite things. Speaking of which, we have another RacersReunion "official" visit scheduled for Saturday, May 9, 2015. Would love to have a good crowd with us.
Putting an end to my list of "favorite things", at least for tonight, is the resource of finding so many of the races from the early days readily accessible online. Here on our site, we have thousands of photos, probably millions of words, from contributors who were there, or who at least researched the subject in-depth. There are other resources from which you can actually watch races from the 50s, 60s, right on through present day. I would throw out this challenge to anyone listening: Watch some Darlington races from the 50s and 60s and compare them with what you see today at that famed track. Which are your favorites, those of the early races or the latest? I know what I think, but I want to know what you think.
Ok, folks, like the "brown paper packages tied up with strings", this is a wrap for The Legendtorial this week. I would like those of you listening to comment on chat whether my personal stories bore you. For those listening not on chat, e-mail me and let me know what you think. I enjoy sharing with all of you but even I am noticing that, as time passes, I seem to get more and more "off track" with some of my thoughts. I enjoy that from my point of view because it allows me to connect with all of you in a way that makes us all personally involved in the preservation of the true history of the sport of stock car racing. Surely that will always be one of my favorite things!