Glory Days: "Lucky of Texas"
Bobby Williamson
Tuesday April 21 2009, 2:30 PM
About the time that Steve Wozniak and buddy Steve Jobs were messin' around in the garage with circuit boards and other electrical widgets, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to pursue the same interest. Woz and Jobs ultimately created the "Apple" and Gates' made "Microsoft" a household term. Chances are neither group ever realized their creative efforts, the 'personal' computer, would forever change the face of stock car racing. Literally. It would not be overnight, but the die was cast and change was inevitable.There was a time, when the Carolina coast was not a destination location. Golf courses and their condo-dwelling-commandos were unknown. Sub-divisions, zoning laws, noise ordinances and 9-1-1 ambulances (for lawyers to chase) were all blissful decades away. Oysters, sand dunes, and fishing piers were not threatened and nobody had a key to their own house. It was so long ago that public schools got out for the Christmas holidays.Into this utopian society came the weekly operating dirt track. They could even run on Sunday, and many did, and they could make all the noise they could muster, and nobody complained, and they were plentiful...........the antebellum community of Charleston, SC even boasted a handful, as did the Myrlte Beach- Grand Strand area. Tar Heel coastal venues of Wilmington, Jacksonville, and Morehead City were equally endowed.In the beginning, very few racers invested any funds for sineage. Nope, lots of cars were numbered 1 and 11 and 7 and 17 and 4, 14, and 44.............that's right, all such numbers were pretty much "straight" and could "easily" be painted under the shade tree with whatever paint AND brush happened to be available. Although, I've seen more than one "4" painted backwards. Sometimes, brave and talented backyard artist would venture into "curved" numbers like "0" or "8" but the block motiff was frequently employed, as was masking and duct tape.As the 1950's became the '60's and post war boom continued to blossom, pride in appearance became a greater concern for the Saturday night racer. Cars were routinely spray painted a bright color, and the sign painter was the last man to be called to the project. When the sign painter came, the TRACK was the next stop. By the late '60's, the sign painters had begun to take notice of this round-track-cottage industry. It was perpetual business..........these guys wrecked their cars EVERY week! Repairng was a necessity, but sometimes, repainting and re-lettering were part of the process.By the late 1960's, the really cool sign painters had begun to sign or autograph their work. "P.Hannah" , for Phil Hannah of Hemingway, SC was one of note, as was Hope Willard of "Willard Signs" but the most revered and talented of the coastal Carolina race-car artists was the myterious "Lucky of Texas". Lucky was from the Charleston area, and although I never saw or met him, in person, I could recognize his work anywhere and on anything.........I "knew" Lucky by his handiwork.Flowing, curving numbers, and script with shadowing..........."i's" were always dotted by a 5-pointed star, and most phrases were bracketed by tasteful pin-stripes. Lucky's car numbers were BIG and bold and could easily be seen on the track. Once, in about 1970, Lucky had lettered Charlie Powell's late model chevelle. The quarter panels were emblazoned with "CT Powell & Son Const. Co." but each front fender had "McCarter's Union 76 Service" and the "Union 76" was painted just like the logo! Such artistry was light years ahead of the curve....... but such was Lucky of Texas. I recall walking around and around the white #22 chevelle with the incredible blue on blue lettering, and deciding right then and there that I WANTED to be a sign painter when I grew up. On each side of the car was the famillar "Lucky of Texas" signature and in those days, Lucky would include the date.............1969.As a real-life backyard sign painter, I was never in the same time zone as "Lucky". Fortunately, and, definitely in my favor, I didn't become a sign painter. By the early '90's, the world of the keyboard artist and their computer generated "vinly" signs was unleashed. Talent was minimized and glitzly perfect letters in any font were (and are) the rage. A hand-lettered race car is as rare as hen's teeth.Unexpectantly, in the late '90's, my pulse quickened as I spied a "yellow" cab in Charleston, SC with the unmistakeable stars, pinstripes and fonts...........sure enough there was the signature.............. but it was simply "Lucky". No date and no "of Texas". I tried a search for Lucky and never found much, but someone said they thought he had spent his last days living in an old station wagon. The trail ran cold. But, truth be told, the era was already over, and not likely to ever return...........I was searching for a childhood memory............................but there was a time........
Billy Biscoe
@billy-biscoe-arustyracer   9 years ago
Bobby: As usual this blog jogs my memories about when I first started in a limited division with a car number (33).After my so-called "learning curve",I bulit my first Late Model, but since this division already had a number (33) winning on different occasions. I made the second digit an (8) and started with (38) as my new found racing I. D. After a winter of building from scratch I called on the local sign painter/carnival worker! to come and put the finishing touches on my new ride.The number was what I would call a block style that filled the door skins completely.Nice looking for at least opening nites races.But you can imagine rubbing is racin and those poor numbers looked like crap after a couple of weeks of side by side action.A call to come over and do a touch-up so the track scorer's could keep up with me on the track. He must have felt sorry for me because before he left for the nite he asked if I had any flat aluminum sheets so he could make me a pattern.After that it was E-Z to cover up those nasty looking donuts that ever race car earns each week.I still have those two pattens hanging on my shop wall. And now thanks to you I'm reliving those memories.Hope to do the meet & greet at Columbia later this week. BB
Jack Carter
@jack-carter   9 years ago
Bobby the first computer generated vinyl lettering machine was made in 1982 by Gerber Scienctific Products. It was called the Signmaker III. My first machine was a IV-A and I purchased it in 1984 for $10,000.00 and each letter font cost $285.00. Up until then everything was hand lettered with lettering enamel by brush. Over the years I must have lettered hundreds of race cars handpainted and vinyl.
Jim Wilmore
@jim-wilmore   9 years ago
I'd bet my last dollar that some of these Sign Painters also painted the nose art on a P-51, B-24, B-25, B-26, B-17 and B-29 on some island in the Pacific or an airstrip in England during WWII. Perhaps Lucky painted some of those war birds since many bared the name"Lucky..."
David Elrod
@david-elrod   9 years ago
Hi Bobby. Your right Lucky was way ahead of his time. If a race car was from the Charleston area it was a good bet that Lucky lettered it. He lettered all of my Dad's cars as well as my own. He would spend many evening's in our shop lettering our cars. And if we had an oops he would come reletter it after we repaired it. A lot of people don't know this but Lucky used to work for Disney. He worked for Disney until he fell thru a plate glass window that he was drawing one of the cartoon characters on. It was after that accident that he moved to Charleston. He was a big lover of cats. He would always paint them on his personal vehicle with there names. At christmas he would put a christmas tree on top of his car with lights. He was real character. I used to kid him that I was going to change my car number to 13. He'd laugh and always tell me that I better find someone else to letter it. As he always believed that it was a very unlucky number.
No37_1973
@no37-1973   3 weeks ago
Excellent story and I have been fortunate enough to meet Lucky a few times between 1971 and 1973.  I was a kid that Jack Jackson of Charleston took under his wing and was learning the sport and working on his racecar.  He hired Lucky to paint a couple cars over those years (No. 97 and No. 37).  He was definitely a unique individual.  Never bother him when he worked and he only spoke a few words.  We did talk once when he was done painting and he was interesting.  He also painted cars for James Dew and I believe Walt Knox in the local area.  Brings back great memories.  It was sad to see his old station wagon leave when he was done because he was such a great artist!