Rod Serling would introduce the Friday Night, 10:00 p.m. episode of "The Twilight Zone" each week from 1959 through 1964, including the line "there's a sign post up ahead". I was a huge fan of that show as was my Uncle Bobby's wife, Mary, whom we called "Mary Ruth" because she was a two-name person plain and simple. Uncle Bobby was only 11 years older than I and Mary was 5 years younger than Uncle Bobby, so she and I got along really well. What a sweet and beautiful woman she was. Even when she was battling the cancer that eventually took her from us; she was always up for some shenanigans for laughs.
So, in February 1962, Uncle Bobby decided we would go to Daytona for the Sportsman race on Saturday and the 500 on Sunday. Problem was, in order to do that we had to leave Columbia AFTER the two of them got off work on Friday. Then Mary remembered that Twilight Zone was on and the episode for that week was supposed to be a really good one. So, the plan was made that we would be all be packed and ready and as soon as the ending music started for The Twilight Zone, we would be in that '57 Plymouth heading southbound to Daytona. The show ended, we flew out the door and jumped in the Plymouth.
That was the night the fog came in from the depths of hell, or perhaps London, but from wherever it came, it was thick. South Bound on US 321 and we were looking for the sign post (get the Twilight Zone reference here), that would direct us onto Highway 17A South. By the time we were approaching the Georgia line, the fog was so thick you could barely see those little chrome blades on the fenders of that Plymouth, but we pushed on.
Now, let me interject here with the fact that I am terrified of heights. Unbelievably terrified. I remember when I was 8 and my Daddy drove us across the old Cooper River Bridge in Charleston. I hid in the back floorboard of that '48 Dodge and vowed I was not going back across that bridge. When my Daddy said he would find me an orphanage in Mt. Pleasant, I decided a second trip hiding in the floorboard might not be so bad. But, let me tell you about that bridge crossing that river going into Georgia. It was so foggy, I actually could not see the bridge, but I began to feel the sensation of going up. Suddenly we broke through the fog, being so high we were above it, and I was terrified. Closed my eyes as we started the descent into Georgia. I spent a good part of the weekend trying to talk Uncle Bobby into finding an alternate route back home.
We crossed into Florida just as the sun was beginning to paint the sky with whatever colors it uses, as being color blind I have no idea other than what the poets write about sunrises. About that time, Mary spotted a roadside pullover so we decided to stop for breakfast. We had packed all kind of food including milk and Cocoa Krispies cereal. As I sat on that concrete bench, eating cereal from the plastic bowl on the round concrete table, Uncle Bobby said it was about 100 more miles to Daytona. The sun was shining brightly by this time so I knew the rest of the trip would be fast because Bobby drove fast...very fast.
It was not long before we were in a short line entering the infield tunnel where a guy was standing selling tickets off a roll of tickets. We entered the dark tunnel and popped out the other side directly into such bright sunshine I knew everything I had ever heard about sunny Florida was true. We watched the sportsman/modified race and marveled at those aerodynamic Studebakers fly away from the field. I don't remember who won that race but I'm sure it was a Studebaker. I want to say it was LeeRoy Yarbrough but his wins may have come later in that event.
The 500 was awesome! That black and gold Pontiac number 22, driven by Fireball Roberts, was uncatchable. But hanging onto the back bumper of the 22 was that Petty Blue Plymouth 43 tucked in the draft. Watching that sort of reminded me of that song about the "Little Nash Rambler" but I'm not sure that song was even out yet.
Yes, I love to share these memories and it is probably not the first time you’ve heard the story, but to me it means much. I'll leave the details of Slappy's Motel and having to cross that dang bridge again for another day. But, as I sit here this afternoon, I wish it was another foggy night in February and that old '57 Plymouth was making its way south again. Something that COULD happen if this were the twilight zone. I guess the subject of the fog came to mind this week because I feel we are heading into a really thick fog as NASCAR approaches this new season. But I also have the feeling, just like that February in 1962, that the sun is going to rid us of that fog and we are going to have a brilliantly sunny season for racing. It's a different world now, but the passion that was Fireball Roberts and so many others, is still there with some and with some of us older fans, the passion burns brightly as ever. The never say never optimist. Okay, fog, time for you to dissipate and time for the Florida sun to shine on my sport. After all, Mary Ruth would not have it any other way in her world.