Ghosts of My History
The seasons are changing here in Carolina on this first crisp Carolina morning. Our days are clear with brilliant blue skies and the faintest glint of changing colors shimmering in the trees. A strong cup of coffee and my thoughts meander back to the past. It’s been longer than a girl likes to think yet the memories ring clear as a church bell pinging clear across a mountain valley. On such autumn weekends my cohorts and I would have been up long before the sunrise, loading our horses in the trailer to head up towards the Brushy Mountains. It was a wonderful time of year; the heat of the summer was long gone with our trusty mounts frisky and ready to hit the trail. These were the days when NASCAR was a big part of our lives… a time when no one was sure who would win the Championship. Yep it was the Winston Cup back in those days. I recall I had a jacket that proudly stated, “Charlotte Motor Speedway” and I loved it. It was an easy drive to Wilkes County, not the carnage that it is today. We always thought while talking amongst ourselves on those trips that when we were older and more established would go to every single race. I mean why not since so many were close to home? We’d play country music on the radio with both tanks of the dually topped off, ready to ride and enjoy the weather, all the while disagreeing about who would win that Sunday afternoon’s race. Ghosts of one’s history I suppose but wonderful times full of the hopes of youth.
Just to be clear I would be remiss if I failed to state that back in those days the NASCAR races we loved were all located in easy driving distance from our homes in Charlotte. Places such as Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Charlotte, and Rockingham. Stock Car racing in the estimation of a truckload of girls headed to the Brushy Mountains with their trailer of horses was very real, touchable and exciting. The best times were when we would ride all Saturday afternoon. Coursing mountain trails we’d stop along the way to talk with others like ourselves, camping overnight before heading to race on Sunday. We stayed in a little mountain town called Love Valley that was called the Cowboy Capital of the World. It was located just up the road from North Wilkesboro Speedway which was a dandy of a race located close to the home of the revered Junior Johnson. Racing got its start back in those hills with the running of Buck, White Liquor or “Moonshine” as the more elite of the racing crowd called it. One could feel the history back off those beaten paths and many of the old timers out on the trails had run shine or been a good customer of those fast driving boys who dodged the revenuers. There was nothing better than to run across one of those fellas up on the ridge trail. They’d whip out the Mason jar and everyone would have a swig while a story was told of “Back in the day.” Now I can say, to be honest, this girl never thought she’d now be the one longing for “back in the day.” But History, and ghosts…
Buck or moonshine is as much a part of the Carolinas as stock car racing. The old track at North Wilkesboro resonates with the history of late nights running winding mountain roads flat out and devil-may-care. Who knew on those grand glorious afternoons as we rode sidesaddle, one leg kicked over the horn from camper to camper sampling delicious cuts of long cooked barbeque, embroiling ourselves in the battles of best sauce, best buck and best driver, the wheels of time would spin so fast? Who had the slightest inkling the North Wilkesboro Speedway would swiftly be cast into the fire pits of history? I remember one day a fella on a big paint stud saying he’d heard someone from one the television crews bemoaning the placement of the winning car on top of the concession stand. We tipped ourselves a long sip from the Mason jar of White Lightning while shaking our heads in disbelief. Visions of some slick city boy in khakis looking down his nose at us while working to pay his rent in a small apartment in the city came to mind. Come Monday we’d have cut our horses loose on rolling pastures while he waited on a train somewhere in a crowded city. We all shook our heads and gave silent thanks for our lifestyle. Yet even as we did, somewhere in the towers men were counting their coin and calculating. Somewhere in the towers money and fame were gripping souls. Change to our beloved sport was brewing like clear Country moonshine running in the stills back in the hollers of these sweet Carolina mountains.
History, while unkind, brings the memories of sliding into soft blue jeans, making sure the horses were fed and rolling Sunday at daybreak for the saga of Junior, the legend of Dale, wonder of Awesome Bill from Dawsonville and of course all things Richard Petty. True ghosts now of history… our track and many of our heroes. Wood smoke scented air in the fall and new mown grass freshness billowing on the breezes in the spring, such were the memories of this historic track. Those were days of sunshine and freedom. Those were the finest of days. Stories of Flossie (Junior’s wife) cooking up a big spread to feed the folks at his farm brought a smile to my face. Pretty sure the same thing was done before my time for the guys after a long night of running shine. One can be quite certain this salient fact was never mentioned in media’s tales of the charming event. Delicate sensibilities might take offense. Not to us though; it made sound reasoning as one would be hungry after a night of backroads and wild rides. Those magical afternoons, as we sang along to country music in the parking lots, bowed our heads for the invocation and stood for our national anthem in the grandstands we had nary a clue that change was blowing down the pass just like winter does in our beloved mountains. Races at Indy, new tracks in Texas were announced. Our beloved local tracks, Rockingham, north Wilkesboro were cast aside. Powerful men in granite towers assaulted our history, changing it for gain and forgetting the nature of the people who made their wealth. Ghosts of history became our tracks and by their incoherent meddling may become our sport.
I cannot help but smile to myself this gray October dawn at the current news of an official Moonshine of NASCAR. Could they possibly be finally listening to those who made them rich? If anyone had a brain their heads they’d buy the old North Wilkesboro Speedway and celebrate the history. Possibly even Sugarland Moonshine, the now OFFICIAL Moonshine of NASCAR, might feel the pulse and step in? As I sip my cooling cup of coffee this October morning, I consider heading for the mountain town. A town still standing, fending off developers by fierce will alone. I could saddle a horse, ride what trails are left, all the while feeling the echoes of a vibrant history run through my veins. Just a lady riding a back-woods path on a steed of indeterminate breeding in a land rich with the heart, soul and vibrant history of those who came before. History that says that we really don’t care about the mansion or the TV show, but we were truly impressed when Dale Earnhardt stayed home from a race to clear his fence line after Hurricane Hugo. History that says we had dreams of youth to be established and now that we are, NASCAR, where are you? History that says the Ghosts of NASCAR have not faded from history and their once dimmed voices are being heard. History that hopes beyond hope that NASCAR is listening. Time, which waits for no one, will tell.