I bid you welcome gentle readers, to yet another effort to shorten and/or sweeten the “season” of January. Last evening… that would have been Monday… I had occasion to speak with an old friend that I don’t get to see as much of as I used to, and we were discussing the “off-season” a bit, as both of us are race fans… he, leaning more toward the open-wheel venues and I being a firm and confirmed stock-car junkie. That really doesn’t matter; racing is racing, and this old fan can and has enjoyed watching Swamp Buggies, Mud Buggies, lawn mowers, beds and even bar stools raced, for fun or money. Yes, I said “beds”, and believe it or not, they can and do race them. Just mention “bed racing” to Mr. Google. You’ll be amazed!
Going back to our conversation, somewhere in there we discussed racing deaths, Earnhardt and Wheldon in particular, which lead to racing safety, which led somehow to folks I have met or known in racing. In that context, I shared the following thought; “Easily one of the biggest thrills of my life was when I answered a call on my cell phone and on the other end of the line was Waddell Wilson. He called... Waddell Wilson called ME… to thank me for the article I wrote about him. He went even further and told me it was the best by far of any he'd ever seen done about his career and life. Hmm... There’s a back story there that I might share with the readers.”
And it is that “back story” that I bring you today, gentle readers. When I told you that I have few autographs, I’m finding that is not the same thing as having few memories. Those are in abundance, though most need a good dusting to remove the cobwebs found lurking about in my aged brain.
Several years ago, I joined a website that is actually a functioning social media site, but with racing as its theme. Since we don’t play games here on Race Fans Forever, that site was RacersReunion, with which I am no longer affiliated, but did enjoy some good times while there. Back in 2011, there was a reunion held at the Historic Old Columbia Speedway, and this old gal summoned up all her reserve and made the drive from Ball Ground to Columbia all alone save for a half-bushel or so of Country CDs. The weather forecast for that April weekend was more like a threat, but folks bravely came out to the old track anyway. I was able to put faces on many folks I’d been typing to for well over a year, and despite the impending storms, when Friday became Saturday, there was a very sizeable crowd there for the festivities.
This picture, taken with whatever sub-par instrument I’d chosen to carry that day, will show you just how close one can get to racing royalty when they’re off duty. Go ahead and drool ladies. That’s Waddell Wilson and “Handsome Harry” Gant, and I was that close to them when the rains came… but we would get even closer just a bit later. (The gentleman to the right is Mike Sykes, president of the “Old Timers Racing Club.”)
That was only a split second before the Heavens opened and the rain came on a nasty wind that threatened only to get worse. Well, the heck with that. Under the “Big tent” there was a stage show starting with “Ron Pestana and the Pit Crew.” This is a video of that performance on that day, but sadly, the audio is horrible. There is a second video of the song that will follow.
Ron was a California racer that also made some pretty fine music. I say “was” because just a year and 3 months after that video, Ron died of natural causes, while racing at a track in his home state. I’m offering a much better sound quality of the same song, written and performed by Ron Pestana, as it seems so eerily prophetic. Here is the song, “Hot Lap My Ashes Away”, offered as a eulogy by “Outback” Andy Foster, a close friend of Ron’s.
Of course, that day at the Columbia track, no one had a clue how that story would conclude, so we listened and enjoyed. Much of my time both Saturday and Sunday was spent in the company of Barbara Scott, whom I have called my sister ever since. When we first met, it was hard to believe that she looked so much like that gal that hangs out behind the mirror in my bathroom. Not an exact match, but close enough to make us question our heritage a bit. Barbara is the wife of Champion and Hall of Fame Dirt racer, Billy Scott… the one from Union, South Carolina. I have no idea where the other is from; I only know there are two Billy Scotts, so it’s important to designate.
When lunch time came, the celebrities were to be served (Sounds fancy, but it was Subs) in the “Celebrity Tent” and then stay to sign autographs and do a meet and greet following the eats. My new sister had two words with the sweet gal at the gate to the tent, Joyce Smith, and a name tag was immediately made and slapped on my shirt. “How to become an instant celebrity!” Now some time before all this, the HMWIC at RR had asked me about writing a piece on Waddell Wilson, and though I had not been writing for several years at that time, I simply could not pass up the opportunity to at least speak with Waddell, as he and Harry were seated right next to us. If you’ve read the article, then you know that he is rather shy and quiet, and quite disdainful of members of the media, but became far more relaxed when I explained that I had never done a personal interview before, and maybe we could sort of stumble through it together if I promised not to attack.
As we were laughing and joking together about not knowing how to do an interview… it happened. That Celebrity Tent was not a weak-willed contraption, by any means. Unlike the open-sided one for entertainment, this one had sides that went to the ground and were anchored by cable guy-ropes attached to some pretty heavy-duty iron spikes deep in the ground. It was built to withstand most anything Mother Nature could bring… one would think. In an instant, any light coming from outside was erased; the sky turned black, the sides of that tent were not just lifted but flung inwards and then out again as a wall of water washed into the tent, not from the ground outside but from the sky. No one spoke a word. I looked around and Barbara was as white as I’m sure I was in that instant. What does one do when one thinks that the end might well be nigh? I’ll tell you what I did… I looked around that tent and what I saw were friends… many of them. If this was to be our time, then here I was, with a new sister by my side and talking on par with both Waddell Wilson and Harry Gant. I couldn’t imagine being happier, so I was ready to go. And then it stopped! The sound was silenced; the water receded and we let out a communal sigh of relief and the begging question, “What just happened?”
That picture was taken by my friend Devin in the minute before it hit… and lifted almost as fast as it came. That tornado touched down and stayed down about 30 miles away and wreaked havoc on a small town in doing so. Maybe Ol’ DW has something with that Vortex Theory. There was no race that day, but who am I to say that the echo of cars racing on that grand old track for so many years didn’t leave some sort of phenomena that lingered in the air and was able to ward off that powerful storm? I got my one on one interview with Waddell, and it was surely one to remember! Later, we’d speak again on the phone and another time on a radio show. Then of course, there was that awesome phone call he made to thank me for spelling everything right. One of the things he finds most annoying about media folks is that they often misspell his hometown of Bakersville and write it as Bakersfield. I was lucky. He warned me about that, that day in Columbia, and I took note. Old dogs don’t always need new tricks. We know some of our own, such as paying attention when someone is speaking… and understanding a deep Carolinian accent.
It’s time now for our Classic Country Closeout. Gentle readers, if you have any fear that I’ll ever run out of these, put it aside. The more I think about the old songs, the more I realize that there isn’t enough time or space to even make a dent in their number. Today I had to toss a lasso around my thoughts to get them settled in one direction, and that is another Country category that we haven’t even touched upon until now. Trucks! That 1950s love affair with the automobile wasn’t limited to passenger cars. It included everything on the road that had an engine, and those big diesels piloted by the White Knights of the highways were no exception.
For openers, here’s one of my favorites… singer and song… I even had a sign, made for my little Rambler American station wagon by the guys in the fab-shop that said “Giddy-Up-Go.” Here then is Red Sovine, as only he can tell one of these truck stories.
Next up is another one from Red Sovine, but this one isn’t a story as much as it is a happy trip down Memory Lane. Please enjoy Red singing, “Freightliner Fever.”
Here’s a classic from two of the best “truckers” ever, Junior Brown and Red Simpson telling us about a run on the “Nitro Express.”
And the final one for today is one told from the other side of that pair that travel the 4-Lanes together. Here again is Red Simpson with his huge hit, “I’m a Truck.”
Be well gentle readers and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!