It is almost 2020. I am almost 80. It is almost Christmas. It is Festivus. Dec. 23.
Junior Johnson just died. That confirms mortality. I met Junior once. And I met Ted Williams, my hero. “First there was baseball”, but “car racin'”wasn’t far behind. We didn’t have pro teams in the South then. We did have baseball and racin’. Basketball was fermenting, but the baseball game of the week and Darlington were staples. Ford or Chevy? Up there with Democrat or Republican?
All politics are local and so was racin’. Our small town changed it’s name twice and wound up being called after the mill owner, “Robbins’. Pure mill village, labor and management the dividing line. The minor league baseball team was named the “Robbins Robins”.
My teenage years coincided with the deification of the automobile. We proved you do need a seatbelt. And it ain’t smart to drive drunk. But once they let you have the car keys you could go any where you could make it home for check-in. Drink figured into the equation and we had some peculiar laws there. Our dry end of Moore County meant nightly reconnoitres to Pinehurst, the rich and “wet” end of the county. Bring me a six pack of PBR! No mixed drinks, only “brown bagging”
Moonshine and North Carolina are synonymous. The best recent book on the combination of cars, moonshine,NC and Nascar is DRIVING WITH THE DEVIL by Neal Thompson. Driver, promoter, and mechanic. Began in our hills but soon got to the flat lands (Percy Flowers ruled the Piedmont).
“Moonshiners put more time, energy, thought, and love into their cars than any racer ever will. Lose on the track and you go home. Lose with a load of whiskey and you go to jail.” —Junior Johnson, NASCAR legend and one-time whiskey runner.
We have just added a traffic circle at now home , Emerald Isle, NC. And it trigged some nostalgia (more later). The first circle in our Robbins neighborhood in the 50’s was, you guessed it, in Pinehurst. We accepted it as an in route challenge to our cars and driving skills. Beer in hand, how fast could you drive around the circle? In 3 trips? First to pass someone in the circle? Record for number passed per lap? First ticket? First ticket with no license?
Sadly, but inevitably, the causality and severity of a mistake stunned us. Tex Graham was first, a football player who sang 16 tons (“…you load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt”. ) RIP, Tex.
Less severe but notable early scenarios include Ben Brady’s solo trip to “the Pines” in his 53 pickup, stopping in front of the police station, Blowing the horn till the puzzled officers came out of the station. “You can’t catch me ” was Ben’s challenge, whereupon he patched out at top speed. Sadly Ben flipped her and wound up under the truck, specifically the red hot muffler. Burn city.
Lenonard “Urd” Benson drove his Studebaker into a ditch that was roof high and Studebaker wide to the “war eagle”. It happened on Prom night. We abandoned the dance to laugh at Urd, and walk across the car.
Next up Glenn McCaskill, didn’t make the sharp curb at Aberdeen lake. Don’t remember if he made the lake, but do remember that a week before he had driven the same route with me and nine others in a sedan to a little league baseball game.
“And my friend Brian Temple
He thought he could make it
So from the third story he jumped
And he missed the swimming pool only by inches
And everyone said he was drunk.” FAMILY RESERVE (Lyle Lovett).
NC 705 from Robbins to Seagrove is 13 miles. I know it well because I tried to thumb back home one midnight. Walked the whole 13, never saw a car.
“Heading down south to the land of the pines
I’m thumbing my way into North Caroline
Staring up the road and pray to God I see headlights “.(WAGON WHEEL by Dylan),
NC 705 intersected with NC 220 which led to Level Cross, NC, home of the Pettys, Lee, Richard, Kyle and such. Not only that, 705 had about a 3 mile stretch or “the straight” that had not a bend and not many laws. Drag racing with the family vehicles blossomed. Lore galore. Races followed by, or including wrecks, fights, bragging rights. Soon word drifted down that the Pettys had a great quarter mile drag track just up the road. Locals just snuck on at all hours, uninvited. I had a classmate who was a “management’s child” and thus wealthy. Upon his 16th birthday he was given a new 56 Bel Air Chevy, with all gadgets, plus two four barrel carburetors. Ripe.
The kid missed school one day and showed up the next with a God All Mighty depressed look on him. He said there was no need to try to hide what happened. He felt obligated to try the 56 on the Petty fast track. By cover of darkness he idled her on –then pedal to metal.
He acknowledged the saw he 3/4 inch cable strung between two sawed off telephone poles at track’s end: ‘But hell, she was wide open and nothing left but to hit the cable head on, head light high. “Car is in the shop already.”
I guess a lot of small NC towns had driving tests. We had several. One road was called “the rough and crooked”. What was your “top end” on the “rat path” or the tree lined back road from West End (now Seven Lakes) to the crossroads? In the other direction , toward Highfalls,NC, there was a prolonged curve. Severe, dangerous and the perfect for locals to declare their “personal best”– screening around on two wheels. Somehow the most difficult one got pushed backed in my thinking, yet crept into mind one recent day in mid-Emerald Isle circle. Like many county seats in NC, Moore County’s courthouse was located in the roundabout in Carthage, NC. While it was a longer way home it offered a challenge. Between the drug store and the sidewalk’s end there was a 2×2 foot brick column. From column to store the width was almost 4 inches to spare for vehicles of that time. Tight squeeze that only the best could navigate. That didn’t stop the amateurs, whose cars wore scars on their sides to the indignation of miscalculation.
***RECENT STATISTIC: “When a second teenager joins a teenage driver, the chances of an accident increases 4 times.
Emerald Isles’ circle was controversial, yet has worked out well. A bar with an open air view of the circle that has probably been a disappointment. No accidents have been reported. There is a hint of scandal no one talks about. Some odd variables have yet to unfold. The circle’s appearance coincided with Hurricane Florence, whose fury left the island with damage beyond the work forces ability. Tough on people, particularly town management and workers. The town manager, already beloved, emerged as a local hero of no small proportion.
So it shocked the town when this valued servant announced he was moving to another town. Why the puzzled populace wondered? Word on the street concluded that the work load of more frequent future hurricanes was frightening.
That became somewhat the main story, Yet I wondered about the Heron? Was the town manager responsible for the new circle sculpture. It was a puzzle to me, but local insiders said the manager was too busy with the storm and assigned the sculpture project to a local women’s garden club. Said manager actually had a snicker over the birds, upon his departure.
It wasn’t the quality of the two heron’s portrayal. However the positioning of the two, so like the fowl deed done ” a tirgo”, could hardly go unnoticed.
If that project had occurred in our neighborhood in our time, Jack Hussey would still be circling, looking for a an opening around anything that wasn’t clocking a good time. Plus the heron would not have gone unnoticed.
I’ll get crap about this but it’s too funny to ignore. Plus during this Christmas season someone ordered the circle’s Christmas tree to cover the birds. Garden Club?
Any way the heron have some privacy. And THE EMPEROR WEARS NO CLOTHES.