********** The Good Old Days- Part I
Fans who are new to the sport may have only an inkling of what stock car racing was like in the days before, and the early days after NASCAR was founded. They may only hear that this sport was pioneered by former wheelmen who hauled moonshine on country backroads. And to a degree, they would be correct.
Before 1947, automobile racing was a wild and wooly affair. There was no sanctioning body. There were no officials. No inspections. No rules (none that weren't self-policing, anyway). No programs or souvenirs. No safety mandates. Sometimes there weren't even any spectators.
But this series isn't going to be a lesson in NASCAR History. In itself, NASCAR History is rather boring. Instead, we're going to look at some of the colorful characters that comprised the sport from it's earliest days. These are the people who were making NASCAR history. And it is the stories of these people that really gives one a glimpse of what really went on behind the scenes in the rough and tumble infancy of the sport. You'll hear some things that will border on being the product of a wild imagination. But in the time I have been around this sport, I have been fortunate to have many opportunities to read about, and hear some of these tales from those who either participated in them, or were directly involved. I've also talked with veteran journalists who were there to see these things, but (at the time) would never report them. And by the time this series is completed, you'll wonder how on earth this sport ever rose to the level it is today.
Perhaps it's fitting that we begin with a few tales involving the first family of NASCAR; the Petty family. A few years before Richard began his career, he followed his father to almost every race. Being in the days before cars were hauled on trailers, Richard's job would oftentimes see him driving the actual race car to an event. On one occasion, Richard's job was the drive the car to California from Level Cross, NC. One evening, in Arizona (An estimate; Petty had no idea what state he was in at the time), Richard was running over 100 miles per hour when he hit a fast-moving, four foot-deep river of water flowing swiftly --- and dangerously --- across the road --- the product of a drenching thunderstorm just hours before. It was an 'Arroyo,' a common phenomena in the west. Richard had little warning of the danger ahead (a road sign in Spanish that he didn't understand), and he plowed into the stream ---- just making it to the other side. Had he been driving slower, at the posted speed, he would have probably been swept away to his death. It was very late at night. In the remote area where he was at the time, he may not have been found for weeks --- if at all. He made it to California. Following the race, he made the return trip in less than 40 hours. His average speed was well over 100 miles per hour. Ironically, his only speeding ticket was earned less than 75 miles from home.
This wasn't Richard's only early brush with danger. During another race, Richard was cleaning his fathers' windshield in the pits when, suddenly, the elder Petty streaked away to beat the pace car, which was nearing the pit exit. Richard was still on the hood of the car, holding on for dear life. On the next lap, officials made Petty come back into the pits to discharge his frightened passenger.
The story of the Petty family rising to prominence in NASCAR breaks the stereotypical view that many have about those early stars of NASCAR. The Petty family never hauled moonshine. Lee was a truck driver who could also drive a car on the back roads around Level Cross faster, and more assuredly than anyone else. He was a masterful driver, and won many late-night races on country roads. Lee had a natural talent. He could go through a turn with all four tires singing an Aria, while his adversary's headlights literally disappeared. In fact, Lee was so dominating in these races, that he would actually paint the car a new color each week so that others wouldn't recognize it. Those who knew who owned the car would not even bother to race against him or even make a wager. And in some of those late-night, backroads races, the purse would be as much as $1000 for the winner ----- many times more than what professional racers were making at the time. Richard was often with him (much to the chagrin of his mother) on these 'runs,' and it taught him a lot about wheeling around in a fast car. By the time Richard got his drivers license at 16, he was already well-versed in the subject of speed and control, and he could outrun any of his school-mates who also took fancy to fast driving. Richard finally told his Dad that he wanted to race. The elder Petty made it clear that Richard had to be 21 before that would happen. True to his word, on his son's 21st birthday, Lee pointed to an battered Oldsmobile Convertible that had been sitting in the garage and said "Go take the convertible over there." And with those words, Richard Petty's racing career began. A week later, Richard was at Columbia (SC) speedway, beating and banging with guys like Joe Weatherly and Fireball Roberts.
The Petty's were a close family. And when it came time to defend their honor, everyone got involved. On one occasion, Dwayne 'Tiny' Lund ------ who was far from 'tiny' ----- confronted Lee after a race. Lund was upset over some contact that he felt was inappropriate. Words were exchanged, and Lund took a swing at the elder Petty. A fight ensued. But it didn't last long. Richard, a teen ager at the time, grabbed a tire iron. His brother, Maurice, got into the fray. And, to the delight of everyone who was watching, Richard's mother began beating Lund over the head with her huge pocketbook. Lund decided that he had had enough, and made a hasty retreat. Later, all Lund could say was "When you take on a Petty, you take on the whole darned family."
As close as they were, Lee never gave Richard any special treatment on the track. As far as Lee was concerned, his son was just another driver out to beat him. And the only way Lee was going to let his son beat him was if it was done fair and square. At a race at Atlanta, Richard appeared to have won the event. But one of the drivers protested, saying that Richard was a lap down. NASCAR decided that Richard had not won the race. The driver who protested was awarded the Victory. The driver who protested was Lee Petty. But the Petty family was tame compared to the many other drivers who made NASCAR their home.
One of the earliest characters in the sport was Tim Flock. In his time, Flock was one of -- if not the best --- driver in NASCAR. Unlike the Petty's, Flock ran'moonshine,' and it was that vocation that allowed him to developed phenomenal driving skills. Unfortunately, Flock is most often remembered for a Rhesus Monkey that rode with him in eight races. Everyone knows the story about 'Jocko Flocko.' Complete with a drivers uniform and a specially-made seat in the car, the Monkey drew wails of laughter from the crowds. Flock said that the Monkey ran with him in eight races. NASCAR never objected. It remains one of the greatest P.R. stunts in NASCAR. The diminutive primate took his last ride at Raleigh speedway. During the race, Jocko amused himself by pulling on a rope that opened a "trap door" that the driver could pull and open to check his tire wear. Jocko opened it just enough so that a pebble flew into the car and smacked him on the head. Jocko went berserk. Flock had to pull into the pits. Flock later said that it was the first time in NASCAR History that a car had to pit to put a monkey out of it.
When Tim first started racing, he once found himself at a track with a car that was obviously not up to par with the assembled competition. Ever resourceful, Flock noticed a brand new Buick, which he knew had a powerful V-8 engine, parked outside the second turn. He ran over to the car and asked an elderly couple if he could borrow it for the race. They let him, and he finished third. Flock was also one of NASCAR's greatest economizers. Before he drove for the high-financed Chrysler team owned by Karl Kiekhaefer, Flock raced on a shoestring budget. In those days, they still ran "street" tires. Flock purchased his from the local Sears store. He'd buy a complete set, use them in the race, and then return them to the store the next day --- with most of the tread scrubbed off --- and claimed that the tire did not deliver the advertised mileage. Flock would walk out with a set of replacement tires, use them in the next race, and repeat the procedure the following week.Finally, a manager wised-up to the tactic, and ground it to a halt.
Tim's brother, Bob, was also a moonshine-runner, and was well known, and even respected by Federal Agents who chased him night after night in the hills and mountains of North Georgia. In those days, you couldn't race if you ran moonshine. About this time, Bob Flock had such a reputation, Federal Agents learned that Flock would be driving in a race at Atlanta. Eager to catch their elusive prey, Agents staked out the track on the day of the race. Somehow, Flock eluded them, and when the race started, a gate was opened, and Flock drove onto the track at the drop of the green flag. Minutes later, when the Police found out that a convicted moonshine runner was driving in the race, they had the gates opened, and scores of police cars drove onto the track ---- while the race was in progress ---- and commenced to chase Flock around the speedway ---- lights and sirens wailing. Another gate was opened, and Flock dove through it and onto the street. The cops followed and chased Bob clear into downtown Atlanta, where he finally ran out of gas. Afterwards, Flock observed that "I would have won that race if the cops had stayed out of it."
The Flock family, which also included brother, Fonty (who, incidentally, would drive while wearing Bermuda Shorts on hot days), was never known as 'hell raisers' or one of NASCAR's "party animals." By comparison, every one of the Flock brothers could be considered one of the "good boys."
Next week, you'll be introduced to NASCAR's "bad boys," the most outrageous party animals in the history of the sport; Curtis Turner and Joe Weatherly. You'll see what life on the'wild side' was like for these two driving greats and those who were close to them. Come back for some wild tales, and see what NASCAR was like back in the'Good Old Days."
The Good Old Days - Part 2
Soon after NASCAR was formed, it began to attract and retain a crop of drivers whose off-track escapades were as daring as their on-track conduct. These guys were family men, for the most part. But they were tough, and they had an insatiable desire to race. They also had an insatiable desire to party and live life to the fullest. Some of these people gave new meaning to the words "Party Animals."
Racing in those good old days was a chore. Some spent grocery money to buy parts or tires. Many drove their race cars to the track; removing mufflers, windows and chaining the doors. One racer even borrowed a car from a fan and crashed it in the race. But we're not here to discuss NASCAR History. We're here to reminisce about the Good Old Days of the sport. The days before stiff-necked PR people and high-dollar sponsors put tight reins on today's drivers. The days when the party after the race was as exciting as the action itself. In come cases, as you are about to see, it was more exciting.
One of the most prolific lovers of good times among the early NASCAR ranks was, without a doubt, Curtis Turner. We know, of course, that Turner was a great racer. But he lived to Party, and was fond of strong drink. (Unfortunately, the strong drink may have led to his demise) On race nights, Turner would party late, and would oftentimes show up at the track hung-over the next morning. One race, following a late-night "business deal" (off the track, he was a very successful businessman), Turner, who was called 'Pops' by his friends, showed up at the track wearing a three-piece, pin-stripe suit. His beet-red face indicated he had been awake and drinking all night long. By the time he got to the track, he didn't have time to don a uniform, so Turner climbed into his car, fired it up, and drove in that three piece suit.
On the track, Turner was 'hell on wheels.' He was the swashbuckling musketeer who would run his best friend into a guard rail to win a race. He was a master showman behind the wheel ----- sliding into turns and coming out the other side without lifting the throttle ---- was his 'trademark' maneuver. Turner got into more than a few scraps after driving hard and low into a turn, and then drifting up and slamming into another car, knocking it out of the groove.It was this style that earned Turner the nickname 'Pops,' a reference to the 'pop' sound when a car hit you.
Curtis was among the best. On dirt, he was literally invincible. Turner could fly through a turn without lifting the throttle and pass four or five cars in the process. He would have that car sideways in a controlled skid that would be the envy of any Hollywood stunt driver. Oftentimes, when the racing surface was muddy, Turner would go through the turns on the low-side, and spray rooster-tails of mud in his competitors windshields. Sometimes, he would simply push a car out of the way, or intentionally put it into the wall. Turner was also known for his legendary off-track shenanigans. Just before a local parade, 'Pops' learned that a float (which would have carried young ladies aboard) had broken down, and would not be able to join the procession. Turner would have none of this. He removed the huge hood from an old Cadillac, chained it to the bumper of his vehicle, and towed it behind him with those young ladies waving to the crowd --- sparks blazing behind it. The spectators howled in laughter, and Turner was the hero of the day. Curtis Turner threw parties at his home that are still judged to be spectacular, even by today's standards. He'd invite a hundred people or more to his parties, and he'd have enough food and liquor for every one of them. His parties lasted days, not hours. And his favorite line was "If you don't like this party, just hang around. Another will start in 15 minutes."
If you were lucky, and showed modesty and promise, Turner would take you'under his wing,' and help your racing career as a mentor. One young "student" was named Cale Yarborough. Cale was visiting Turner at his North Carolina home one summer, when he began to question his mentor about the racing line at Darlington Raceway. Rather than try to explain the correct line, Turner decided to show him. Turner disappeared for a few minutes, and then returned with his Tractor. Turner's house had a wide porch that wrapped around the entire structure, and Turner simply drove his tractor onto the porch.
"Get on, Boy!" Turner barked. Turner preceded to drive around the porch in that Tractor, and demonstrated the proper racing line at Darlington, with Cale holding on.
It was classic Curtis Turner.
Turner could have easily won twice or even three times as many as the 17 Grand National races he is given credit for. But Turner was the kind of driver who would abuse his equipment. He pushed cars far beyond their limits, and the result was disaster and countless DNF's. Despite his legendary driving, Turner never won a NASCAR Grand National Championship. Nonetheless, the name Curtis Turner will always be mentioned when the talk gets around to NASCAR's great drivers.
Speaking of great drivers, one's of Turner's Partners in Crime was 'Little Joe' Weatherly, the "clown prince of stock car racing." And when paired with Curtis Turner, these two men caused everyone to look over their shoulder to see if either were ready to play a practical joke on them. At Darlington, they paid a farmer $100 for an old mule. They took it back to their motel where, with the help of some friends, they pushed it up to the second floor balcony. That mule paced back and forth on that balcony all night. Curtis and Joe simply got their laughs by watching the reaction of people who had to walk past it on the way to their rooms. In their minds, it was $100 well spent. Then again, $100 was nothing to Curtis Turner, who showed up at a race one night with $5 MILLION dollars in checks and cash in a plain, brown envelope. But that was nothing compared to the escapades that followed.
Remember the movie "Days of Thunder?" If you thought the scene where Cole Trickle and Rowdy Burns were beating and banging in their rental cars was the product of some producers imagination, think again. At Daytona one year, both Turner and Weatherly rented cars and were racing each other down a four-lane (A1A?) road. The race was to see who could reach their motel first. Joe weaved over and smashed into the side of Turner's car. Turner returned the favor. In their wake, glass and car parts were scattered all over the road. As they neared their destination, Turner slowed. But Weatherly, who was racing for a bottle of Canadian Club, kept his foot to the floor boards. Joe kept on going, and drove right into the deep end of the motel swimming pool. He got out of the car, collected his bottle of CC, and then immediately opened it and toasted his "victory" while standing in the motel parking lot, dripping wet. "Guess we're gonna have to call a tow truck, huh Pops?"
Nobody would ever rent a car to those two men ever again. In fact, the company that rented them the cars took their pictures and sent them to every rental car office wherever there was a NASCAR race, with explicit instructions not to rent cars to either of them.
Joe Weatherly's practical jokes were almost as famous as Turner's. In the days before start switches, Weatherly would steal the keys to all the cars as they sat on pit road. And when the command to start the engines was given, only Joe's car fired up. Joe would look into his rear view mirror to see dozens of drivers fumbling around looking for the keys that he had in his pocket. Everyone knew who took the keys. All they needed to do was look at Joe's car and see him inside beating the steering wheel and laughing up a storm while HIS engine was running. Sometimes, when folks would get wise to the disappearing key trick, Little Joe would steal their gas caps, and NASCAR wouldn't let you start the race without one. Joe's car was the only one that had a gas cap on it, and it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who had them.
Weatherly was a delight to watch, sober or drunk. During one race, Joe was beating on fellow competitor Larry Frank --- really tearing up his car. Frank, a tough, ex-Marine who wasn't afraid to tangle with anyone, chased 'Little Joe' into the parking lot after the race. To escape his wrath, Joe jumped on a car's roof, and ran across the roof's of every car parked in that row -- denting them all. Both men laughed about it the next day.
Turner and Weatherly loved the ladies, and took great liberties with them. The charades they engaged in would embarrass a truck driver. In the apartment they rented in Daytona Beach, they kept a chalk board in their room with a running tally on how many women they could get into their beds. There were many contests to see which one could "score" the most on a given day. Both men had women they called upon in every town where there was a race, and sometimes they (the ladies) would line up outside their "party pad" or motel, waiting for their turn.
Bill Clinton couldn't hold a candle to these two guys.
In addition to his driving skills, Turner was also a very accomplished, private pilot. Flying was both a hobby, a passion, and a necessity for his timber business. Turner could take a potential buyer and fly him well above large stands of forest. Turner could estimate the amount of standing timber, and consummate the deal before the plane ever reached the ground. And Turner was probably the first NASCAR driver to use an aircraft to get to a race. Oftentimes, this was for show. Curtis loved being the center of attention. Other times, it was necessity. After getting a late start, Curtis decided to fly down to Darlington for a race. There was no airfield, so Turner landed on the backstretch, and taxied to the infield. He ran the race, and when it was over, the backstretch was his runway. He barely cleared the turn two guardrail. But knowing Curtis, it was probably for show. Curtis also used his airplane as a flying flophouse. Curtis would pick up a girl (or two, or three) at a local saloon and then entice them to take a ride in his plane. Once in the air and flying level, Curtis would switch on the autopilot and then take his new friend to the back of the plane. If she didn't capitulate, Curtis would open the door and threaten to jump out. Those who were close to Turner say that it always worked. Turner's kamikaze style of fun frequently involved him and his airplane. Turner would spot a baseball field below, then dive towards it at breakneck speed. As he got close, he pulled the 'stick' back to level the aircraft, whereupon he would buzz the field only a few feet above the heads of the boys who were playing on it. Everyone would hit the deck. Once, this was reported to the FFA, who was waiting, along with the police, at Turner's home airport. Over the radio, the control tower asked Turner for identification before being given clearance to land. Turner intentionally garbled his words in the microphone, and made incongruous sounds to make it appear his radio was on the fritz. But the controller, who knew Turner well, simply replied "It's no use Curtis. They're waiting for you down here." Turner lost his license. But it never stopped him from flying. Turner was always in the air. And if he got thirsty, he'd look for a familiar store, and landed as close to it as he could get --- even if it meant landing on the road. He'd go inside (to the bewilderment of all who were watching), buy a bottle of whiskey, climb back into his plane, and take off again.
He eventually lost his life in that plane in 1970. Nobody is sure how it happened, but the body they found strapped to the pilots seat was not his, but Turner's close friend, Golf Pro Clarence King. Curtis was found many yards from the crash, causing speculation by those who were privy to these stunts that Curtis had probably had too much to drink, or was so tired that he turned the controls over to his passenger while he napped. Granted, it's speculation, but stranger things have happened. And in the case of Curtis Turner, the stranger it sounds, the more believable it is. Turner's death signaled the end of an era. He was the last of the great "hell raisers" of NASCAR.
Not until Tim Richmond came upon the scene in the mid 80's has NASCAR ever known such a hearty soul. But as wild and as flamboyant as Tim Richmond was, his exploits would pale in comparison to those of Turner and his contemporaries.
Next time, we'll talk more about the colorful characters of NASCAR, and reminisce about the 'Good Old Days.'
The Good Old Days - Part 3
By the time Daytona International Speedway opened, NASCAR had already met the trials, tribulations and challenges of the first 10 years, and was ready to leap up another rung in the respectable-sports ladder. Sponsorship dollars and purses were starting to grow. More races were being run on Asphalt speedways, and even more of those asphalt super-speedways were planned. NASCAR was just beginning to earn a few lines of copy in regional newspapers, and people from other parts of the country were making long journeys to see the races. NASCAR was far from being mainstream, but it was on it's way.
While NASCAR was changing, those who drove the cars were still up to their old antics both on and off the track. And that's what this series is about. We'll set NASCAR history aside and look at the great drivers, and the almost unbelievable lifestyle they experienced on and off the track. These are the colorful characters that are a part of The Good Old Days of NASCAR.
Buck Baker was one of those characters. Like his friend, Curtis Turner, Buck was fond of strong drink. And he imbibed often, even while he raced. During one race at Darlington, Baker was involved in a crash that sent him and his car flying over the wall and into the parking lot. At the time, Baker had been swigging Bloody Mary's from a glass jar to quench his thirst. During the impact, the jar shattered ----- spilling the thick, red fluid all over the inside of the car. A rescue worker appeared on the scene, and ran back to the ambulance. "Ain't no use hurrying, boys." He said, his face as white as a ghost. "Buck's done cut his head clear off!" Buck was a great racer in his day. He was also very aggressive. On more than one occasion, Baker would actually push the Pace Car out of his way on restarts. And during one race, Buck almost got into a fistfight with the driver of a car he'd been following when, all of the sudden, it came to a halt. They were racing on a dirt track so dusty that Baker could hardly see the car in front of him. Baker had no idea that NASCAR was throwing the red flag (you certainly couldn't see it because of the dust). Irritated, he climbed from his car, and was about to drag the driver out when it was explained that the race was red-flagged, and that Baker, and the rest of the cars, were now on pit road. It was so dusty, Baker didn't even know where he was. Oddly enough, it was a fellow driver, Lee Petty, who parked his car under the flag stand, grabbed the red flag, and stopped the race himself.
Another great racer was Fred "The Golden Boy" Lorenzen. He was the 'Jeff Gordon' of the 60's.
He burst upon the scene and started winning races. He was a 'Yankee.' He was good-looking and articulate. And when he started beating a lot of the big-name Southern drivers, he was jeered by many, and disliked because he won so many races.
If anything, this demonstrates that some things never change in NASCAR.
Fred's career almost ended as fast as it started. In the beginning, Fred financed his racing career with money he borrowed from the Mafia. At a crucial race at Atlanta, Lorenzen blew an engine, and returned to Chicago with far less than the $10,000 he owed. The Mob showed up at his home to collect, and Fred had to sell almost everything he owned to pay the "loan" back. Fortunately, later that year, Lorenzen was offered a job with the Holman-Moody team where he made NASCAR history, and enough money to invest in the stock market. Fred retired a very rich man, and with his kneecaps unscarred. Lorenzen wasn't known as a 'hell-raiser,' but his story is fascinating, nonetheless, and illustrates just how 'loose' things were in the Good Old Days.
Cale Yarborough is well known to all NASCAR fans. He's always been described as one of the best there ever was. And if Cale wasn't a great driver, he was a fabulous purveyor of practical jokes. Among his close friends, in addition to Curtis Turner, was Dwayne 'Tiny' Lund. Lund, a 6-6, 280- pound behemoth, was one of the nicest people to ever climb into a stock car. But get him angry, and he could be a tornado on two legs.
Lund and Yarborough were roommates on several occasions ----- an arrangement that was necessary in those early days when drivers made little money. One day, Lund was in the shower when Cale dumped a bucket of ice water over the curtain. Lund was livid. He burst from the shower stall and chased Cale out into the parking lot. The chase ended when Lund, naked as a jay bird, found himself standing in front of an elderly lady. "Pardon me, Ma'am." was all he could mutter.
He then pretended to tip an imaginary cap, and the biggest man in NASCAR trotted away.
This kind of horseplay continued to the race track. Lund knew that Cale was an accomplished handler of Rattlesnakes. So, at one race, Lund had a rubber snake, and threw it in Cale's car after he had climbed in. Cale's reaction was pretty much what you would expect, until he realized that the snake was fake. Cale got revenge the next week, and went one step further. He caught a live rattlesnake and pulled it's fangs out with a pair of pliers. At the track, Cale waited until Tiny had strapped himself in, and then threw the angry snake onto Lund's lap. Lund's reaction was even more intense, as he instantly realized that this snake was alive --- it was real. Of course, he didn't know the snake had no fangs. Lund was screaming bloody murder, and unable to free himself from the straps. The snake was rattling it's tail. And Cale, who had tipped a few of his friends off to the stunt, stood back and laughed. It was no small feat for 'Tiny' to get strapped into his car. He barely fit through the drivers window, and it took minutes to get all the belts and straps tightened. But when that snake landed on his lap, Lund got out of that car considerably faster than he went in. Lund tore from the cockpit, grabbed a ball peen hammer, and chased Yarborough into the garage. It took a couple of men to restrain Lund. By the end of the race, fortunately, both men laughed about the incident.
Tiny Lund was a great practical joker. At Daytona one year, he and his wife had a motel room next to Bobby Unser. They were friends, and Bobby was the recipient of a rather embarrassing joke when Lund slipped a pair of his wife's panties in Unser's suitcase. Lund used to roll on the ground when he told the story of Mrs. Unser's reaction when she found those panties in her husband's suitcase after he got back home.
Lund was also good friends with Larry Frank. Frank was a small but tough ex-Marine who one time chased Joe Weatherly out of the pits, on foot, after a race. Weatherly, who had a good 40 pounds weight advantage on Frank, feared for his safety and jumped up and onto the roof's of a line of parked cars. Frank was below, chasing and grabbing at Weatherly's legs as he bounced from one roof to another; denting them all.
Both Lund and Frank enjoyed a good bar-room brawl. It was not uncommon for both men to walk into the closest saloon, and just start irritating people enough to where they would reach the boiling point and take a swing. They would do it intentionally, and think nothing of it. In fact, if the two men were bored, they'd look for the first Bar that they came to, just to pick a fight. It was recreation for those two. At any time, either man could climb atop the bar and just start cursing at anyone who walked by. If you hit one, you hit both. And you could count on being served a knuckle sandwich if you messed with either of them. Sometimes, a few of the other drivers accompanied them to these joints just to sit back, knock down a few drinks, and watch the action. A few of these brawls, one grizzled veteran said, looked like something out of the old West, with people being thrown over the bar and into the rows of liquor behind it. Needless to say, Tiny Lund and Larry Frank were banned from more than just a few saloons. Back to Cale.
In his younger days, Cale Yarborough was a daredevil. Cale used to perform "stunt shows" for his neighbors. He would hold on to a rope tied to the back of a friend's pickup truck, and try to stay on that bumper while his friend sped through an open field or meadow at breakneck speed, sawing the wheel left and right, trying to throw him off. Sometimes, Cale would lose his grip and go tumbling from the truck like a weed --- bouncing and grazing along the grass ---- limbs flailing in the air as he tumbled helplessly for dozens of feet ---- end over end.
Those who watched this silly spectacle howled with laughter when they saw Cale tumbling through the field. But Cale, who was tough as nails, would climb back on, and do it again to the delight of those assembled. Like his mentor, Curtis Turner, Cale was also fond of airplanes. And he liked jumping out of them with a parachute. During one dive, Cale's chute got tangled up, and he plunged to the earth. Fortunately, Cale "landed" in a freshly-plowed field that had been further softened by a recent rain shower. It took a minute or two to catch his breath, but Cale was able to limp away. Cale also skirted death at the Charlotte (now Lowes) Motor Speedway. But it wasn't on the track. It was in the infield. On this particular day, Cale had been driving around town in a rental car with Banjo Matthews. Matthews was fond of racing at full speed through the tunnel, and into the infield. Matthews had been talking to Cale about something as he sped out of the tunnel, and did not see the light pole that was rapidly closing in. Cale saw it, though.
"Banjo!" He exclaimed.
Matthews kept talking and looked at Cale as his foot remained firmly planted on the floor.
"Banjo !!!" Cale again yelled.
It feel on deaf ears.
"Banjo! Watch out for that......."
It was a dead-center, head-on collision. The front-end of the car looked like an inverted 'V'. Neither men were hurt, but Banjo had one helluva story for the rental car company that day. He told them that "something had happened to the radiator", and suggested they come get it with a tow truck.
Next time, in Part IV of this series, we'll race into the 70's and the sunset years of NASCAR's wild and woolly past. You'll meet racers, fighters, and more of the colorful characters that made NASCAR so fun in The Good Old Days.