One of the fun questions Southerners like to ask those who have recently moved here from the North is: do you know what NASCAR stands for.
The answers are always entertaining but rarely correct. It stands for National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.
I grew up in Charlotte North Carolina. Racing was always around us. My family watched it on TV. Everyone had their favorite race car driver. In the 60’s names like Fire Ball Roberts, Fred Lorenzen and Pete Hamilton were the names that I heard most.
I recall when we would drive to the beach for summer vacation, we would drive through the small town of Darlington, SC. It was a sleepy Southern town most of the time but on the 4th of July weekend it was anything but.
There were race tracks all around us. Rockingham, Wilkesboro, Martinsville and of course Charlotte Motor Speedway.
You had your favorite driver, you pulled for your driver and team on race day, it was part of the culture.
When I was about 15 years old, we moved from Matthews, NC to the South side of Charlotte to the Steele Creek neighborhood. For the first time, we finally had neighbors and I had kids around that were my age and that I went to High School with.
There were two guys that I became fast friends with, Scott Sullivan and Kenny Talbert
They were a year younger than me but they acted older and they were a lot of fun. Scott had a motorcycle and would rife it over to my house from time to time. They liked to fish, they had guns and they let me into their circle.
Every now and then I would stay the night with Scott. His parents were real nice and they had a very cool house on the end of Markswood Road that overlooked a big creek. They talked funny because they were from Boston.
His Dad was always working on something in the garage. Scott told me he was a mechanic. They had a garage full of tools. They also had a welding set up and Scott was always making something using the acetylene torch.
One Sunday he invited me over for a cook out. There were alot of other cars in the drive way and a bunch of people I didn’t know. Scott said they were people from the Shop where his Dad worked, he said Holman and Moody. I said ‘wait up, you mean the race car builder’? He goes, ‘yep’ that’s the one.
All of a sudden the wheels are turning and things are making sense. I realized his father Jack Sullivan was an engine mechanic for Holman and Moody.
He introduced me to Fred Lorenzen and Pete Hamilton. These guys were bigger than life and for a 15 year old kid who grew up in the country of Carolina this was a big deal.
They were real nice guys and I just listened as they talked about cars, engines and race tracks.
The next weekend, Scott asked me if I would like to join them for a trip to the Speedway. They were going to be testing the fuel pump and a new fuel mixture for one of the engines they were working on. Of course, I said ‘yes’!
When I got to their house, they were also loading up Scott’s trail bike onto a trailer to take to the track.
It was an unbelievable day.
I got to ride in a new Ford Mustang they were working on. Scott’s Dad was driving and I will never forget the experience. Especially as we entered one of the banked turns. I know we were going well over 100 MPH and when we went into the bank, I could feel myself sinking into the seat of the car. I couldn’t moved. I could not move my head forward or even move my neck. It literally took my breath away.
When they got done running a few laps with the Mustang, Scott cranked up the trail bike. He took it for a few trips around the track and it looked like he was barely moving. Then he asked me if I wanted to take a run. He said, make sure when you go into the turn that you either stay low on track or hit it at least 70 MPH or otherwise, you are not going to be able to hold the turn.
It was just an unreal expereience. I hit the turn going 70 + and I felt like I was flying. I also remember seeing these big gaping cracks in the asphalt and thinking I remember hearing about the commentators talk about them on race day. It was a topic of controversy because there were a lot of drivers who complained about it.
When I told my family and friends they simply could not believe it. I could hardly believe it either.
It was an experience I wilI never forget.