MOORESVILLE, N.C. — It was an honor earlier this month when I was invited by Bob Hissom of the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame to attend Tuesday’s annual Stocks for Tots fundraiser at the NASCAR Technical Institute.
Over 90 racing legends and personalities participated in the event whose proceeds benefit the Stop Child Abuse Now Foundation.
Before those festivites, many of the former race car drivers met at the Hall of Fame. For me, it was an opportunity to go around the hall with a few of our local legends like Brownie King, Paul Lewis and Dr. Don Tarr.
Other legends such as Virginia short-track king Peanut Turman and three-time Winston West champion Lloyd Dane later showed up and the stories were abundant.
King took time to stop by the wall where he was featured in seven different photos. They included him racing on the beach at Daytona, and later in the Daytona 500 in a No. 1 Impala sponsored by Johnson City dealership, Faircloth Chevrolet. You could King’s pride knowing the pictures are seen by the thousands of race fans who visit the Hall of Fame annually.
“You always want to see your pictures in a Hall of Fame,” King said. “I see those cars, and there’s me with Bill Morton. We used to run sideby-side at Sportsman Speedway a lot.”
Equally proud was his oldest daughter, Debbie, who spoke of what it was like to see her father’s photos at the Hall of Fame.
“It’s very exciting,” she said. “I always wanted to see it happen, but I never thought it would. I think back of when I grew up and we were always at the race track. It was exciting.”
One of the first photos in the Hall was that of Dr. Tarr, then a husky, young man behind the wheel of a 1970 Dodge.
“It makes you feel good,” he said. “Buddy Baker drove this car the year before, and Lee Roy Yarbrough and David Pearson drove it before that. I was the only driver to go over 180 mph in that car. The Dodges were a handful, but my experience as a pilot helped me to handle that.”
It seemed to be fate which landed Tarr, a former Miami resident, in Mountain City.
He entered the town when he made a wrong turn going from Boone to Bristol. Then, he had a flat tire and was stranded in Mountain City. There he ate what he described as a 65-cent meal, but the best meal he ever had.
Shortly afterwards opportunity knocked and Tarr left a job working at the VA hospital in Johnson City and moved into an office in Mountain City. Over four decades later, he’s still there.
“I will never leave Johnson County,” he said. “I never will go anywhere else to practice medicine.”
Once his racing career ended and his medical career continued, Tarr invested in properties including an apartment complex in Gray and a hotel in Mountain City.
Every bit the character of Tarr is Turman, who won over 230 races and 10 track championships as a driver. Most unique was the number he raced. With his car among four machines carrying the No. 1 at one race, he showed up the next week with the number 1 1/2 painted on the doors. It was the number he used on his modified the rest of his career.
After retiring as a driver, Turman found even more success as a crew member for the Wood Brothers Cup Series team where he worked from 1972-78. It included driver David Pearson winning 11 of 18 races in 1973, and beating Richard Petty in a legendary 1976 Daytona 500 finish. After the two drivers wrecked on the final turn of the final lap, Pearson drove across the finish line at a 30-mph pace to beat Petty’s stalled car.
“Pearson was something else,” Turman said. “That race with Petty, they battled back and forth, and Petty thought he had him cleared. Pearson wasn’t backing out.
“They both went spinning. Pearson pushed in his clutch to keep the motor running and won the race. We didn’t know if we’d won or not. When they finally said it was Pearson, it was great, a feeling still hard to explain.”
Away from the track, Turman was a former delivery driver who hauled materials to the old Harrison Lumber Company in Johnson City among other places. Long retired, he now participates in many of the Shriner parades.
The Floyd, Va., resident was part of the “Hillbilly Shriners” who participated in the Erwin Christmas Parade two weeks ago and in Gatlinburg last weekend. One of his great passions, Turman estimates he hauled over 500 children from Virginia to the Greenville, S.C. Shriner’s Hospital over the past year.
With the Hall of Fame memorabilia, resurrecting memories of his racing career, his face lit up and the stories flowed.
It was the case for all the racers from Lewis, who recalled how difficult it was to see in front of you on the old dirt tracks before calcium chloride was used to hold down dust, to Travis Tiller remembering the time he ran into Marty Robbins’ sideways car at Atlanta and ended up keeping the country music star and part-time racer from a bad crash.
As a race fan first, it was the start of a long, but terrific day. It was a day which great stories were shared, and a day when many of the sport’s all-time greats like Bobby Allison and Ned Jarrett mingled with fans and best of all when various items were auctioned off for a very worthy cause.
• Bristol Dragway officials announced the track’s 2012 schedule on Wednesday, highlighted by the 12th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals on June 15-17 and the debut of the American Drag Racing Leauge.
Bristol’s inaugural ADRL event, the ADRL Spring Drags III, will take place Apr. 20-21 and will feature the nation’s best eighth-mile drag racers. ADRL events feature lightning-quick action in several categories, including Pro Extreme, Pro Nitrous, Pro Extreme
Motorcycle and Extreme Pro Stock.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series is also added to the Thunder Valley schedule on Sept. 28-30, while other events such as the All-Harley Drag Racing Association and the NHRA Jr. Dragster Eastern Conference finals return. There are the other big events like Thompson Metals Monster Truck Madness, Super Chevy Show, Mopar Thunder and Ford Fun Weekend, as well as the DER Bracket Series back for a fourth season.
“We are proud to say that we have something for everyone in Thunder Valley,” Bristol Dragway Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell said. “This season, we’ll have our exciting Monster Truck Madness and Thunder Valley Mayhem thrill shows. We will host Fun Ford Weekend, Super Chevy Show and Mopar Thunder for muscle car fans, as well as our successful street-legal series, Street Fights, for anyone who wants to experience the exhilaration of drag racing.
“We make it our mission to host the greatest events in drag racing; 2012 is an example of that.”