ANDY CAGLE: Tracks and Backroads Key to Development of Race Family
You know it's a slow racing news week when the lead story on the Association's Web site has to do with a Nationwide Series driver's hair.
So, if they can't come up with anything better than that, who am I to think that I can do better?
So, I'm going to tell a story.
Some people like to drive fast. Others, like me, like to tell stories about people who drive fast. That's not to say I don't like to drive fast, I just don't want the Highway Patrol to hear me admit that.
I grew up around the North Carolina Motor Speedway and spent a lot of time there when I was a kid, but that wasn't the only place that I cut my teeth on racing.
My racing education "classroom" included places like Caraway, Lakeview, S.C. and Timmonsville, S.C., thanks to my uncle Tracy.
First a little background. Tracy was the kind of uncle that every kid loved to hang out with. He was the youngest of my mom's siblings -- only 12 years older than me. When I was 5, he taught me how to drive in his 1978 Trans Am. Then he taught my brother, then my best friend Pat, then my cousins, then the kids down the street. He always had cool stuff for us -- BB guns, firecrackers, or remote control cars that he had tricked out to make them go really fast.
When he started racing, he would put us on five-gallon buckets in the back of the race car and we'd go flying up and down the road, across the bridge to this huge "Y" intersection where he'd send the car into about three or four doughnuts before straightening the wheel and tearing back the way we came.
All the while, the two or three of us in the back would be hanging on for dear life, screaming to do it again. When we'd get back to my grandmother's house, she would come flying out the door yelling at him that he was going to "kill the young 'uns." He would flash his trademark grin, run up to her, pick her up and swing her around and say, "Hell, momma, everybody wants to race."
He started racing on the short tracks and dirt tracks in both North and South Carolina before he got his driver's license. Of course, by the time he was 16 he had been driving for over 10 years. That was kind of a rule of thumb where I grew up. We didn't get bicycles as kids, we got motorcycles, go-carts and cars. I have an 11-year-old cousin who just got a car and everyone wondered what took her parents so long to get her one.
Anyway, Tracy's first race car was a Buick LeSabre. I have no idea what year. I have been inquiring all week and no one seems to remember. All anyone remembers is that the car was flipped at some point. No one even remembers, or won't admit to knowing who was driving when it was flipped. The LeSabre was the 53A and carried the logo of Yank's Automotive on the hood and the legend Coble Body Shop on the quarter panels -- businesses that no longer exist, owned by men who are no longer alive.
I don't remember a whole lot about the car myself, only that it was a boat and he never seemed to run well on the dirt at Timmonsville.
The 53A was replaced by a 1967 Catalina appropriately numbered 67, that, at one point, had a hand-painted rear deck lid with an outstretched middle finger. Can Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart say they have ever had a race car that sported one of those?
It was with that car that Tracy gave me my fondest racing memory and best story.
On Thanksgiving Day 1984, the whole crew, sans my parents (why my parents let me go to race tracks with my 18-year-old uncle and his crazy friends I still don't know) loaded up for Caraway Speedway in Asheboro for the Turkey 200. We piled into three or four cars and when we got to the track, the kids poured into the trunks so we could sneak into the pits. When we all got out of the cars, Tracy realized that he needed some scorers for the race.
Adolescent nephews fit that bill pretty well.
Caraway is a .455-mile track and for the Turkey 200 the last car on the starting grid's front bumper was mere inches from the rear bumper of the first car on the starting grid, and the cars were three-wide. The race lasted either 200 laps or two hours, whichever came first.
Anytime a car would crash, there wouldn't be a caution, they would just push cars out of the way.
So after about an hour, no one has any idea who is where, and the track officials go to the group of scorers and start calling out lap times asking if anyone has a driver running the times.
Well, early in the race Tracy was overheating and getting banged around and was dropping quickly through the field, so, while scoring, we were counting every half lap as a lap. So we were running the lap times that they were calling out and next thing you know the beat-up, overheating Catalina was in the lead.
Tracy's crew was going ecstatic in the pits, jumping up and waving their arms. The driver, thinking they were motioning him to pit, pulled into the pit, giving up the "lead." He wound up finishing third with a cooked motor and not a single spot of straight sheet metal on the car. We had to help him push the car back onto the trailer.
That night he took home $200 -- the biggest purse of his racing career.
Tracy raced for a few more years. A purple Buick with a huge yellow 17 sprayed on the roof and doors replaced the Catalina. The Buick was replaced by a maroon 1977 Trans Am with a 455 Pontiac big block, with stolen-from-a-junkyard 400 heads (every race car on those tracks in those days had to have some stolen parts or you were disqualified) and pop-up pistons.
It was the first car that I ever worked on. I remember feeling like I had accomplished something because my hands got really greasy. Tracy's voice still shoots up an octave when he talks about that motor 20 years later. He dumped tons of time and money into that car. And it was fast. We would go to Timmonsville after they paved the track, and 20 laps into a 50-lap feature, the "T.A." would have the entire field a lap down.
Then in 1987, on the way to Timmonsville, after two months of tearing it down and rebuilding the whole thing, and going to the local airport to get high octane airplane gas, the Trans Am was on a trailer that came unhitched from the truck and flipped over in some old lady's front yard.
That was the end of Tracy's racing career.
I guess he just got tired of throwing away $1,000 to win $100.
We never made any more trips to Caraway or Lakeview or Timmonsville. All that is left of those days for me and my brother and my cousins are some really good stories. Twenty years after the fact, we get together and tell stories over many beers, while the Trans Am sits at the edge of the woods at my grandparents' old house. I still love telling these stories; and not really remembering what part of the stories are true and what details simply make the stories better.
Andy Cagle can be reached at email@example.com.
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