The past four years in the late winter and early spring Memory Lane Museum in Mooresville, NC has hosted the Legends Helping Legends Fundraiser. Proceed from the day go to help someone in need that has made an impact on the world of motorsports. The stories traded on the day help keep the sport’s history alive and paint a colorful picture of the characters that laid the stock car foundation.
Announcer Bill Connell, Nationwide star Sam Ard, and famed crew chief “Suitcase” Jake Elder have benefited from the previous three events. This year Rex White lent his name to the program. White was the 1960 champion of what is now NASCAR Cup racing and was named to the 50 greatest drivers’ list in 1998.
A difference to this year’s benefit is that White is in good shape both in health and finances. The Hall honored him and the day was used to contribute to a community fund assisting past racers and not just one individual.
Among the drivers meeting fans were Bobby Allison, Carl Long, Travis Kvapil, Ronnie Thomas, and Cecil Gordon. Mechanics included Lou LaRosa, Waddell Wilson, Billy Nacewicz, and Travis Carter.
But it was from a section of journalists who gathered and donated their time that I enjoyed some tremendous racing tales. Steve Waid and Tom Higgins sat next to each other along with Ervin Brooks, whose dad Earl was a former Grand National driver.
Waid shared the fact that he and Ken Squier had recently filmed a documentary in Daytona about Bill France Jr. I asked a little further about Squier and how he is passing his time. I used to hear his voice on racing broadcasts often as I grew up.
Squier spends a lot of time in Vermont, with the Daytona SPEED programming being one of his few television appearances each year. And as with the Squier subject, inevitably the 1979 Daytona 500 comes up. Squier held the CBS anchor position for that historic racing telecast.
Higgins recalled his view of the race’s finish. He was in the press box, which was even with the top row of the grandstands. As the famous Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough crash unfolded, the crowd stood up and blocked the media’s view.
Most couldn’t see but were yelling “Richard’s (Petty) going to win it.” Higgins explained that a TV monitor had been installed in the press box for the first time. He said, “I’m waiting for the fight.” No sooner had he uttered the words than came Squier’s famous CBS quote “And there’s a fight!”
That story led to another great one from Brooks, the type of tale that is woven into the lore that is NASCAR.
Yarborough was driving for Junior Johnson when he made the final-lap passing attempt on Allison. Hoss Ellington owned the car that Allison drove. Both sets of owners and drivers lost the Daytona 500 and a pair of racecars. There were hard feelings.
Following the race however a promise was kept. Ellington drove north from Florida to his home in South Carolina. And he gave a ride to none other then Cale Yarborough, the man who tangled and crashed with Ellington’s car.
Ellington had promised the lift to Cale and his wife Betty Jo before the race began. After the race, the drive home was a very quiet and tension filled. Yarborough even asked if he could drive the car. To which Ellington turned around with gritting teeth and repeated the question angrily and rhetorically.
But Ellington was a man of his word and the Yarboroughs had their ride.
Days like this serve a purpose. Racers gather to raise money for fellow racers in need. But if I can catch some living history that isn’t written about in the record books, I am a fortunate beneficiary also.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former racing mechanic who is the co-host of the One and Done auto racing radio talk show Tuesdays at 11am ET on www.wsicweb.com)