I cannot say, with any certainity, that my first trip to a race track in the late summer of 1952, started my dream to become a race driver. I can say, without reservation of any kind, that it was on that night that my love affair with stock car racing began. My grandfather and Uncle Bobby took me to The Columbia Speedway for a stock car race. Part of the reason for that was my grandfather thought my Mother could use a little break from me (then about to turn six) and my younger brother who was then 3, and, although I didn't know it at the time, she was about 5 months away from delivering my youngest brother. Whatever the reason, I found myself sitting between my grandfather and uncle in the stand close to turn four. For historic purposes, at that time, the very far end of the stands coming our of the turns were reserved for "Coloreds only", not that such resevations were an honor, but that is the way it was in 1952.
I have since learned from Uncle Bobby that it was at that race that he and Granddaddy sat in the stands for the first and last time. They were infield folks, always parked against the fence in turn four. They choose the grandstands that night in the event I became restless or afraid of the cars, they would simply leave without having to wait to cross the track. When Uncle Bobby was telling me this story a few weeks ago, we both had to laugh at the thought of me being afraid of the cars. But, let me get back to the point of this remembrance.
From that first night at the race track, my dreams turned to wanting to drive a race car. That was all I ever really thought about. My notebooks for school contained covers with hand drawn race cars, and every paper I ever wrote without an assigned topic was written about racing. Not too long ago, I was flipping through my High School Annual from my Senior year and every comment, with the exception of one, mentioned my future as a driver.
As I graduated High School at 17, I had to have my Mother and Father sign for me to join the Navy so I could get my required military service out of the way and save up some money to go racing. Even in the Navy, I was known for my racing. I was on a small ship for two years with guys from the Northeast, mostly, and when I left, those guys knew more about racing than they ever wished to know! Finally, in 1968, I was discharged from "Active Duty", although I still had two years to serve in the reserves. I immediately set about getting my career on the track underway. I had gotten married before I left Norfolk as I couldn't leave the girl I had dated for two years behind and that put a little crimp, or delay, in getting on the track.
The beauty of having spent so many years talking about driving was that I had acquired quite a number of friends who believed in what I wanted to do. They were in it with me from the beginning. Our first order of business was to find a racecar. In my mind, it HAD to be a Plymouth or Dodge because that is what I wanted. We considered building our own, but at the time we just did not have anyone in our group with the knowhow to build one from the ground up. There was one Plymouth running at the local speedway but it was always near the end of the pack and I had talked to the guy who owned it and drove it one time and he had no intention of selling it.
On Monday night, August 18,1969, my buddy Tommy came flying in my driveway in his 55 Chevy, sliding to a stop and jumping from the car almost before it stopped. The guy with the Plymouth was putting it up for sale. We jumped in Tommy's car and headed to West Columbia to talk business. Turns out the guy wanted $400.00 more for the car than we had, but I told him we would be back Tuesday night with the cash and take the car. You know, Tommy never questioned where we would get the money.
Tuesday morning, bright and early, I was at the NBSC (bank) branch where I knew the manager. I told him I needed a loan to buy a 1959 Plymouth two door. I told him how much I was putting down and how much I needed. He didn't ask to see the car and I didn't bother to tell him it had only one seat, roll bars, and numbers of the doors. I got the money, four crisp one hundred dollar bills to add to what we already had.
Tuesday night, Tommy, Marty, Eddie, Sammy, Ricky and I all headed to West Columbia. Marty had borrowed his Daddy's truck, a chain, and a length of pipe so we could tow the car home. We handed over the money, hooked up the car, and were off to my house, towing number 83 behind the green Ford truck.
When we got to the house, we unhooked the chain, parked the Plymouth behind my mobile home and all of us stood around looking at it and talking. Even as I write this, the excitement comes rushing back. As I had a job I had to report to in the morning, we went our separate ways about 2:00 a.m.
When I got home from work the next day, the yard was full of guys, from like 12 years old up, all hanging around the race car. My name had been painted on the door and "PLYMOUTH" in huge letters down the quarterpanels. Tommy and Eddie had changed the oil and filter and had replaced the spark plugs. We were ready to go racing Thursday night.
My boss was kind enough to let me off at 3:00 on Thursday and I headed home. I was not prepared for the scene I encountered when I turned onto Bishop Avenue. There were cars parked up both sides of the street and another 15 or so in my yard. The Plymouth was already hooked to the back of Marty's truck with the chain and pipe we had used to tow it home. Seems everyone I had bored with my racing ambitions for years was there to follow us to the speedway to see if I could do it. My Uncle Bobby, who lived next door, stood in his yard and waved. His daugther, my cousin Debbie, came over to show me several posters she had made on the big poster paper all saying things like "Go 83" "Go Tim" or as she still calls me, "Go Timmy".
We pulled out of the driveway, the green Ford truck towing the white Plymouth and led a parade to the Speedway. I had to stop at the booth and buy my license, which I did. We did not have enough funds to get licenses for Eddie and Tommy who were to be my "crew". We would figure that out later. We pulled into the pits, parked, unhooked, and the three of us stood around talking as if we really knew what we were doing.
After what seemed like forever, practice was called and I eased onto the slick track for my first time in a race car. As I came around slowly out of turn four, I looked over to see all these posters and banners supporting me and probably 200 folks all cheering as if Richard Petty had just won number 200. It was incredible.
The drivers' meeting was held and we drew for starting positions in the heat race. I drew inside third row in the first heat. After the drivers' meeting, the NASCAR official, Dan Scott, called me aside to tell me to try to stay out of the way as that Plymouth wasn't fast and I was a rookie in a heat with some real veterans. I thanked him.
I can still see the cheering fans in turn four as we came around to take the green flag in that heat. I waved and immediately turned by attention to the flag stand. The green went down and immediately the two cars on the front row hooked together and came across the track in front of us. Guy on the inside second tow hit them and the track was almost blocked. As if I knew what I was doing, I drove up on the embankment between the track and the pits. Next thing I knew, I was right behind the car which had started on the outside second row who was now leading. I was now in second place, under the caution.
As we circled the track slowly I was trying to figure out how I had missed that wreck and ended up second. I had no idea. When we came around turn four, the scene was crazy. My "fans" were going wild!
when the green fell again, I just followed the guy leading and stayed right on his bumper. I had thoughts of passing, but I couldn't get enough speed on the straight and he cut me off in the turns. At the end of the 20 laps, I was still on the rear bumper of that Ford. As I climbed out of the car next to the pit fence, the first person I saw was Uncle Bobby standing on the other side of the pitfence. My Uncle Bobby, one not to show emotion, actually had a tear in one eye as he put his hand through the fence to shake my hand and say "you did it, boy". That was just the heat.
Tommy and Eddie were checking over the car when Dan Scott walked up. As we had not had the money to get Eddie and Tommy a license we assumed it was trouble, but all Dan had to say to me was "forget what I said earlier, go race". Of course we had to wait out the other heat races and the other events before we returned to the track. I pulled out into position right behind that Ford I had followed for 20 laps.
When the green flag fell on the feature, I put the accelerator to the floor and we hit turn one with that Ford out front and me running right on his bumper with the guy starting on the outside front row running next to my passenger's door. We hit the turn hard and I pushed the brake pedal which went all the way to the floor. NO BRAKES! I slammed the back of that Ford and only his expertise as an experienced racer kept him from spinning. I never knew, before that night, that you could get such a clear read of a facial expression in someone else's rearview mirror. That driver was not happy with me.
So, for the entire feature race,the Ford would pull me by five or six car lengths on the straights but I would close up in the turns and use the back bumper of that Ford to slow me down. Remember that I had spent some time in the Navy so I was aware the one finger salute was NOT intended to honor you.
The entire time the Ford and I were exchanging love taps, a blue Chevy lurked in my mirror. He was assuming I was going to take out the lead car and myself and give him the win. Finally, on the last lap, going into turn three, he moved inside me and pushed me just enough to get by. I tried to race him but we crossed the line with the Ford out front by a couple car lengths, the Chevy about a half car length ahead of me.
The next six hours of my life were incredible! First off, the Ford driver came over for discussion and when I told him about no brakes (I had to coast for two laps AFTER the checkers to get slow enough to pull into the pits and stop) he was very nice about it. My front bumper was a little crooked and his rear bumper showed the wear, but otherwise not much damage. Next up was Dan Scott who slapped me on the back and said having a competitive Plymouth out there with all those Chevys and Ford was going to be great for the promoter. Uncle Bobby and all my "fans" were going nuts. The owner of the winningest car on the track came walking up and without any preamble to his comments said "There is no G.D. way that is the first time you drove a race car". I assured him it was. He asked me if I was going to Augusta for the Saturday night race and I told him we couldn't because we didn't have a trailer. He told me to come by his shop tomorrow as he had a couple extras. I said "you don't understand, we can't afford a trailer". His response was "Did I say anything about buying it? Just come get one until you can afford to buy one". So, thanks to Herbert Corley, we were off and running. We won enough that night to get the NASCAR licenses for Tommy and Eddie, we picked up the trailer from Herbert the next day and, at long last, Tim was a race driver. Never a winning race driver mind you, but a race driver nonetheless.
When we got back to my house that night, several of us sat on the ground in the backyard around the racecar and talked about the future. There was no doubt we, as a team, would win the Daytona 500, Southern 500, World 600 and anywhere else we raced. Such were dreams made. Of course none of that ever happened, but that night, August 21, 1969, will always be a highlight of my life.
The red dirt has long since gone down my shower drain. The grease under my fingernails no longer is there. Tommy and Eddie are both gone now. I've lost touch with some of the others. I do run into many of those folks out at Columbia Speedway that night from time to time and the first words out of their mouth is always "Remember that first race?" I always smile at those words because I know we're in for at least a 30 minute recounting of each lap of that night. In fact,there was this one kid in the neighborhood who always hung around and always said he wanted to get the first autograph I signed as a race driver. At that race that night, he stuck a piece of paper and pen through the fence when I got out of the car. After shaking Uncle Bobby's hand, I signed the paper (much different autograph than today's scribble). I ran into that guy about five years ago, and he pulled out his wallet, went into the inside pocket, and pulled out a yellowed piece of paper encased in plastic. There it was. My first autograph as a race driver.
If you've read this far, thanks for indulging the memories of an old man!