Mayberry meets moonshine & stock car racing

The "Five Faces of Andy" mural in downtown Mt Airy. Nearly the whole town is themed after it's favorite son


By Cody Dinsmore

This past weekend, in Mt Airy, North Carolina, the 4th Annual Moonshine & Racer’s Reunion was held. I did get to attend and was fortunate enough to even bring a vintage tribute racecar for display. The car we brought was a 1937 Ford, a tribute to Billy Carden, a 2007 Inductee to the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame. The car, owned by the family of famed racing enthusiast and car collector JB Day, was built just the way the car would’ve been prepared to take laps at any dirt track across the Southern States in the late 1940's. Any time I happen to find myself in the driver seat of an old Ford coupe and fire up that unmuffled, raw, ground thumping sound that is the Ford Flathead, it certainly gets the blood flowing and the joy I receive, simply cannot be bought.  Also the Day family brought their tribute to Bob & Fonty Flock, who both would race the #14 Ford Coupe for Raymond Parks and went onto win the 1947 NSCRA title (Bill France's organization before NASCAR)

While the event was eventually cut short due to rain, it was a fantastic turnout; something the town and all the hardworking volunteers for the event should be proud of. I have heard there were over 70 vintage racecars of different eras on display. Everything from modifieds from the 1940's up to Winston Cup era cars of the 80's. Dozens of former racers, crewman and icons of the sport were on hand. Event organizer, Bill Blair, whose father was among the pioneers of stock car racing, definitely has something to be proud of. 

And if Mt Airy, North Carolina sounds kinda familiar, that's because that is the hometown of Andy Griffith. The town of Mt Airy is even the main inspiration for ‘Mayberry’, the small, sleepy town portrayed in ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ of the 1960’s. And as a fan of both The Andy Griffith Show, and racing of years past, it was the perfect event for someone such as myself. 

Many people, myself included, long for days of slowing down and simplicity in our fast paced world, as such portrayed in Mayberry. Many fans of the classic show wish to go back to a time like that to a degree.

I'll go one step further and wish we could go back to a different time in racing as well. I hear so many times on a regular basis that "racing was just different back then"

And it was.

Sure, as far as the competition side of things, today's racing definitely has greater and closer competition. No doubt. There is rarely any mechanical failures or cars falling out of a race in general.

But things were just different in the by-gone eras.

Of course racing was exponentially more dangerous anytime 'back then' than it is now. Safety constantly improves. Heck, auto racing in general is safer now than even 5 years ago. But on the other hand, that factor of danger is what drew fans and drivers alike to the sport. I’m in no way saying that we should go back to leather helmets and lap belts along with cars sans rollcage. But it was, a different time.

Another thing I hear the most from fans, is that auto racing is a 'rich man's sport'. Which is definitely not untrue. Back in a previous time, one could quite literally build a racecar from junkyard parts in a garage and enter their handiwork at the local dirt track. That too, is few and far between now as even lower, entry level classes run specialty bodies and engines that are bought for nothing less than a small fortune. But as the old saying goes, ‘the way to makes a small fortune in racing, is to start with a big one’

Gone are the days when someone like Gober Sosebee, could find a body of say, a 39' Ford, for a few dollars, take the engine out, do his own honing, machining, and engineering to get the most out of his engine, without ordering a turn-key build from a catalog.

But most of what I think is missed in racing today is the characters and personalities that used to fill the garage area and pit road. Much like Mayberry, the whole sport of stock car racing was one big family.  Racers had nicknames. Drivers were relatable to the everyday man. Later on, the common blue collar fan could relate to Harry Gant because if he won on Sunday, he would still be working on houses on Monday. If Earnhardt won on Sunday, you could bet that he would be feeding his farm animals first thing Monday morning. Go back further and you'd find the winners on Sunday would drive all night to get back home to go back to work on Monday; to the job that paid them just enough to try and afford to race again a few nights later.

The point I'm trying to make is that while so many people look to watch the Andy Griffith Show, as a brief escape from modern reality, there's a plethora of racing enthusiasts that thrive off of watching old footage, reading old programs or going through photos of era's gone by. Stop and appreciate the moments now that will be remembered as history later. And most importantly, to paraphrase the great Steve Waid, of the former Winston Cup Scene when speaking of racing history -  ‘The day we forget it’s past, that’s the day we don’t have a future’.

So while today's racing is exponentially better in terms of driver safety, and competition on the track, in some ways, it's nice to sit back, stop and smell the roses so to speak of the years that passed us by and remember those who got us to where we are today.