Friday, 08 October 2021 15:46

COLUMN: Reminiscing rough racing at the Rockingham dirt track

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Newspaper clipping featuring driver Ottis Long. Newspaper clipping featuring driver Ottis Long. Photos courtesy of Mark Long

Sometime around 1956, Rockingham’s John McNeill opened the one-third-mile Rockingham Speedway dirt track. It did not take long for it to become the Saturday night or Sunday afternoon place to be.  

The stands were  always packed with fans watching their favorite local hero slinging dirt and muck with some old boneshaker of a racecar. Their personalities were as colorful as their names: “Winding Wayne” Andrews; “Wild Bill” Bostick; “Big John” Sears; Bobby Joe Blue, “The Carthage Comet;” and of course, ole “Burhead,” driving the Earnhardt Special.

My experiences there began as a 6-year-old watching those fearless men, barely strapped to the seat, making lap after lap trying to be the first to receive that checkered flag. While most of them drove with dreams of being the next Petty, Pearson or Allison, truth is, most of those races ended in bare knuckles and possibly a monkey wrench tossed in for good measure.

At the young age of 26, dad was one of those dreamers.  Hell-bent on winning every race, his best season was in the rookie division driving a 1953 Ford. Now with children to feed, my mother was none too pleased by the stock car racing bug that had burrowed into my dad’s skull. That might explain the potted meat and crackers that was sometimes dinner on a weeknight. As a child, I did not know the difference. At least at the racetrack, I somehow ended up with a Zero candy bar and a Mountain Dew, possibly a means to keep me quiet.

Watching those cars back then race around in circles, I thought they were gleaming, colorful and clean. Seeing them in these old newspaper clippings, it is a complete wonder they made it to the racetrack at all.

Reminiscing about those days got me thinking about creating a model replica of dad’s old ‘53 Ford racecar. It has taken a little time and it is a bit rough but then again, those old racecars were as rough as the men who drove them.