Saturday, September 05, 2009


There's a well worn adage to the effect that a man will drive endlessly when lost before stopping to ask directions. That is a form of surrender to which no self respecting male driver willingly submits this side of a life and death event. It's OK of he's looking for a hospital to deliver someone else in need of medical attention. It's humiliating if he's just looking for some point of interest on a weekend lark. It just isn't done.

Bound for Ridgeway, SC, we found ourselves breaking new ground on S.C. Hwy. 34 out of Kershaw County. By and by there seemed no evidence that Ridgeway was in our future. As the miles slipped by it became obvious that we were on the wrong end of Hwy 34. Even the most inconsequential hamlets sooner or later show up on a road sign. The big boys: Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, get a hundred miles advance notice, but you're lucky to get a three mile warning of the tiny towns. No sign of the Ridgeway sign.

Suddenly we saw a sign which immediately brought to our mind's ear a rousing song by Bruce Springsteen: " Coming into Darlington County....". Bam! There we were in Darlington. We figured that we'd salvage our time and fuel by finding the famous Darlington Speedway. It was one of the very first and came at a time when those who were making big names at Darlington had already made big names with the Treasury Department. Many a good driver's skills were honed on the back roads running bootleg booze and evading Federal Agents or " Revenuers ". These weren't boys who'd been sent to expensive racing schools on weekends to be instructed in piloting Porsches. These were kids lived to drive and drove to life in the most literal and dangerous way.

In our youth we admired these daring rebels with criminal records and complete disregard for safety. It was everything a boy of that time wanted: fast driving, dangerous thrills and a complete disregard for authority. That was the heart of what became NASCAR which has today become a sophisticated corporate entity. Once the race cars were sponsored by manufacturers of spark plugs, motor oil and tires. Today it's software vendors, soft drink makers and laundry detergents. Can a Summer's Eve car be far behind ? Oh, how the mighty have fallen !

When we rolled up to the speedway a very nice security agent offered to let us walk into the stands to photograph the track from a restricted point. We were apparently not the first to wonder whether we might drive on to the track and are certainly not the last to have our request politely declined.

Upon leaving we noticed a series of large photos of the Hall of Fame drivers. How young these fellows seemed today. One in particular radiated both youth and optimism and had won in his day the largest group of devoted fans. We had to stop and pay homage to one of the all time greats: Good King Richard. He no longer pushes the throttle of #43, but promotes headache powders. But, like Clark Gable, no matter what he will always be the king. Long live the King.


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