50 States, Day 242 Myrtle Beach
We hope you all had a fine Christmas. Ours was weird but wonderful.
Because of a violent storm, we elected to stand down another day at MB. So for your entertainment pleasure, a short story, an entry for '50 Stories in 50 States.'
Gramps-Sounds Like Cramps
The family entered the building and I stayed back as far as possible. I do not want to be seen with them. Neither of my parents knows how to dress; my little brother is a goober, and my younger sister an embarrassment. Since Dylan is 12 and Ashley 8, they probably can't help it. But my parents? They both wore NASCAR jackets, gaudy red, blue and gold on him and black, red and green hers. Disgusting.
But the worst, most mortifying individual in the group was Gramps. Rhymes with cramps.
He wore a button up sweater, unbuttoned, the green thing hanging limp on both sides, draping over his gray slacks, with a belt around his middle, just below his chest, held together with a huge belt buckle. Capped it all with a tucked in yellow polo shirt. Ugh. His white hair stuck out both sides of a black baseball cap with the number '43 ' on it.
Worse, his grey/white eyebrows were so long he could braid them. They have all embarrassed me one too many times these sixteen years. I'm going to hang back.
Everyone was excited to see the NASCAR Hall of Fame. We live in North Carolina, the stock car capitol of the world, and I couldn't care less.
So why couldn't I stay home? Mom didn't trust me. Oh, she sugar coats it with, "It'll be fun. Do a family thing. Learn a thing or two." I don't care! Leave me home with my games. But no, I've got to struggle to stay as far away from them as possible without leaving the building.
We got cards to enter and stopped at kiosks to program them.
Right. I'm going to enter 'Justin Wilson.' They'll sell it to a bunch of rednecks and I'll get ads for chewing tobacco for the rest of my life.
I entered, Wanna Behome
Favorite driver?Great. I have to pick.
"Pick Slider Gilbert." I jumped. Gramps stood behind me, smelling like Ben Gay and Old Spice. Rather than make it an issue, I chose Slider Gilbert. We entered the Hall of Fame.
A video screen showed wrecks, big ones, hard ones, multiple cars. I've seen a million of them on Grand Theft Auto, a game I've played at Billy Hebert's house.
No way my mom's letting me play that, she thinks. The family is spread out,
Gramps watching the video, Mom and Dad looking at a wrecked car.
Dylan hopped up and down in front of me. "Come on. Let's look at some wrecks."
"Okay." He took off and went under the rope to get in the wrecked car. And there came the security guy to haul him out.
And this thing's going to take all day, as Gramps read every plaque, every sign. He would call Mom or Dad over and point something out, they would discuss the nuances of the body, the tires, whatever. I found a bench on the other side of the room and sat. Please ignore me!
But no, Mom waved me over and we went up the ramp into a round room. A driver's Hall of Fame, I guess.
The top screen played the life of Darrel Waltrip. I recognized him, an
announcer. Boogity boogity boogity, the most idiotic statement known to man.
Next it switched to an owner, Glen Wood. I found another bench. Everyone else
wandered around, looking at cars, trophies and drivers' suits.
A woman walked into the room and stared at Gramps. She let out a squeal and ran up to him.
"You're Scooter Wilson," she gushed. His real name was Tony, but somehow he got the nickname Scooter.
She shook his hand and smiled, acted like an idiot, then ran out. Huh? What's up with that?
Next she came back with a half dozen people. "This is Scooter Wilson." She almost knelt at his feet. What's up with that? Next they brought out pens and asked him to autograph anything-jackets, shirts, papers, even their skin.
What's the deal with Gramps-rhymes-with-cramps?
The Glen Wood video ended and over the speakers a woman's voice announced that Scooter Wilson would be interviewed and signing autographs in the Inspection Area.
Maybe when Mom told me about today I should have listened.
We walked to the Inspection Area, where a stock car sat with an aluminum rack hung over it, apparently to lower onto the car to check its compliance. Gramps sat at a small table with a guy and the interview started. The usual stuff.
How'd you get started? Outrunning cops while running moonshine.
They talked about NASCAR for awhile, then Gramps got into it, you could say.
Probably because we were in the inspection place.
"Well, NASCAR wanted the cars to have minimum weights. Everyone tried to get their cars as light as possible. We got ours four hundred pounds below the minimum and then filled the roll bars with buckshot. Then we put a trap door under it, so out on the track the driver would trip the door and the car that passed for minimum weight suddenly had an advantage."
I thought I would have to physically pick up my jaw. Gramps? I wrestled with conflicting emotions-shock at his flagrant breaking of rules, and marveling at the clever idea.
"Flipper Jones brought the car in to the first pit stop and I yelled at him, 'Did you open the trap door?' He was all hyped up from the race so he just reached down and tripped it. Buckshot blew out the bottom of the car and the entire pit crew was falling over one another, sliding on the bbs. The car slid around trying to get out, like it was on a sheet of ice."
The crowd roared with laughter.
"Another time we wanted to have a fuel advantage, so we ran forty feet of fuel line inside the frame and roll cage, giving us a half gallon advantage. Of course NASCAR figured it out eventually. But we had a saying, 'It ain't cheatin' if you don't get caught.'
He spoke with a twinkle in his eyes as he reminisced about the good old days.
"I don't know this man," I mumbled.
Four hours later we left the building, and I knew I wanted to get to know Gramps-I wish I could call him Scooter-better.
"Who wants pie?" Mom set the pumpkin pie in the center of the table. Dylan shouted, "I do I do."
I smacked his head. "It's a rhetorical question."
"Eat your pie."
I watched Gramps during the Thanksgiving feast, eating in almost total silence, watching and listening to the others. Here's a guy that has so much history, but we ignored him. I tried to think of a good question, but every one sounded stupid. The meal ended and everyone pitched together (that is, us kids) and did the dishes. Dylan and Ashley actually helped a bit, surprise.
Afterwards the family sat in the living room, and Gramps sat in his recliner, his territory, the remote within reach. I screwed up my courage.
"Hey Gramps, you want to show me around the shop?"
He looked at me to see if I had been joking, but no. "Sure." He struggled to his feet and walked, hunched over, to the back door. "We're going out to the shop," he announced.
"Can I come?" Ashley ran up and grabbed Gramps' leg.
"No!" I shouted. "I mean, no, Ashley. Not this time." She trounced off
frowning, her arms crossed over her chest.
Gramps winked at me.
We walked through fallen leaves to the old barn, now a shop. Gramps lived here for his entire life, and Mom said it was getting away from him. Have to find a little house soon.
He slid the door back and hit the lights, a grid of fluorescents that lit the place up like daytime-or more. A dozen cars sat, some gleaming under the white light, others dusty, some broken and sad looking.
"What you want to see?"
"I don't know. I just...I didn't know you were such a hero until the Hall of Fame."
He laughed. "I didn't either. Until they elected me. Just a worn out old car builder. The drivers get all the credit. But without a fast car? Most of the time if you watch an interview of a winner, he'll say, 'The team put together this great car, I knew it was a top five car,' or something like that."
He walked to the workbench and rotated the handle of the vise. "We built some great cars. Mostly Dick Parker's. He won six championships. Later it was Preston Gardner. That man could drive." He let the handle drop on the vise and it tinked as it stopped.
"What are these cars?" I pointed to the rows of cars along each side, pointed toward the center.
"Oh, stuff I picked up during my life." He laid his hand on the fender of a light blue Dodge. "This one's going to the Hall of Fame. Won nineteen races, it did." He slid his hand along the fender and over the roof, like a man caressing a woman. "Lot of memories. Lots of good times."
I walked over to a black car, no stickers on it, but the engine erupted out of the center of the hood, like it rose up there, a boil of horsepower. "What's this?"
He set his hands on the windowsill and peered inside. "A gift. We won the championship in '74, and Jim Bedford gave me this car. I been working on it." He stood and leaned against the door. "Funny, we spent decades working on horsepower and don't get me wrong, it's the most important, but later I got to designing handling, suspension. And this car sticks like glue. This car is a box of fun, I tell you." He grabbed a towel and wiped the hood.
"Want to go for a ride?"
"In that thing?" Could we? "Is it legal?"
He laughed. "It's got the plates and lights, yeah."
"Sure." Now this could be fun.
He opened a lockbox on the wall and fished out a set of keys. Got in the car and hit the starter. It groaned and stopped. He popped the hood and got back out. "Well this is embarrassing. 'The great Scooter Wilson' and the battery's dead." He found a black box on wheels and attached two leads to the battery. Jumped in and fired it up. The car rumbled to life and the engine loped, like it didn't want to run.
"Is it okay?"
"Oh, yes. It just doesn't like running slow. Don't we all?" He looked over the car, I guess to see if everything was okay. "Hop in."
I got in and shut the door. The engine loomed in front of us and shook like a race horse at the gate.
"Put on your seat belt."
I reached back and it wasn't there.
"It's a five point."
Five point. I looked at him, uncomprehending.
"Watch." He flicked two belts from the top of the seat, two from the sides and one between his legs. Stacked the metal parts onto one another then slapped over a metal clip. I struggled to keep up. It was like Ashley's car seat when she was little.
"No, the other ones first." He pointed and I got it.
He snapped the throttle and the engine erupted. I've never felt such power and we haven't moved yet. The unburned gasoline-or whatever it was-burned my eyes.
He slipped the car into gear and we rolled. As we neared the house, Mom ran out waving for us to stop.
"What're you doing?"
"Going for a drive."
Gramps had already left. We rumbled to the highway and he checked each gauge.
He turned right and accelerated, the car shoving me back in the seat. "Whoa."
He laughed. "Ain't done nothing yet son, got to get the engine and tires warmed up.
Perhaps this was a mistake and Mom was right.
We drove up a few streets, pretty fast, and then got on 49 for a couple of miles. Gramps was feeling it now. He took a couple of turns and we roared down Pitts School Road. The car heated up-a lot. I wiped the sweat from my face and hung on as we rocketed through a turn. Gramps jammed on the brakes as we closed in on a car, then punched it and passed the guy. We flew through another turn, a left one and it jammed me into the door.
Gramps laughed. "Always liked left turns better."
I looked and he held the wheel lightly, a day in the country. I crushed the door handle on my side. The g forces, whether turning left or right, accelerating or braking, were incredible. And I could go from plastered back into the seat to smash against the door in a moment, the five point seat belt earning its money.
"This is a '74 Camaro, but I've done a lot of work on it," he said over the roar of the engine. "Puts out around eight hundred horsepower."
It was more than enough for me.
We flew past cars, light poles and houses, a continuous stream.
"Too bad the Speedway's closed," he said, "without traffic we could really do some driving." We seemed to be doing quite some driving, in my mind. "Let's get on the freeway and open her up."
He kept speeding to the onramp. No way can we make this turn. Surely he's just messing with me. I braced my feet. He jammed on the brakes and threw the wheel right, the car slid and he punched it, pulling the car out of the slide and the oncoming guard rail. We launched down the onramp, Gramps shifting into a higher gear.
There's a fine line between adrenaline rush and fear. The first half of the ride was fraught with fright-sliding through turns, accelerating like being slingshot and hard braking. However, by the time we hit the freeway I'd crossed over to fun, mostly because I learned to trust Gramps. Then we rode fast and free, and I laughed out loud. He looked at me and giggled like a kid.
He passed a couple of big rigs, then shot right and passed a car in the fast lane, and got into the lane. We shot ahead like someone had launched us out of a cannon.
"This car loves to go fast."
"Well, I think you do too."
He glanced over and laughed. "I sure do."
I watched his hands. They held the wheel lightly, a drive in the park. While the car screamed and pitched, Gramps looked totally at ease.
The speed climbed. I couldn't read the speedometer, it was in a tunnel. "How fast are we going?"
He glanced down for a moment. "One forty, forty five-climbing. Oh, oh."
"Just passed a cop." He peered in the rearview mirror.
"We gonna outrun him?"
Gramps slowed the car. "Nah. Can't outrun a radio. They'd have a dozen, probably with the flat tire plates out. Ever watch a chase show on TV?"
"Ever occur to you that a helicopter was filming it? Tough to outrun a copter too."
He pulled over and shut the car off, the engine clicking as the steel parts cooled. The cop ran up to the car. "What's the matter with you? I'm going to impound your ca- Mr. Wilson, sir."
Gramps had handed him his license. "Yes sir."
"I can't believe it. Scooter Wilson. I mean, Mr. Wilson. Sir."
"Listen, officer, I'm real sorry for that, I was just taking the grandson for a drive and got carried away."
"We have tracks for that, um, sir."
"I know, but it's closed on Thanksgiving and all."
He handed him his license. "Just slow it down. Please."
"And could I get your autograph?"
Gramps signed a couple of things for the guy. A hat, a shirt and a piece of paper. The guy thanked him like Gramps was doing him a favor. Weren't we going a hundred fifty or something? He waved us off and Gramps took off, not quite as fast as before, but not too easy either.
"We better get on home."
"I suppose." I'm just glad we're not in jail.
We rolled into the shop and Gramps shut off the car. "Don't tell your folks about any of that, okay? Your mom worries."
I eased the door shut. "No. Course not."
He put his arm around me. "Next time we'll go to the track. Do some real driving. Maybe you could take the wheel a bit."
"Uh, that would be awesome."
That day changed it for Gramps and me. We were still grandpa and grandson, but became friends, sort of. I learned to drive those cars and while I never got very good at it, we had some great times together.
But I know one thing. Grand Theft Auto never was much fun after that.