Thursday, February 25, 2010

In Memory of Norman Drouillard Sr...Owner/Operator Farmington Dragway for Many Years

Norman Drouillard Sr. passed away on December 8, 2009 at 6:10 pm. If you raced at Farmington Dragway in the past 30-something years, you probably knew who he was. If you didn't race there, you may never have heard his name. Norman was the kind of person you loved to hate. He could make you so mad so fast you didn't know what to think. I know this because I worked for him and I want to tell you what that meant to me. This is MY story, but it is too intertwined to separate, so this IS my personal memorial to Norman.

In April, 1979, after several years of barely coping with life with at least one year of that being in severe deep depression, I decided to go to the drag strip one day. Farmington Dragway was my home track…it opened in 1963…the same year my first daughter was born. I have pictures of all three of my girls at that track before they were six months old! Talk about the glory days! Anyway, I'm getting off track. At that time, I was living seven miles from the track…if the wind was blowing in the right direction, I could hear the cars. I thought…just maybe…going to the track might help get me out of the funk I had been in for so long because I had ALWAYS loved cars and racing!

I did not intend to work a deal with the owners, but when I got to the track, the first person I saw…the guy who was working the gate…was good friend Larry Allen and that brought a smile to my face. We talked a few minutes and I asked him who the owner or operator was and he told me Jerry Joyce and Norman Drouillard and it just so happened they were close enough for Larry to point them out to me. I went over and introduced myself and I don't know what in the world made me do it and I don't remember the whole conversation, but basically I said, "Hey, if you'll let me in free every week, I will write a story and put it in the local paper for you. Five bucks I can use to pay on rent or groceries for my kids!"

Talk about balls! I didn't know if I could even write a story, much less get it printed anywhere!!! I just figured I could get all that straightened out later!!! But they didn't know that. They said something like, "Sure, we'll give it a try!" Norman was all for getting something for nothing and he got a LOT of something that year for 'almost' nothing. I got in free, kids were all under 16 so they got in free and I got a hot dog once a week! And I worked my heart out! I was, at that time, in school at Rowan Technical College (now Rowan-Cabarrus Community College) in Auto Mechanics. After being at the track a couple weeks, I KNEW I had just about bit off more than I could chew.

A woman. Writing about drag racing? What a hoot! At least that was the general attitude. But I kept on plugging and plugging and, finally, some of the folks realized I really wasn't there looking for a boyfriend or husband and slowly, people started accepting me. I'm telling you all this for a reason. I met an awful of people real fast! But there were also people racing in '79 I knew from the early 60s! I worked my heart out all year and graduated in the top of my class at school. I would go home from the track and type up my stories on my old Royal typewriter my dad bought me about 1957 or '58. I would do five or six different stories…each with a different headline and each going to a different small town newspaper. I mailed them out on Sunday and took one to the Davie County Enterprise on Monday…deadline day.

I know I'm writing a lot about me, but it is so you will understand. My first BIG story was on Jack McClamrock…a man who had been my hero since I first saw him race…probably in 1963. Norman was the publisher of the King Times-News so naturally a lot of my stuff got printed there. I can't remember the dates or even the years of the stories I did, but I did stories on a lot of racers and they were printed in a lot of papers. I even had newspaper folks do a couple stories on me…what I was doing was VERY unusual…women weren't supposed to be doing stuff like that… I don't know if it was because we were supposed to be pregnant and barefoot all the time or just too dumb to know 'stuff' about cars and racing…probably a little of both. After all…this WAS 1979! I met all the folks from IHRA and had lots of stories printed in Drag Review. And for that, I ended up with an invitation to the IHRA banquet in November that year.

Man, there was NO way I could EVER afford to do anything like that. I told Norman how disappointed I was that we couldn't go and he actually gave me a check for $100!!! (A lot of money back then.) But not enough. My girls took their allowance money, Teresa made me a velvet dress as her Home Ec project in school as well as a dress for her to wear. My mother bought dresses for Candace and Mendy and, somehow or another, we ended up at the Graystone Lodge in Gatlingburg, TN. I had done a story that year on Margie and Eldee Hutchins and they offered us a free ride to and from. We had never been anywhere like that, but I would never gone without those girls. I thought I was, as the saying goes, pooping in high cotton. I can't even begin to tell you how I felt. Even my girls had a wonderful time. It was the beginning of a new life for us all.

1980 was an even better, busier year. I got SO involved in drag racing and I wrote more and more and more. I feel this may have actually saved my life. I had been so deep in depression before I didn't know how I could ever pull myself up out of that hole and I'm so thankful this happened. We had a blast. The neighbors of Farmington Dragway tried to close the track that year and I went to all the meetings and spoke and wrote newspaper articles about all the things that went on in the meetings and the way we 'racing folks' were being treated. I think, through the stuff in the newspaper, they kind of got shamed into dropping the whole deal. There would probably never have even been anything in the local paper if it had not been for me because the newspaper folks surely would not have sent anyone to cover that. In 1980, I got paid $15 a week and a hot dog!!! Jerry and Mark would publish a special paper every few months for the track, especially when something extra was going on and I wrote a lot of stories for it.

Before the end of that year, I met a guy named Barry Jenkins who talked about publishing a drag racing magazine. Some of the racers pointed him in my direction and we talked but I never even considered the fact he was serious. However, in early 1981, he called me and said he'd sold enough ads to print one issue! WOW! Could I come to Pageland, SC and help him put it together. That's how Quick Times Racing News got started and he chose the name for it. So now I was writing stuff for the Quick Times as well as the drag strip. I was getting stretched out pretty thin because Candace was in art class, Mendy was in gymnastics, Teresa was graduating that year and I was teaching Auto Mechanics for Davidson County Community College…only an extension class one night a week, but there was just too much do.

However, I was in seventh heaven…life seemed to be agreeing with me and my girls for the first time in a long time. One weekend in July, when I got to the track, Norman said I would have to pay to get in…I was still working there! I can't even tell you how bad that hurt. Now maybe guys don't get their feelings hurt that way but I can't tell you how much that hurt. I left the kids there…they were all still under 16…and I went to Shuffletown. For the first 30 miles, I cried. Then I got mad. DON'T MAKE ME CRY! It makes me mad when I feel weak!!! So the rest of the way down there AND back to get the girls, all this stuff was going through my mind about the past three years and how hard I had worked and how much it had all meant to me. So the first 'nasty' editorial I ever wrote about a track operator, I wrote about Norman Drouillard Sr! (And that wasn't the only time!)

Needless to say, that went over like a lead balloon with him and I was pretty much banished from Farmington. Well, not actually, but I still had to pay to get in and I didn't write for them any more after that. I struggled with that damned paper I was trying to do…by myself now!!!

I had told Barry I needed to find a printer closer to home because leaving the girls and going to Pageland and putting the paper together, getting it printed, then bringing it home and getting it ready to mail (I always did all the mailing) was just too much. He said for me to go ahead and find someone and he would do the traveling. So I made a deal with the newspaper in Kernersville to typeset and print the paper and I would just go down and do the layout, bring it home and mail it. That was in August and as the deadline for the September got closer, I kept calling Barry and he kept saying he'd be here, yada, yada, yada. He never showed up and his name was not on the September issue or any issues after that.

Norman did not speak to me again until about 1984. K&K Insurance was killing the small tracks and I got on their ass and after I harassed them in Quick Times for months, things started to change. A new insurance company started insuring drag racing and prices finally came down. I was walking through the pits at Rockingham that spring and who did I meet? Norman and Norman and Mark. I thought, "Oh shit." Norman looked straight at me and said, "I want to thank you for all the stuff you've been writing about our insurance problems, it has really helped all the small track operators!" I was dumb-struck…he could do that to you! I didn't know what to say and by the time my brain got back to functioning, they had already walked off. I just turned around and watched them…my mouth was probably still hanging open!

We kind of became 'okay' again. I always took a few minutes to go talk to Norman when I was at Farmington. I could tell Norman things I didn't think I could tell anyone about stuff that was going on in drag racing and he confided in me many times. I got a lot of ideas from the things we talked about and I gave him some good ideas, too. The point in writing this is to let everyone know I DO REALIZE if it had NOT been for Norman (and Jerry Joyce), I wouldn't have even known I could do the things I ended up doing. I NEVER had any idea I COULD do the things I ended up doing! Hell, the only things I had ever written were papers in school and letters to far away friends. Norman gave me a chance to live a life most people only dream about. Thanks, Norman.


Anonymous said...

Another good story Becky. Despite the fact that you mentioned Barry Jenkins! LOL Old Barry is one of a kind. At least I hope so. Keep the stories coming.

Mack Johnson

William said...

Great story Becky. Glad to see Eldee Hutchens mentioned. I used to pester him back when I was 5 or 6. Mom will tell you, I'm sure. Haven't heard anything about him in years.

Rebecca said...

Maybe someone can let us know how Margie and Eldee are...I haven't seen them in many years either. They sure were a fixture for a while, though.

Barry Nall said...

Very good story Becky. Glad to see you sharing with us again. Thanks

exjjps said...

Another very interesting story Becky, keep them coming....

Anonymous said...

You definitly are the "voice" of racers everywhere past and present.. When Quick Times stopped being published a valuable piece of history ended.. I know you are not in a position to start it back up..but I know Mike sure misses getting those papers in the mail..

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an interesting story. Norman Drouillard is my dad. When I worked for my dad during his newspaper days my salary was $ 25.00 a week plus commission. I worked hard to make a descent living, and ended up with a great education in advertising, and publishing.
It will be two years since my dad died, and I really miss him. He was a good person and a grat dad!