Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Moonshining and Racin' in North Carolina

I have enjoyed watching Rumrunners, Moonshiners and Bootleggers and The Real Hillbillys on TV along with Ultimate Factories about moonshine and, when I did watch them, so, so many memories came flooding back to me. Things I had not thought about in years. A lot of you might know I always called Farmington Dragway my home track and there's a reason for that. I grew up just about 20 miles north of the track in Yadkin County…right next to Wilkes County. Is there anyone alive who's never heard of Wilkes County and its glory days as the 'Moonshine Capital' of the World? Junior Johnson and all those old roundy round racers have been on every show they've ever done about moonshining, NASCAR and hillbillys and that's where I grew up!

This is the place where round track racing got its start, where the North Wilkesboro Speedway was built specifically to give moonshine runners a place to compete…where Junior Johnson said you "couldn't make nearly as much money racing as you could running moonshine!" Five hundred bucks a night running 'shine five or six nights a week made a purse won at a round track seem like just a little pocket change. Racing was for fun and bragging rights…you know…that same old 'my car is better, faster, quicker than yours.' The moonshine legends became so popular there were several movies about it…parts of Thunder Road was filmed practically in our back yards and depicted all our old crooked dirt roads where I got my start. Now those guys are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame!

When my 'Mama Woodruff' (grandmother) was growing up on the Shore farm right off the Old Stage Road in Yadkinville, her father made 'legal' moonshine for the government…it was easier to get corn to market in small quantities! Roads were practically non-existent in the 1800s…simple wagon ruts only. They already had to haul their tobacco to market so shipping corn as a distilled liquid was a boon to anyone who could get those contracts! However, during the days of 'prohibition' there was no 'legal' liquor being made anywhere in our country. That kept illegal moonshiners very much in demand.

I honestly do not know if my dad was ever involved in 'making' moonshine, but it would not surprise me if he had. He was a dare devil in many ways (at least now you know I got it honest!). He didn't necessarily haul moonshine like we think of hauling moonshine…special cars with false bottom floorboards and trunk bottoms…my dad delivered moonshine in a different way. He actually delivered it to peoples' homes, much like he delivered milk from the family dairy to peoples' homes in the mornings. He bought his first ever car with the money he made from that first Saturday night job…a model A Ford! I guess since most of the people I'm writing about are gone now, I can tell this story. My dad's last delivery every Saturday night was also his last stop…to his own home!

My granddad had a standing order for a gallon of moonshine every week and when my dad would finish his 'run' and go home, he would take his own father's money from under a flower pot on the front porch and set the jug down in the shrubbery. When my granddad got up around 3 am to go milk about 70 cows, he would get his jug and put it wherever he kept it and by the end of the week, he would be ready for the next one! He NEVER knew who was delivering that jug. He made his deal with the 'maker' not the delivery man. But for a poor farm boy who worked all the time, my father was one of few young men in the country who actually had his own car. (FYI…I take after my great granddad, my granddad, my dad and probably ALL their ancestors…I still LOVE good moonshine, the taste of it, the way it feels going down. But I don't let myself drink it except on special occasions and the reason I don't let myself drink it is because I love it SO much! Hell, I could never afford it! It's a shame we're losing the knowledge of how to make really good moonshine.)

Moonshine was so prevalent where I grew up everyone pretty much knew who was making it and running it, but no one ever told the law. Some families would not have had roofs, clothes, even food for their children had it not been for moonshine. It's true…some were too sorry to work and moonshine was easy money, but some did it just to survive. One of my mother's sisters lived on the 'far end' of Woodruff Road (remember that one from the last story?), the 'far end' came back out on Hwy 67 just a few miles west of the 'near end'…the end nearest Boonville (close to Steelman Motor Company and across the highway from the house where I grew up). Don't quit reading because this gets tedious…I just want you to know how close we REALLY were to REAL moonshining…at least in one place.

If you go straight from Boonville to Elkin on Hwy 67, just a few miles past the 'near end' of Woodruff Road, you will go down a long hill…Waterwheel Hill. Part of the way down that hill was Waterwheel Road (it is still dirt) that intersected with Woodruff Road about halfway between the near end and the far end! At the bottom of the hill, there's a long straight stretch…there used to be a gas station/store…I think it was called Vestal's Service Station…on the left side of the road and on the right, there were bottoms with creeks running through and a farm road coming from that aunt and uncle's farmhouse to the highway. The creek runs along the side of the road through what used to be my uncle's corn and tobacco fields but it came down through the woods to get to that point. His land went almost from Waterwheel Road to Wagoner's property on the far side.

All along that creek, on BOTH sides of my aunt and uncle's house and fields, there were woods as well as houses where other people lived. I don't know how much land they owned (a lot) but many of the people who lived on that stretch of Woodruff Road were share cropper/tenant renters. Whenever my cousins and I would go to the creek to work on our current 'swimming hole' they would say, "Don't go……(in a certain direction)" and we knew what they meant. We knew about the stills and there were times when the 'revenuers' had been out looking for them. The moonshiners moved the stills from one place on the creek (you have to have lots of water to make moonshine) to another spot on the creek every so often to keep those guys off their trail. We didn't always know where they had most recently moved the still. Several times we would run up on a still and we would just have to get the hell out of there in a hurry.

I don't know how closely my uncle was tied to those stills…some were on his property. For all I know he was paying those guys to do the moonshining for him. One of the families who lived near my aunt and uncle was the family of one of my best friends…I cannot tell her name and you will see why. The last time I saw her at a high school reunion, she would barely speak to me. She also treated me quite weirdly when I visited her at her home once so I never went back. I know when people get older, get married and have better (or different) lives than they had when they were growing up, sometimes they are ashamed of their former lives when they were children. I think that's why she treated me that way. (I don't believe anyone should be ashamed of their 'raising,' after all, they were born into it, it wasn't a conscious choice they made…just one they had to live with until they could change it.)

The reason I can't tell you her name is because she married into a racing family…they raced on circle tracks AND (later) in drag racing. One of the members of that family and his drag car was actually featured on www.draglist.com some time back! Don't ask, I won't tell, because people in our sport don't know their history. Don't y'all think I could write a book? (If I could stay alive long enough?)

A couple years after North Wilkesboro Speedway was built, the forward-looking Bill France formed NASCAR and the rest is history. But there are so many tales lived by so many people other than the Junior Johnsons and the Benny Parsons and those other 'famous' guys during those years. People like my dad was one of them. The people I've written about who hung around Steelman Motor Company…there were zillions of us…fans, anyone who supported any aspect of racing right down to the lowly fender lizards like me and, yes, even those folks who bought the moonshine.

By the time I became a teenager and got my drivers' license, Benny, Junior and others were already legends but they were still ACCESSIBLE. We could go to their shops and see their cars and ask stupid questions and go to the races and see them. They were even accessible in the pits back then. It was all much different than it is now. I've already written about loading up in an uncle's truck to go to Bowman Gray on Saturday nights in the summer. We didn't get to go to other tracks because regular folks, especially farmers, didn't go far afield for their entertainment…we had cows to milk (two times a day, seven days a week) and tobacco to get out of the barn or put in the barn or put in the packhouse or load on the truck or take off the truck! Not to mention chopping out that corn in the river bottoms!

Moonshining led to some drag racing as well and when they started building 'new' 421 between Yadkinville and Wilkesboro, there was an awful lot of 'straight' racing happening on that flat Carolina red clay and I was right in the thick of it! The great thing about racing at that particular spot was the construction crews came in and smoothed it all back out for us during the week! My dad had a 1959 Oldsmobile that would absolutely fly, after all, this WAS 1960! J It was red and white and I LOVED out-running some of those guys. Of course, there were still plenty of young men who ran moonshine then and they would bring some of their cars and no one outran them. You know, this story is just one of thousands. I was no different than all the other racing wannabes. If we could get other people to put their thoughts and actions down on paper, we would all be amazed at the things we could learn about them and from them…the history that is being lost every time we lose one of those people.

(Note: Some of the hometown boys from Yadkin and Wilkes counties have done a moonshine video (filmed partially at North Wilkesboro Speedway) and it is on YouTube…some time when you're looking for something to do, go there and find the 'Carolina Moonshine' video…from there, you can find several other moonshine and racing videos. Neat! AND very well done! By the way, have you heard? North Wilkesboro Speedway has RE-OPENED!!! FINALLY. And I hear it is VERY successful!!! Hallelujah and good for them…I hope they have MUCH continued success!)

I don't think it was any great surprise when Farmington Dragway opened its doors. And it was no surprise how successful it was. There was lots of drag racing all over the country by then…Old Dominion Dragway in Manassas, VA opened in 1953 and there were dirt drag strips popping up everywhere by then and people were racing on air strips and red clay long before the first paved drag strips came along. There were still even dirt drag strips in the '60s, the second track I ever went to was dirt…at Little River, SC, just south of the North Carolina state line near the coast. But all those same folks who did all that moonshining and outlaw racing now had places to race legally. This is just a little bit of my history…I didn't tell you about finding the hidden car keys and racing on dirt roads when I was 14 in a '56 Ford and some of the other crazy crap I did. I've loved cars all my life. For someone who always just wanted a souped-up street car, I'm probably doing pretty good to be driving anything, especially after that wreck on October 8, 2003!

The internet is a great place to put YOUR history. At least, when we're gone, all this stuff won't be lost forever. Every time we lose someone in our sport who hasn't had their story done somewhere, we lose a part of our history. And even if you don't have a million people who read it, at least it's there for those who care. I love reading the stories about how other people got into drag racing, their trials and tribulations and victories. I don't necessarily mean races won, but all their victories…personal and otherwise. Although I never actually won a race, I have had many victories.

Just being the ONLY person who EVER published a 'long time' successful drag racing magazine for the 'little guys' was a victory for me no one else in the world can EVER claim! I was able to be successful because I cared so much about the sport and the people and no one was willing to work that hard for that little amount of money! I started this story some time in 2009 and have finished it and posted it in October, 2010. I always was…I still am…I always will be…DRAG RACING'S MOST DEDICATED FAN! Becky White, Editor/Publisher…Quick Times Racing News, 1981-2005.


osupremegrandmotherone said...

If I were to sit down and write the story of my life, no one would believe it. Truth IS stranger than fiction!
Thanks for your memories Becky.

William said...

Awesome stuff, Becky. I always enjoy stories about the not-so-old days.