( Editors note: If you missed part two of Tims story about the Kid, Just Click Here )
All of you readers already know “the kid” about whom this story is being written is actually me, Tim. So, in this chapter, as I am tired of typing “the kid”, from now on we will refer to Tim. Better than using “I” all the time.
When we ended Chapter two, Tim had made the statement that the Grand Nationals were to be at Columbia Speedway on August 30th, but that was not correct. The Grand National race would actually be in Columbia on September 18th so our little team had two more chances to conquer the track before the big boys came to town. Once the Plymouth was cleaned and sparkly again, thanks to the kid brigade that polished it so fine, it was put under the tarp until next week. Plans were underway to build a garage, but financing just did not support that expense as yet. But there would be a surprise on that front coming soon.
On Thursday morning, the 30th of August, Tommy and Eddie went to work on the car just checking engine and suspension parts and got it ready to load on the trailer for Columbia Speedway. By the time Tim got home at 4:30 p.m. everything was ready to go and all Tim had to do was change into the jeans and white shirt. The white shirt had a little oval with “Tim” embroiled on it so that was the driving uniform of the day. Marty’s truck pulled the trailer out of the driveway and the trip across town was made in less than 25 minutes. This time, when we rolled up to the gate to sign in, we had a NASCAR license in hand for Tim, Tommy and Eddie. We signed in and pulled into the track over the first turn entrance.
We managed to secure almost the same spot in the pits as we had the week before and unloaded the car. Of course we were early because we were close by and I managed to get off work early on Thursdays. Tommy and Eddie, my crew, had both signed up for the Air Force and would be leaving soon after the end of the season so they were available at all times. As other cars began to arrive, both Later Model Sportsman and Hobby, the pits began to fill. Crews all around the little team were busy making unknown adjustments, at least unknown to the ragtag Plymouth boys, so the boys made like they had things to do by raising the hood and basically only looking at the engine.
The memories of that night are somewhat obscured as the week before has overshadowed what happened on August 30, 1969. Tim did draw sixth starting position for the second heat and was able to move up to fourth before the end of the heat. That would put him in 8th starting position for the feature. After all the years of watching the late model boys put on exciting races, those events now were only a delay in getting back on the track for the feature.
The feature race for Hobby that night started 21 cars and quickly became a wreck-fest. By lap 3, Tim had moved into 4th place, mainly due to three of the cars starting in front of him tangling and crashing in turn three, with Tim narrowly avoiding that disaster. The race was winding down its 20-lap distance as Tim came upon the orange Chevy of Jay Carpenter with two to go. Coming off turn two, Jay slipped the slightest bit, opening the inside for Tim to fill and that’s exactly what he did. Jay recovered and was faster on the straight, but the two cars entered turn three side by side with Tim on the inside. One thing about that Plymouth is the way it handled. The two cars banged into each other three or four times in turns three and four but it was Tim by a half car length at the line. Another second place.
It now appeared as though second place finishes were going to pay enough to get from that race to the next as there were really no expenses to speak of as we ran the same tires every race. Still, the team was hoping for that win. Maybe Saturday in Augusta. Maybe.
That Saturday dawned with those grey sullen skies promising rain at any time. By 10 a.m. it was raining lightly but the ominous clouds to the west promised stormy weather for later in the day. Typical South Carolina August weather. The team called Augusta about noon and was told it was raining hard in Augusta but the race had not yet been called. The car was loaded, covered with the tarp, awaiting the outcome of the weather. We called again at 2:00 and the race had been postponed. As a matter of fact, rain continued in the area off and on for a week, thereby causing Columbia to cancel their program for September 4th.
Tim honestly has no memory whatsoever of the Columbia event on September 11th nor the Augusta event on the 13th. Tim knows the team ran the races but time has removed the recollections of what must have been mediocre races at best. But the memory of September 18th remains very vivid.
September 18th was the night the Grand Nationals came to Columbia Speedway. The only two Grand Nationals Tim attended that year were the Columbia events. His hero, Richard Petty, who had driven Plymouths, had defected to Ford. Now understand, in those days a fan’s loyalty was often just as attached to car make as the driver. While Richard and Tim communicated during the year, the first by a lengthy letter from Tim to Richard in November, 1968, when Richard announced the Ford deal, and then the encounter at the spring Columbia race.
Tim was, of course, already at the track when the teams came pulling in. The Petty hauler pulled in about 5 pm and Richard came over to Tim as soon as he got out of the truck to say “I hear you’re keeping the Plymouth reputation alive this year”. Obviously, my good friend and sportscaster, Jim Seay, had encountered Richard at the sign in booth and told him. Tim responded “I’m trying to do just that”. Tim was well aware a huge part of the popularity he was enjoying in Columbia and Augusta was because Petty had deserted the Mopars and Tim was running the only Mopar in any division at those two tracks. Richard and Tim carried on a conversation for a while, with Richard giving some pointers. Tim told him “if you ever go back to Plymouth, I want to drive for Petty” to which Richard responded “we always have room for a winner.” Although not stressed, the key word there was “winner.”
Saturday everyone on the little team was excited about going back to Augusta. The day dawned bright and sunny and it warmed up quickly, especially for mid-September. By noon the car was loaded on the trailer and Tim’s Mom provided the pimento cheese sandwiches and chips as everyone sat on the ground around the race car as though the race car was a monument to be worshipped. When the eating was done and everything was ready, the green pickup truck pulled out of the driveway with the race car in tow. We now had a caravan of 5 cars, each loaded with adults and kids heading for Augusta. We brought our own cheering section to be joined by other Mopar fans in the area.
The heat race we drew, the first one, should have been our first win. We started fifth and were running second by the second lap. It was a blue Ford in front of us and although Tim tried him high and then low and then high again, there was no getting around that Ford. The Plymouth handled so well it could pull almost alongside in the turns but the Ford outran Tim down the straight by a car length or so. Another second place, putting Tim on the inside second row for the feature.
Lining up for the feature, Tim stared at the back of that blue Ford and thought to himself that this time he was going to take him, going into turn one on the inside. As the pace laps began, Tim checked his mirror to see row upon row of cars behind him… a couple he recognized as the fast boys. Nevertheless, this was the race Tim intended to win. The green flag waved and entering turn one Tim was on the inside of that Ford, door to door. That went on four or five laps before the Ford finally pulled ahead but Tim immediately tagged onto the back bumper. Cars behind Tim were two abreast fighting for position but Tim was determined whatever position they got would not be the one he was in. Tim tried the Ford high and low and discovered on these high banks he could pull pretty even on the outside. That was his plan as they raced into turn one on the last lap.
Coming off turn two, Tim took it way high, which surprised the Ford driver and suddenly Tim was again door to door as they raced the backs straight. Tim’s mind was preparing his victory speech when, as he lifted slightly for turn four, there was a rumble under the hood of the Plymouth and suddenly he was sliding in his own oil as the engine blew. The car actually slid sideways from turn three down onto the apron of turn four where it stopped.
The wrecker towed the Plymouth to the pits and when the hood was raised and the flashlights explored the area, the almost baseball size hole in the side of the slant six block left no doubt that engine was history. The talk, as we pushed the car on the trailer, was that our racing days may be over. As we began the drive back to Columbia, we talked of what we could do and how to come up with the money to get a new engine. None of that seemed simple that night.
When we got home, we just left the car on the trailer and covered it with the tarp. No one was in the mood to sit around and talk that night, unusual as that was for the bunch, so everyone left for home and their well-deserved night of rest. As Scarlett O’Hara would have said, “Tomorrow is another day” and oh boy, was Scarlett ever right.
At church Sunday morning, one of Tim’s neighbors who had once owned several horses and left them in a lot adjoining the property where Tim lived, came up to talk. The gist of the discussion was that he had the old stable just sitting there and he noticed we didn’t have a garage for the race car. He said “if you guys tear it down and clean up the area, you can have all the material to build a garage.” What a deal!!!
Monday morning, Tommy and Eddie began destruction of the stable, careful to not damage the wood or the tin of the roof. By the following Saturday, team “Competition Incorporated” had enough material to build a really good sized garage. Work would start Monday with Tommy and Eddie, and the rest of the guys would join when they got home in the evenings. Two weeks after we started, we had the garage and had cleaned up the stable grounds to perfection. But, alas, we had only a race car with no engine to put inside. Now it was time to get to work to get another engine. But how? The answer to that “how” would come about in the most unusual way. Come back for Chapter four and find out how we did it.
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(Editor’s note: This story is publish with the permission from the author! It was originally published on Race Fans Forever. If you missed any parts of Tim Leeming’s Magic Window series they can be found Here; NASCAR Guest Articles Archives – Pure Thunder Racing )
Photo Credit ( Cover); AUGUSTA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY – speedwayandroadracehistory
Tim, you should be writing a book. This is good stuff! Oh by the way, my brother’s name is Tim..
Ron, thank you for the compliment. I have been told for years that I need to write a couple of books. One on all my 70 years around racing and another about my 40 in a law practice. I started one once on racing but when I started writing all the stuff, I realized so many amazing things happened to me that most people are going to think it’s all fake. Maybe one day. But I do thank you for your kindness. Please tell your brother Tim that he has a fine brother!
Hey Ron thanks for coming here and commenting! I’m sure you also have a lot of good racing related storys to tell also.
Not like Tim’s. I was never a great racer, just incredibly grateful to have finally gotten the chance to race. I never turned a lap in a race car until I was 42. I’m here to tell you that at that age, you realize that you are in fact not invincible! Plus, when you are footing basically all the bills out of pocket, you tend not to just send it in deep, to see what happens. I won some heat races, but never won a feature. Is that disappointing, ah yeah.
I mentioned the name Carlos Serrano in an earlier post. He did a lot of chassis set up for teams that ran super late models & mods in Tucson. I was at his shop one day, working on my car with him. I’d bent it up a little the week before, and we were making sure everything was square. It was really hot, and we needed a break. I volunteered to buy lunch from Whataburger. As we were eating, I asked him why didn’t he come up with a name for his race car business. His race car business was run out of the back of his main business, Serrano Ranch & Feed. He told me that he had thought about it, but just hadn’t followed through. Please understand, I paid Carlos for all of the work he ever did on my car, but he never charged a dime for all of the knowledge he freely gave. That was on top of the friendship we developed over the years. With that in mind, also know that I never, ever put a sponsor’s decals on my car, unless they paid me, or into the modified points fund. As we were a NASCAR track, every year they would give us a big package of decals, and only about half actually were for the modifieds. That day when I asked Carlos about branding his racing business, I said that I would love to put his decals on my car, and wouldn’t expect a dime for doing so. I even said that I’d let him choose where he wanted the decals. He didn’t say anything for about 2 minutes. For me, the silence was painful. So I broke the silence and said, “Hey, I get it if you wouldn’t want to be on my car. I’m not out there setting the world on fire with wins. I don’t want to embarrass you, so I understand if you didn’t want stickers on my car”.
Silence again, and I was wishing I was somewhere else at that moment. Carlos was always very straightforward, and never worried about hurting your feelings. Finally he asked “Ron, how long have you been racing your modified?” I said that this was my 7th season, racing the same car. He then asked how many times have I had to clip that car? I said never, you know that, because you would have been the one doing it. He then asked how many other classes had I raced before getting into a mod. Carlos, you know that I’ve only raced this car, in this class. He then asked me how many of the guys that I raced against over those same 7 seasons, were still racing the same chassis, I could only think of 3.
He asked me if I felt like I wasn’t a good driver. Well, how do you really answer that question? You can’t say I’m really good, when you’ve never won a feature. You can’t say you are not good, because then you have to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” So I took the coward’s way out, and said I was about average, and waited for his reply. This is a guy that’s won a lot of races in his day, so I was afraid of what was coming next. He said “Ron, you are a good driver, you’re just in the wrong car”. I said yeah, I know the chassis is old and a little heavy. It was a 10 year old Harris combo chassis, that was supposed to be able to run dirt or asphalt. Well, I came to understand that combo meant that it was just ok in either configuration. He said no that wasn’t what he meant. He said that I shouldn’t be racing a modified at all. Boy, that was really depressing! He said modifieds race like a wrestling match, you’re always fighting and wrestling it. He said I was way too smooth for them. He said if I put you into a super, I’d be running up front in 2 months, and probably winning by season’s end. I was dumbfounded, so I asked him are you sure? He said yes. He walked me back to his super, that he hadn’t raced in 2 seasons (sponsors). He made me get into the seat, then said “I’ll prove it to you if you can afford it”. If only.. I was already having issues with my back, and I’m pretty sure that my business couldn’t afford it. The rules for supers were a lot more strict than in the mods. More rules & more strict rules, that adds up to a lot more money. Racing wasn’t breaking me, but I couldn’t see a way to make the jump financially, no matter how bad I wanted it.
Drivers that never won a feature, would probably say their biggest regret was that they never won a feature. Mine will always be, that I wasn’t able to let me prove Carlos right. But as I said at the start of this post, I’m still incredibly grateful to have gotten to race at all. And I can live with that.
Ron, Me and I’m sure many others love reading storys like yours, when someone is going out racing and doing what you love to do, to the best they can with what you have and what been given to you to work with. Winning or not has nothing to do with the story being a good one. A Win or Second place or DNF doesn’t matter in that sense. Again Ron, Thanks for coming here and sharing your memories.
Also I’m going to post a few more of Tims Storys in the weeks to come.
Another enjoyable read. Thank you, Tim.
We got to know you a little better and saw another side of you
Looking forward to the next one.
Tim, I really don’t think people will think it’s fake. They might be envious, but hey, that’s ok. Most people don’t realize, that if they took the time to really examine their life, it might be a lot more interesting than what they thought. I’ve always believed that everyone has a story to tell. Sometimes it’s just hard to find someone to appreciate it. Write the book, Please!!