(Editors note: If you missed any of the previous parts of Tim Leeming’s Magic Window series they can be found Here; NASCAR Guest Articles Archives – Pure Thunder Racing )
After the phone call, Tim walked back out to the garage to tell the guys the content of the telephone discussion. The caller, a man named Carroll, was owner of Columbia Cooling and Heating, a local company, and was a huge race fan, especially a fan of the Plymouth. He wanted to meet with Tim to discuss a possible sponsorship deal for the 1971 season. This was early February but anticipation for the beginning of the season in April was at a fever pitch in the Competition Incorporated “complex”. Tim called Carroll Monday and a meeting was arranged at Carroll’s office for Tuesday evening at 6:00.
All of the additions to the garage had been made and Competition Incorporated now housed Roger’s Chevy, George’s Ford and Tim’s Plymouth in the complex of Two by Fours and tin with a few windows positioned very high on the side to permit light to enter but to prevent break-ins, although in those days crime was not such an issue. We still had dirt floors, but a special room had been built which was essentially “dust free” and where work could be done on the engines. The three cars were maintained in the tin complex and the one car maintained, Richard’s Ford, in a building only a few yards for the main complex. It seemed as though this rag-tag bunch of race kids were going places.
Tim met with Carroll on Tuesday evening as scheduled. The meeting lasted almost two hours but the bottom line came out that Columbia Heating and Air was the local Payne dealer for that national company. Payne was interested in motorsports and especially in being able to present their product to local fans. Tim had been selected to receive the sponsorship, per Carroll, for a number of reasons. The Plymouth was unique in that division of NASCAR in the area. Tim was articulate and related very well with the fans. That combination, per Carroll, made it an easy choice for Payne.
When Tim left the meeting to head home and knowing most of the boys would be at the garage, he couldn’t wait to tell them the news. Sure enough, as Tim pulled in his driveway, he could see the lights on in the garage and hear the sounds of “bench racing” as the boys were getting the Plymouth prepared for its new colors. As he entered the garage all conversation ceased at the boys looked at him, waiting to hear the results of the meeting. Tim told them of the sponsorship deal, which frankly for a Hobby Division car was unheard of, and the garage erupted with cheers. This sponsorship would enable them to have first-class equipment and should also allow them to venture out from only Columbia Speedway to maybe Savannah, Georgia and Myrtle Beach. The excitement of that night almost equaled the excitement of that first race in 1969.
Although Tim was not usually a skeptic, when three weeks had passed with no check in the mail, he began to think he had been “scammed”. It was a Friday, although the actual date escapes memory now, that Tim opened the mail box and there was the check, in the amount stated, payable to Competition Incorporated. That night, when the boys showed up, Tim showed them the check and assured them it would be deposited Monday. Looking back, the amazing thing is that the entire agreement was verbal and sealed with a handshake. Unbelievable in today’s world.
It was one month until the first race. The Plymouth had been painted blue and gold with white trim and carried big white number “2s” on the doors and roof. The engine had been rebuilt, the suspension super tuned and the crowning attention grabbed was the factory Plymouth Superbird decals Sammy’s dad had obtained for us from the Chrysler Dealership where he worked. With those placed on the high tail fins, the car was a beautiful attention attractor. The team could not imagine having to wait a month until that first race. Everything was ready to go! But wait they did.
Although everything was ready, the crews were at the garage almost every night to bench race and simply spend the time together. During the day, minutes seemed to pass like hours but the evenings passed quickly as we made work at the shop. The Plymouth had so many coats of wax on it by race week, Tim was worried about it just sliding off the trailer. Monday of race week was unusually chilly for April and to make matters worse, the forecast for the week was rain, rain and more rain. On the rare occasions that the weather prognosticator got things right, this was one of them. The season had actually started at Columbia Speedway a week earlier when the Grand Nationals came to town. So, the Competition Incorporated Team was delayed for another week.
During the off season, it was not only the Plymouth that changed but Columbia Speedway had gone from a half-mile dirt to a half-mile asphalt. That was a part of the reason for the suspension re-work but James Hylton had given us some pointers at the GN race. He also said he had some tires he would sell us for $10.00 each if we came to get them. We rode up to his shop the following Monday and picked up six tires he had from his race at Talladega the previous season. Three tires were sticker tires and the other three were scuffs but barely showed the wear.
Thursday, April 15 1971, dawned bright and sunny. Tim went to work but made it only to lunch before having to leave to be at the shop. Nothing was going on as the rest of the crew were still working their respective jobs. Tim sat in the shop and looked at the car and sort of daydreamed about what the future was going to hold, as he was headed for stardom for sure now. Sponsorship with real money, a great car, help from a GN driver with tires and recommendations, and a crew of dedicated young men who wanted those dreams to come true for all of them.
Tim was in that state of mind where even the reality of the radio playing country music in the background was not heard consciously, but it was there. About 4 pm the crew started arriving and the electricity in the air in that tin garage could have powered a small town for a month. The excitement was off the scale. At almost precisely 4:30, the engine was fired and the rumble was earth shaking. The sparkling number 2 rolled out of the garage and into the afternoon sunshine. An incredibly beautiful sight it was. As the crew was tightening the chain binders someone, maybe David, said “we are going to win this one tonight”.
Arriving at the Speedway, the Plymouth attracted a great deal of attention. Some folks were more interested in whether or not it was the same Plymouth that had borne the number 83 for so long. The Superbird decals were a huge topic of discussion, with comparisons made between the high wings of the real Superbirds and the high tailfins of the 1959 Plymouth. Pulling into our usual spot in the pits, we didn’t see our previous nemesis, Dennis. The season would be missing something if he didn’t show. The field was filled, however, with new drivers, and with returning drivers in new cars. The season was starting fresh for the Hobby Division and there were at least 25 cars on hand for that first race. Tim wondered how many would be left by season’s end.
The first race of the 1971 season was exciting, with Tim finishing second (again) in the first heat race. When the feature rolled off, Tim took the lead coming off turn two with those James Hylton tires doing their job. A guy named Al went low and took the lead going into three but Tim got him back coming out of four. Ray, who had dominated the dirt track surface in his Ford was having handling issues on the asphalt but his driving talent was making up for it. Within the first five laps, Ray had come through the field and joined Al, Jay, and Tim running for the lead. The four cars were actually rubbing and bouncing off one another turn after turn.
The white flag was waving with Al leading, Ray second, Tim third and Jay fourth. As they raced into turn one bumper to bumper and side by side, Jay made a move to the inside and actually drew even with Al before sliding up and catching Al in the door, both cars slowed dramatically but did not crash as Ray shot low and Tim went high to race down the back straight. The Plymouth and the Ford were side by side entering three and actually went through three and four in almost a dead heat. As they came to the line, Ray had Tim by less than a car length so, once more, Tim was second. This same type finish would happen in Savannah a few weeks later and this time it was with a guy named Johnny. Johnny actually beat Tim by less than a foot. By that point in the season, Tim had racked up so many second place finishes that he considered changing his number of 1 to see if that would improve his luck. But, constant second place finishes were adding to the bank account to keep racing.
It was mid-July, hot a very sticky, when Competition Incorporated headed out to Columbia Speedway. There were only two cars now as Roger and George had both sold their cars and returned to the roll of pit crews. Tim remembers the excitement of that night with just a feeling of something very special about to happen. As always Carroll, the sponsor was at the track and talked excitedly about a continuing sponsorship for the 1972 season and was hinting that sponsorship may be with a Late Model Sportsman car, although he didn’t actually say it.
Tim drew 10th starting spot in the second heat that night. The heat race was uneventful as Tim worked his way up to fifth in those 15 laps. Seemed the Plymouth was skating in the turns. Watching the Late Model heats, Tim noticed that the track seemed to have less “grip” than the usual weekly events. It was just something in the way the late models were handling and the way his car had handled in the heat.
Starting 10th in the feature, Tim was satisfied that the cars in front of him, with the exception of Ray and Al, and possibly Earl, would be passed easily. Tim was convinced that tonight was special and was ready to go. Dan Scott waved the green flag and the race was on. At the end of lap one, Tim was running third with Ray leading and Al second. Ray began to pull away as he had now apparently mastered the asphalt track. Tim and Al were racing tight and close with Tim nipping at the position by running the high side, but he just couldn’t seem to get past that Chevy.
Four laps to go as the Tim and Al battle continued. Tim drew even coming off turn two but fell behind as Al took the inside. Al was leading by two car lengths as the cars began the exit to turn four when the engine exploded in the Chevy and parts of the engine bounced onto the track. Tim hit some piece of the engine and the right front tire blew just at the exit of the turn. The Plymouth careened into the railroad guardrail, planting the front end between the rails and lifting the car off the ground, knocking the breath out of Tim. The car came off the rail with the front wheels pushed under the frame and spun a couple of times as it slid into the inside embankment and came to a rest directly across from the flagman.
Tim was just about to unhook when he noticed Jay was coming off turn four heading directly towards the driver’s door of the Plymouth. Tim could see the look on Jay’s face and it appeared to Tim that Jay was a little frozen and kept his foot on the gas as he sped straight into the driver’s side of Tim’s car. Tim recalls the impact being incredible as his car was lifted off the ground and spun a least once in the air, slamming the right rear into the rail separating the pits from the track. Dan had gotten all the cars off the track and the ambulance folks were at the driver’s window when Tim finally came to his senses. Jay’s Chevy was resting against the outside rail just down the track. Tim was ok, just shaken a bit. However, when he climbed out of the car with the assistance of his crew and medics, one look at the crumbled Plymouth almost brought tears to his eyes. What was once a beautiful race car, was now a crumbled heap. Seeing how badly the frame was bent and knowing what that meant, for the first time in his racing career Tim was very dejected and felt his career as a driver was over.
To get the car loaded on the trailer, two wreckers were needed to lift the car completely off the ground as the crew manipulated the trailer, by hand, underneath. The crew secured the car to the trailer as Tim was talking to several fans who came to check on him and as he talked to the local sports writer. It was late when the truck and trailer left the speedway with its destroyed Plymouth on board. Tim drove home in silence, alone, not really thinking about anything except the end of a dream.
Tim was the first one to reach the garage and when Marty and the truck towing the trailer came in, Tim told him to just unhook behind the garage and leave everything there. The rest of the crew, plus some “hangers on” soon showed up. Tim was really not in the mood to talk much more that night so he said his “goodnights” and headed off to bed. He could hear the talk outside and the sounds of what seemed to be work going on but he was so tired and dejected he put a pillow over his head and drifted off into a dreamless sleep. After all, even with money sponsorship from Payne, to build or buy a new car at that point in time was far more expensive than that purchase in 1969.
Tim overslept the next morning because he had forgotten to set his clock after the dejection of the previous evening. He rushed through his shower and got ready for work. As he prepared to get in his car and head for the office, he had to take one more look at the car. Walking behind the garage he could not believe his eyes as he rounded the corner. There was the Plymouth battered almost beyond recognition, with the body completely removed and the engine covered with a tarp. Tim went back in the house and called Willie to see what was going on. Willie told Tim that he knew where a 1957 Plymouth two door was located that could be gotten for almost nothing as the lady had blown the engine and just parked it. That night, Willie showed up with a faded green and white 1957 Plymouth two door hardtop with a little rust showing here and there. “This” Willie said “will be our car. It will take a couple of weeks to build it but we’ll be back before the end of the season. That did not come to be. The season was going to end a little early at Columbia that year and the Payne Air Conditioning experiment was at an end although Carroll continued to harbor a hope for a late model.
Willie and the crew worked on converting the 1957 Plymouth into a race car but the work was slow and although most of the crew was supportive and enthusiastic, it was just not the same any more. Tim still had the dream, the drive, and the hope, but it just felt as though the balloon had burst. The season was over, the new Plymouth just about completed but the plans for the 1972 season were in limbo. It was sort of that one day at a time thing. What would the 1972 season bring for the Competition Incorporated Racing Team? What came about was a totally unexpected surprise from and unsuspected source. Come back for Chapter 7 if you’re interested.
(Editor’s note: This story is publish with the permission from the author! It was originally published on Race Fans Forever. )
Photo Credit ( Cover) ;Outdoor Event Facility at Historic Columbia Speedway – A Cayce Events Facility