Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ethyl Or Unleaded, Trick Or Treat?

From today's Times and News-Star

Probably the high-water mark of an otherwise mediocre and unremarkable Halloween costume career was when I dressed up as Richard Petty.

If you don’t know who Richard Petty is, I’m sorry, but I’m never going to let you fine tune my master cylinder. Get away from that hood!

Not the biggest of stock car fans as a youth, truth is I had passed the ghost and pirate days, and in my hometown of Lake View, S.C., hard on the border of Darlington 500 territory and right in the middle of tobacco farms and soybeans, superheroes and fantasy characters weren’t Halloween first-stringers anyway. If you wanted real candy, something besides the piece of cellophane-wrapped peppermint you could get any Sunday of the year from an usher at church, you had to step out and get serious. Be Elvis. Be an NFL quarterback, back when NFL quarterbacks were missing teeth. Be a butcher, a county agent or the guy who owned both the Farmall and Allis-Chalmers dealerships in Lumberton. 

Or be a dust-stained, exhaust-breathing, live-on-the-razor’s edge NASCAR driver. That would get you something besides an apple. We’re talking big-boy candy.

If a kid comes to my door this Halloween dressed as Tony Stewart or Dale Jr., I’ll give him a whole Snickers. Maybe even check the tires on his bicycle.

Back in my Halloween candy-eating days, there was no bigger name in stock car racing than “The King,” Richard Petty. Oh, I could have been Cale Yarborough, from just down the road in Timmonsville. No shame in that. I liked the fact that his name was “Cale” and that he’d once had a tryout with the Washington Redskins. But he was balding young, and I didn’t think I could pull it off.

Junior Johnson intrigued me, but he’d mainly retired from the racing part of the sport back then and was more into management and “ownership,” something I knew little of. Plus he was a better moonshine runner than actual oval racer, the local stock car sports historians told me. So though I loved his name -- the countrified, lyrical, where-the-rubber-meets-the-road “Junior Johnson,” I didn’t really know what he looked like, other than he had a beer gut. Junior Johnson hadn’t been on the cover of Sports Illustrated like Cale had.

But Richard Petty, now there was the deal. When you are about 9, you are very impressed with people who win all the time, smile all toothily, and wear both cowboy hats and sun shades. Petty and the 43 car, that was the ticket. Hot rod. Hot dog!
With a Magic Marker, I drew “43” on a paper plate and taped it to my bike. Put on swim goggles and a football helmet without a facemask. Wrote “STP” in a red oval  about five places on my T-shirt. I wrote on my pants, and what didn’t say “Goodyear” said “Goody’s.” Looking good.

After conspicuously parking the “43 car” for each visit, I approached doors and porches with both confidence and a small tool box. Tapped on the doors with a tire tool. Each resident looked down on the grease-smudged face of a tiny NASCAR driver with no driver’s license.

If you are thinking the night was memorable and I was proud, you would be correct. Came away with a tire gauge, a couple quarts of 30-weight, some red oil rags, one air filter and a key to the men’s room at Gaddy’s ESSO station on Main Street by the First Baptist Church. Life is good when you’re a NASCAR stud.