“Take a couple laps around Greenville-Pickens with Double Aught in his S550 Mercedes.”
Some call it premonition. Maybe fate. Maybe even the Hand of God. Whatever it was, The Old Yarnspinner should have seen it coming.
I wasn’t scared. Not once, from the time we rolled through the gate until, SEVERAL miles later, we stopped beneath the flag stand and the driver held his hand out, shaking with excitement, did anything like fear or thought of impending peril cross my mind.
Maybe it should.
Maybe I should have seen it coming.
Maybe I should have.
Maybe I should have said something like, “Uh, if you don’t mind stopping for a second, I will just get out here. I’m only 22 miles from my home and about a mile from a road where someone I know will be driving along within a few hours and give me a ride.”
But I didn’t. This was not my first time in a car being driven at speed on a real honest-to-God race track. Just a few decades ago I crawled in among the roll bars of Tiny Lund’s car, huddled down out of sight as we rolled by the flag stand, and started a lap, a very fast lap, around Alabama International Motor Speedway, a/k/a Talladega.
And Lund nailed it. Thankfully he didn’t run a full lap at full speed, but as I scrambled around looking for the perfect spot to hold on to when we crashed, I was thinking, “you are a smart guy, you have a Mensa Card. You are a certified brown-eyed genius, and you were dumb enough to let Tiny talk you into this. Man….you are SO dumb.” That was a long time ago, and Tiny isn’t with us anymore.
I also had ridden around Road Atlanta in the back seat of a RENTAL car driven by none other than Al Unser Sr. with Mario Andretti in the passenger seat, and they talked casually about the track and the fast ways to get around it.
Skeered? I was petrified. Both times.
But I hadn’t crawled through any window or grabbed any roll bars. There weren’t any. And I didn’t consider myself dumb. I had enjoyed lunch with a very good friend, and we were riding in his “daily driver,” which when new cost more than any vehicle I have ever ridden in except maybe a Greyhound bus.
We had a conversation several times, about when David Pearson, with my pal in the passenger seat and Cotton Owens in the back seat, drove around Greenville-Pickens Speedway at speed; showing him where to have the car on the track (the line), where to lift off the gas and slam on the brakes, how to guide the car “across the bottom” through the corners, how to slide it out near the outside wall down the straightaways, getting ready to dive back inside going into the next turn.
I am talking about my big ole buddy, Bryan “Double Aught” Ramey.
Everyone in the car that day — Ramey behind the wheel and me behind the glovebox, beneath Pearson’s authograph on the sun visor, are firm in our belief that Pearson, known throughout the world as the “Silver Fox,” was the greatest race car driver of all time, in any type car, on any track, PERIOD. Pearson was the first driver to conquer Greenville-Pickens Speedway with natural talent alone and without a teacher. And he taught later track champions such as Butch Lindley, Donnie Bishop, and Buddy Howard how to get around the track in the shortest and fastest time as well.
As Pearson was putting Ramey’s car through its paces, in front of a crowded grandstand, he was teaching Double Aught the things a race car driver had to know. Now I, a man who made his mark in the racing world by recording the words of true racers, was being taken to school by a man who had been taught by Pearson and remembered every word.
So, from now on, I have a story I would never be able to tell properly. But boiled down, I know, deep down, that David Pearson taught me how to drive The Historic Half Mile. And here I was riding with a man whose driver’s training came from a dozen or so laps as Pearson’s passenger, and I wasn’t skeered.
And I should have been.
I kept remembering what Pearson said to Double Aught as he was putting this high-powered Mercedes through its paces back in 2008. “Them Germans got it figured out. This thang’ll run.”