Things that come to mind on a cold Spring Sunday

We're more than halfway through March and we have had Spring-like days. So why i the weather freezing again?

Random thoughts on a Sunday after watching a Formula One race half a world away. An old adage about the arrival of Spring used to declare that “March can be in like a lamb and go out like a lion.” Here we are just past the midpoint in March and the thermometer is hovering around 21 frigid degrees and the night will only venture up to somewhere in the 30s.

The lion arrived early after the flirtation of Spring in early March.

Back when we lived less than five miles from the U.S. Capitol, we depended on all the hot air belched from it by politicians to warm things up as Spring approached.

One would assume that, as a teenager who spent his high school years as a student at Floyd County High School, it would be normal for me to become a fan of NASCAR stock car racing. There was much more than that.

My mother was born near Meadows of Dan and went to high school at Willis High. She knew Curtis Turner and dated him while in high school and got to know NASCAR driver Joe Weatherly. first gained fame as a motorcycle racer and worked at the Navy Shipyard in his hometown of Norfolk during World War II. Mom met him while she worked in the gas stamp office at the Navy Yard as a civilian employee. She met Weaherly because they both rode motorcycles.

My dad came to Norfolk as a Navy Electrician’s mate and had some time available before getting assigned to a new ship and visited the gas stamp office for additional coupons so he could ride his Harley Davidson down to Tampa, Florida, his hometown, to visit family.

“That will take a bit of gas to travel from here to Tampa and back,” my mother said she told him. “I don’t know if we can authorize that many coupons.”

“It won’t take that long,” he said. “I’m riding a Harley.”

“If you ride a Harley, then that’s all I need to know,” she said as she stamped the coupons.

When we got back to Norfolk, he apparently ran into my future mother at a popular bar. He thanked her for granting the gas stamps and asked her if she would like to go out.

She told me that Weatherly was setting next to her and she said: “You will have to take that up with my boyfriend.” My future dad asked Weatherly is he could take her out and he replied, my future mother, replied: “If you can beat me in a bike race, she can.”

My mother said Joe was a lighthearted man who later became known as the “Crown Prince of Stock Car Racing.”

“We were friends who knew and liked each other,” once told me.

Mom said they raced that night down a long street in Norfolk and back and Weatherly finished second. Mom said she never dated Weatherly again, although they remained friends until he died at Riverside California in a NASCAR Motor Trend 500 road course race on Jan. 19, 1964. He was 41.

Video of Joe Weatherly’s fatal crash. He died when his 1964 Mercury Monarch crashed and his helmeted head struck the retaining wall at Riverside Raceway. The accident resulted in requiring nets on the windows of NASCAR racing vehicles. (Video courtesy of Fatal Motorsports Channel on YouTube.)

My mother cried when she got the news. She often told me that he was one of “the nicest, most thoughtful men she had known and they kept in touch over the years before he died. When my dad died in 1949 in an industrial accident in Tampa, Weatherly came to the funeral.

“He was a great guy and a good partner and husband to you,” he told my mother, “even though he kicked my ass in that damn bike race back during the war.”

I followed, sometimes watched, and photographed NASCAR races over the years but also became interested in sportscar racing after covering and photographing Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) racing at Virginia International Raceway just south of Danville while working at The Roanoke Times in the late 1960s. After moving to an Illinois newspaper in the St. Louis Metro Area in the 1970s, I covered the CAMEL GT sports car races, the Sebring 12-Hour endurance races in Southern Florida, Formula One races at Watkins Glen, and the Indianapolis 500.

A Shelby Cobra racing at Virginia International Raceway in 1967 (Photo by Doug Thompson)

After moving to the Washington, DC area in 1891, Amy and I attended the Indy 500, the inaugural NASCAR Brickyard 400, and the Daytona 500, but I also kept up with sports cars at races at Summit Point, Wva. I also belonged to the Founders Region of the Porche Club of America, served as its president in 2000, and as chief steward and chief starter for the Porsche Club Racing Series.

I thought about those days on this Sunday after watching the Saudi Arabia Formula 1 Grand Prix on streaming TV. Today, when NASCAR seems more and more like staged “pro-wrestling” events with races broken into segments that too often do not award those who win the most races with points or championships, I find other forms of motor racing more interesting and more professional.

© 2004-2022 Blue Ridge Muse

© 2021 Blue Ridge Muse