Sunday, December 30, 2012

A good time for firsts!

Looking ahead            “It was like sitting on the floor,” Sue said, as she explained the sensation. It made me think it must have been like sitting on a carpet of sheet metal when she described her ten-lap ride in Ray Hendrick’s vintage racer driven by his son, Roy, at the Occoneechee/Orange Speedway in November, 1911.

“He warned me when we were about to hit the ruts.” Sue grimaced, but only slightly. “I was only supposed to ride for one lap, but I didn’t want to get out.” Due to the car’s Spartan interior, she’d had to climb into it through the front window. She finished the race of historical cars that was actually more like a fast parade.

“This is for you,” she said proudly, as she handed me an Official Souvenir Program, Volume 6, from the Celebration of the Automobile Car Show and Racers’ Reunion in Hillsborough on September 29, 2012. “I put it together,” Sue said in a way that told me she regarded her task as an honor.

On the cover was picture of Wendell Scott, NASCAR’s first (and, for a long while, only) black race car driver. Inside were articles about Scott and pictures of his sons and his cars. Since he and his family have had connections to ours for years (they live in Danville), his picture, given to me by his son, Wendell, Jr., long ago, hangs along with our favorite photos on our store’s memory wall.

Sue had met a contingent of Scott’s offspring in Hillsborough at the September show.

Sue brightened. She reflected on the racetrack’s status as being entered in the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior (May 2, 2002). “Just wish we could remove some of the trees that grew up on the infield in the almost thirty years since its registration.”

I’d walked parts of the track; what had been a clearing surrounded by the .9 mile uneven oval-shaped tracked now looked like an overgrown park. “It’s no longer as wide as it was,” Sue told me. Trees had encroached.

Nonetheless, it’s a cherished site. “My sister still lives in the neighborhood that is closest to the track. We had been able to see past its border, the Eno River, then into the track from our yard.” All of that is overgrown too.

Some of the trees are now part of the track. “When I rode in Hendrick’s car, we actually had to drive through them. It was a little scary. I could have reached out and touched them.”

I asked what could be done about that.

She shrugged. “We’ve been told we can’t clear any more trees.”

It was my turn to grimace; Sue showed me the 1949 picture of the track taken at the first NASCAR race there. I saw the spot where I’d entered the raceway when I’d visited it the week before; in the picture, not a single tree blocked the racers’ view.

I wanted to help brainstorm a solution to ensure that more of the ambience was restored. A landscape compromise was necessary. I wondered whether that might be on Sue’s list of resolutions for the New Year.

But I didn’t have time to ask. She was at work at the Eno Gallery; customers had arrived and they were asking questions.

I waved goodbye and slipped away. I knew I’d return to the Speedway in 2013. But that wasn’t the biggest question I had to answer before the New Year.

A last minute customer on Saturday had invited me to his church in Martinsville. More than 800 people will bring in the New Year at the Shiloh Way of the Cross Church in a most impressive way. Superstar Vickie Winans [Vickie Winans | Free Music, Tour Dates, Photos, Videos Vickie Winans's official profile including the latest music, albums, songs…] along with the church’s 100-voice choir will usher in 2013.

“She doesn’t perform in places as small as ours,” my customer informed me. “But she told us she felt moved to join us!”

He was beaming. “Please come. We’ll have a special place for you!”

Such a kind and generous invitation was hard to ignore. “You ought to go,” said Sue, after I’d told her about the concert. “I would,” she said, as if attending the event would be a meaningful addition to her list of thrilling firsts.

And I might. Midnight may find me at 938 Brookdale Street in Martinsville. I may be the only white Jewish male at the church. That might prove to be the most auspicious welcome I’ll ever give to any New Year.

Maybe I’ll ask Wendell, Jr. and his sister, Sybil, if they want to join me…

                                             B. Koplen 12/31/12

                                           Happiest of New Years!

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