Moonshine's Role in Carolinas Racing History Displayed at the Sept. 19-22 Charlotte AutoFair
It's no coincidence that moonshine liquor and stock car racing both came from the Carolinas, with roots that go back 222 years. A special exhibit during the Sept. 19-22 AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway will show how the demand for illegal "white lightning" whiskey gave birth to the most popular form of motorsports in America today.
One vehicle that will be part of the moonshining display housed in the Showcase Pavillion is a 1935 Ford Coupe, which was previously owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson. Other vehicles include a 1940 Ford Coach, a 1960 Chevy Impala and the original 1963 Mayberry Ford police car used to track down moonshiners on "The Andy Griffith Show." In addition, Josh and Bill from Discovery Channel's "Moonshiners" will sign autographs on Friday, Sept. 20 from 2 to 4 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 21 from noon to 1 p.m. and 3 to 4 p.m., courtesy of Ole Smoky Moonshine.
The federal government's whiskey excise tax of 1791 ruffled the feathers of the poor Scottish and Irish Appalachian mountain settlers who relied on homegrown hooch for income and recreation. After the Civil War, the south owed millions of dollars in unpaid tribute, so the United States Treasury Department created the Revenue Bureau, whose agents tried to eliminate untaxed sources of alcohol by destroying hidden stills. Safe delivery of contraband party fuel became a thriving underground industry throughout the mountains of the American Southeast. Distribution of the "moonshine" (so called because it was made and sold by the light of the moon) took place by horse cart and, when possible, by boat.
In the early twentieth century, moonshiners began using commercial trucks, but those were easy to spot and too slow to evade the "revenooer" agents. Motivated sellers began using ordinary passenger cars modified for greater speed with flathead V-8 engines, heavy-duty station wagon and truck suspension parts, and high-load bias-ply tires on wider wheels. The clear cargo initially rode in Mason jars, but plastic gallon milk jugs soon became the containers of choice because gravel roads were not kind to glass. On more specialized vehicles, trunks and rear seat areas were filled with custom stainless steel tanks that could be filled and drained quickly.
The need to move invisibly from still to honky-tonk required navigating the curvy and dangerous mountain roads at speed, sometimes with headlights turned off. Ridge runners were fearless young men who worked on family farms during the day and transported half-ton loads of dangerous liquid explosive at night. The threat of jail time or even a fiery death did not prevent the swift completion of their appointed rounds, and they took pride in outrunning law enforcement. It is estimated that several thousand moonshine runs took place per week during the Great Depression of the 1930s, with the roar of those modified engines echoing like thunder through the mountains.
In 1948, moonshine haulers got the chance to show off their legendary driving skills - legally and safely - through the new National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing Grand National circuit. NASCAR became a magnet for the untamed mountain boys who liked the idea of racing for money during the day to supplement their illegal rotgut sales at night.
Early NASCAR stars included Bob, Fonty and Tim Flock, three brothers who transported moonshine in Georgia before joining the circuit in 1949. Bob and Fonty met with some success, but Tim took home 40 victories from 187 starts - an amazing win ratio that has never been equaled. Unverified stories suggest Curtis Turner, with 360 career victories, was a former ridge runner before striking it big in Virginia lumber and co-founding Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Robert Glenn "Junior" Johnson sat out most of his second NASCAR season in a federal prison after his family's still was raided. A thinking man's moonshiner, Johnson pioneered many techniques for evading the revenuers, such as installing police lights and a siren on his car and teaching himself how to perform a 180-degree turn in the road without slowing down. As a racer and team owner whose cars won six championships from 1976 to 1985, Johnson brought a lot of positive attention to the sport. For his efforts, he won a presidential pardon from Ronald Reagan and was named the greatest NASCAR driver in history by Sports Illustrated.
Whether glamorous or scandalous, moonshine whiskey, stock car racing, and the Carolinas will be forever linked in the pages of history. The AutoFair's special display of historic ridge-running vehicles, will celebrate the creativity and skill of those smugglers from long ago.
The fall AutoFair features more than 50 car club displays and more than 7,000 vendor spaces that offer a vast array of automotive parts and memorabilia. More than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway. In addition, up to 200 cars will be auctioned by Dealer Auctions Inc., and kids can enjoy face-painting, bounce houses and other games and entertainment in the huge Play Zone.
Hours for the Sept. 19-22 AutoFair are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $10 per day for adults, and children 13 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Fans who buy a ticket for the first three days get the fourth day free. Parking for the event is $5. For more information on the four-day event, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.
To purchase tickets, call the Charlotte Motor Speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS (3267), or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.
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