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Blast from the past

On a pleasant day in Mount Airy, Main Street is usually a bustling center of commercial activity, shoppers and tourists traversing its sidewalks to visit the city’s eclectic collection of shops, stores, and museums.

For race fans — particularly those with an appreciation for racing’s moonshine running and dirt track roots — Main Street on Saturday became a carnival of memories and glimpses into the past, the roadway lined with race cars of all sorts. Dirt racers from the 1930s and 40s, modified cars from all eras, and even a few autos that had seen action at the highest level, Winston Cup (now simply known as Cup), and plenty of people sharing memories from racing’s bygone days filled the street and sidewalks.

The event was Mount Airy Moonshine and Racers’ Reunion, and the big draw was Bobby Allison, the 1983 Cup champion whose 84 Cup race victories is tied for the third-highest in the 72-year history of the sport. Allison was on hand Saturday signing autographs, with fans lined up 20-deep at times for a chance to say hello and get the racing legend’s signature.

“This (man) right here is the only reason I’m here,” said Eddy Voyette, who drove from Louisburg for Saturday’s gathering in Mount Airy. “I’ve been a fan for 50 years. The first race I ever saw was the World 600 at Charlotte…Bobby Allison won that race and I’ve been a fan ever since. I have an entire room in my house that’s all Bobby Allison.”

Voyette made his comments while another fan, Teresa Mays, approached and asked “Mr. Allison” for his autograph, saying afterward she was a big fan. Mays, who said she was on the show Moonshiners, had driven from Beattyville, Kentucky, for the day’s events.

While Bobby Allison was clearly the best-known driver at the event, there were plenty of other folks on hand with deep roots in the sport, and fans flocked to them as well.

“I started in racing when I was about 12,” said Wayne Sharpe, while he and his dad, Jimmy Sharpe, were sitting together, chatting with fans while passing out photos. The younger Sharpe, who was racing when he was 16 with his father serving as mechanic and crew chief, spent most of his career racing short tracks around Charlotte, in both North and South Carolina. Altogether, he said he’s accumulated 200 victories, most at the former Metrolina Raceway near Charlotte.

The two, from Anderson, South Carolina, said Saturday’s event was, in their minds, a big hit.

“It’s been an honor to be a part of this,” the younger Sharpe said as they interacted with other racers and fans, sharing stories from the old days.

Next to them Roddy Langley, of Charlotte, was enjoying talking with fans.

“I’m 63 and I grew up in this,” said the son of the late Elmo Langley, a former Winston Cup driver who recorded two wins and 193 top ten finishes.

Roddy Langley said he worked on his dad’s crew as soon as he was old enough, continuing in the field as his dad raced until 1981, ran a car as an owner another six years, and was the official pace car driver for Winston Cup from 1989 until his death in 1996.

Roddy Langley shared how is dad died.

“NASCAR was in Japan doing a race, dad was driving the pace car. He had a massive heart attack right there in the car,” he said. While some people tell Langley that seems a sad tale, he said it’s quite the opposite. “My dad loved racing. He died doing what he loved, with his best friend (former driver Buddy Baker) right there next to him.”

Another former Winston-Cup driver, the late Earl Brooks, was represented by his son, Ervin Brooks, of Lynchburg, Virginia, who had one of his dad’s race cars on display.

As was the case with many of the teams from years past, Brooks’ operation was a family affair, and Ervin Brooks said he spent many years during his youth and adult life traveling the race circuit with his dad.

Earl Brooks, his son said, won 240 races and eight track titles at various tracks throughout Virginia — seven times he won the season title at Natural Bridge Speedway. He also made 262 starts at the Winston-Cup level with 37 top ten finishes and three top five finishes.

Ervin Brooks said his best finish, a fourth at Nashville, will always stand out in his memory.

“We had to change the right front tire four times in that race,” he said. “But we hung in there. We weren’t able to win, but we got a fourth…that race is on Youtube. I love watching it.”

He said he has been to many events such as Mount Airy Moonshine and Racers’ Reunion enjoying the opportunity to keep his dad’s memory alive. “This has been a big crowd,” he said of the several thousand fans organizers estimated were on hand Saturday. While this is only the second time Mount Airy has hosted the event — and Brooks was at both — he said it is quickly becoming among his favorite.

“I love it. Everyone is great, it’s a place you really feel welcome,” he said, echoing comments from some of the other racers with cars on display. “The organizers of this event are very pleasant and easy to work with. I hope there’s a third one next year, and then a fourth one … this is great.”

Phil Marsh, president of the Downtown Business Association and organizer of Saturday’s event, said Brooks’s comments are much like ones he has heard over and over.

“Several people told me this has gotten to be one of their best shows,” Marsh said. Once his group decided to put on the first event in 2019, “people found out and just started showing up,” he said with a laugh, before giving a message for those who might have missed Saturday’s gathering.

“If you didn’t make it Saturday, start making plans to be at the next one. You won’t want to miss it.”

Among those who were there Saturday, that doesn’t seem to be an issue — nearly all said they would be back in 2022.

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Source: https://www.mtairynews.com

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