Dale Ain’t Dead and Elvis Ain’t Either by G. C. Smith

-I’m Bill Don Huckins and I’m a stock car race fan. From February to November every year I spend my Sunday’s all over the United States at the Winston Cup races. Listenin’ to the roar of motors from forty three racecars crankin’ out eight hundred horsepower a piece and watchin’ that flash of speed as the racecars hurl around NASCAR tracks is what I live for. I thrill to photo finishes and agonize through the wrecks. Racin’ does somethin’ for me that nothin’ else in this world does. I live for it. I don’t know exactly why but the love of racin’ is in my blood. Maybe it’s because of where and how I was raised up?

-My Daddy, you see, hailed from Kannapolis NC, the same little town that Dale Earnhart come from. Like Dale, Daddy quit high school in the ninth grade and he went to work in Shorty McAuliffe’s garage. Daddy and Shorty built up short block Chevy’s for racecars, and after a while Daddy used his savings and bought into Shorty’s bidness. That’s when they changed the name to Huckins and McAuliffe’s Racing Motors. Shorty and my Daddy got to be well known around the NASCAR circuit for good built race motors. They put motors together for some of the winnin’est racers. And, they made themselves a good bit of money.

-As a kid, unlike many of my buddies from hardscrabble NC mountain families, I was never in want for nothin’. Daddy made sure I had whatever it was I needed or wanted. I always had good Levis and NASCAR logo tee shirts and gimmee caps. I was a cool dude. Some of my buddies was right jealous of my shirts and caps. Then, Daddy bought me a slick red 67 Malibu ragtop when I was sixteen and he helped me to build up the motor. Me and that car was sumptin’.

-When I was a very little boy my Daddy and me went together to NASCAR weekly races all around North Carolina. And as I got bigger my Daddy took me travelin’ to the Busch Grand National races on Saturdays and the Winston Cup races on Sundays. Them Bush and Winston Cup races was big time. I truly came to love watchin’ the bright painted WINSTON CUP racecars and listenin’ to their thunder.

-Daddy introduced me to a bunch of top notch racers and the mechanics who was his friends. It was from Daddy and his friends that I learned all ’bout how race cars was put together. How the tube chassis is made; how racecars is set up for different kinds of tracks; and how to get the horsepower outta the race motors. They even learned me ’bout the sheet metal work and the paintin’ of the racecars. I guess with all that Daddy and them other guys taught to me I could’a become a racecar builder myself. Or, maybe even a race driver.

-But, I din’t become neither. I went into sellin’ rebar for construction. I made a lot of money and was always able to take off time so I never had to miss out on a Winston Cup race. An’, even if I din’t become a racer, bein’ a race fan became a lifelong thing and it surely satisfied me. I got my Daddy to thank for that. Yes sir, I’d have to say that I learned my love of NASCAR racin’ from my Daddy.

-Momma, on the other hand, was nothin’ at all like Daddy. She ignored stock car racin’ when Daddy and just about everybody else in Kannapolis lived and breathed NASCAR, especially WINSTON CUP. Momma, you see, had been a bad ‘un when she was a young girl. Leastwise that was the reputation she picked up in our part of Baptist North Carolina and that was what I growed up hearin’. Rumor was that Momma’s teen years was spent hangin’ around seedy establishments that attracted some of the NASCAR crowd. It was said that she drank a whole lot of corn liquor and smoked cigarettes. An’ it was said around our small NC mountain town that she was a wild dancer in the clutches of Satan, shakin’ her hips like a female copy of Elvis Presley. Singin’ out all a them indecent Elvis songs. She was what the boys call ‘a piece of work’. The town ladies called her somethin’ different.

-There was other rumors about my Momma that were purely nasty. Some said she done the dirty with a lot of the racers. Them rumors hurt but I didn’t believe them. At least I didn’t want to believe them. But, all them rumors, was they truth or lies, was from the time before my Momma was saved.

-Along about when Momma was twenty years old the Reverend Will Smallsmith come to Kannapolis. He was a bible thumpin’, fire and brimstone spittin’ tent preacher who set up in a weedy field just outside of town. Momma and some of the racin’ crowd that she ran ’round with in them days drove on up to the revival preacher’s tent intendin’ on goin’ inside and makin’ mock. But, in Momma’s case, it didn’t turn out that way. Reverend Will (most folks just called him that) got to her with his screechin’ ’bout sin and sinners. Momma come to believe that Reverend Will’s preachin’ pointed right to her wicked ways. It came to pass that instead of makin’ mock, Momma went up onto the stage where Reverend Will laid hands on her and asked “was she saved?” She said she was and that was the God’s truth from her own lips, she was indeed saved. Momma often told me that right there on that stage Reverend Will shouted Hallelujah, brothers and sisters, this lost sister has done come home to Jesus. Praise the Lord.

-Momma put all of her sinful ways aside and started a new life. She soon married Daddy and before another year went by I was born. She never looked back to her old ways.

-Momma nurtured me and learned me to love Jesus. She believed prayer to be powerful good and she believed Jesus listened to those who were born again and who would pray to him. She prayed for Daddy and for me. Prayed that our ways would be pleasin’ to the good Lord Jesus. She prayed that she would never again visit her old sinful ways. And, she prayed that Elvis was still alive. Everythin’ else about Momma had changed when she got saved ‘cept Elvis. Elvis was the one part of Momma’s girlhood that she brung into her born again maturity.

-So, that’s how I was brung up. Daddy teachin’ me about motors and racecars and Momma teachin’ me about Jesus and prayin’. It was the best of two worlds I always thought. My love of racecars comin’ from my Daddy and my knowin’ all about prayin’ to Jesus comin’ from my Momma. When I was a growed up man and Daddy and Momma had passed I had what they done taught me and I was grateful for that.

-On Sunday, February 18, 2001, I was in the grandstand at the Daytona 500 watchin’ racecars and listenin’ to the spotters with my scanner. It was a humdinger of a race. At one point there was a twenty one car pileup and not one race driver was hurt. Anyway, on the last lap Dale was shepherdin’ the racecars he owned and that was bein’ drove by Michael Waltrip and Dale’s son Junebug to first and second place finishes. Dale was set up to come in third, lessen’ he ducked down and passed Michael and Junebug for the win, but that weren’t too likely. There was a lot of crowdin’ and some bumpin’ goin’ on out there on the racetrack. It surely was a real excitin’ automobile race.

-One second we was all watchin’ Michael in the yellow and blue NAPA number fifteen car and Junebug in the red Budweiser number eight car racin’ for the finish. Then Dale in the black number three Chevvy and Sterling Martin in the red number forty Dodge was comin’ into turn four an’ jockeyin’ for position. Suddenly the back end of Dale’s racecar jumped out toward the wall. Somethin’ had happened and apparently Sterling’s racecar had hit Dale’s racecar. I don’t know if Dale lifted or what, but Sterling was just drivin’ hard, he weren’t doin’ nothin’ wrong. Still, Dale’s back end cut loose and he tried to control the slide. His racecar fishtailed, ducked low, and then went up and hit the wall, hard, turnin’ a one-eighty. Then Dale’s Chevvy got rammed nose on by Ken Schrader’s number thirty six Pontiac.

-Lordy, it all happened so fast. Dale and Kenny came off the wall and lot’s of racecars barley missed crashin’ them. Finally, Dale’s and Kenny’s slide spinnin’ racecars come to a halt in the infield grass. Meantime Michael in the number fifteen Chevvy crossed the finish line the winner and Junior in the number eight car was right behind him in the number two spot. Neither of them knew yet that Dale had crashed.

-Everybody in the stands held their breath. The earlier twenty-one car pile up looked real scary but us fans knew the wreck that Dale had just had was worse. We knew that this one was a bad one.

-Ambulances and emergency trucks rushed to the wrecked racecars. Junior got out of his racecar and took off running to where his Daddy was pinned in his famous black number three Goodwrench Chevvy.

-Kenny got out of his thirty six car. He weren’t hurt none, praise the Lord. But, Dale, he just weren’t movin’.

-The emergency crew cut the roof off the number three car and Dale was immediately took off to the hospital. But, a later report said the hospital trip was too late; that Dale had died instantly at the point of impact with the wall.

-I didn’t want to believe none of it. None of us fans did. Dale was the Intimidator. He was invulnerable. Extra-mortal, we believed. Maybe immortal. He was the best in Winston Cup racin’ and he wasn’t supposed to die in a wreck. Us fans, all of us, was stunned into disbelief.

-But, I had somethin’. I had the strong belief that NASCAR racecars are built safe that I learned from my Daddy. And, I had the prayin’ that I learned from my Momma. So, I figured the roll-cage of the number three Chevvy would’a kept Dale safe. And, I harked back to the Mamma’s lessons and I prayed. First, I prayed that the reports were wrong and that Dale weren’t dead. Then out of respect for my dear Momma’s memory I prayed that Elvis weren’t dead neither.

-Yet, somehow, no matter how much I wanted to know that Dale weren’t dead and no matter what my Momma had wanted to believe about Elvis, I was beginnin’ to get an inklin’ that there just weren’t nobody up there listenin’. That was hard for me to accept. I never doubted prayer before in my life. Why was I doubtin’ now? Maybe because of what my eyes had told me. I don’t rightly know. I just know that I wanted my prayers answered and comin’ to understand that there probably weren’t nobody hearin’ was the saddest thing that I ever come to realize. And, was I really to believe that no one was listenin’ and was I really to accept that as a true fact then I would be throwin’ to the wind all that my Momma taught me. I simply could not do that. So, I will go on through my life belivin’ my prayers was answered and that Dale ain’t dead and Elvis ain’t neither.

– End –