Volume III, Issue 5, Page 19

“We’re Jus’ Pore Ol’ Chicken Farmers
Goin’ Racin’…”

’d had the pleasure of meeting Jr. Johnson at Riverside Raceway a couple of years before his phone call.

“Jeeyum, we’re havin’ some problems hurtin’ pistons in our long-track motors and figure it’s the mannyfold. You think Vic’ud cut you loose for a little bit ta hep us fix what’s wrong?”

That request launched the beginning of a trip that is still etched deeply in my fading memory. It became an education that encompassed elements not remotely relating to “mannyfolds” at all.

Here was the deal. In the mid-‘70s, the Grand National NASCAR Chevys (as they were called then) ran big-block engines. Some were bigger than others, but that’s not up for discussion here. Arguably, one of the more colorful of NASCAR’s community and dumb like the proverbial fox, Jr. had encountered some air/fuel mixture distribution problems (cylinder-to-cylinder) he’d traced to the Edelbrock manifold in use. The fact of the matter was the extent to which he’d “tuned” the cylinder heads required some attending “tuning” to the intake manifold that shaded applicable rules… at the very minimum.  Jr. was looking for short-cut fixes to the solution. Vic took the bait and I headed for Ronda, North Carolina.
It was mid-summer. Perhaps now, but certainly not then, Ronda was no thriving metropolis. As I drove inside city limits, my first choice for directions was at a one-pump "fillin’ station." The owner, I assumed, was sitting outside what appeared to be a little grocery store, eying me cautiously.

“I’m looking for Jr. Johnson’s place.” He leveled a careful stare.

“Well, you just head up the road a piece, take a right at the yellow caution light and look for it on the left.”

About ten minutes, the yellow light, and three miles later I was out in farmland again. Thinking I may have misunderstood the directions, I hung a U-turn and headed back. Again entering the city limits, I stop at another little roadside store. This time it was an older lady, replete in bonnet, broom, and sweeping dirt from the store’s entrance. 

“Excuse me, ma’m, can you direct me to Jr. Johnson’s place?”  Same familiar eye of caution.

"Sonny, you just head up this road ‘til you pass the railroad sign, turn left and it’ll be on your right.”

Up the road, past the railroad sign and off to the right. No results. However, along the way, I’d passed the same one-pump fillin’ station, so that’s where I returned. This time, my approach was a bit different.

“You remember me?”

“Yep.”

 “I asked how to find Jr.’s place.”

“Yep,” he croaked.

“Well, let me give you some more information. I am a friend of his, I also know his wife Flossie, his crew chief, Herb Nabb, and parts runner Turkey Minton.  Does that help you any?”

“Well, that’s different. Why don’t you just look around at that cattle guard gate ‘cross the road. Go up through there and you’ll see his place in about a quarter-mile.”

Five minutes later I was looking at a layout with a rambling garage that was capable of turn-key NASCAR GN cars. Off to the side was a concrete-floored, chain-link area housing a stable of coon dogs. And up the hill, a spreading ranch-house that’s home to Jr. When I relayed my experiences to him, his response was intriguing.

“Well, Jeeyum, what you don’t know is that they used to be a little one-pump fillin’ station an’ beer joint down there at the highway, just below our place here.  Saturday nights they was always a lot of fights and that sort of thing. They called it the Bloody Bucket. Story is there was moonshiners that sometimes came down that road and turned onto the highway, most times late at night, maybe making deliveries. One time, somebody at the Bucket said somethin’ to a government man. After that, and it was really a strange sort of thing, somebody come down there late one night with a tractor and logging chain. Seems like they wrapped the chain aroun’ the gas pump, pulled it down and set a match to it. They never rebuilt the place. Some of the folks around here remember that when somebody not from here comes asking questions.”

The next day, we were slated to engage Jr.’s manifold problems. But that evening, right after I’d arrived at the motel, the phone rang. It was Turkey, a pretty sharp character, and when he wasn’t jumping over the wall on Jr.’s pit crew, you’d find him in a variety of activities. “Yew had supper yet?”

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