Past Times

NASCAR wives had a backstage pass to the action

Driver Bobby Allison hangs out at the track with wife Judy and children (from left) Clifford, Bonnie, Carrie, and Davey in 1967.
Driver Bobby Allison hangs out at the track with wife Judy and children (from left) Clifford, Bonnie, Carrie, and Davey in 1967. Courtesy of Bobby Allison Racing, Inc.

In 1967, NASCAR drivers zoomed around small and medium tracks all over North Carolina, but when writer Mary Regan went to Rockingham for the American 500, she talked to the women behind the men.

They don’t wear green. They don’t eat peanuts. And they never go near the pits.

These are the things that mark the women behind the NASCAR men who raced in the American 500 at the N.C. Motor Speedway Sunday.

Bobby Allison won the almost five-hour-long race.

Friday, his pretty wife, Judy, thought over the superstitions that surround stock car racing. She shrugged at the peanut charm, said “it isn’t one of ours,” then laughing, admitted that she never lets the children eat peanuts the day of a race.

The children number four. Judy had loaded them into the Allison’s cream-colored ’66 Chevelle station wagon and driven them under the track and onto the infield for a picnic with their father during the speed trials Friday.

Blond, blue-eyed Judy was wearing a pink shell sweater and deep red slacks. She pulled down the rear gate of the wagon and began spreading out chicken, Pepsi-colas, potato-chips and cookies.

She’d fried the chicken two days earlier in Hueytown, Ala., before she left her beautician job to drive to Rockingham, move the family into a motel, and get ready for the races. Allison, driving for Ford, flies from speedway to speedway.

The moving about doesn’t seem to upset 26-year-old Judy. “It gives me more of a chance to do things with the children,” she said. “At home I’d have to work all the time. And I have more time to help Davey with his school work.”

Davey is a quick, all-boy 6-year-old. His mother says he is “very emotional” about racing. “When his father is out in front, and something happens, he gets so upset. Sometimes he cries. He puts his whole heart and soul into it.”

And when daddy wins, “I just jump up and down when I hear it. I just jump up and down,” Davey said.

It seemed to be all he could do to keep himself from demonstrating at the mere thought of such an exciting thing occurring.

The other Allisons are younger – Bonnie is four, Clifford, three, and Caralene, six months old.

As the speed trials began, the deafening roar of the engines made even shouting futile.

And as very silent testimony to the ease at which the Allisons live the racing life, Judy lay Caralene down in the back of the station wagon and she dropped off into a deep peaceful sleep.

“Sam” Register was playing rummy on one of the red-checkered table cloths in the cafeteria in the middle of the infield. …

She is 27 years old, of medium height and size, has brown hair and pierced ears, wears black leather leg boots, and is racer Tiny Lund’s girlfriend. Tiny is so named because “he’s 6’4” tall and weighs 270 lbs.”

Sam is the NASCAR representative of Guardian Filters and joins Miss Speedway and other Beauty Misses in the parade around the track at the start of a race. …

At the track when Sam’s not playing rummy or solitaire, she spends her time sketching race cars and people.

In NASCAR’s main office in Daytona, Fla., hangs a portrait Sam painted for NASCAR president Bill France. It is of the late Cannonball Baker, a close friend of France, and was presented him at the Darlington 500 last year. …

As Miss Guardian Filter, Sam is allowed to go into the pits. “Oh, but I wouldn’t. Once I ate peanuts and Tiny lost.”

Ardy Stelter lives in Columbia, S.C., and her husband, Lyle is a mechanic for Tiny Lund. Lyle used to race on the West coast, but when they returned to the South, he discovered “you could get good experienced drivers better than you could get good experienced mechanics.”

Ardy, an ex-secretary, is a “parts chaser for the the shop.” She doesn’t consider herself a mechanic, but “living around it so darn much, you do pick up a lot.” If she happened to have a flat tire out on the road – “Sure, I’d know what to do. I’d get some man to change if for me. …”

The Stetlers, who recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary, have always been in racing of one sort or another. …

“Before I retired from my secretarial job, Lyle would come into town, say ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ then have to leave again. So I quit my job and here I am.”

Ann and Joe Whitener live in Hickory. Every year they take their three-week vacation at the time of the Daytona 500 and Joe works there as a flagman.

They have two children, a son in the Navy, a daughter in beauty school. They bowl two nights each week.

Ann works for the telephone company every night from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.; Joe for General Electric from midnight to 8 a.m.

While the races are on in Rockingham (and also Charlotte), they leave Hickory as soon as he gets off work and drive 2 1/2 to 3 hours to the Rockingham Speedway. There he works all day as a flagman; she watches, talks, plays solitaire. Then they drive back to Hickory, work all night, come back the next day.

When do they sleep – “He sleeps coming down, I going back.” The N&O Oct. 30, 1967

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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