My Summer at the Southside Speedway

Tom C. Erb

© Copyright 2018 by Tom C. Erb

Photo of a crew working on a racing car.

It was the summer of 1962. I was eight years old. Up to this point in my young life, I was solely influenced by my parentís music. They played it every day in the same orderóJohnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Porter Wagner. However, there was new music coming out of the West: A new musical group called The Beach Boys. It was exciting, new ďbeachĒ music that was bringing surfing, beach parties, and fun in the sun into a new light. I liked this new sound, so I begged my mother to buy me the 45 Surfiní Safari. Music was becoming a very big part of my life.

So, this is where my story begins: My father was a mechanic in the Navy, and his hobby was working on cars. I didnít realize just how good he was at it until he took me with him to the stock car races at the Southside Speedway in Chesterfield County, VA. He was a mechanic for what I imagine now to be a NASCAR-type circuit racecar team.

I worked in the pit stop on the car alongside my father. I cleaned windshields and put tools away, and I quickly made friendships with the sons of the drivers and mechanics. To be honest, I donít remember which make, model, or car it was, but I do remember some of the winners and driverís names from my days at the Southside Speedway.

I was young and so was the sport, and these drivers were not household names like the NASCAR drivers of today. I was a crew-cut kid, and all the drivers would rub my head every time they came near me. The drivers were Junior Johnson, Rex White, Jimmy Pardue, Cliff Stewart and Richard Petty.

In the garage, there was one record player and the drivers would play the usual country music: Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline; but they would also let their sons put on their music. One Saturday, I brought my Beach Boys 45, and I played Surfiní Safari and the B-Side 409. Wouldnít you know, the B-Side became a popular favorite?

This was the first time I was part of a group of boys and men making similar choices about music. The times and the music were changing so fast. Our parents didnít like the music we were listening to, and they were listening to music their parents didnít like.

Looking back, I realize that the generation gap was wide in the beginning of the new sound that was called rock and roll. But in reality, it wasnít that much different. The new sound told stories of lost and found love, peace and having fun. The main difference was that rock and roll was a visual media. Elvis moved his hips, Jerry Lee beat on his piano, and The Beatles had long hair and everybody wanted to not just hear them, but also see them.

So this is why, standing in the garage listening to 409 and watching the generation gap melt away, even if it was just for the length of the 45 record, I realized that music must be a part of my life.

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