Up there with the best of them

Up there with the best of them

This column originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle on June 2, 1976. Some context: Janet Guthrie did indeed participate in the World 600 (referred to here for some reason as the 500) a few days earlier, becoming the first woman to participate in a NASCAR. Winston Cup super speedway race. She finished 15th. However, in the weeks leading up to the race, Guthrie hoped to compete in the Indianapolis 500, which will be held on the same day as the World 600. Despite some help from Houston’s own AJ Foyt, Guthrie was unable to reach the field and opened the door for her. to compete in Charlotte. The following year, Guthrie would become the first woman to compete in the Indy 500.

It was some sort of little frumgummet that kept the Mighty Millar Half Ton’s transmission from reassembling, and there was a native runner on his way from the nearest Charlie’s High-Lo carrying it.

Stickshift Tucker drank a can of Nehi Grape and strangely kept to himself while his colleagues, Tucker and Freddie, were separating the conversation from the Indianapolis 500, which closed the horror of a woman racing in it to the World 500 stock car. race in Charlotte, which was not.

‘I’m telling you,’ said Freddie, shaking her head seriously, ‘that woman can thank the Good Lord that He watched over her and that she was not murdered to death down there in Charlotte. It’s those old boys I don’t drive to the corner for a six-pack. They ride for blood, son.’

“Hell with the Good Lord watching over HER,” Tucker said fiercely. “Thank God that woman didn’t kill someone like Richard Petty or David Pearson while she committed suicide. That would have been your tragedy.’

“Women had no business on that track or any other track,” said Freddie.

“Well,” I said. Janet Guthrie started 27th in Charlotte and worked her way up to 15th at the finish.

“And passed 13 guys who must have just come off a go-kart track,” Tucker said.

“And I didn’t even pass them fair,” Freddie said. “I know an old boy who works at the Arco refinery, his brother went to the race and he told him the only reason a woman passed someone was that she would just manage to get up next to one of those men And when the TV cameras weren’t on her, she reached out and sprayed hairspray into their carburettors.”

“The crime is all the publicity that woman gets,” Tucker said. “The first thing you know will be all these women driving into the Darlington racetrack in their Ford station wagons with numbers painted on them and their stupid laundry still in the back, with these federal government papers saying she was given an equal right to to run against ol’ AJ”

“I’d like someone to show me somewhere in the Bible where it says a woman has business driving a race car,” Freddie said.

“What are these women going to do with their babies while they go racing,” Tucker said. “Give these babies these little crash helmets and put them in a car seat.”

I’d noticed a strange, soft look had passed over Stickshift. He looked up at the spot where the sunlight was streaming through the chinaberry leaves, the videotape of life clearly playing in his mind.

“No, it’s not a crime for a woman to drive to Charlotte,” he said. “The crime is the woman isn’t Annette.”

Tucker and Freddie looked at each other. “Who is Annette?” asked Tucker.

“Annette was the first girl I ever—” Stickshift looked around. “You guys realize, of course, that if one of you ever tells Joy Clara this, I’m going to have to change your shirt size.

“Annette, she could make a ’53 Mercury walk, talk, fly, sing and do change for a $10 bill. She can tear down and rebuild a piston assembly and regrind your valve lifters. She can do tune-ups that let you third gear rubber in an International Harvester yellow school bus. You put Annette on a moving lawnmower and she could take out Johnny Rutherford in an Offy on the best day he ever had.

“I was 17 and she was 16. I first saw her in the Dairy Dreme. She was doing two-wheeled slides over the speed bumps and I knew I was in love.

“Me and my ’55 Victoria and Annette in the Merc, we used to go out those blacktops in the oil fields around Silsbee. We must have put about 12 Jefferson County deputy cars in the swamps together.

“One night she told me that if I could beat her to that great old high bridge over the Sabine on the Louisiana border, she would marry me.

“Rain, damn you couldn’t see 20 feet,” Stickshift said. “I had my foot right through the firewall of the Victoria, I’m telling you, the speedometer cable was loose and thrashing about on the floorboard like a garter snake and Annette was a quarter of a mile in front of me and gone and gone and was moving AWAY.”

Stickshift’s voice dropped dramatically. “Well Annette came up on the bridge and she must have looked in the rearview mirror to look for me and she didn’t see the semi who was a jackknifed and –“

Tears rolled down Tucker’s cheeks. “Lord Almighty, she has gone off the bridge!”

“Annette?” said Stickshift. “No, she missed that sucker at 50 feet and went to Lake Charles and married a lineman for Gulf States Utilities. I get Christmas cards. She drives a VW van and has nine children.’

Stickshift left to set up my frumgummet as Tucker and Freddie started arguing over whether or not to believe him.