Saturday. The cars are driven to the local gas stations. The Highway Patrol
shuts its eyes on the muffler-less and license-less cars until they're through
the gate and to the starting line. A spectator swings open his car door and
almost steps on Ted Tidwell in his Formula B. On the walk to the pit area, one
driver recalls Tombstone Shaw, who wanted to slip in a little early practice
before the others got up and went charging along the road. Trouble was the
chain was still up and his D-type Jaguar lost the light.
The sky is cloudy
and blue, the clouds moving quickly across the face of The Rock, reminders of
the apparition that passed in 1806 and again live years later. The papers
reported it over the South from eyewitness accounts: a host of robed figures,
then a cavalry troop marching around the chimney with the sounds of battle
sounding through the hills. Today the cloud shapes mean fog, settling over the
top where a slight journey out of line takes you over the edge. "Not gonna
rain," a mountain man tells us. "You can figure it by the flag up
yonder being straight out, pointing down the valley." The spectators wait
along the road, listening to the up-down roar of the engines, an occasional
scraped gear, dreading the quiet that ends a run before the top when the driver
loses the road in the mist.
Ted Tidwell, the
man who has won in more classes more nines than any other, leans against his
tow car. He looks neat and businesslike in his driver's suit, 25 pounds lighter
than last year. Someone asks him how many horsepower he gained by going on a
diet. He looks at his 800-pound car and smiles, "A couple, maybe." The
Augusta businessman has lost the last two climbs and has no intention of
getting used to losing. "But this is my thing," he said. "I know I
could get something with more horsepower and bigger tires, maybe even put the
record out of sight. But I want to do it with a Volkswagen engine."
The men get, at
most, half a dozen practice runs Saturday and Sunday before their two shots at
the record Sunday afternoon. After the first batch of the day Tidwell hears
that Pete Feistmann has made a scorching unofficial run in his new English
Cortina-powered Formula Ford, 3.243 seconds under the record. He shakes his
head, "I just might have to come back next year with a Porsche engine in my
car, get me some big wheels. I'm going to give this car one more try; then it's
time for a change."
Tidwell takes his
practice run to the top. John Scott waits for his turn in the record-holding
Cobra. Big John, big car. "I'm going to blow the doors off them this
time." Still mad because the record keeper had given him some argument in
past years over the modified or unmodified state of his carburetors and the
marks he had claimed. Weeks before the race Scott said from his shop, "I
don't like to show everything I've got on Saturday. I like to surprise them a
little on Sunday. Don't need to push in practice. If you've dime it enough
times, you know how fast you're running." He has more horsepower for this
year. Most people think he needs more horsepower like he needs five wheels.
When Scott makes his unofficial run the announcer asks the crowd to stand back
from the bank, no legs over the edge. The Cobra growls off the line and chomps
at the road like a bull elephant with more power now than the wheels can keep
on the road. You feel the ground tremble under your feet when he goes by.
Scott comes over
the line at the top and Tidwell, waiting up there, calls out, "Everybody
bow down. There's the king, bow down!" John Scott grins; he's after the
Governor's Cup—one more win and it's his. But Feistmann has got him worried.
Scott's never been able to chip away more than half a second at a time and
Feistmann went 10 seconds faster than John's first time today. But Feistmann
has to repeat it tomorrow when times are official.
everybody looks up. Raindrops are dashing through the leaves; the Hag on the
chimney droops a little and snaps in the wind. The native was wrong, alter
Scott gets kidded
during the lunch break; somehow his job as investigator for the State of South
Carolina came through the press as secret agent. Tidwell, 37 years old, runs
the family business, printing and advertising; his pretty wife B.J. is with
him. She says she comes along to put a hex on the other drivers; she points at
them when they take off, and they crash. Feistmann is an Asheville building
contractor and political science graduate of the University of North Carolina;
he has spent his 27 years exploring the paths through the mountains on foot, on
motorcycle and in a Porsche, Jack Baumgardner, always smiling from his little
car, comes down from Mansfield, Ohio and makes the hill climb an outing for the
"I'm just an
average, run-of-the-mill guy," he says. "I drive a Pepsi-Cola truck for
a living. But that's the kind of guys you find in racing." His arms bulging
from lifting crates and maneuvering his truck, Baumgardner took hold of his
Mini Cooper, better known as "the flying shoebox," two years ago and
put the small-sedan record out of sight.
When asked about
the track, he laughed and said, "You know, I sit down there at the bottom
waiting to go and I can't remember all those turns. But when I get going it
comes back and I know better than to make a mistake. On a racetrack you got
room to spin out but not up on the Hill."