WINGED WARRIORS/NATIONAL B-BODY OWNERS ASSOCIATION
2005 SPRING MEET AT CONWAY/DARLINGTON, SC
Text by Sue George, Mike McGuire, and Ray Williams
Photos by Sue George and Curt and Jan Lawson (except Joe Frasson racecar photos from Sue George's collection)
On May 5-7, 2005, the Winged Warriors/National B-body Owners Association members held a spring meet in South Carolina. We all expected much, much warmer weather since our bi-annual meet was held in May this year rather than March like usual. Thursday was a cool and very rainy day. It wasn't until Saturday that we saw sunshine and warm temperatures. Nonetheless, it was a successful event and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it.
We had a freakish thing happen to our Daytona on the trip down there from Iowa. A blade broke off the factory steel fan and went through the six-month-old radiator. That emptied out the radiator onto the interstate and required a stop on the shoulder to shut down the engine. If that wasn't enough bad luck, it was discovered that the fan blade ricocheted around under the hood and somehow got under the battery tray to slice open the headlight vacuum reservoir before it flung across the highway never to be found again. Therefore, once it was dark the headlights wouldn't open. The vast amount of liquid thrown around inside the engine compartment also shorted out the alternator. It was not a good day. Fortunately, James and Cyndi Keehler were hauling their #88 Daytona clone on a trailer and were willing to let us cannibalize it to get our car running again. A very big thank you to the Keehlers for offering their car for sacrifice and also to Wayne Perkins who was traveling with us and helped. We picked up a flex fan in Cookeville, Tennessee and a new radiator in Knoxville, so our entire first day in Conway, South Carolina was spent under the covered entrance to the hotel, while it poured rain, putting new parts on our car and returning parts to the Keehler's Daytona. Because of this, we were forced to miss the first scheduled activity of the event. Joe Machado drove the longest distance to this event, coming all the way from Palm Desert, California in his #06 Neil Castles replica Daytona. Along the way, Joe found a nice enclosed trailer that he couldn't live without, hooked up to it and hauled it the rest of the way out to South Carolina behind the Daytona!
Mike McGuire attended the first activity and provides this report: The first activity of the 2005 Darlington meet took place late morning on Thursday with a tour of the Beneteau Boat Factory in Marion, South Carolina. Due to some repairs that had to be made to some club vehicles, the number of attendees was limited to about a dozen people. The company provided soft drinks and had reserved parking for us at the plant.
On a day with a steady rain, we were greeted by Mr. Joe Foss of Beneteau, who conducted the tour. We went through the whole factory. Basically Beneteau builds fiberglass boats, sail and power, from medium to large. Their boats are basically assembled from four fiberglass pieces which are made from molds. The pieces are: hull, hull liner, deck and deck liner. The pieces must be assembled in certain time spans so that they will chemically bond and the time period is figured in hours and does not allow for errors. The ideal combination of fiberglass-to-resin in the assembly process is 70-30 but that is rarely achieved.
The basic designs generally have a shelf life of about 5 years and they try to get at least 100 of each model built so that they can spread the cost of making the molds over the whole production. When they are done with production, the molds are stored outside for a while and then later destroyed. Sometimes a mold has been destroyed too quickly and this caused orders for that boat to be outsourced instead of being done in the factory (hence the delay now).
The boats are assembled with the base 4 pieces and then moved into an assembly line where they are finished (somewhat like an auto plant). At that point, all the finishing, options, power, cabins, etc, are installed. Note that unlike auto factories, the work is almost all done by hand rather than by robots. The last test is to put the boat in a small pond to test for leaks below the water line. Interestingly, they use a lawn sprinkler to test for leaks above the water line.
These boats start at about $130,000 and go to well over $500,000. Beneteau has seen business climb about 20-25% a year for a number of years. Some models can be bought at dealers now and others have a sales backlog of a year and a half. The tour lasted about one hour and was enjoyed by all.
The rest of Thursday was free time and most of the members went to Myrtle Beach to shop and sight see, while a small group of us were still at the motel working on our cars. Below: scenes from Myrtle Beach.
Friday morning, with all the cars seemingly fixed, our group convoyed to the NASCAR Cafe in Myrtle Beach where we had special parking in front of the building facing the highway to display our cars. We positioned James and Cyndi Keehler's #88 race car Daytona clone, and Mary Werner's #61 Superbird and Joe Machado's #06 race car Daytona clone (a replica of the Daytona that Neil Castles drove!) where they could be seen from the highway. This generated a lot of curiosity from passersby, and soon we had a crowd of spectators coming in to see these unique cars. Beauty queen Julia Burgoyne joined us and posed for some photos with the cars. Special guests, former NASCAR drivers, Joe Frasson and Neil Soapy Castles wandered around the cars and talked to the members and signed autographs.
After a nice lunch we headed back to the motel and we set up the breakfast room for our hog roast, raffle and guest speakers that evening. Randy Morrison provided beautiful event T-shirts with the #71 Bobby Isaac and #18 Joe Frasson Daytonas on the front. Steve Lehto, author of the book Bobby Isaac: What Speed Looks Like, was also present selling books and gave a speech that evening reflecting on his experiences during research on Bobby's life.
About 5:00 pm, famous southern BBQ chef Roy Todd and his son-in-law showed up with a delicious smoked hog, baked beans, rolls, homemade cole slaw, and his secret recipe BBQ sauce. Everyone very much enjoyed it. Members sat around the motel lobby and breakfast room eating, sharing stories and good times, like a big family reunion.
After everyone ate as much as they could, we sold tickets and held a raffle. Thanks to Terry Roelofs, Randy Morrison, Kenny Brackett and Dr. Granville Vance for donating some very nice prizes to the raffle. After the raffle, Steve Lehto talked to the group about what he learned of Bobby Isaac during his research for his book. Joe Frasson intercepted from time to time with his own racing experiences. it was a very enjoyable evening. incidentally, Steve is finishing up his next book, which will be on the Chrysler turbine car and will include information that has never been printed before, and even interviews with some of the people who drove the cars! He had photo albums full of pictures of the #71 Daytona and the turbine car for us to look through. During this time, Wayne Perkins took off for Myrtle Beach in Ray Williams' rental car to try to get to the parts store before it closed for the evening, to pick up a master cylinder for his Hemi Daytona. At the end of the evening, we cleaned up the area and headed off to bed. Thanks to Terry Roelofs, Tim Morrison and others who helped clean up afterwards.
Early Saturday morning, we helped Wayne install he master cylinder and bleed the brake system on his car. This was completed with just enough time to clean up and get our group ready to convoy to Dillon, which is situated northeast of Darlington. The city of Dillon was holding their annual Spring Fest celebration with food vendors, games and a flea market downtown. They had roped off a two block area of the street between the courthouse and City Hall for our cars to be on display. Dr. Vance, previously hung posters around town announcing the Winged Warriors/NBOA arrival so many locals came out to see the cars. A wonderful lunch of burgers, dogs, chicken salad, chips and drinks was waiting for us. In the early afternoon, we left Dillon and convoyed to Darlington Raceway, with a police escort arranged by Dr. Vance. Due to an accident causing stopped traffic, we arrived at our reserved parking area with just a few minutes to spare before we were led onto the track, where our cars were on display for about an hour. Finally we drove a long, slow parade lap around the track behind a marching band and a group of little beauty queens prior to the running of the Dodge Charger 500 race. Below: photos from Dillon, South Carolina.
On behalf of everyone who participated in this event, I'd like to thank Dr. Granville Vance, who arranged the Benneteau Boat factory tour, provided the lovely lunch at Dillon and some beautiful prizes for the raffle, and arranged for police escorts. Also thanks to Ray Williams who brought Joe and Carole Frasson to Conway to spend the weekend with us and arranged for our catered hog roast. Everyone had a fantastic time, and thoroughly enjoyed the event and we hope will be able to do it again in 2008! Read on for Ray Williams perspective on the event:
by Ray Williams.
I did not have a B-body to bring along to this meet so I contributed the best I could from my Greenville, SC, residence by helping with some of the arrangements and, most significantly, delivering former Dodge Daytona NASCAR driver Joe Frasson and wife Carole from their residence in Spartanburg to the Sleep Inn motel in Conway, SC. Almost everyone who stayed at our host motel got to spend as much time as they liked listening to our voluble guest tell hilarious stories about his decade in Winston Cup racing. What we didn't know was that Frasson has been calling fellow Winston Cup legend Neil Castles for months, urging him to drop by as well. We were all surprised and delighted when Mr. Castles showed up at the motel on Friday morning and spent the remainder of the weekend with us. Joe Frasson competed in 93 Winston Cup events between 1969 and 1978, and Neil Castles competed in an incredible 498 events between 1957 and 1976. Both, of course, had campaigned Dodge Charger Daytonas during their racing careers and Neil Castles had been employed in many films as a stunt driver and provider of crash cars, including two Elvis Presley movies. To spend an entire weekend with two such racing legends was a fascinating experience.
Sue and Ed and Wayne were busy changing radiators in their Daytona on Thursday afternoon so Joe, Carole, Mr. and Mrs. Al Blake (blue 1969 Charger 500) and I drove into Conway to dine at a trendy restaurant with the odd name of "Coppers". Our host was former Miss Myrtle Beach Julia Burgoyne. It was raining heavily and the evening got off to an auspicious start when Joe walked into a tree near the restaurant and knocked off his trademark mountaineer hat. We had enjoyed a few libations at the motel before heading to the restaurant and added a few to the total while dining. The rain was even heavier when we returned to the motel and we were all in a hurry to get inside--too much of a hurry as it turned out. I had rented a new Chevy Impala for the trip which had a whisper quiet engine.
After sleeping well for eight hours I arose, had a couple cups of coffee, then wandered out to the parking lot to check out the collector cars. I was looking over Sue and Ed's Daytona when I noticed the Impala's headlights were on. My first thought was I had left them on all night so I dug in my pockets for the keys so I could determine if the battery was dead but I didn't have them on me. I ran back to my room, frantically searching all over, and still couldn't find them. Great--I had a probable dead battery and had lost the keys! The Avis company wouldn't be happy about this. I trotted back out to the parking lot to see if I could figure a way to break into the car and was surprised when the door turned out to be unlocked. I was really surprised to see a low fuel light blinking on the dash--the car had at least a half tank when I had parked it the previous evening. I thought I heard a low humming sound and climbed into the car to turn off what I assumed was the heater fan. Once seated I saw the keys were still in the ignition and the damned car was running! Someone, possibly Joe Frasson, had exited the car in too much of a hurry and left everything--the lights, ignition, heater--running. The Chevy had quietly idled for close to nine hours, unlocked, with race tickets and my checkbook in the console, but had been unmolested the entire night. I quickly filled the car with gas and returned to the motel with no apparent damage to the Chevy.
Soon after I rescued the Chevy from a night of idling, Neil Castles arrived in his battered twenty-year-old Cadillac. I called Joe Frasson's room and told him Neil was at the motel. Joe came down immediately to greet Neil. The first thing Neil said to Joe was, "I believe I've run into you before." Joe growled, "Yeah, at every track on the circuit, ya blind SOB!" The two old racers then embraced and a new flood of racing anecdotes began. No one in the club had known in advance that Neil Castles would be coming so we had no autograph sheets for Neil to sign, but he graciously signed anything offered to him and the members greatly enjoyed the unexpected treat of his visit.
We then convoyed down to the NASCAR Cafe in Myrtle Beach where the management had set up a table just inside the restaurant entrance for Joe to sign autographs. Joe had been signing for an hour or so and I was sitting with him, enjoying his banter with fans, when we both noticed a tall, very attractive blonde about twenty feet from us waiting to be seated. Joe quickly signed an autograph sheet and called to her, "Here you go, sweetheart." The blonde didn't hear him but just at that moment a heavyset, middle-aged lady was strolling by our table. She took the sheet from Joe and said, "Oh, thank you," and kept walking. Joe, disconcerted by the turn of events, turned to me and said, "What the #@$* just happened here?" I promise I waited until his corpulent fan was out of earshot before collapsing into helpless laughter.
I didn't notice at first, but toward the end of the day on Friday it became obvious that a special friendship was developing between members Curt and Janet Lawson (red '67 Dodge Coronet) and Joe and Carole Frasson. Such a liaison was natural, given that the Lawsons and Joe are all from Minnesota, and any member who has been to a meet already knows how friendly and generous Curt and Janet are. I was delighted to note the budding friendship and hope that both couples enjoy many decades of good friendship.
On Friday evening, we were treated to chef Roy Todd's whole hog barbecue--a gastronomic treat that has to be experienced to be believed. Roy cooks the hog for several days and the results are slabs of pork so tender a two inch thick serving of meat can be cut with a plastic fork. After dinner, Steve Lehto, author of What Speed Looks Like, a definitive new biography of former Winston Cup champion Bobby Isaac, held us spell bound with details of his research into Isaac's career and the development of the Dodge Daytona Charger.
On Saturday morning we convoyed from the motel in Conway to Dillon, SC, where member Dr. Granville Vance had arranged lunch and a display of cars in conjunction with a local fair being held in Dillon. Dr. Vance generously contributed the lunch and arranged for a police escort from Dillon to the Darlington Raceway. Naturally some idiots managed to crash on I-95 just before the Darlington exit and our convoy was held up for nearly an hour while the mess was cleaned up. The result was that some of our cars, being somewhat challenged on fuel efficiency, were running low on gas and one Superbird actually ran out. Nevertheless, we made it to the grounds at Darlington Raceway where officials had a great display area arranged beside the fan entrance to the main grandstand. It was at the display area that I felt a note of sadness.
Thousands of race fans were carrying their coolers and cushions along the walkway past our display area and very few noticed the two older men chatting beside the path. Joe Frasson and Neil Castles--with 591 Winston Cup starts between them--were ignored by the rushing fans hoping to get a glimpse of current racing stars inside the speedway. They shouldered past Joe Frasson and his five top ten finishes at Darlington, including a third in the 1972 Rebel 500. None of them knew the tall man talking with Joe had driven in the 1957 Southern 500, dueling in that race with Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts, Joe Weatherly, Lee Petty, Buck Baker, Tiny Lund, Paul Goldsmith, Cotton Owens and a youngster from out west named Parnelli Jones. They were unaware that Joe had been pushed into trying NASCAR circuit by friend and mentor A.J. Foyt or that Neil Castles once drove cars owned by Buck Baker and legendary car builder Ray Fox. I wonder if they knew that Neil Castles had more NASCAR starts than Jeff Gordon or that Joe had driven in USAC, ARCA, and IMSA, driving everything from sprint cars to Indy cars to stock cars.
Yes, it was sad watching the two old warhorses being ignored by the rushing fans but it was even more depressing to learn that Joe and Neil would have to buy a ticket if they wanted to get inside the gates at the raceway. NASCAR no longer issues credentials to former drivers, so Joe and Neil couldn't get into the garage area to look up old friends or just hang out.
Credentials are reserved for high-dollar corporate sponsors and the friends of today's "stars" and never mind that Joe and Neil are still younger than Richard Petty. They belong to another era when television didn't precede telecasts with computer graphics and sponsors didn't put their faces on network ads. But they raced at higher speeds than today's drivers and without benefit of inner liners, fuel cells, full face helmets or HANS devices.
Our members did their parade lap and most headed for home rather than hang around for the television friendly 7:00 pm start of the race. Joe, Carole and I entered the gate and took our seats near the finish line. Joe had never watched a race from the stands and by the halfway point of the race, it was obvious he didn't care much for the experience. Soon after the starter displayed the crossed flags signifying the halfway lap, Joe leaned over and said to me, "Ray, if you get tired, Carole and me will leave whenever you feel like it." I didn't relish the idea of another couple of hours in the cramped metal seats of the grandstands and gestured toward the exit.
We listened to the remainder of the race on the car radio, relieved to have beaten the crowd leaving the track. When we arrived at Joe's place near Spartanburg, sometime after 1:00 AM, Joe held out his hand and with moist eyes thanked me and the club for the best weekend he'd had in decades. Joe had signed more autographs during the meet than he had in the past quarter century and it was obvious he had been deeply touched by the recognition and respect he received at the hands of the Winged Warriors. For a few days he was once again a member of that elite group of men who had cranked engines for the start of the Daytona 500, thundered down the backstretch at Talladega and scraped the wall at Darlington. Below: Photos of our cars on display before the laps on Darlington Raceway. Neil Soapy Castles felt right at home driving Joe Machado's #06 Daytona clone
(Note in the photos below from Darlington Raceway, the old mid-1950's Oldsmobiles that Fireball Roberts and Buck Baker raced there more than 4 decades earlier were brought out to the track and displayed with our cars.
Below: Photos of Joe Frasson with his many Dodge race cars, 1969 Charger 500, 1969 Daytona and 1972 Charger.
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