Hanging with Kyle Petty at Muddy Creek

Upon retirement from the Winston-Salem Journal in August, I had plenty of plans for the next chapter of my life – all of them vague.

Music has always been one of my passions, and I knew much of my time would be devoted to writing songs and performing them around town. But in my eight or so years spent ramroding Open Mics – at the Garage from the summer of 2007 through 2011 and for the past four years at Muddy Creek Cafe – I’d honed a natural ability to stand in front of audiences and run off at the mouth.

So I could see myself not only playing and singing, but serving as a M.C. – although I prefer the word impresario — for various events around town. To that end, I convinced Shana Whitehead and Bill Heath, my good buddies who own and operate Muddy Creek Cafe and Music Hall, to allow me to sharpen my skills by introducing certain performers that I wanted to see perform.

This past Sunday, I had the great pleasure of introducing Kyle Petty and David Childers for their sold-out show at the Muddy Creek Music Hall. I also did the honors for the opening act, Jon Montgomery, whose band Jukebox Rehab is rocking various venues in and around Winston-Salem.

A quick word about the Muddy Creek Music Hall. If you’ve never seen a show there, you’re missing an experience unlike any other I’ve ever known. The Hall was fashioned out of the Bethania Mill, which has been a fixture of the original Moravian settlement since 1899, and the acoustics in the cozy room all surrounded by aged wood are perfect.

And if perfect took a qualifier, they would be really, really perfect – so perfect we say it’s like Church.

Only it’s better than Church because it’s Church with Beer. Enough people agree that Muddy Creek Music Hall was voted by readers of the Winston-Salem Journal as “the best place to see a concert.’’

The concert last Sunday was one I was excited to see.

I had caught a show by David Childers downtown a few years back, when he lived up to his reputation as one of the best singer-songwriters our fair state has produced. I come to find out on Sunday that Childers, a lawyer-turned-troubadour from Mount Holly, had been at the University of North Carolina for the first three of my four years there from 1970 through 1974.

We both spent the 1970-71 school year in James Dorm on South Campus, but it was a big, 10-story dorm and we couldn’t say that we’d met each other.

But the real thrill was getting to meet Kyle Petty, whose people actually brought Petty’s No. 42 Coors Light Silver Bullet Pontiac and parked it out front. Truth is, they parked it in my regular spot, but seeings how it was Kyle Petty, I forgave them.

A guilty pleasure for me has always been NASCAR. I know it’s a 20th century sport rapidly losing its audience in today’s times, and I know most young people of today don’t see the point in fast cars making left turns around paved tracks all afternoon long.

But there was a real romance to the way the sport began, with bootleggers outrunning revenuers up and down the back roads of our hills and hollers. And I came along in a day when the heroes of the sport, guys like Junior Johnson and Fireball Roberts and Kyle’s dad, King Richard, were not all that far removed in terms of lifestyle and social standing from the people who packed the grandstands to see them knock each other around and into the walls.

Besides, in what other sport, I ask you, do the participants have to deal with the element of fire? And thankfully enough advancements have been made in the safety of the sport that the drivers aren’t killing each other off like they were in the early years.

The hook was really in me by the time my brother Tom and I sat in the infield of the Dixie 500 at Atlanta Speedway in 1971 and watched King Richard and Bobby Allison swap paint and rub fenders over the final laps of Petty’s victory – the victory, in fact, that made Petty the first winner of a million dollars in the history of the sport.

I’d never met Kyle, but I knew that my long-time compadre Ed Hardin of the Greensboro News and Record had known him since childhood. Turns out their grandmothers were fast friends, and that they’d participated in many overnight pajama parties with their siblings over at Level Cross while one grandmother or another took care of the kids.

So I knew Kyle played the guitar and wrote his own songs, but I have to say I was not prepared to hear what he had for us last Sunday at Muddy Creek Music Hall. He’s not what some might suspect, a former race car driver posing as a musician. He’s the real thing, a natural performer who knows how to work a crowd.

If you ever get a chance to catch him live, I would highly recommend that you avail yourself of the opportunity.

One great lesson Kyle learned from his daddy was how to treat people. King Richard is the greatest hero in the history of the sport as much for his accessibility and unaffected charm as his 200 victories on the track.

Kyle, I was delighted to come to find, is also regular people. We swapped stories about my time at the Winston-Salem Journal, and told some good ones on Mike Mulhern, a character and a half who covered racing for the paper for 36 years.

I took the opportunity to pass along to Kyle the lyric of a song I wrote about stockcar racin’ called Trackbar Adjustment and a High Groove. So if you ever hear him sing it one day, you’ll know where it came from.

I also told him I was convinced it would be his first No. 1 hit. And it goes a little something like this.

We’re going to take the checkered flag, I can already hear them squall,

How I tagged 18 on his rear bumper and how I sent him straight into the wall.

We’re still just a little squirrelly, but by Gawd we’re on the move,

All I need’s a Trackbar Adjustment and a High Groove.

 

My great granddaddy ran the liquor from his granddaddy’s still,

You know my family always ran liquor and I reckon we always will,

Granddaddy raced Daytona, he always thought it might have been the first.

He says he lost it coming off AIA, and remembers sliding through the surf.

 

My daddy raced King Richard, Junior, Bobby, David and Cale,

The only man he said he couldn’t stand was a young ironhead named Dale,

Daddy probably would have won North Wilkesboro if he had taken on a round of wedge

Handsome Harry got his rear bite, you can’t give a man like that the edge.

 

Once they drop that green flag, I’m willing to do whatever it takes.

I’ve never been light on the throttle, or what you’d call easy on the brakes,

I’m a better driver than my daddy, and my boy’s better still,

He knows I love him, but once we’re racin’ I don’t know his ass from Bill.

 

We’re going to take the checkered flag, I can already hear them squall,

How I tagged 18 on his rear bumper and how I sent him straight into the wall.

We’re still just a little squirrelly, but by Gawd we’re on the move,

All I need’s a Trackbar Adjustment and a High Groove.

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