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Awesome Bill, My Dad and Wishing Circles Would Run Forever

February 10, 2020

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes you get rained out.


I planned to take my dad — I’ve always called him Pete — to the Daytona 500. 

He had been before, but he had never watched it live with me. We would go together. Next year. Or whenever I hit it big, he would say. 

We watched the Daytona 500, billed as the Great American Race, on television together every year. Our favorite driver never won when we watched, though he did twice before I was born. Pete lived those victories, and he told me so many stories about Bill Elliott and the hillbillies like us working at his family race shop in Dawsonville to put out the fastest car in NASCAR history.  
Pete loved racing, and due to proximity and local pride he admired and rooted diehard for Bill. So I did, too. 

For you parents out there — I advise you talk about what you love, because it was profound for me to listen to my hero, Pete, talk about something he was so incredibly passionate about in Bill and racing. 

From my takeaway, if Bill could win the Daytona 500 twice from his Northeast Georgia circumstances, I believed there wasn’t a damn thing I couldn’t accomplish from my starting point just a few miles north upstream. I felt that way because Pete always talked about Bill’s capability in ways my aspiration could follow in line with. 

“If Bill took a shit, we wanted to smell it.”
- Pete Page

Somebody once said to me: “How can you like NASCAR? It’s just circles over and over and over.” 
Not to me. 

The way I saw it, Bill Elliott, according to the way Pete conveyed innovation and ingenuity, represented a straight line headed up and up and up. His goal — go as fast as possible for as long as possible — and his achievements — he went really fast for a really long time — helped me believe small town Appalachia wasn’t a bad starting spot. I knew Bill’s present because I lived his past and that made me feel confident about our future. 

Pete told it best, and I can still hear his voice telling the same great stories over and over. 

“If Bill took a shit, we wanted to smell it.” ... “I mean, Bill blew Earnhardt’s doors off during the last run that day.” ... “We were standing around in victory lane wearing our Coors jackets, so when NASCAR took Bill’s car for inspection, we walked with the crew and nobody said a word. We watched them tear every single piece off that car and they never could figure out why it was so damn fast.” 

So, yeah, I planned to take Pete to the Daytona 500. 

When I was five or six, I knew we were gonna go every year. And when I was 14 or 15, I said we were gonna go every year. And when I was 21 or 22, I couldn’t wait to go every year. 

We never made it, though. We went to Atlanta. And Darlington. Talladega. Bristol. A Busch series race in Myrtle Beach. And dirt track races from Woodstock, Georgia to Rossburg, Ohio. 
The timing never worked out for Daytona before he passed away, which bothers me beyond measure this time of year.  

But here’s the thing. We didn’t need to go to THE GREAT AMERICAN RACE. All we needed was simply any race.

I can remember, as a nine or 10 year old, a Saturday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, watching a lower-tier race that I doubt anybody remembers anything about. It was early March and cold enough to quit. The people we were with (I’m not naming any names) had enough and bailed out. We didn’t have a rooting interest running that night. Hell, nothing about that race mattered to hardly anybody without a payout on the line. The real show for us in the crowd was the next day, and this was something to do until then. 

“You want to go back to the camper?” Pete asked. 

I did not. I wasn’t rooting for anybody to win, and I didn’t care who lost. Looking back, though, the truth is, I wish that race had kept running circles forever. 

“Ok,” he said. “We’ll stay ’till the end.”

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