In Memory of J.B. Milano
The Deacon and his Plymouth
It was the spring of our senior year in high school and everyone was looking forward to graduation and on to bigger and better things. Robert Eugene Madison Clarkson better known as the Deacon for his big black stove pipe hat had bought a 1955 Plymouth two tone in color with a V-8 engine. He had dreams of becoming the next Lee Petty in stock car racing. The Deacon had traced his roots back to Stokes County and in his mind this was the real seat of stock car racing. The facts bore out differently, but no matter to the Deacon. His parents were very successful in the business world and had a Myers Park address. His mother thought it was a stage he was going through and his dad thought college would straighten him out.
Robert had been accepted by several colleges, but he had other ideas and was obsessed with his dream of racing his 1955 Plymouth in NASCAR. Several students in our class had ties to NASCAR racing, Howard Hollifield, Buddy Baker, the Hart brothers, and several others. They tried to reason with the Deacon, first he had to prove himself on the track and have a car along with a race team and money to keep the organization going. The Deacon would hear none of this, it was explained to him that four door cars could not run in NASCAR and besides the car would have to meet the standards set up by them. The Deacon had driven his car over to Buck Bakers shop on South Blvd. and they laughed at him an his car, not discouraged he drove it up to Tiger Toms race shop on Newell Road and got the same treatment. The Deacon decided he would enter a race on one of the outlawed dirt tracks located around the Charlotte area. They even had rules and he would have to meet. Put a seat belt in the car remove the glass from the windshield, among other requirements.
We had a very good friend and classmate that had a shop that his dad had operated for a number of years and suddenly died. Eddie tried to keep it going by working after school and to help his mother. The Deacon asked Eddie if he could make the changes to his Plymouth to meet the requirements so he could race his car on a dirt track. Eddie, told Robert to get a list of requirements and bring it to him and he would try to make the car legal for dirt racing. Robert brought the car over to Eddies shop one Saturday morning, John Milano and I were at the shop having my 1952 Plymouth serviced. Robert asked me if I would give him a ride home? I agreed and he and John climbed in and away we went dropping Robert off at his house.
Several weeks passed and finally Eddie finished up making the changes on Roberts Plymouth. John Bolin carried Robert over to Eddies shop to get his car. There were a group of us that had met at Eddies shop to see what Eddie had done to the car. Sure enough he followed the requirements and even added some extras for safety. Robert was like a kid on Christmas morning. Eddie, gave Robert a bill for the work and Robert said; he would pay him from his winnings on the up coming race. Eddie told Robert the car wouldn't leave his shop without the money up front. Robert explained that he didn't have that kind of money on him. The stale mate was broken when John carried Robert back to his house and his mother gave him the amount needed to get the car.
Robert entered a Sunday afternoon race on a quarter mile track down in Union County near Wesley Chapel. A group of us went down for the big race. The Deacon had Tommy Hart tow the car down behind his 1948 Ford Pickup. We all sat on the wooden bleachers at turn one and watched the race start. The Deacon and his two toned four door Plymouth brought up the rear and stayed there for most of the first race. There were several heat races and Robert and his Plymouth managed to stay out of trouble. Finally the Main Event came and the gloves came off, it was money time. The Deacon had shown that he had some talent and had worked his way up in the middle up the pack when someone spun out in front of him an caused a pile up that the Plymouth got caught up in. The race was stopped and a couple of wreckers started dragging the wrecked cars off the track including the four door two toned Plymouth.
We had crossed the track when the race was stopped to clean up the mess. The wrecker dropped Robert and his Plymouth off with major damage on the front and rear off the car. We had no tools to work on the car except wrenches. Someone borrowed a rolled steel bar and we pulled the fenders away from wheels. Tommy hooked the tow bar to front of the car and we all headed back to Charlotte. Tommy dropped Robert off at his house and left the Plymouth sitting in the driveway.
The next day Robert came to school driving his grandmothers 1939 Packard. We asked him what happened? Seems like his dad had a slow melt down and his mother nearly fainted when they saw the Plymouth and how messed up it was. No more racing for the Deacon was the new rule of law at Clarkson house. Robert admitted that he was sore from all of banging and bouncing from the race. Robert graduated and went off to college that September. Oh! We never did see that two tone four door Plymouth ever again.