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Posted: November 22, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Marshaling memories

 I've had some great memories in my life. I played golf with Arnold Palmer, I heard Willie Nelson sing "Precious Memories" in the back yard of the Carter White House. I once took the "Take It Off, Take it All Off" Noxzema shaving cream girl to dinner.
 But Sunday.
 Sunday I was the grand marshal of the TranSouth 500 automobile race at the historic Darlington Motor Speedway.
 How? Because I write a lot about how much I love the South, and there are very few things more Southern than a stock car race.
 A politically correct person would have had a heart attack here Sunday. There were more Confederate flags waving in the cool, spring air than were carried across that open field during Pickett's deathly charge at Gettysburg.
 Lots of guys drinking beer with their shirts off. Lots of girls you could look at and just know they would pronounce dance as "daintz."
 Good people - good people even if they are a little off in the P.C. department.
 People with whom I grew up. People I'd still pick if I were involved in anything from a broken beer bottle fight to a rat killing.
 So, as grand marshal of the race, I got to tell the drivers on the public address system and on national television they could crank.
 Normally, one says, "Gentlemen, start your engines."
 I tried a little Southern flair and said, "Gentlemen, y'all can crank 'em up."
 It worked. About 8 zillion horsepower went off behind me. The ground trembled.
 Next, I had to ride in the pace car that led the racers onto the track.
 I was in a Pontiac convertible. I was supposed to sit up on the trunk and wave at the crowd.
 A large man got into the back seat with me.
 "I'm here to hold you in the car," he said.
 Hold me in the car? "We're going to go pretty fast," he explained, "We don't want you getting thrown out of the car."
 What have I gotten myself into?
 So there I am sitting on the back of a car with a man holding my leg and all that horsepower snarling and snorting behind me.
 We hit the racetrack. Grit came flying off the track from the car leading us around.
 What grit I didn't get in my mouth, I got into my eyes.
 I waved at the crowd. The crowd waved back. I'm certain they though, "Who is this idiot?
 We picked up speed. My mouth was full of grit and I was blind. We started at the back of pit row. We pulled off the track and back into the front of the pits. Behind me it sounded like World War II.
 The race cars continued on the track. All except one, which had pulled back into the pit with some sort of mechanical problem.
 And had its nose on our bumper.
 I was three feet from the front of a stock car barreling down on me.
 "Who was that? I asked once I was safely out of the convertible. "They call him `Swervin' Erinie,"' I was told.
 Oh. I watched the start of the race from behind the pit wall, just a few feet from the track.
 The brightly painted advertising billboards with wheels came by in a near blur. A girl gave me a piece of wax and said, "Bite this in two and put a piece in each of your ears. You can go deaf down here."
 Stock car racing, which I hadn't been around since I was a kid sportswriter 25 years ago, hadn't changed all that much.
 It's still loud, it's still fast, it's still Southern. And it's still the sport of the working man and woman, God bless them all. You be politically correct. I'll hang out with those who say "tars" for tires, take off their shirts, knock down their suds and love the noise and the furor of stock car racing.
 I hadn't realized how much I had missed it.

 Lewis Grizzard was a syndicated columnist, who took pride in his Southern roots and often wrote about them. This column is part of a collection of his work.

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