There are plenty of places throughout Scotland where you can enjoy a trek through the metaphorical and literal mountainous history of whisky smuggling. You’ll likely need stout boots and a jacket that can double as both anorak and tent.
On the other hand, if you’re hoping to authentically travel the smuggling trails of old American bootleggers, you should probably buy a pit pass at your local race track and start practicing high speed driving and turning on a dime.
Once prohibition lifted in 1933, “runnin’ shine” became an unnecessary activity and many moonshiners took early retirement from the glitzy life of making white lightening to become chicken farmers, or politicians, or settle down and get married. It didn’t matter; it all had something to do with the pecking order of life.
Regardless, there were still a mess of fellows—former employees of those illegal artisan distillers of old—who now had a boatload of time on their hands and some souped-up cars with heavy duty suspensions and no seats for passengers. No one needed their special skills of outrunning revenuers, trouncing state troopers and wriggling past roadblocks. The days of racing through twisty mountain roads were over.
What were these guys to do?
Race each other.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage … NASCAR.
Sure, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing has a bit of a dodgy start if you’re into reading the annals of history, but maybe that’s why they wave a checkered flag at the end of each race—as a small reminder paying tribute to the past.
There’s a line of pride that goes back a few generations for some of these racers whose family fortunes—or misfortunes—were the result of moonshining and bootlegging. If you were Robert Glen Johnson, Jr., known to the racing world as Junior Johnson, you dashed illicit liquor runs from the tender age of fourteen. You did some impressive racing for NASCAR, spent eleven months in the slammer for the itty bitty bit of bootlegging you finally got caught for, found a friend and a pardon from Ronald Reagan, became one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and now own part of Piedmont Distillers making legal lightning. Oh, and as an aside, had a movie made about your big tale starring Jeff Bridges as you.
A life filled with the stuff legends are made of.
And although Raymond Parks lived a similar life to Junior—evading the fuzz (successfully and unsuccessfully) while running moonshine, he was a man many felt contributed vital life blood in the form of money to get NASCAR off the ground and on track. Sadly, there was no movie deal—worse still, his role in racing history often goes altogether unrecognized.
The same goes for many of NASCAR’s early participants, those “whisky trippin’” fellows who lived life at fevered pitch, either dashing for the finish line or putting a few lengths between them and the long arm of the law. Whisky was for selling and racing was for winning. Whether bootlegging or buggy racing, both activities happened in the “get-away” car. After that, it was all about bragging.
Gentlemen, start your engines. (Okay, and you, too, Danica.)
Don’t forget to check out what I blethered on about this week on the main post page (here) and find out what’s cookin’ in the scullery too (here)!
4 thoughts on “Whisky trippin’”
well, i should have suspected, but i never. was that the “greased lightning” movie you referenced?
The movie was called The Last American Hero – a little bit fictionalized, but Johnson helped out as “technical advisor.” Greased Lightning” was about the first African-American NASCAR driver (and coincidentally had Beau Bridges in the cast!).
yeah, i was just a little cornfusulated … as (as you now know) i remember Beau Bridges in ‘some’ pre-history of NASCAR movie …
&, of course, Richard pryor