The men who pioneered stock car racing at Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky in 1951 probably did not give too much thought to the long-term implications of the sport they were building. They were automobile enthusiasts who just loved all things to do with cars. Driving a car was fun, but racing a car was more fun. All of the men that I interviewed from those early days at Beech Bend mentioned the word "fun."

But even as they downplayed their participation in a new sport that would gradually become a national craze, I sensed that their feelings about stock car racing went deeper than just having fun. During my interview with Marshall Love, Jr. he left the room to look for his old racing helmet. Irene, his wife, who has a delightful low-key sense of humor, stated to me that she had to give him an ultimatum to choose between her or stock car racing "because he was addicted to racing!" The same thing happened at Larry Graham's house. After spending 30 minutes trying to convince me that his participation in stock car racing was just a little bump in the road of his life, Larry left the room to look for pictures. Larry's wife, Beverly, said to me when he was gone, "Don't believe a word he says. I have heard the story of every lap he ever raced more times that I care to remember." Elmo Guy probably has a thousand pounds of racing trophies in his garage. Wayne Guy still has a scrapbook full of pictures and newspaper clippings from those days of long ago. Why are these 50 year old memories still so real?

I believe that these "Legends of Beech Bend" were touched on a deep emotional level by their exploits in stock car racing. They were courageous! They were talented! They were FIRST! Someone else could have initiated this fabulous sport in Bowling Green, but they didn't. The Legends were the pioneers; they were the first to launch the sport in this part of the country; and to them we pay tribute.

Perhaps we can find a clue in the John Grisham novel, "Bleachers," which tells the story of the gathering of football coach Eddie Rake's "boys" who have all come home to bury him, the man who molded all of them into an unbeatable high school football dynasty. Rake was tough, disciplined, unrelenting, and unforgiving. If you played for Eddie Rake, you were expected to give all you had, anything less branded you a loser. Most players hated Eddie Rake, and yet, here they all were for his funeral.

Asked to speak at the funeral, the Honorable Mike Hilliard, a circuit court judge and former player for Rake, explains why the boys, many years later, still longed for the days when they called Eddie Rake, "Coach." "Most of those faces are here today. Slightly older, grayer, some a bit heavier. All sadder as we say good-bye to Coach Rake. And why do we care? Why are we here? Why are the stands once again filled and overflowing? Well, I will tell you why.

"Few of us will ever do anything that will be recognized and remembered by more than a handful of people. We are not great. We may be good, honest, fair, hardworking, loyal, kind, generous, and very decent, or we may be otherwise. But we are not considered great. Greatness comes along so rarely that when we see it we want to touch it. Eddie Rake allowed us, players and fans, to touch greatness, to be a part of it. He was a great coach who built a great program and a great tradition and gave us all something great, something we will always cherish. Hopefully, most of us will live long happy lives, but we will never again be this close to greatness. That's why we are here." 1

The Legends were part of a great movement that really began after World War II. The country had been impoverished by the Great Depression of the 1930's. The war disrupted and endangered the nation, and hundreds of thousands of Americans lost their lives in the epic struggle. Peace brought prosperity, and the age of the automobile hit full stride. It seems only natural that the automobile would find itself at the center of the thirst for entertainment by Americans. After the experience of a world war, perhaps only the danger and excitement of power and speed in the hands of daredevils was capable of sating our appetite for entertainment.

Upton Racing salutes all those who had the courage, some might say "foolhardiness," to initiate and build this sport; but we especially salute the "Legends of Beech Bend" because they were Larry Upton's childhood heroes. Those who are still living I have found are still worthy of being called heroes!

1- John Grisham, Bleachers, (Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., 2003), pp. 147-150.

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