Season 2 episode 7
Amazing! The Charlotte 500 as a Movin’ On backdrop!
Sonny and Will haul stock cars for a crooked owner who stiffs them for the load and then cons them into joining his scheme to steal the race. Of course, when Sonny and Will discover the dirty plan they switch things up and a deserving racer takes the checkered flag. Our heroes never do collect the money the crook owes them, but they do make a pair of new friends.
I had “Carolina on my mind” at the start of season two and asked our writers to come up with a story that utilized NASCAR as a backdrop and the Charlotte Motor Speedway in particular.
I had spent a lot of time traveling the South and always loved to watch auto racing at speedways from Darlington to Daytona Beach and from Hickory to Charlotte. I was well aware of the fact that Hickory Motor Speedway was a short track and the birthplace of some of the great names of NASCAR. Junior Johnson, Earnhardt and many others had gotten their start at this dirt track. It was at Hickory that I first heard the expression “Chicken Bone Alley”, a reference to the Bubbas throwing chicken bones from the cheap seats toward the track during the race if they didn’t like the driver.
I thought the idea of Sonny and Will at the Charlotte Speedway would be great fun. “Big Wheel”, written by Jimmy Sangster, brings that world to life. I wanted the grandeur of Charlotte Motor Speedway so we filmed there with the enormous cooperation of the Speedway folks. As you might expect, Claude wanted to drive one of the race-cars and was all geared up to get behind the wheel. Frank… well… not so much. I was excited to drive one too and couldn’t wait ‘til the day we were scheduled to shoot the race scenes.
Just filming the cars was a huge rush. The screaming engines and smell of gasoline and rubber had us all pumped. But that was nothing compared to getting behind the wheel of a race-car. It was like nothing I had ever done before. From tight helmets to hard, butt bruising plastic racing seats, safety nets and heavy-duty safety belts, everything is more difficult. Try steering, shifting and braking a race-car. Talk about hard work!
After we had completed the day’s filming, I got behind the wheel of #05, the car Sonny drives in the episode and asked Bill Lane, Claude’s stunt driver, for some instructions. Bill said, “remember to always go into the banks at the same angle – and the faster you drive, the easier it is to handle the car…. and once you’ve made up your mind…. set it and forget it.”
Off I went…. and I was nervous. I had driven fast cars, but nothing as powerful as #05. Out on the track I put the peddle to the metal and shot forward like I was blasted from a cannon. I put the car up on the bank at about 80 MPH and started to drift off the track. Obviously… not going fast enough. “OK, let’s do this,” I told myself. I down shifted and zoomed off again. The thrill of a lifetime! I was high up on the bank… close to the wall… sailing along at 100 plus. “Oh man, this is very cool.” Then, in a moment of reflection, I thought, “Slow down…. that’s enough…. I’ve got a TV series to do.”
Happily, the episode turned out very nicely. And for those of you looking closely, you will notice that the “race day footage” is all stock. Our editors seamlessly cut it in throughout our production footage. As much as we tried, we could not get permission to shoot at the Speedway on race day. No matter, I had my thrills and we got a great episode. Thank you, Charlotte. And yes, I still have “Carolina on my mind”.