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Couple delights in pre-race traffic, people

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Earl Pendley catches his wife's shoulder as they begin admiring the colorful spectrum of moving machines. It is race weekend, NASCAR's in town.

She gingerly smiles at him, before they turn to look out of their wood-framed, kitchen window at the increasing number of cars slowly passing them by.

Not the high-performance machines racing around the oval track at 130 miles-per-hour, these vehicles make a snail's trek four miles away, along Ga. Highway 20. And it is entertainment enough for the 86-year-old couple.

At least two weekends out of the year, the Pendleys sit at their home just off the highway, and they watch fans from around the world file into their small town of roughly 6,500 people.

On Sunday race days, they attend Berea Christian Church in Hampton, but make a point of visiting the local Waffle House to see the new and familiar faces of race fans. It is nothing more, they say, than what they have done for years.

This Sunday, the Pendleys will be watching and visiting, as fans find their way to the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton to take part in The Pep Boys Auto 500.

Earl and Alice Pendley, whose names are conspicuously marked on buildings throughout Hampton, say they met as students attending Berry College in Rome.

Alice was a Hampton city councilwoman and U.S. Post Master for 27 years in the city. And Earl, a World War II veteran, is a lifelong Hampton resident. He grew up on the 30-acre place the couple live on today.

The Pendleys now own a dry-goods store, Pendley's Warehouse Store on Main Street in downtown Hampton.

"They lead a charmed life," said Gary Norton, sitting back in his barber's chair. Norton is a regular customer at New Attitudes Hair Studio, which flanks Pendley's Warehouse. The Pendleys, according to Norton, are fixtures in the small quiet town. He said they have the more positive attitude on races at the speedway, among the many mixed feelings locally about race-day traffic.

"But I guarantee you, it's helped the economy in this area," Norton said.

"It's pretty quiet here in [downtown] Hampton," interjected Kennette Waldrop, Alice's hairstylist at New Attitudes. "All the traffic has been routed onto Highway 20."

In 2005, the highway was expanded from two lanes to four. It now passes in front of the Pendleys' home, taking race traffic from Interstate 75 in McDonough directly to the speedway in Hampton.

"They built the new road right in front of our home," said Alice. "And now, we still look out the kitchen window and view the incoming and outgoing traffic. We'll be seeing, not only cars, but motorcycles ..."

The couple used to frequent races at the speedway. But now, they say they are content watching its equally interesting traffic.

"It's not boring at all," she said.