One night at the supper table, my brother-in-law took a teasing jab at me over a sour business deal. I was plenty aggravated at the people, with whom I had dealt, and Rodney, who is quick to spot an Achilles heel, had pinched a bit hard.
I was clearing the table so I stopped, pulled my shoulders back and huffed up a bit about it. Figuring he wasn't going to win, he shrugged it off and moved on to something else. I knew he was just teasing. After all, just a week or so before, I had heard him tell a group of friends what happened, and he gallantly and indignantly rose to my defense. For you see, that's how it should be: Families should fight together.
I once saw my daddy's heart not just wounded, but so broken that he never completely recovered. His anguish was mine and I remember lying on the floor and sobbing mournfully over his mistreatment. It took a lot of soul-searching and praying to find forgiveness for that, but somehow I did. Though it would be a falsehood to say I forgot. I did not. The pain still resounds through my heart today when I think of the sorrow in his eyes over that betrayal.
When you love deep enough, a loved one's pain will be the heaviest burden you ever carry.
Over all of this, I got to thinking of the Allison family of stock car racing fame. Now, those guys stuck together. If you took one of 'em on, you took the whole family on and it didn't matter if the Allison fellow was in the right or wrong. They stuck together like duct tape holding a fender onto a race car going 200 mph.
Once we were in Watkins Glen, N.Y., to race and, as was often the case, it was a rainy afternoon, so practice had been called off and folks were just hanging out, finding things to do. News - not gossip mind you - travels fast in the NASCAR garage, so when I ran into Bobby Allison, I had just heard something interesting in the media center. His grin matched mine as I sauntered up to him.
"Hey, I just heard that Davey got in a fight in the infield," I said in the way one poses a question in the form of a statement. Davey was Bobby's oldest son, his pride and joy.
Instantly, Bobby's smile faded and fire flashed in his eyes. He drew back and took a deep breath. He was mad.
"He sure did! He ought to have, too." Bobby's glaze turned steely and he shook his head. "That guy said something ugly to Deborah [Davey's wife] and Davey did just what he should have. He punched him."
Bobby went on to explain that Davey and Deborah had been easing through the road of the infield in their car when - imagine this - a drunken fan had propositioned Deborah. Davey, having been trained by the best, threw the car into park, jumped out, grabbed the guy and sent him spinning with a hook to the jaw.
Bobby was mighty proud.
Well, of course, he was. It was in 1979 that Bobby had thrown the punch seen round the world. When brother, Donnie, and Cale Yarborough had taken each other out on the final lap of the Daytona 500, Bobby pulled down on the apron of the track, jumped out of his car and ran over to Cal.
An amazing thing happened.
"Cal's helmet hit my fist," Bobby has always said about one of the most replayed video clips in racing history.
But that's how traditional Southern families are: Nothing'll end a good race quicker than a better fight.
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