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The art of storytelling from the best
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Forsyth County News

Out of the blue one day, I got an e-mail from an old, beloved friend from my NASCAR days.

In the days when first I met him, Jim Freeman was the public relations director at the Talladega track. That was when the publicity at all the tracks was run by men, some college educated, some not, who were amicable, back-slapping and well-liked.

They worked hard to beg attention for a sport that few media outlets cared about. So when reporters did show up, they made them feel at home, almost smothering them with Southern hospitality. They inched their way, little by little, to big papers like USA Today, the Washington Post and the New York Times sending out reporters.

USA Today was the first to step up and commit, sending Jerry Potter, a good friend of mine, to cover the beat on a regular basis. The others mostly visited only for the Daytona 500.

Which brings me to this: Freeman and his cronies were among the best storytellers I ever met. I first learned storytelling at the knees of my parents, but I got a Ph.D. in it from the guys in NASCAR.

Freeman is retired and now lives in Murfreesboro, Tenn. On a recent trip to visit the Waltrips in Franklin, I stopped to have lunch with him. I knew I would be completely entertained, and I wasn’t disappointed.

He commenced to telling stories in that patented, good ol’ boy way that his generation tells tales. I was captivated.

"Hey, remember when the guy stole the pace car in Talladega?" I asked.

He rolled his eyes. "Boy, do I."

I was in the air-conditioned press box during that oppressively hot July day. The race was getting ready to start, so the cars were pulled up into position and the pace car was idling, ready for the driver to get in and take the field around the track. I just happened to be looking in that direction when, suddenly, a shirtless, long-haired guy darted out from pit road, jumped in the car and took off.

Now, Talladega folks (make that all Southerners) love a runaway renegade, so a huge cheer went up from the crowd. Motorcycle cops took off after him, but he had his foot to the metal and he wasn’t slowing down. There, live on CBS, the pace car bandit had his 15 minutes of fame. Finally, they pulled two big wreckers across the track and stopped him. The crowd booed as the officers pulled him from the car and hauled him away.

Aw, I miss those days. And those kinds of stories, the likes of which are being lost to a society too refined and too plain boring.