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August 11, 2020. Cruising the ICW is about cruising the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway in a boat. But, racing and fast cars were my passion long before boats. This post is about THUNDER. When not CruisingTheICW aboard Slow Dance, there’s nothing better to cruise than THUNDER.
One year ago, a dream came true. A NASCAR Modified came into my life — a vintage, street legal, NASCAR Modified appropriately named “THUNDER.” Having heard it cranked countless times over the past year, my neighbors consider the name appropriate. I’m not the only “motorhead” in our neighborhood, just the loudest.
As a child, I developed my confidence racing in the juvenile division of the Forsyth Micro Midget Club, in my hometown of Winston-Salem, NC. My mother may have ended my “budding racing career,” but she could never erase the memories or my love of racing. I no longer needed Mother’s consent in the 1980s, when I started racing a Zink C-4 Formula Vee, in SCCA competition. I sold it in 1999 for us to buy our first cruiser.
The first time I saw NASCAR racing was in the early 1950s, at the half mile, dirt, Peace Haven Speedway, also in Winston-Salem. It was one of NASCAR’s first tracks, and hosted some of the biggest names in NASCAR racing. My Mother’s great uncle was one of the developers of the track.
Bowman Gray Stadium, a quarter-mile, paved oval, also in Winston-Salem, was another early NASCAR track. Since the stadium had lights, NASCAR began racing there every Saturday night during the racing season. I spent countless Saturday nights watching the modifeds and other NASCAR series race there. It led to my passion for the Modified Series. Sad to say, the closest I ever got to racing Modifieds was watching them.
Three years ago we were returning from a trip to our old hometown when on the other side of I-40 in Davie County, I saw a vintage Bowman Gray Stadium racer that had been converted to “street legal,” traveling Eastbound. If I’d been driving my old Land Cruiser, we would have crossed the median and chased him down just to get the story of the car. That one sighting lit a flame of desire for a “street legal” NASCAR Modified. Last year as we prepared to cruise the Chesapeake Bay for the summer, one appeared for sale online. We took delivery on it last August.
In the late 1970s, the car was built and raced in the NASCAR Northeast Modified Division. After retirement, it was eventually bought and converted to “street legal” by Gary Babineau, of Babineau Metal Works, in Auburn, IN. When it comes to sheet metal, Gary is an artistic genius, hence his claim to fame of building 19, authentic reproduction, 1960s vintage Indy racers, for museums and private collections. He did an equally masterful job with a little, red, 1974 Ford Pinto — South Carolina’s first, “street legal,” vintage, NASCAR Modified race car. I have never driven or raced anything that was video taped as much as THUNDER.
Oh Captain, My Captain