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I miss the stock car racing of my youth mainly because I miss my youth.

My hero was David Pearson. He was from up the super highway. Occasionally, my dad bumped into him when he landed his twin-engined plane at the Spartanburg Downtown Airport because Leo Sell, whom my father retained as a crop duster, flew in and out of there, too.

Pearson grew up on a mill hill. They called them hills whether they had any or not. My grandfather worked most of a half century in a mill. I worked at one in the summer. Third shift. I went to college so I wouldn’t work in a mill anymore. Pearson raced stock cars.

As a general rule, now there aren’t any mills. “Dyin’ ain’t much of a living,” Josey Wales said.

My racing novel, Lightning in a Bottle, began with the kind of wintertime rumination that commences in race fans when there isn’t any racing going on. What if a kid came along now with the reckless and restless spirit of a Pearson, a Junior Johnson, a Harry Gant?

My first thought: He wouldn’t have a chance. My second thought: If he did, he’d be hell on wheels.
Barrie Jarman isn’t perfect. He leaves the house with nothing but a four-cylinder compact on a flat-bed trailer behind a twenty-year-old pickup, and comes back home with a pit crew and a case of Milwaukee’s Best. He’s sixteen at the time.

I enjoyed creating Barrie so much that, this very hour, I completed the first draft of a sequel. It’ll be a while yet. You’ve got plenty of time to read Lightning in a Bottle first. It won’t take long. It’s written through the eyes of Barrie’s Uncle Charlie. If you’re not Southern, you might struggle for a while with the dialogue, but you’ll get the hang of it. You’ve heard Ward Burton and Bill Elliott talk.

“Ah’mo tell ye what.” Barrie’s not nearly that bad. He flirts with eloquence at times.

This is but a dream. A dream of mine. The reason there aren’t many kids like that is that there aren’t many kids like that. If they work at all, they bag groceries or attend to the drive-through. They don’t play “rolling bat” at the sandlot. They invade Iraq in their cell phones. They don’t roller-skate up and down Peachtree Street (in Lydia Mill, not Atlanta). They surf down a Worldwide Web.

I have a difficult time figuring out what makes them tick. It’s true in reverse, too. The kids racing stock cars now, most of whom look like they ought to be playing junior varsity golf, haven’t a clue about me, either. I tell a story.

“Oh, yeah? I wasn’t, like, born.”

It’s the same with junior varsity golf.
At which point, I realize that me mentioning Davey Allison is equivalent to my father telling me about Herb Thomas.

My father did tell me about Herb Thomas. I’m going to tell the rising star of today about Davey Allison, not to mention Buddy Baker with a side order of Rusty Wallace.
Somehow, we’ve got to figure out a way to get these young whippersnappers back to the race track. TV isn’t going to do it. They’ve got to feel it. They’ve got to smell it. The young drivers? Somehow, they’ve got to inspire their own generation. Just because I cannot see the personality, it doesn’t mean the personality cannot be seen.

If there were such a person as Barrie Jarman, it would help.