I don’t know about you all but I really do hate snakes. And when my sister said that we needed to go see a brief film with the name “Hoppin’ Rattlesnakes” I involuntarily shivered all over. But if in the near future you see this film advertised in a venue near you – be sure and make time to go see it. Definitely worth it.
Years and years ago, before digital cameras and Iphones and recording an event was as easy as holding up your phone, there was talk. Yes, talk. People would sit around and talk about things that happened in the past and others would then pass it on by – talking. Thankfully, a few thought to take photos or maybe someone might have filmed a bit if they had a movie camera. And so it was with “Hoppin’ Rattlesnakes.” The film is based on the stories told by the participants who, although getting up in years, are still sharp and able to explain what happened. And it wasn’t just about the racing, there were undercurrents, and the times were different too.
Back before the big race tracks such as Charlotte or Atlanta, Darlington or Bristol were carved out of the clay and rock – people raced on sand. I know, you can say that here in North Carolina and the Georgia hill country, there were some folks racing around on dirt and a few paved roads. They were called bootleggers and they learned to drive fast outrunning the revenuers. Junior Johnson tells the story of learning to tinker on his engine to make it go faster quicker so they’d have a shot of getting past the police. But I digress as usual!
But way before that, I’m talking back when the century was brand new and automobiles were something rare and special, there were a few men that wanted to race. Did you know that in the early part of the 1900’s, people thought if you went faster than 75 mph, your body would be ripped to shreds from the inside because of air pressure? That theory was quickly dispelled when William K. Vanderbilt raced down the sand at Daytona Beach getting up to the unheard of speed of 92 mph. Racing was pretty much just for the wealthy back then – it was a gentleman’s sport and you had to have plenty of money to do it.
Every year after that, there was always some foolhardy fellow trying to break that record. It was in 1927 that Major H.O.D. Segrave, decided that this hard packed beach would be a perfect place to test the speed of his 3 ton car. (There were only 200 miles of paved roads in the whole United States so a beach with hard sand seemed a good a place as any.) He got that beast up to 203 mph and beach racing was born big time.
Fast forward to the 1930’s. Racing on the beach was going strong. The politicians and powers that be in Daytona could see that this racing passion was bringing folks to the area and that there was money to be made. A local filing station owner, “Big” Bill France, who could dream as big as anyone around, got together a group of men to set out some rules – and that was the very early beginnings of NASCAR.
Back to this little film “Hopping Rattlesnakes.” If you’ve been to Daytona in the past few years, you know that the beach front is covered with houses, motels and condos. But years ago, down past south beach, there were wide empty miles with a few paths through the palmettos and sea grapes to the ocean. People parked on the road and walked through to get to the beach. There weren’t any high fences to keep flying tires from hitting spectators or rolling cars from crashing into the grandstands. (Actually there weren’t any grandstands.) People just brought some folding chairs or spread out a blanket. And yes, every once in a while, a snake would cross your path so you had to be on the lookout!
Back then there were few hotels to be found on the beach and none were available for people of color. This was before integration so my friend Mildred Porter was interviewed to tell how she kept the first black racing driver at her house. She is a wonderful story teller and really made that whole era come alive.
And they actually had a driver stand and speak at the end of the film. And this driver will forever hold the record for the fastest beach run. Vicki Wood is now 95 years old, stands all of 5’3,” and is still full of spirit and spunk. In 1959 she got out there with the men and beat every one of them with her 150.375 in a mile run. Sitting with Mildred and getting to talk to Vicki afterwards was quite an experience. And with this film fresh in my mind, getting to go to a race at the speedway with all the lights and even equipment to dry a wet track, this sport has come a long long way.
I am thankful that the effort was made to compile these oral histories so that the unique beginning of racing can be shown to many generations. Each of the performances was packed with standing room only so if you have a chance to see it – race on over!
Happy making, Anne
Paper: Discover Motor Grunge
Font: Ignite the Light
Embellishments: Discover Motor Grunge