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Thomson's McTier recalls his NASCAR days

Herman McTier can recall the fond days of racing with some of NASCAR's racing legends as though it was yesterday when he raced along side of them and considered them friends.

His memories read like a who's who of stock car racing history. There was Tiny Lund. And Ralph Earnhardt, father of the late great legendary racer Dale Earnhardt and grandfather of current popular racer Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Other greats included Richard Petty, Cale Yarbrough, Leroy Yarbrough, Buddy Baker and Rex White. Mr. McTier said when he raced against the men with those names, they were not the stars they later became in the racing world.

Today, Mr. McTier, 73, serves as president and chief executive officer of McTier Used Auto Parts, Inc. on the Augusta Highway in Thomson. Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was a hard-charging driver who never once let them or any of the others racers intimidate him.

"I raced against them just as hard as I did anybody else," said Mr. McTier, who is a native of Jefferson County and grew up picking cotton on his family's farm near Wrens. "I'd talk to them. I considered them friends when we raced each other. I wanted to win just as bad as they did."

He had just one goal every time he sat in a race car and heard the roar of the engine: "Just outrun everybody out there on the track and see how fast you could do it in the car you had."

The first time that Mr. McTier ever stepped into a race car to compete, he laid claim to the checkered flag. The same thing, ironically, occurred with his son, Tony, who serves as vice-president of the business, when he took up automobile racing several years ago. Tony, like his father, no longer races, but still is an avid fans who watches races on television.

Before the older Mr. McTier began racing, he served in the National Guard for three years before joining the U.S. Navy for two years. Still highly intrigued about automobiles and mechanics when he got out of the armed services in 1958, he began helping build race cars for Lee Paschal in the Winfield Community of neighboring Columbia County.

At the time, Mr. Paschal owned a race car - one that Mr. McTier had a strong desire to drive. As it turned out, it didn't take a lot of persuasion since Mr. McTier seemed most sincere.

In his first-ever race at what was known then as Overnight Speedway in Martinez, a ¼-mile paved track in Martinez, which was located where Wal-Mart is today off the Bobby Jones Expressway, Mr. McTier set out to earn racing fame - winning twice on the same night in two different racing events. He first won the 15-lap heat race. Later, he captured first place in the 50-lap feature race.

Both of the victories that night came while riding in a 1955 Ford, built and owned by Mr. Paschal. Mr. McTier said the race car had a 390-cubic engine - which was standard for most race cars back in that era.

"I was so happy about winning that first race," said Mr. McTier. "I didn't think I could really do that, but I did. I remember wanting to race so badly."

Racing was something that he did for several years.

Back in those days, racing was more for the fun and love of the sport than it seems to be today, according to Mr. McTier.

"We did it, because we loved the sport," he pointed out. "It sure wasn't about the money, because there wasn't much to win back then."

Most of the time, winners of races back in those days would only collect between $50 and $100.

"Lordy mercy, people wouldn't believe that today," said Mr. McTier.

Today, Mr. McTier said, local race car drivers who are lucky enough to make it to the winner's circle earn several thousand dollars.

Under the colors of Thomson High School - black and gold - and in a car with the No. 44 etched on the sides of the doors, Mr. McTier set out racing part-time - mostly at Overnight Speedway, a racetrack off Fury's Ferry Road, Augusta International Speedway, Savannah and Columbia, S.C.

The top speed of a car in the old days was about 90 mph. Today, they average nearly 195 mph.

"There's a whole lot of difference in racing today versus when I raced back yonder," said Mr. McTier.

Mr. McTier said he would have stayed in racing had he had the money it took to back him in the sport, but because he didn't, he had to bow out.

"I didn't stay in racing but a few years, because I didn't have the money it took to stay in racing," said Mr. McTier. "Back then, you either had to own your own car or use someone else's. I enjoyed the ride while it lasted. I raced because I loved it. I really loved it."

In the dozens of races he competed in, Mr. McTier was fortunate to have never been seriously injured in a wreck. He remembers actually being lucky in one race - where his car was struck from behind by George Lonergan, who was living in Augusta then, but now makes his home in Wrens. The wreck caused Mr. McTier's car to flip end over end five times. He walked away from the mishap without having had the protection of safety bars, a seat belt or safety harness.

"You had to be pretty tough to race back in them days," said Mr. McTier. "We exchanged a few words with each other back then, but we're still friends today. He (Mr. Lonergan) just came into the shop the other day."

While racing, Mr. McTier worked for Horace Thompson at Thompson Tanker Service in Thomson. It was there that he got the notion that he wanted to go into business for himself someday. "Mr. Thompson helped me get started in business," he said.

During his years of racing, he competed in several races at Augusta International Speedway, which was located off Windsor Spring Road near Hephzibah. Today, the area is ghostly - having been shut down many, many years ago. Diamond Lakes Regional Park, a recreational complex operated by the Richmond County Recreation and Parks Department, exists there now.

A group calling themselves Augusta International Raceway Preservation Society received Mr. McTier's No. 44 racing helmet to place in their museum showcase just last week when two members visited with him at his business in Thomson. The two men were Randal Regan, of Lincoln County, who serves as president of the society and Curtis Glass, a racing research coordinator and member of the society's board of directors.

The two men interviewed Mr. McTier about his racing years for historical research.

"Mr. McTier was a big part of racing in the early years of Augusta and we wanted to talk with him about those times," said Mr. Regan. "We're trying to collect as much history as we can about Augusta International Speedway."

Mr. Glass said men like Mr. McTier, who raced back then and are still living, have a lot of history to share with others. "It's important that we document that history from them, because they lived it."

On Saturday, April 5, members of the Augusta National Raceway Preservation Society (AIRPS) will sponsor their Second Annual Cookout and Cruise-In at Diamond Lakes. All the fun begins at 12 p.m. The public is cordially invited to attend. Several former race car drivers, well known from the Augusta area, including Mr. McTier, are expected to attend.

Web posted on Thursday, April 03, 2008

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