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Racing pastime becomes passion

Garland Ricketts, the man with the designer fire suit has had a good year racing in the Legendary Flathead Ford Racing Association at South Boston Speedway.

“It’s been a good year,” said Ricketts before his final win of the season last month.

”I think we’ve won several and finished second here at South Boston I know at least once.”

“Our club hasn’t run quite as many races, and that’s partly by design,” he added.

“Some of the members wanted to cut back a bit on their activities a little bit, and we’ve had two rained out at tracks other than South Boston.

“We haven’t run as much, and I’m not necessarily complaining but overall it’s been a good year.”

The Flathead Ford Racing Association has its roots in the beginning of stock car racing in post-World War II America, Ricketts explained.

“The main premise of the association is using the Ford flathead engine, used primarily from 1932-1953,” began Ricketts.

“It’s the basis of stock car racing’s beginnings, the whiskey cars and the moonshiners getting together and running their cars in pastures, whatever, seeing who’s car was faster, who could drive better.

“It all developed from the Ford flathead engines previous to World War II.”

The cars themselves are living history, he added, and they take you back to the days of racing on dirt tracks throughout the country.

“Every community had several tracks, and Halifax County had three tracks, all dirt where these cars ran after World War II,” recalled Ricketts.

Ricketts himself got the racing bug as a teenager after coming to South Boston Speedway in its dirt track days.

“Everybody wants to be a race driver,” he chuckled, adding, “sometimes it just takes awhile to get there.”

His first race was 1971-72, with a ‘64 Ford he bought from Tom Pistone in Charlotte, N.C.

“I ran a few races and rebuilt it.  I soon discovered I would have a lot more income if I would have had another driver.”

An engineer by trade, Ricketts has worked for some of the legendary figures in NASCAR history, including 1963 Daytona 500 winner, “Tiny” Lund.

When he wasn’t racing Lund owned and operated a fish camp in South Carolina.

“He would rent boats and cabins, and people would come stay and fish,” recalled Ricketts.

“That was what he did during the week when he didn’t race.  I was a mechanic for him and a ‘gopher.’

Ricketts also worked for NASCAR driver and team owner Emanuel Zervakis in Richmond.

“There’s a technical part of it, building the car and seeing how things work to make it better,” explained Ricketts, an engineer by trade.

“I’ve always enjoyed the mechanical part of it.  This is the only car I’ve ever had, but we’ve changed and modified it.

“It’s the second year it’s been pretty much like it is now.”

What keeps Ricketts and his fellow competitors on the track for so long?

“It’s a good group of folks and I enjoy driving the cars,” he said.

“We run about same speed as street stocks, some weeks a tad quicker, some weeks not quite as quick.

“I would say we approach 100 MPH on the straightaway.

“It’s plenty fast, but the cars respond like they always did, the laws of physics have not changed.

No matter what the age of type of car, every racer wants the checkered flag.

“That’s part of everybody’s makeup out here, we want to win,” Ricketts said.

“As long as we don’t have any major catastrophes, I’ll try and keep participating.”

About the custom fire suit, one designed like a farmer’s coveralls, Ricketts had a ready explanation.

“I thought it fit in with what the original folks wore,” he explained.

“They raced in street clothes, overalls, white shirts and all, the bootlegger attire,” he added with a wry smile.

“I had this made by a company in South Carolina, “ continued Ricketts with a smile.

“They made another one, all red, for a tractor puller.”