Hooch. White lightning. Corn liquor. Block-and-tackle.Moonshine has a dozen or more names, and more of them hiccup to the surface every time a new tongue gets soused in it.This week, Charlotte Motor Speedway will pay special homage to the libation that fueled NASCAR’s early days, with two events during this year’s Charlotte AutoFair Sept. 19-22. During the AutoFair, spectators can browse through “Moonshine’s Role in Carolinas Racing History,” an exhibit inside the Showcase Pavilion that displays the kinds of vehicles used to transport illegal booze from backwoods stills to the speakeasies in town.On Sept. 20-21, Bill and Josh, stars of the Discovery Channel’s “Moonshiners,” will be on hand to sign autographs.Now in its third season, “Moonshiners” follows the hijinks of the two mountain whiskey-makers as they work to conjure up the best brews while avoiding the law.Moonshine has deep roots in the Carolinas and in NASCAR. The vehicles used to hide moonshine – and more often than not to outrun the authorities – were souped-up machines, tricked out with large hidden compartments that could easily be stocked full of Mason jars and jugs of booze.The tinkering that went into them, and the keen driving skills needed to run them at a clip up and down mountain switchbacks and winding rural backroads, eventually found a legal outlet in the late 1940s with the debut of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.Hollywood often portrays bootleggers in a glamorous light, with a hierarchy of suits pulling the strings of the operation.In the back hills of Appalachia, though, that wasn’t usually the case.“Moonshine was just something an old farmer would do to sell so he could feed his kids,” said Danny Russell, who owns several ridgerunners that span the history of 20th century bootlegging. At least four of Russell’s restored vehicles will be on display during the racetrack’s moonshine exhibit: a 1935 Ford Coupe, a 1940 Ford Coach, a 1960 Chevy Impala, and the original 1963 Mayberry Ford police car driven on “The Andy Griffith Show” to chase down moonshiners.“Every piece in there has a good story,” said Russell, who keeps his collection of classic cars housed inside his Spartanburg, S.C., barn during most of the year. As a teenager, he used the Impala to haul a few batches of the brew himself.“That was a long time ago. I don’t do it no more,” said Russell, who said he’s in good standing with the law and wants to remain that way. For Bill of “Moonshiners,” though, that’s not the case. “I’m a glorified hobbyist with cameras in my face,” said the whiskey maker, who uses only his first name on the show. “I’ve been making stovetop – 5 gallons of mash at a time, that runs down to 31/2 quarts (of moonshine) – for almost 10 years.” The third season of “Moonshiners” is shooting now, and he has no plans to quit anytime soon.Russell understands. He also gets the public’s fascination with whiskey bootleggers.“It’s sort of like Robin Hood,” he said. “Robin Hood was a crook, but everybody liked him. He’d done good. And the moonshiners, all they really wanted was a way of making their living back then.”
Thursday, Sep. 12, 2013
Charlotte Motor Speedway to host moonshine exhibit
Want to go? Learn about NASCAR’s connection with moonshiners during two events at this year’s Charlotte AutoFair, Sept. 19-22 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord. “Moonshine’s Role in Carolinas Racing History,” an exhibit displaying restored ridge-runners from bootleggers’ sordid history, runs all four days in the Showcase Pavilion. Meet Josh and Bill, the stars of the Discovery Channel’s “Moonshiners,” 1-3 p.m. Sept. 20 and 21. AutoFair Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 19-21 and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 22. Tickets: $10 for adults; free for children 13 and younger. Details: www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.
Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lisa? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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