The 82nd annual Mallard Creek Barbecue is a favorite stop for politicians eager to shake hands with some of the 20,000 people who turn out each year for barbecue plates and sandwiches or a few ladles of Brunswick stew.
For the event's organizers, the year's most important election has already taken place: Richard "Rusty" Wallace II has been named the stew chairman. He takes over the Brunswick stew team from his father, Richard Wallace, who held the job for 15 years after his aunt, Rebecca "Beck" McLaughlin, handed over the mantle and the recipe she first introduced around 1930.
Rusty Wallace (no relation to the retired NASCAR star) knew he would step into the job, because the church's signature fundraising event has a strict caste system.
"If your family does the slaw, you're eventually going to be doing slaw," he said. "If your family does barbecue, you're eventually going to be doing barbecue. There is a pile of history at this event."
The senior Wallace, now 63, will be at his son's side for the long days stirring 15-gallon pots of stew. Rusty Wallace's wife, Connie, will help, too. Their 8-year-old son, Braden, will play with friends most of the time and help with smaller jobs, just as Wallace did as a child. Someone from the 700-member congregation will entertain the Wallaces' 17-month-old daughter, Ruby.
The stew team will churn out about 3,500 gallons of the mixture of meat, rice and spices with the help of 40 to 50 volunteers and 18 paid workers. The stew will stand alongside 13,000 pounds of pork barbecue, 2 tons of coleslaw and 400 gallons of coffee to diners who stay for a visit or pick up an order from one of four drive-through lanes.
The congregation has fed former Vice President Dan Quayle, U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., and former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C. But those visitors aren't the reason families pledge their time and labor.
"It's the fellowship and the good we know we're going to accomplish with the money that's raised," Wallace said of the church's mission work and building fund.