Patsy Arrington worries about her man. She isn't worried about him getting hurt racing. That's happened three bad times already. Twice at Daytona and once at Talledega, they took Buddy out of 180-mile-per-hour wrecks. The time at Talledega in 1974, the hospital had tubes coming out of his busted-up body and bottles hanging in the air and plastic bags catching fluids. She remembers Buddy saying to his pals, "Boys, it ain't worth it."
Patsy was excited to hear that. If it weren't her husband out there in that race car, she wouldn't walk from here to that tree to see a race. She never dared the devil the way Buddy did. The tubes and bags and bottles were bad, but when she heard Buddy say it ain't worth it, Patsy Arrington thought, "Oh, boy! This is the end, he'll quit now."
She really didn't believe it.
That's why she brought the tubes and bags and bottles home with her.
She put them in Buddy's bathroom.
She wanted him to see them and remember.
He missed half of the 1970 racing season and all but the Daytona 500 of 1971 because he wrecked cars at Daytona. He crushed three vertebrae in his lower back and still wears a brace every day. He ruptured his bladder. Still Patsy Arrington knew her man would race again. He had done it before. Practically paralyzed with back pain, he took shots the night before so he could crawl into his car on race day.
"This man loves racing more han he loves life itself," she says. "I've seen Buddy get into a race car when he wasn't able to get into a race car. I knew he wouldn't quit. I just put those tubes and stuff in his bathroom, hoping."
What she is worried about now, this Thursday night with the rain and fog outside the trailer at Bdddy's Used Car Lot, this long night with her husband and his guys building a race car in the tin garage that sits in the front yard of their home -- she is worried about Buddy working too much, too hard, too long.
Racing eats Buddy up, and Patsy is worried that Buddy will wake up some morning and find out he isn't there. He'll be gone. Empty. Consumed by his addiction. She is afraid it is happening right now and Buddy doesn't know it.
The light is dim in the trailer office, and Patsy's nice face is half in shadows. Her hair is frosted and teased. She wears a sky blue racing jacket with "Plymouth" on it. Earlier, she stood behind an old woman in her beauty shop, working a comb through the customer's hair and saying, "These women look at a driver and say, 'Wow.' If they only knew. They wouldn't look twice. Look at me. Do I look like a driver's wife? Real glamorous, huh? I work here and I live in the house 50 feet away. Buddy works in the trailer office and in the garage. But the most I see him is at the track on weekends. And that ain't much then, 'cause all he does there is work on the car, eat and go to the motel to sleep."
Occasionally, the phone rings in the office. Somebody wants to work in Buddy's pit crew at Richmond on Sunday. Patsy says she doesn't know, and Buddy isn't taking any calls, but come on up. It is around 9 o'clock at night, and in her Plymouth racing jacket Patsy Arrington is worried about her husband. In the local paper, she once called him a workaholic.
"I don't know how long any man can keep up Buddy's pace," she says. "I don't know anybody else on the circuit who lives the way we do. Everybody else takes vacations, goes places, go to the movies. We don't do those things. It's almost all work and no play. He neve quits. I would love to see him have time off so we could do things together."
The wife says she isn't mad at her husband.
"This is the way it is," she says. "It's the way it's always been and I don't see any hope for it being any different any time soon. We've been married eight years, and I've learned to live with it. It's just become our way of life. If I went to Buddy and said I don't like it, he'd tell me what I could do. I accept it, because it make him happy and content, and whatever makes him happy makes me happy."
The only thing Patsy Arrington does outside her beauty shop and the races is go to the Martinsville Baptist Church, where she is in the choir. She says church helps her understand her life. If Jesus went through what what He went through, Patsy says, then she feels pretty little complaining about not getting to be with her husband more.
"Besides, I know it takes racing to make Buddy happy," she says. "For him, all I can say is that racing means everything to him. I just hope that some way, some day, before he quits -- if he ever quits -- that somewhere he wins a race."
He came close once, finishing third at Talladega in 1979. "You'd never know that Buddy Arrington was the same Buddy Arrington you're seeing here today. He was on some high. He was happier that day then over anything he's done. He was smiling, he was away from the everday bogged-down feeling. He looked like. . . "
Patsy moved the trailer curtains to look into the night fog.
". . . a person."
She has thought of him quitting racing.
The thought goes away quickly.
"Even if he won a race, he wouldn't quit. Just want to win another one."
On race earnings of more han $100,000 each of the last three years, Arrington says he breaks even. His sponsors are small-time deals with a couple hundred bucks here and there. Patsy can't figure out why some company in Martinsville doesn't sponsor the only Grand National driver in town. It's no good life. Nascar pays any medical expenses, but the most life insurance a drvier can get is $15,000. Her man, Patsy says, does nothing to relax.
Even now, at 1:47 a.m., Friday, Buddy Arrington is working like a man possessed. For 19 hours, he hasn't stopped. He closes every drawer of his tool box every time he passes. He sweeps. He mops. He hooks up hoses, fastens down fire extinguishers. A million jobs, unending. Emptying a waste basket, he notices it is dirty on the bottom. He wipes it clean with a grease rag.
Does Richard Petty clean the bottom of waste baskets?
"good gawd," shouts Freeman Treadway, Arrington's car builder who is helping out on this long night. "It's right next to 2 o'clock. My old lady's gonna shoot my butt. I told her I'd be home at 4:30."
Arrington laughs out loud. "You ain't wrong, Freeman. Be 4:30 at least."
At 5:20 a.m. Friday, Arrington drives his truck and trailer away from the garage, headed for Richmond. It is a four-hour trip.
It's no good life, as Willie Nelson says, but it's Buddy's life. Every time Patsy tinks of asking him to quit the racing, she knows better.
"You might as well ask him to quit breathing," she says.
Sunday morning, Patsy will drive up to Richmond with her son, Todd, 17, who will work in the pit crew.
For now she is staying in Martinsville.
Somebody might want to buy a VW, and the VWs help pay for the racing.