"Sold one VW Friday and one Saturday," Patsy Arrington says.
This is Sunday, race day at Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway, and the family is gathered.
"You asked me what's good about racing," says Patsy, who had to stay home and watch the used-car lot until this morning. "This is what's good about it."
She hugs Richard Petty, who pecks her on the cheek and takes a piece of her chocolate cake.
What happens next is strange. For most of two days, a newspaperman hung around Buddy at his garage and at the track. They never talked. Now, with the Richmond race half an hour away, Arrington wants to talk. He takes the man into his truck, first stopping to scuff his shoes on a piece of carpet. "Wipe Yer . . . Feet Off, Or Stay Out," says a sign painted by the guy who cleans the bottoms of waste baskets.
If every week were like this one, Arrington says, he wouldn't be in racing.No way he'd go through this much work that fast. At the going rate for mechanics in Martinsville, his pals did nearly $5,000 worth of garage work. They did it for free. "They're like me -- crazy," Arrington says. "They like to work on a race car the way I like to drive one."
He'd always wanted to race, from the time he ran a Monarch motorcycle on hid daddy Lov's tobacco farm. He never has raced anything but Grand National, starting at the top 16 years ago because that's where the money is, not in any of that second-level stuff he calls "horse-pasture racing."
Up until Richmond, his racing winnings were $698,177. Almost half that came in the last three seasons, when Arrington finished an average of 15th in 92 races. That means Buddy is the best of the runners without high-dollar sponsors. It also means that he still just breaks even. He says he pays taxes on an average of $7,000 income from racing and his used cars.
"These days, it's hard to survive at anything," he says. "Racing is the only thing I really know how to do. I sell a car now and then, too. If it weren't for that, I couldn't survive out here. I don't know how I do it, anyway. How I stand it. I don't know how I ain't cracked up by now. I know I get jacked up ever so often."
Now he is calm.
Half an hour before a race, he is, to use Patsy's words, a person.
Life starts in half an hour.
"Race," Arrington says to a question about what he does to relax. "I don't do nothin' else. Ain't never had a vacation. If I take a notion to go 25 miles to eat, I'd stop somewhere along the way and look at a Volkswagen to buy."
He puts on his hero suit. The fire-suit. The shining Nomex with the racing decals on the breast. A man drives a race car not to go fast, nor to dare the devil. He races to put distance between himself and an ordinary man. dThe customers come to hear, feel and smell racing: the pounding roar of stock cars flying, the bittersweet suggestion of rubber and oil. They come, too, to see men do extraordinary things.
"Drivers are in it for the glory," said Harry Hyde, for 20 years crew chief to top drivers. "They love the newspapers and they love to see themselves on TV. A driver may say he loves racing, but deep down his love is for recognition. Don't get me wrong. He's brave. He has to have a helluva drive to make him do what he does. Those guys have their butts hung out at 200 miles per hour."
What Arrington said in the hospital after Talladega, he didn't mean. That time with the tubes running in and out of his body, that doesn't count. Arrington now stands in his truck, putting on the threads that fight fire, and says of Talladega, "I was feeling bad, tore up, sittin' there bleedin' and hurtin'. I said it was all over, but everybody knew me better than that." a
He was 42. He could pass for 52, which doesn't make him unique in stock-car circles. Going fast in circles in heavy traffic for a long times does that to you. The 30 Grand National races begin in January and end in November. A racer for 23 of his 43 years, Richard Petty has the tired eyes of a man who has seen too much. He has won more than $4 million.
"Maybe if he won a race, he'd quit," Patsy Arrington said. She knows it isn't that simple. Arrington doesn't race to win. He races because he can't not race.
Cale Yarborough went racing at 21 and couldn't pay the 37-cent toll across a bridge. David Pearson grew up in a two-room house. But they came to racing with the gift. From nothing, they became heroes. Buddy Arrington has worked at it just as hard without making it just as big.
"I sure would like to win a race," Arrington says. "But I'm nowhere close to quitting yet. I've got several years left. We're able to make ends meet now, and Joey is making a good living as crew chief. Look, you got more guys racing that haven't won races than have. Like in baseball, you never heard of the majority of the players, but if you take those guys off the field, you ain't got a game."
Only 10 drivers won a Grand National race in 1980. That leaves 63 men in the NASCAR press guide who didn't win. Only 17 of the 73 even finsihed in the top five in any of the 31 races. So dominant are the big-sponsor teams that of the top 35 drivers in the point standing, 18 of them did not have a top-five finish. In 31 races, Buddy Arrington never led a lap; his best finish was sixth.
"But I compete with more guys I run with," he says, meaning the other second-level drivers, "than Petty and Yarborough. My thrill in being competitive is the same as theirs. If I finish a race, I've accomplished a lot."
On this Sunday at Richmond, Buddy finishes 16th in a field of 30 and earns $2,380.
His ride is uneventful until Tommy Gale slams into the driver's side of his Dodge.
In two days this week, Arrington and his guys did two weeks' work getting the car ready.
"What the hell were you doin' man?" Arrington screams at Gale. Out of his car the second the race ends, Arrington confronts Gale, who leans against his car drinking a beer. "We wasn't even racin'. What were we, 20th or 30th?"
"I wasn't racing you, Buddy," Gale says, unconcerned. "I was coming into the pits."
"Bull," Arrington says, his voice a screech by now. "You come look at my car, what you did. You cost me money, man."
"I was coming into the pits, that's all."
"Like hell you were." He puts his face a foot from Gale's. "Just don't let it happen any more."
Arrington is 20 feet away when he suddenly turns. "They're laughing at me," he says. He hurries back to Gale and another driver, Dick May.
"You're laughing at me," Arrington shouts. "It ain't fun when I get my God damn race car broke up.I ain't gonna stand here and have you laugh at me."
May says, "Buddy, we ain't talkin' to you or about you. We ain't laughin' at nobody. Take it easy, Buddy. You're getttin' too durn jumpy."
"Ain't nobody gonna laugh at me. Remember that."
Five minutes later, the storm past, Buddy stands in the middle of the front straightaway and signs autographs. "I had a kid come up to me a little bit ago and say, 'Buddy, would you sign my T-shirt? It's the only one of its kind.'"
Buddy feels very good now. "The kid's T-shirt had my picture on it," he says, "and it had my car on it, No. 67.The kid wasn't but that tall."
By now, Patsy Arrington is driving back to Martinsville with her son, Todd, who worked in the pit crew.
Buddy will drive the truck home.
He has to unload the car tonight.
He has to be in Rockingham by Thursday.