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Saving Pieces of NASCAR History

Source: Dustin Long, Greensboro News & Record   

August 08, 2008

Buz McKim pilots his SUV on a winding path away from the city's skyscrapers to a nondescript brick building.

Road construction alters his way, not fear of being followed. Yet the building's location remains secret because of its valuable stash.

Once there, McKim unlocks a door to enter the building and faces a second door.

"Look at this," he says, as he unlocks and opens the second door.

Here, in a windowless space the size of a conference room, NASCAR history resides. McKim is its caretaker. The historian for the NASCAR Hall of Fame searches for racing artifacts and stores some here until the hall is constructed.

Consider McKim the Indiana Jones of NASCAR history, minus the chases and fedora. Like the movie character, McKim uses ingenuity and gusto to find historic objects. Like Jones, McKim has an enemy: time. The hall won't open until spring 2010, but the interior design team needs to know within six months what McKim has collected so displays can be built.

The hall will contain about 40,000 square feet and showcase about two dozen cars. But McKim searches for smaller items, making phone calls and trekking across the Southeast.

This is a job the 56-year old has waited for his whole life. He has never been far from racing. His father was a track announcer. McKim raced briefly and later designed the paint schemes for the Daytona 500 winning cars of David Pearson and Benny Parsons.

But it was days at the Museum of Speed, located a short drive from Daytona International Speedway, that had the most impact. He was a museum volunteer at 13. McKim studied the vehicles, relished their history and admired their drivers, fueling his passion.

Those feelings remain. As he recently showed items that could be displayed in the hall, McKim introduced many items by saying, "I love this," then explained their significance.

There's a Bobby Allison racing uniform under plastic. Nearby is pair of dirt-stained white pants Fireball Roberts wore when he raced. There's Marvin Panch's 1956 contract with Ford that called for him to receive 60 percent of his race winnings as driver and $500 per month as a mechanic.

Among the items McKim brings to the building is a red Bill Elliott helmet from earlier this decade. McKim places it near a collection of racing seats. One seat was made for Alan Kulwicki, who was to have picked it up the day after he returned from the Bristol spring race in 1993. Kulwicki died in a plane crash heading to that track. It's near a pair of wingtip shoes Dave Marcis wore when he raced.

Newer items such as Elliott's helmet aren't hard to find. Older items intrigue McKim. He seeks objects from competitors including Curtis Turner and Joe Weatherly, and looks for items from long-deceased tracks such as those in North Wilkesboro and Greensboro.

McKim wants personal items, things drivers or car owners touched or were a part of cars, pieces with a special story to tell.

Like Ray Fox's watches. Fox was a car owner from 1962 to 1974 and had seven of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers race for him: Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Buck Baker, Buddy Baker, Fred Lorenzen and LeeRoy and Cale Yarborough.

Fox had watches -- silver and shaped like a steering wheel -- made for his team in 1963. Its face had a No. 3 in the middle and a cartoon Fox on it. Only problem was the watches were stolen before the team received them.

McKim found one with the help of a collector, marking an item off his wish list. That list remains long. McKim's "holy grail" is the gold-plated NASCAR membership card -- card No. 1 -- Bill France Sr. gave Red Vogt, a co-founder of NASCAR.

"I'd love to find that," McKim says. "It's disappeared."

McKim has spent eight years searching, but like Indiana Jones, not all paths lead where one expects.

McKim recalls a time when he was told NASCAR had a truckload of confiscated parts.

"We went up there salivating; opened the door and there were like four pieces left," he says. "Someone had hauled everything off.

"People can say, 'I got this' and 'I got that,' but until we can actually see it, touch it or at least get a picture, we can't take anything for granted."

So McKim keeps searching, collecting and dropping items off at this building.

As he leaves, he locks both doors, heads back in his SUV and slips through traffic back toward the city where rising from a dirt floor soon will be NASCAR's hall and its treasures.