The NASCAR season starts Saturday night with the Bud Shootout, an all-star race featuring last year’s polls winners along with past and present series champions.

Curtis TurnerIt’s a new year for the racing series along with a new sponsor, Nextel. I’ve got mixed emotions about the changes in NASCAR. As a fan, I’m glad to see the growth of a sport I grew up with and have long loved. But with the increased exposure, a big TV contract and so much money, NASCAR has changed and gone the way of so many big time sports. The personality of the sport has changed, not always for the better.

NASCAR has its roots here in the Blue Ridge Mountains with the moonshine runners who learned to drive fast on our winding country roads.

Floyd Countian Curtis Turner was one of the best at both hauling shine and running on NASCAR tracks in the early days of the sport. Legends abound about the colorful Turner who would party all night and then race and win.

“Hell,” he once said, “I get all the sleep I need waiting for a stoplight to change.”

A writer once asked Turner how he knew if he was driving fast enough. “If you feel like you’re in control, you ain’t driving fast enough,” he said. Mario Andretti later used the same line and claimed it as his own but Turner said it first.

NASCAR founder “Big Bill” France banned Turner from racing after he tried, unsuccessfully to organize a drivers’ union but the suspension was lifted and Turner came back to win. He also helped build Charlotte (now Lowe’s) Motor Speedway

Turner died in a plane crash while scouting some timber in Virginia