by Dan Smith
There is little doubt that through the years NASCAR has spawned many true characters.
Race fans love to hear the stories of Smokey Yunick, the mechanical genius who was possessed of a unique spirit and a wry wit.
Tim Richmond brought a flair for the dramatic to the track and the great Junior Johnson is still the epitome of a Southern storyteller.
Nothing, however, will ever top the story of Tim Flock and his ride along monkey. Back in 1952, Tim was the hottest driver on the circuit and the best driver of a racing family. Like a lot of good tales, how he came to give the monkey a ride in his race car has been told in varying ways. It was no secret that Tim was often at odds with NASCAR boss Bill France and some insist he put the monkey in the car to demonstrate holes in the rulebook. Others say he did it purely to aggravate France.
The truth may be that it was all a publicity stunt dreamed up by his sponsor but however it happened no one can deny that Jocko Flocko the monkey was in the passenger seat during eight races in 1952. The monkey raced in a professional racing suit complete with helmet and his name on the back.
For a while, the monkey was a pretty good companion in the car and certainly a fan favorite, but during the eighth race at Raleigh, trouble arose. Racing in those days was very low tech and Flock had a small trapdoor built into the floor of his racer so he could open it to check tire wear during the race. In the previous seven races Jocko had watched Tim pull the chain and open the hatch and late in the race he decided to try it. When the monkey saw the motion of the track flying by under the car and heard the noise of the engine, he lost it. Jumping around and screaming, he wound up clinging to Tim's neck.
Although Flock was running second he had no choice but to pit and remove Jocko. That cost him a finishing spot and more than $600 in prize money. Tim would go on to win the championship that year but that was the end of Jocko Flocko's racing career.
On Feb. 17, a lot of other race fans, ex-drivers and I assembled at the Iron Horse Saloon for a memorial and fundraiser for the late Curtis Crawfish Crider, one of NASCAR's last characters. Old Crawfish was a good guy and his passing saddened me.
A few years ago, I happened to mention to my buddy Al Houser that I knew Crider. As it turned out Al was a big fan and had Crider's autobiographical book. He told me he would love to meet him so we drove out to Tomoka Estates where Crawfish lived in a modest home on a big lot. When we pulled into his yard, the scene was just about perfect. Crawfish was so deep under the hood of an old Ford pickup truck that only his lower legs were visible.
As he crawled out, I had to smile, for he had gained his nickname years ago when Richard Petty saw him crawling out of a big mud hole after a wreck. Petty had noted he looked just like a crawfish then and he kind of did on this day.
After the introductions, Curtis took us inside his home to look at some of his memorabilia and told us about sending one of his cars to Great Britain to be displayed in a museum there. Crawfish had enjoyed much success racing in the U. K.
Like many others he had originally honed his driving skills hauling moonshine in South Carolina. He was never one of the big names of NASCAR, but he was the type of low budget, hard workingman that carried the sport in its early days. In his later years he spent his time repairing cars and trucks for his neighbors and was always willing to pass the time with a fan and I was proud to know him.
The big time sport of NASCAR is very successful today, but it is missing the true characters like Tim Flock and Curtis Crawfish Crider.
Dan Smith is on the board of directors for the Ormond Beach Historical Society and The Motor Racing Heritage Association and is the author of two books, "The World's Greatest Beach" and "I Swear the Snook Drowned." E-mail questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (386) 441-7793.