The Lucky Penny
This is the third in a trilogy about the movie Stroker Ace
with Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson
These are articles, stories and accounts of my life, as I recall them, and are copywrited. Unauthorized use will be pursued at my determination, to the degree that I am inclined. Any hard feeling caused by memories that don't match yours are unfortunate and you'll just have to get over it! Feel free to contact me if you have a request for their use. I am not writing for prose or poetry, but just to tell a story. Neither do I try to be politically correct. I consider that an act of cowardice, trying to placate the uninformed, ignorant of history folks that are filled with ego and braggadocios, demanding that their perspective be the prevalent one.
I was sadly mistaken to think that I had left the heat and humidity behind in the Alabama countryside, as the Georgia weather was equally less appealing and making the sweat not only dampen my forehead, but was accumulating down my back as well. The fact that I wasn’t wearing any underwear was destined to make the back of my knees feel some what uncomfortable as well. ‘Ol Stump and Willy had the best idea, and mindful of the people I had seen in rural Carolinas, it was beginning to make sense to me. All that either of them was wearing were their shoes, a pair of socks and their bib overalls. Nothing else! It really seemed like a good idea, but I was careful not to walk to close to their rear or their sides, and they seemed non concerned about getting a sunburn in delicate places.
Talladega was almost entirely related to filming of racing footage and on track endeavors and issues, and we spent more time switching cameras from car to car than any form of actual driving. While here at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, we were overly busy in these opening days setting up the pit road area to look like actual racing was going on and it kept me, two of my employees and ol’ ‘Stump’ and Willy two days to get all the equipment out of the trucks and set up the pits to suit the needs of the director and set up crews. The Proto Tool Company had been signed as one of our sponsors and one of the more tedious issues was how to arrange the tool boxes with open lids to appear as often as possible in the different sequences of filming. We finally got all the issues attended to, but then it was decided that they were going to spend the next two days shooting some Atlanta track sequences and also re-create a pair of close-in filming that needed to be shot to clean up some issues with the filming at Talladega.
so I put on my drivers suit, warmed up the big ‘bird and eased my way down pit road, and staying on the tracks apron, I sauntered around the bottom of turns one and two and worked my way out onto the track at the beginning of the long backstretch. The banking is not as steep and tall as Talladega, but when you are on the apron and another car passes at song on the up side, it thunders by so violently that it jolts your senses, but you are unable to see any part of the car. It is a very startling occurrence.
I had made two warm up laps and one half lap at speed, and as I was on the straightaway going under the flag stand I noticed Tim Richmond come out in one of the movie cars that was his real race car that had been ‘borrowed’ for the movie. I continued to make the next lap and just as I was half way down the back stretch, I felt the rear end of the car seemingly raise up and I quickly let off the throttle and the next thing I knew, Tim came roaring by and he was looking at me and pointing at me with one finger, I was sure he was telling me that I was number ‘one‘ in his book.
I dismissed that one sided conversation for the moment as I was having some difficulty getting the car I was driving to be comfortable in, of all places, the backstretch where the track was straight. I pulled down pit road and into the garage area and checked and double checked the toe in settings as well as the caster and camber settings, looking for some reason to explain the erratic feeling I was having on the back straightaway. All the settings were the same as on own cars, so I decided that it must be because I was scared at this speed and my hands were causing the problem, so I wrapped a piece of gray tape around the steering wheel in the 12 o’clock position so that I could tell if my nervousness was causing the steering wheel to veer from side to side causing the slight drifting that I was experiencing.
I tightened the belts in a manner that would let me settle my elbows in my lap and went back out on the track and back up to speed, but still noticed that the car was darting when I went down the back stretch running right next to the wall. I had to figure out something as I was afraid that I would crash the car and in addition to knowing it might hurt, I did not want to have to repair this guy’s car.
I got back in the garage area and was under the hood looking at the upper control arms when Harry Gannt walked by and said “you looked pretty good out there”. I asked if he was kidding me because I thought I was darting all over the track. Harry has a signature gin, and it rapidly spread across his face as he said “first time?”. After explaining it in only small detail, he said ‘you’ll get used to it.”. It is a common phenomenon for all the stockers he said, and went on to explain that the darting is largely determined by the shape of the cars nose and tail sections on the right side of the car, and will noticeably change even when passing from a solid block guard wall to a guard rail used as a gate. Knowing that Dale had driven for me, Harry continued to relate to me a story that Dale had sarcastically shared with him earlier in the year.
There was a group bull session at the end of a drivers meeting and they were discussing the importance of them replacing a metal guardrail at an entrance in the center of the front straightaway at the Dover racetrack. They were discussing if the change in the contour of the steel railing would have an affect on drafting there, and it was met with a varying degree of responses, to which Dale said “I ain’t gonna’ like it”. “Bullshit” said one of the older, more experienced drivers, and Dale’s response was that “I’m so good at noticing those little changes in aerodynamic issues that I can tell when the fat lady in the third row at the end of the Darlington backstretch gets up to buy a bag of popcorn”. Eyebrows were surely raised, but no one spoke up to challenge him.
At any rate, after listening to Harry, I took the tape off the steering wheel and just learned to live with it, and soon was eat ease with the handling this particular car at this particular track. The rest of this day was uneventful, but very busy with making minor changes to some of the other ‘movie’ cars, assorted brake adjustments, tire pressure checks, oil levels and any other issues we could think of to prevent an expensive breakdown during the shooting.
We spent the following day at one of the more expensive Motels out on I-485 North where each day following the days work, we would gather to look at the filming done on the day before. After each days shooting on the sets, the film was sent to California to be developed and returned for review the following day. I always looked forward to this, as everyone was much more relaxed and the mood was much lighter than during the day. Burt, Hal and Hank Moonbeam, one of the producers would sit up front and confer with a middle aged lady who always looked and acted like she was a librarian. She kept track of the ‘story book’ that had the sketches, photographs and the story lines, and it was her job to make sure that the actors were always dressed the same as the day before, if filming went on into the next day and that all the issues in the story book were dealt with according to the book. I usually indeed up sitting next to her at the right end of the front row. I would later learn that she was anything but a librarian.
Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson were dating at the time and they were just like any other couple in the dating period of their lives with the exception of the fact they were both funnier than hell. You could get a stomach ache listening to that entire crowd hootin’ and hollerin’ and just being crazy at times. Throw in Big ‘Bubba’ Smith and Ned Beatty and it would sometimes take more than two hours to use up what was normally a one hour film review.
I ended up spending some of the down time in Bert’s bus that had a pool table in the main room and his driver Ron and I would often shoot pool on bad weather days, and one afternoon, in the sweltering Georgia heat, Ron was having trouble getting something fixed under the hood of the bus, and came and asked if I could help as he saw that I had over seven sets of tools out on pit road. I obliged, and it was only about an hour later that we had addressed the problem and had just gotten inside the bus and had the air conditioner cranked up, when up come ol’ Bert and Loni wanting to spend some time alone in the back of the bus. Ron began to tell Bert about me having to get me to help get his bus repaired because he was too cheap to have tools of his own, and Bert seemed a little embarrassed and told Ron to make sure they got some tools the next time they were home, at which point I told them both that they were welcome to the top tool box set that I had brought down from pit road earlier, if they could wait until we broke down the setup later in the week. Burt was appreciative enough that he had Ron give me his original cast jacked that had ‘Stand On It’ embroidered across the back. It was a very special jacket as they had to change the name of the movie to “Stoker Ace” because of some legality.
Business picked up the next morning as we were told to uncover the pit equipment that we had set up earlier in the week and to get the air hoses ready for use during the next filming sequence. This sequence required one of the high powered impact wrenches, used to change tires during a pit stop, to be triggered and for the exhaust air to blow up Loni Anderson’s dress as she was standing atop a 30” tall pit wall exposing her legs and panties to the crowd of drivers standing at the pit wall waiting to be introduced. I am sure that it was because I was constantly hanging around the folks that did the setup and worked with the race car group, they made sure that I got a front row seat to what they knew was going to be a very fun filming scene.
She is quite an attractive and popular lady, and I am sure she has grown to handle the attention and ogling quite well, but I suspect she was noticeably taken aback by what was just about to happen. She stood on top of the pit wall, and because the wall was only about seven inches wide, she stood with her legs slightly apart in an effort to maintain her balance. She was to raise her hands and look about trying to locate Burt who was arriving late for driver introductions when the air hose was to be triggered. But, because the air hoses had all been hooked up two days before and the call to shoot on pit road had been hastily called, no one took the time to bleed the moisture from inside the hoses and when the air gun was triggered, it did indeed blow up her dress around her neck, but all the moisture from the hose shot out the air vent openings in the gun and it soaked the inside of both her thighs and her panties, making her scream like a stuck pig.
The story book called for her to expose her tan panties, so the only thing she could do at that point was to go back to her trailer and dry both her and her under wear and then return to re-shoot the scene. It took a little more than 45 minutes for her to reappear to a whistling and appreciative crowd, and she had that toothy grin on her face as she made her way back to the spot on pit wall that she had left earlier. Because I was the person closest to her in that scene, she laughingly asked if I was ready for more, drawing an uproar from the crowd, and at that moment, I spied a penny on the ground right in front of her and noticing that it was heads up I reached down to retrieve it. When I stood up she was standing right in front of me and asked what I was going to do with that penny, and I told her that it was heads up and I was going to keep it for good luck. Noticing a gathering crowd, she told me to giver her the penny and I assumed that she was going to keep it for good luck of her own, but she looked me in the eye and said “I’ll make sure this penny is good luck” and she putting that penny between her forefingers, and stuck it down in her bra, first the left side and then the right side, clear to and including the nipples.
“Here”, she said. “That outta’ be good luck”, making the crowd howl with laughter.
I still have that penny!