Inaugural 'Moonshiners and Revenuers Reunion' cooks up a crowd of celebrities

Article Published: Oct. 19, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Inaugural 'Moonshiners and Revenuers Reunion' cooks up a crowd of celebrities

Some of Wilkes County's most notorious moonshiners -from left, Don Call, Dean Combs, Millard Ashley, Clay Call, Junior Johnson; participating but not pictured Clarence Benton, James Willard Shew.

Photo by Sherrie Norris

The wail of the lonesome siren piercing through the backwoods of western Wilkes County was reminiscent of days gone by to several of those gathered Tuesday evening for the inaugural Moonshiners and Revenuers Reunion.

The guest list to the private event - hosted by Terri Parsons, Clay Call and Junior Johnson and numbering around 200 guests - included local officials and regional dignitaries, such as Humpy Wheeler, owner of Lowe's Motor Speedway, NASCAR's Jack Roush, Ned Jarrett, Bobby Allison, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and others like Nelson Crozier, aka "Mr. Wizard," around the circuit for his electronic/mechanical expertise and consulting.

The timing was "interesting," one guest said with a chuckle, as he referenced last week's bust of nearly 1,000 gallons of moonshine just a few miles away, and thought to be the biggest mountain bust ever.

'I See the Moon'
While the NASCAR notables felt right at home on the home place of their late, great comrade, Benny Parsons, former Cup Series champion, it was Junior Johnson and his entourage of featured guests who were the stars, literally, shining in the light of the moon.

As the event got under way around 4 p.m. on Tuesday, guests were shuttled to the venue from designated parking areas in the shadows of Rendezvous Ridge, Terri Parson's mountain-top oasis, which includes her home, as well as her late husband's Racing Museum and Wine Tasting Room. Only those who knew the secret password -something about the moon - were allowed entrance into the event, held on the property where Benny Parsons was born and raised.

Guests were able to visit the resting place of their late hero out back of "Mama Julia's" house, where Benny flourished in the loving care of his great-grandmother.

Benny's wish was always to return to that place; his family honored that desire following his death in 2007.

He would've been proud to see what was unfolding on the land he loved, so say some of those in attendance at Tuesday's reunion. Many remembered and shared stories of Parsons'early life when he, and a number of those present, learned what "real driving" was on those back country roads. More times than not, they agree, those boys hauling 'shine successfully eluded the revenuers and helped pave the way for the big race, years later.

The Moonshiners Arrive
Around 7 p.m., on Tuesday, the siren from a 50-model Ford Wilkes County Sheriff's car signaled the arrival of an entourage of vintage vehicles - mostly 1940 Fords - driven in by the moonshiners. History repeated itself once more as the revenuers were already waiting their arrival, this time with smiling faces all around.

It wasn't difficult to imagine how it all might've played out around 50 or so years ago, except for one small detail: Junior Johnson's lead car stalled just in sight of the revenuers!

Memories and More
Taking to their assigned rocking chairs on a platform facing their guests seated on hay-bales, the revenuers and moonshiners didn't hesitate to get on with "the show," - with motor sports'well known broadcasters Eli Gold, Barney Hall (MRN) and Allen Bestwick (ESPN) posing just the right questions to stir up a little friendly banter between the two groups.

Memories, some keener than others, as well as a few laughs were easily shared; "opposing" recollections were surprisingly similar.

Shared were stories of hauling loads of 'shine, jumping from the cars, and running to allude arrest - through cotton fields and barbed wire fences, and having to "give up" their cars - some new with only a few registered miles - in return for freedom. One shiner said he surrendered two new cars in 1960, alone.

One of the revenuers admitted to driving the confiscated cars "a little bit" before selling them. Apparently, the same vehicles returned, time after time, into the revenuer's possession. "We tried not to sell them more than once in the same month!"

Despite their contrasting views on hauling shine and trying to eliminate it altogether, the men expressed respect for each other through it all.

Dean Combs, former NASCAR champion, and the youngest shiner on stage, spoke of his most recent "bust" earlier this year - the only one since his first in '73. Combs, who was the first driver to win a NASCAR series championship in a foreign make, was recently charged with making illegal liquor near his home, in close proximity to the former North Wilkesboro Speedway-one of NASCAR's first tracks and one that Combs'father had once co-owned

With a chuckle, he said he missed his "medicine," but that making shine was hard work that kept him in good shape.

Whether reminiscing and explaining such terms as "the bootleg turn"-the sliding, high-speed 180-degree moves used to flee from roadblocks and stops-or recalling how one revenuer was lauded for "a job well done," by one he had kept a close eye on for many years, both groups of men played an important role in what many agree was - and still is - a vital part of mountain heritage.

At evening's end, the rocking chairs, which the moonshiners and revenuers had been occupying, were signed by each one and auctioned, with proceeds being donated to MADD (Mother's Against Drunk Driving).

The event was broadcast as part of MRN's weekly "NASCAR LIVE" radio show hosted by Eli Gold. Film crews from ABC, Fox and ESPN were on location, as well, with plans to air the event at a later date.

Guests were treated to barbecue, homemade desserts and beverages, including Junior Johnson's "legal moonshine."

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