THOMASVILLE -- It may have beeen more than 40 years ago since Patten Speedway first opened, but local drivers and fans remember the track like it was yesterday.
Whether it was the track's geographical features or frequent collisions, Patten Speedway had its unforgettable moments.
One aspect about the track that made it memorable was its location on farmland. More often than not, if they weren't careful, drivers could find themselves trying to fend off attacking cornstalks or peanut plants.
"So many times, you run down the front straightaway and if your car got loose on you and didn't hook up, you wound up in the peanut patch. I've been there," Tom Jones joked, "picking peanuts with the race car."
"A lot of times, Larry included, he would run off the race track, run out down yonder in the cornfield," said Larry's wife, Jane Benton, retired publisher of the Times-Enterprise. "Sometimes, the cornfield would be over head-high and you couldn't even see the cars out there. Finally they'd get them back up there to the race track and you'd see stalks of corn hung on the windows or whatever of the car. That was always funny. I always remember the corn because you'd get lost out there with the corn as high as it was."
While farm crops had an occasional hand in deciding the victor in a race, wrecks were a common occurrence on the small dirt track. With sometimes as many as 35-to-40 cars together on a 3/8 mile track, collisions were bound to happen -- sometimes at the expense of someone close.
"One of the worst things I hated about racing my friends there, like Billy Joe Boyette and them, they had built a new car," said former driver Russell Tinsley. "For some reason or another, I don't know what happened to (Boyette's) car but he stalled in a turn and I hit him. I made a big dent in his car. I always regretted that.
"I apologized. I don't know if his ignition just cut off or something, but I was coming in there and he just stopped and I tried to stop. Everybody was all around me but I creamed him."
When two cars collided, it often meant chances of winning were greatly reduced. But when a car hit Jones', it had an adverse affect.
"I was leading the race and this ol' boy run up behind me going off in the turn," said Tom Jones. "His front bumper got under my rear bumper. We didn't like but two or three laps to go. That sucker was hooked on to me and I couldn't get loose from him. So I just said, hold on buddy 'cause we're going. He held on and I pulled him, finished the durn race, picked up the checker flag."
Winning the race was the obvious No. 1 goal for all drivers. But on one occasion, Larry Benton's objective was to help all the drivers -- and the fans.
"I remember two or three times, the light poles that held the lights for the track, they always piled big humps of dirt up around it, so that if a car hit it, they hit the dirt and not the pole," said Jane Benton. "Several times, when they hit the dirt, or some of them would go higher and hit the pole, it would knock out the light. That happened more than one time.
"I remember one time, I was sitting in the grandstand besides (Larry's) mama and a car hit the pole or whatever. Anyway, the lights had been knocked out. It wasn't totally dark but you could see just a little. We were sitting there. It wasn't directly in front of us but I could see good enough to see who the person was on the pole. Larry's mother was sitting there and I didn't say anything because I saw it was Larry climbing up the pole. She said, 'Who is that crazy person down yonder climbing up that light pole.' I said, 'Mrs. Benton, that's your son.'
"Larry did that. He went up there and did something on the light pole and turn the lights back on."
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