2011-12-22 / Sports

Christmas With “The Arkansas Traveler”

By Gerald Hodges

Bobby Ward Bobby Ward Each year during Christmas we break from our traditional NASCAR racing news in order to bring a story that will blend in with the holiday season. This year’s story comes from Bobby Ward, an early sprint car racer from Arkansas. While he was not well known along the East Coast, he was a household name among racing fans in the Midwest. When Ward showed up at the race track, he was always the “one to beat.”

“I think that sometimes people overvalue the things of Christmas, and forget to really focus on their friends and the actual holiday season,” said Ward. “I certainly have more material things now, which I thoroughly enjoy, but as far as true happiness goes, I’m not so sure that we weren’t just as happy back in my early years.”

Ward was born in 1935 in the community of Bee Branch, Ark., about 40 miles north of Little Rock, in a one-room log cabin. His racing career began in 1956. He raced hard, traveled long distances, won many, many championships, accumulated a large fan following, and became known as “ The Arkansas Traveler.”

“Christmas for us was very light,” continued Ward. “Mom and dad, and sometimes all the family would go out on Christmas Eve and cut down a tree. It wasn’t always a cedar tree. Sometimes it was a pine. After getting it set up in the house we would decorate it. The decorations consisted of some colorful ribbon that had been cut in strips, and strings of popcorn.

“That was all the decorations we used. There were no lights, or anything shiny.”

“My three sisters and I each got one toy. That’s the only time of the year we got any store-bought toys. But I don’t ever remember a Christmas when we didn’t get that one toy.”

“On my sixth birthday I had asked my mom for some type of Tinker Toy. On Christmas Eve, I happened by the bedroom and saw a Tinker Toy sticking out from under the bed. Mom saw me, and said, “Son, would you believe that Santa Claus came by earlier today and left this for you? And he might even come back again tonight.”

Well, I believed her, and sure enough, the next morning Santa had paid us a second visit and left some oranges, apples and cookies.”

“Our Christmas dinner consisted of chicken and dumplings, and dressing, along with ham and some other vegetables, plus a cake and pie.”

“We never had turkey or anything you had to buy.

“Around Christmastime, daddy would kill some hogs and cure the meat. He would take some type sugar cure and put it all over the ham, and inject it all around the bone. This not only flavored the meat, but preserved it. The meat would keep in a smoke house for at least a month.”

“In my very early childhood, we had Christmas by ourselves. We lived a pretty good way from our neighbors, and traveling in our wagon would have taken too long.”

“As I got older, we moved and dad bought a car, and we visited my father’s mother and dad on Christmas. I had a cousin that always got lots of toys, and we were allowed to play with them while the rest of the family visited.”

“I never said anything to mother and dad about the single toy I got, because I knew how things were with us.”

“During the year, I was able to make homemade cars out of blocks of wood.”

“We used our imagination and what we had, to entertain ourselves.”

“We always ate well, even outside the holidays. We had pork, along with fried potatoes, pinto beans, and corn bread. Every Thursday night we had corn bread and buttermilk.”

“There was no electricity in my early years. Our traditional lighting was a simple kerosene lamp. One day my dad brought home a new type of kerosene lamp, called a Latin Lamp. It gave a much brighter light, and that was the first time my sister and I had been able to do our homework together at the kitchen table.”

“Sometimes at night I would get a glass of milk, and only drink half of it. I would leave the rest of it setting in the kitchen. When it was really cold, the next morning I would have a half glass of ice cream.”

“When we moved from Bee Branch to Shirley, Ark., there wasn’t any boys around to play with, just girls. Mother made me a doll on her old treadmill sewing machine, and filled it with straw and rags, so I would have something to play with.”

“ It might seem funny now, but I had the time of my life playing with that doll, along with my three sisters and the other girls.”

“Whenever my dad took corn to the grist mill to get it ground into meal and grits, I always went along. The corn was yellow. We never raised any white corn like they have now.”

“ My childhood was good. I thoroughly enjoyed growing up with my sisters, and we were a loving family. We were also a working family. We worked hard, and loved each other. We didn’t go around hugging each other, saying, I love you, but we all shared a bond of love.”

“I don’t ever remember a day growing up when I didn’t feel loved.”

“I tried to race everyone just like I would want him to race me.”

“I didn’t always win, but I knew it was important for me to try and finish each race. I think in order to enjoy our success, we’ve got to put forth effort. The races that I enjoyed winning the most were those I really had to work for.”

“Greater labor leads to greater love.”

“To maximize our present enjoyment in life we might need to give up some of the comforts an easy life style brings us. Instead of buying a present readymade this Christmas, why not see what kind of physical chore you could do for your neighbor. Instead of buying a pre-cooked pie or cake for Christmas dinner, why not bake it yourself?”

“Christmas happiness can still be found. You just need to know how and where to look.”

Bobby Ward and his wife, Pat, continue to live in Bee Branch, Ark.

Racing trivia question: Which Cup team will Kasey Kahne drive for in 2012?

Last week’s question: What year did Johnny Benson win the Nationwide Series title? Answer. It was 1995.

Contact the Racing Reporter at hodges@race500.com.

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