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Awesome Bill from DawsonvilleMy Life in NASCAR
By Bill Elliott Chris Millard
HarperEntertainmentCopyright © 2006 Bill Elliott
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Elliotts of Dawsonville
For a rocky patch of Earth, Dawson County, Georgia, sure does grow good roots. Elliotts have been calling this hilly section of rural north Georgia home for a long time-as long as I can remember, anyway. Our little corner of the county is just outside "downtown" Dawsonville on Route 183. When I was growing up, if you counted parents, spouses, kids, and "Mama" Reece, there were twelve members of the Elliott clan living in four brick houses alongside this winding, wooded country road.
While both Mother's and Daddy's families go back several generations here, I only really knew the last generation or two. I never knew my father's father, Ervin Elliott. He died well before I was born. I do know that he was into farming, as was just about everybody back in those days. Daddy's mom was a different story. I knew her quite well and loved her. Ruby Elliott lived into her nineties. In fact, up into her late eighties she was actually still driving a car. I guess that was a pretty good omen.
My daddy was born in nearby Lumpkin Campground in 1924. The Campground was a settlement that sprung from an old Methodist meeting ground. If you've ever seen one of those revival meetings in the movies, that's what the place looked like: as country as it gets. George Elliott was the second of four children born toErvin and Ruby. He and his siblings all came up the old-fashioned way: hard work, independence, and family. My aunt Louise was the oldest. She is about eighty years old now, but we rarely get to see her. Sadly, she lost her husband to suicide in the 1970s, and she's been a bit of a recluse ever since. Then there was Daddy, one of the biggest influences on my life; much more about him in a moment.
After Daddy came my uncle Ralph. You want to talk about a tough guy. As a young man, Uncle Ralph worked in a rock quarry down in Cumming, Georgia. One day he was trying to clean out the bin where they store the rocks before they dump them into the truck. Well, he was in the bin when someone accidentally dumped the rocks. The load buried him alive. He just about died from that, but now in his eighties, he's getting along reasonably well.
The youngest is Ethel Mae. If you ever go down to Gordon Pirkle's Pool Room, the center of Dawsonville's social scene, you'll see three things. On the walls you'll see all kinds of press clippings from my racing career. On the ceiling you'll see the grill from a Thunderbird I wrecked at Martinsville a few years back, and across the room you might very well see Ethel Mae. She's in her seventies now and she's still a piece of work. A great lady.
Through military service and education, Dad traveled more than his parents or any of his siblings. By contrast, my mother, Mildred Reece Elliott, spent virtually her entire life in the Dawsonville area. Records show her childhood address simply as "Route 2, Dawsonville." Mom was fiercely intelligent. She completed high school at the ripe old age of fourteen and was valedictorian to boot. We still have the original and meticulously handwritten manuscript of her valedictory speech. Here's an excerpt taken from a section where she's talking about graduation as the beginning of a voyage.
"Whether that voyage will be prosperous or disastrous ... God knoweth. But this we know: It will depend on ourselves-upon the use we make of the gifts and powers we've been given-upon the ends toward which we choose to work."
I happen to believe those words are universally true, but they would turn out to be particularly prophetic as far as her children were concerned. Mother was really a pioneer. At a time when very few women-particularly rural southern women-were pursuing higher education, she studied business and finished two years at North Georgia College. She was quite a lady. When people say I favor my mother, and I've heard that many times over the years, I take it as a great compliment. Whereas Daddy was businesslike-shrewd, quiet, and close to the vest-Mother never met a stranger. If she walked into a store and both the town drunk and the preacher were in there, she'd probably hug the drunk first, but she'd hug both before she left. She loved everybody. She and Daddy made a real nice couple, seemingly balancing each other out.
They married in 1943, shortly before Daddy's military service took him to ports all over the United States and the South Pacific. After the war Daddy returned to Georgia and they had three boys: Ernie was born in 1947; Dan, in 1951; and me, William Clyde Elliott, in 1955. Born on October 8, in Forsyth Hospital in Cumming, Georgia, I was named for two relatives-William Elliott, a prisoner of war in World War II, and Clyde Elliott, who was killed in an automobile accident at the age of fourteen.
For where and whence Daddy came up-1920s rural north Georgia-he was an educated man. He'd seen the world. In the service he got a chance not only to travel but also to study math and physics at prestigious universities like the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell. He earned his bachelor's degree at North Georgia College in nearby Dahlonega, Georgia, and studied toward a master's in mathematics at Emory University in Atlanta.
Before he could complete his master's, Daddy was offered a job with Burroughs Machine Company in southeast Georgia. While the new job meant a move from the Dawsonville area he always loved (he used to refer to it as "the most beautiful place on earth"), it also meant a better paycheck for the young couple and a move closer to the port city of Brunswick where Daddy could carry out his Naval Reserve duties ...
Excerpted from Awesome Bill from Dawsonville by Bill Elliott Chris Millard Copyright © 2006 by Bill Elliott. Excerpted by permission.
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