MIKE DUVALL TAKES FRED ON ONE LAST RIDE
As the field staged on the front-stretch behind him, Mike Duvall checked his seatbelts, adjusted his mirror, centered his steering wheel, flipped the ignition switch, waved to the crowd, and rolled off the starting line.
This is something that Duvall had performed countless times since the late 60's, just this time, was his last time.
Mike Duvall, the driver of the famed Flintstone Flyer, announced a few months ago that the Blue Gray 100, at his home track, the Cherokee Speedway, would be his last.
During opening ceremonies for the event, Duvall was awarded a rocking chair by the staff of the Cherokee Speedway. Drivers, including Freddie Smith, spoke of Duvall's career.
I was able to attend Richard Petty's last race in 1992, and in a lot of ways, this day reminded me of that cold November day as well.
As Duvall gently applied the throttle to roll off the grid, a fireworks show of flashbulbs began. The rest of field rolled off, six rows each consisting of four cars behind Duvall.
Duvall registered 1,025 wins in his 41-year career. Many of those came at the Cherokee Speedway. After a couple of parade laps, Duvall was instructed to take his position in the line up, shot-gun on the field.
Now, I wasn't listening to race control, but instead of dropping to the rear, Duvall hot-lapped it to take his starting position.
Those guys that were rolling behind saw the sight that had made many dirt racers scratch their heads over the years; The Flintstone Flyer was driving away.
The race didn't go the way many of the fans in attendance were wanting. His car was having trouble hooking to the dry-slick track. Duvall pulled off the speedway around lap-25 of the 100-lap event.
I, like many of the other fans, were hoping that the "Pride of Bedrock" would find just a little of that magic and add just one more win to his already phenomenal career. Just like in 1992, I was hoping The King and his famed STP #43 would have run like Maurice Petty had dropped a 426-Hemi under the hood.
That wasn't to be that day. Richard Petty was swept up in a big wreck. His crew thrashed on the car and he made just two more laps, and he crossed the finish line with race winner Bill Elliott.
Duvall had battled hard in the heat races. He went door-to-door for several laps with Chris Ferguson. After the heats, Duvall was posted as the 25th starter in the feature race.
When Duvall pulled off the track around lap-25 of the feature, I thought of how Petty's last race ended. I thought of all the times that, we as race fans had seen Duvall take the checkered flag. I also thought of the enthusiasm in Mike Duvall's voice when he appeared on Droppin' the Hammer with me and Ronnie Black. Not just when he spoke about racing, but about life and the choices we all have to make.
Duvall, who gave his life to Christ in 1997, has spoken at many churches across the southeast. He has shared how his life changed and how he is winning the ultimate race now.
As he waited to take the speedway for the final time, he was able to watch the Renegade class. Starting on the front row was Mitch and Jonathan Duvall, Mike's sons. Mitch jumped to the early lead, while Jonathan was spun out, and had to fall to the rear of the pack. Mitch held off all challengers to take the win. Jonathan clawed his way from the rear of the pack, all the way up to third place.
Mike Duvall's legacy on the track will be carried by both of these young men. As Duvall continues to build racecars, hold driving schools, and shares his testimony with folks, Mike's off track legacy will continue to grow by leaps and bounds.
It won't be the same next spring, when we all show up at the Cherokee Speedway, and Mike Duvall isn't wearing a driver's suit. But the 2008 Cherokee Track Champion, is retiring on top of the mountain. And he will continue to show others, how to climb that mountain with him.
Photo provided by Mike Butler Photography