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GO LANIE: Going back to NASCAR roots of bootlegging moonshine

By Lanie Pope

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    Wilkes County, North Carolina (WXII) — “Bootlegging was a way of life. It’s how men fed their families,” Brian Call said.

The Call family knows that way of life very well.

Brian has preserved his family history in a distillery/museum in Wilkes County.

“Our family goes back seven generations to a Lutheran minister and he had a legal distillery, Rev. Daniel Call and Mary Jane,” he said.

The couple took in a young Jack Daniels when his mother died, and they later developed a business, the Call and Daniel Distillery.

Brian showed me photos of his grandfather and a mugshot of him when he was arrested by federal agents.

Despite the risk of prison, the whiskey business paid the bills and was passed along to Brian’s dad, Willie Clay Call.

“When grandpa went into the penitentiary, he started helping his uncle Harold and he started hauling around 14 or 15 years old,” Brian said. “He’d put on a nice suit and Stetson hat and they thought he was somebody important like a doctor or lawyer.”

Willie and his buddies, Junior Johnson and Millard Ashley worked together to make it, sell it and run it — as fast as they could without getting caught.

Willie’s nickname was ‘the uncatchable,’ as he was never stopped by police, but was once arrested under conspiracy charges.

“They had to have some fast cars, and Junior helped my dad stay ahead of the law by working on the motors and having real fast cars,” Brian said.

He took me for a ride in his father’s 1966 Dodge.

“All the miles on this hemi are from when dad hauled whiskey — 70,000 miles,” he said.

Brian said his dad would start on Sunday night, making two to three trips a night to Statesville, Winston-Salem and maybe ending up in Burlington.

We visited the North Wilkesboro Speedway, where Willie’s Whiskey is also being given a second life.

The revitalization of the track and racing has brought back jobs and adds to the community.

Brian recalls going to the speedway as a child after class at CC Wright Elementary School.

“I’d be in there on a Friday, during time trials, and my uncle or somebody would come pick [my cousin and I] up and take us to the race track. Boy, that was really fun,” Brian said.

When racing came back to the track for the revival race, Brian drove his father’s car as the official pace car.

He showed me what was called “bootlegger highway” back in the day.

“They call this the George Moore curve. It had a bump there, so if you come in there wide open and hit that bump, you had to be ready to straighten up. If not, you’d be going down through the hay field,” he said.

It wasn’t hay, but corn that revved engines those days. Ronald Queen is the director of operations at the speedway and knows the partnership of moonshine and racing well. Ronald has worked at the track since it opened in 1947.

“They all grew up together in their childhood and for them to see this it would be awesome,” he said.

“It’s like junior said, it will never go away. It’s the history and this place is the history,” he said.

The rich history lives on at the track and at the Call distillery, with the crafting of the family recipe.

“We want to do it like my dad — ferment it in wood,” Brian said.

Brian has even crafted the 2023 All-Star Race trophies.

A man of many talents and exceptional taste.

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