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Griffin brothers take to the track to honor their father, keep family traditions alive
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Griffin brothers take to the track to honor their father, keep family traditions alive

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The No. 12 Kentucky Fried Chicken Special Chevelle lives again.

History returned to area race tracks this year when Bobby and Billy Griffin brought back a replica of the late model sportsman car their late father, Jimmy Griffin, raced in early 1970s.

Although they have been racing since they were in their 20s and are well-known competitors on area short tracks, the Griffin brothers decided to give it up just before the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Bobby at the helm and Billy serving as the chief mechanic, crew chief and spotter, they ran their last race — the Rodney Cook Classic — at Ace Speedway in Burlington in October 2019.

“We were running late model,” Bobby said. “We decided it was so expensive to continue racing, we would give it up for a while.”

Then, Bobby talked to Johnny James of Statesville, who ran in the Southern Groundpounders (vintage race cars). James had a friend with a 1964 Chevelle and “thought it would be neat if I put a car together,” Bobby said, adding, they don’t race every week. “When you want to go race, you go race.”

After checking out the Chevelle, the brothers bought the car and worked on it for a year.

They took the body off their late model Monte Carlo and sold it for what they paid for the Chevelle. Since they didn’t like the motor in the new car, they sold it and bought a used one. At that point, they were breaking even.

Then, the brothers cut the body off the Chevelle piece by piece and put it on their old racing chassis. With some help from Randy’s Body Shop in Stoneville, it became a race car.

In 1972, their father, Jimmy, who died nearly 12 years ago, won a lot of races everywhere he went in his Chevelle. One was the first 300-lapper ever held at Hickory Speedway, beating Bobby Allison and other top Winston Cup drivers at the time.

“It had great sponsorship with Kentucky Fried Chicken out of Danville,” Bobby said.

He and Billy decided to duplicate that car, painting their Chevelle gold and black and displaying the original sponsors, KFC and the Railroad Café on it. They added Randy’s Body Shop “for his superior work.”

To date, the Griffin brothers have run four races, opening the season in April with a second place out of 18 cars at South Boston, Va. Since then, they won the race at Wake County Speedway in Raleigh and finished third at Southern National Speedway in Kenly, and the latest, at Ace on July 9. Although Bobby started 18th, “dead last,” he came in third despite carburetor and brake issues.

During practice, the carburetor was “missing off the corner,” Bobby said, adding Billy changed the carburetor, finishing the work just before the green flag dropped. Although he started “dead last,” Bobby quickly passed slower cars, coming up to the sixth by the third lap. He was moving to second, but thinking he had tire problems, he headed for the pits on a caution. Realizing the tires were OK, he continued through the pits lining up eighth with five laps to go.

Bobby said he felt like he would have won the race had it not been for the carburetor problems, but they were happy with the results.

The new division is really a continuation of our racing, Bobby said. “We don’t have to spend as much money, like buying tires at $800 a set every week. You don’t go out there to race and tear somebody’s car up.”

Usually, they run an event every two weeks. Their next race is scheduled July 31 at Motor Mile in Pulaski, Va. and they plan to end the season at Ace in October at the Rodney Cook Memorial.

“It’s a brotherhood thing,” Bobby said. “We like to spend time together. Racing is what we have always done and what we know.

“We enjoy the challenge of trying to get better every week," he said. "We are not only brothers but best friends and each understands what the other is thinking.”

Born in Eden, the Griffin brothers are the sons of late Jimmy Griffin and Maryann Walker. Bobby, 61, graduated in 1978 from Morehead High School, was hired October of 1979 by Miller Cannery (later Ball Container Corp.) and retired in 2018 after 40 years. He and his wife, Velvet, have two sons, John and Tracy.

A 1974 graduate of Morehead High School, Billy, 65, took welding and machine shop courses at RCC. He worked at Budd Trailer Division in Martinsville, Va. until 1978 when he was hired with the first group of Miller Brewing Co. employees. Billy had 35 years of service when he retired. He and his wife, Angie, live at Reidsville Lake.

“We enjoy the challenge of trying to get better every week. We are not only brothers but best friends and each understands what the other is thinking.”

— Bobby Griffin

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