Before stock cars barreled around paved tracks, Alabama boys raced sticks down creeks. We graduated to racing June bugs, frogs, horses, and lawnmowers, but stick racing was the foundation for the southern racing culture.
My first race gave me jitters. My opponents, cousins Boomer and Jimmy, had years of stick racing experience, and I searched for the lucky stick that would give me an advantage. Every racer has his favorite. I chose a dainty one, figuring it would move faster and wouldn’t get stuck in debris. But I chose wrong. My twig hung up while Jimmy’s crossed the finish line and he danced up and down the creek bank.
My first race was a DNF, Did Not Finish. Boomer and Jimmy retained their racing supremacy, gloated, and taunted all comers. Boys near and far talked about my cousins’ racing skills.
The next weeks I spent testing new sticks. No matter the size or shape, each stick performed similarly—until I found her. She was large and slow-looking, and I laughed at her until I tossed her into the water. She picked up speed and then burst through a jam of debris. I grinned and skipped down the creek bank to retrieve my new girl. I was ready for the rematch that would make me the fastest boy on the creek bank.
Boomer and Jimmy stood waiting. They pulled their racers out of their pockets and waited to see mine. When I pulled my stick from my overalls pocket, they slapped theirs thighs and keeled over cackling. I tried not to smirk.
“What’s the name of your stick?” Boomer asked.
I hadn’t known my stick needed a name and said the first thing that crossed my mind.
“Big Bertha?” Jimmy said. “Why in the name of John Brown did you name it that?”
I thought for a minute. “I reckon because she’s big and looks like a Bertha.”
We leaned over the creek and together counted to three. Jimmy’s and Boomer’s sticks took an early lead. “Yeehaw! Look at my stick fly.” Boomer said.
He and Jimmy skipped down the creek. “Kid, we’re going to beat you like a drum,” said Jimmy.
I stayed quiet and watched Big Bertha gain steam.
Jimmy’s racer hit a logjam and Boomer’s stick got caught in an eddy. Jimmy and Boomer jumped up and down imploring their sticks. Barreling downstream, Big Bertha rammed into the logjam and scattered wood like bowling pins, freeing Jimmy’s stick, and then plunged into the whirlpool and knocked Boomer’s stick loose. All three sped in loose debris down the creek.
We jumped around like monkeys whooping and hollering. Jimmy’s stick took the lead, then Boomer’s, and then Big Bertha. But Big Bertha pulled away. I knew by Jimmy’s and Boomer’s strained faces that she would win the race. They pleaded with their sticks, but Big Bertha crossed the finish line first. They stood stock still and silent as their prized racers disappeared down the creek. I snatched up Big Bertha, raised her in the air, and danced a raw spot on the bank.
That was the day Big Bertha and I became legends. She never lost a race and I eventually became the Stick Racing Champion of the World.
People ask if this story is true. Yep, everything except the names.