By John Schaffner

NASCAR and Charlie Loudermilk have a history together that involves Georgia moonshiners and goes back to his childhood in the neighborhood where he grew up off Howell Mill Road in northwest Atlanta.

The garages that worked on those moonshiner cars were in Loudermilk’s neighborhood. “I would go hang around the garage as a kid,” he said. “Those drivers turned into NASCAR drivers.”

On the day Loudermilk talked about the Roxy Theater renovations, he had just returned from Dawsonville, where there is a NASCAR museum and where he participated in a documentary about NASCAR’s early days.

“The beginning of NASCAR was running liquor out of the mountains,” he said. “They didn’t have radios, so the police couldn’t radio ahead to pick up so-and-so. They had to chase them down. They developed great drivers. Out of that, they began fun racing out at Lakewood, and … NASCAR came to be.”

The Aaron Rents founder said he thinks Lakewood was the first NASCAR track. “It was a dirt track and had a lake in the center. Some of the cars would run off into the lake,” he said. “They were wild, those guys. They were running liquor and drinking it.”

He said the garages in his neighborhood would take the back seats out of moonshiners’ cars “and jack them up with springs and shocks. Then they would put the liquor in there in 1-gallon cans that stacked like bricks. During the week when they were riding around, the car would be up high in the back. But when they loaded it, it looked like a normal car.”

Loudermilk said the NASCAR people in Charlotte “wanted some of us that had some experiences in that to be on the video.”

Michael Waltrip Racing and Aaron Rents recently announced the continuation of one of the longest sponsor-owner relationships in NASCAR.

In 2009, Aaron’s Sales & Lease Ownership, the largest division of Aaron Rents Inc., will sponsor the No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine with driver David Reutimann for 18 Sprint Cup Series races. Aaron’s also will sponsor the No. 99 Aaron’s Dream Machine for 10 Nationwide Series races, with Reutimann and Waltrip splitting time behind the wheel of the Toyota Camry.

The 2009 season will mark the 10th year Waltrip has represented Aaron’s.

Aaron’s also sponsors the Aaron’s 499, the spring Sprint Cup race at Talladega.

Describing the beginning of his official NASCAR sponsorship, Charlie Loudermilk said: “A friend of mine had a car that the sponsor had left. It was a white car. There were about four or five races left, and he gave us a bargain to put Aaron’s name on the car. From that it has gone on.”

But it can be said the relationship all began with the young Charlie hanging out at the garages off Howell Mill Road.

Loudermilk talked about one of the old-time moonshine and NASCAR drivers he had been with in Dawsonville earlier that day, Raymond Parks, age 94.

“Raymond Parks ran the bug too,” Loudermilk said, explaining a numbers-running racket that was common years ago. “You put a nickel on a number. If you hit it, you got $25, just like the lottery. Parks had people running around to the garages.”

Loudermilk said he got the nickname “Jeep” as a result of the bug. “Back then, there was a comic book character who knew everything, and his name was Jeep,” the 81-year-old Buckhead business and civic leader recalled. “In one of the garages they were working on a bootleg car, and they said, ‘Charlie, what is the number?’ I said some number, and the guy put a nickel on it and won $25. From then on I was Jeep because I knew everything.”