From the sidelines
I will never forget calling New River Valley Speedway in 1989 and asking to speak to the PR director. We had planned to do an entire section on the upcoming racing season. I was told by a scraggly voice on the phone that Morris Stephenson was not available at the time but would be glad to talk to me if dropped by the track later that day.
I would learn later that the voice on the other end of the phone was Stephenson. I drove from the News Journal office in Radford to the track in Pulaski County. Upon arrival, I noticed a man with his hat on backwards taking pictures of a rising NASCAR team that was testing at the track.
That photographer was Morris Stephenson. We hit it off right away, learning he was from Marion and me nearby, Wytheville. He also had been a sports editor at several newspapers including the Salem Times Register, Carroll News and Pearisburg News Leader, thus he knew what newspapers needed from him.
Stephenson passed away last week at the age of 81 after a long battle with cancer. He was a man of many talents.
Racing had become his life and I didn’t know until later that the history of racing and moonshining was intertwined and an even bigger part of his life.
That love of racing allowed him to serve as promoter and general manager for Lonesome Pine Speedway with stints at Franklin County Speedway, Log Cabin Raceway in Rocky Mount and Natural Bridge Speedway.
There was never a frown on his face as he made people feel welcome at every track. But it might have been a photograph that he took earlier in life that led to him authoring a book. In 1972, he photographed the end result of a police raid in Franklin County that was considered the largest moonshine still in Virginia history.
His book would be entitled “A Night of Making Likker,” and took a look at the business that made Franklin County famous for more than just furniture. Stephenson did a lot of research and chronicled the business of moonshining.
Later on, I ended up doing a story on moonshining in our area and contacted the familiar voice for background information. Like before, Stephenson was more than happy to help and even sent me an autographed copy of his book.
He was a multitalented individual that will leave his mark behind as a reporter, sports photographer, racing promoter and author.