Monday, November 24, 2014

Thrills and No Spills at Carolina Motorsport Park

As a child I didn't know anyone who raced in a soap-box derby.  I never had a go-cart or Moped when they were the fad. In fact, I didn't even get my driver's license until after I graduated from high school, but I must say I love the excitement of jamming the gas pedal to the floor and feeling the car's acceleration. While that may sound a bit macho, women enjoy power and speed, too. Certainly the Good Girls do!
Go-Karts at Carolina Motorsports Park

I was in for treat the morning we arrived at Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, SC and was told I could drive a go-cart! After one quick look at the place, I knew this is not your average go-cart track. Carolina Motorsports Park is the work of famed track designer, Alan Wilson. It opened back in 1991 and has continued to expand its facilities and services including: a 200 ft. diameter skid pad, timing tower with meeting and classroom space, race fuel station and open air garage for both cars and karts.

Ready to Go!
Weekdays, the 2.235-mile road course is primarily used for race team practice, car manufacturer testing, TV show and commercial filming as well as law enforcement training. Weekends are busy with auto and motorcycle races, track time events and driver education.

Debi driving the course.

“Carolina Motorsports Park allows drivers of all skill levels to practice, make mistakes and tune up in a safe environment,” said retired NASCAR driver, Ricky Rudd. Rudd has spent a lot of time there doing just that. "It’s the only course of its kind in the Carolinas, I think it’s the best kept secret around.”

Debi in her helmet
I wouldn't be racing a car, just taking a go-cart for a spin. I was given a helmet and maneuvered my body in the low seat (practically on the ground low) of a Birel Racing Kart and followed the leader out onto the 0.7- mile, 16 turn course. My kart had racing tires and was capable of 50 mph, but we didn't go anywhere near that speed. (Judy's hip would not allow her manage getting in and out of the kart.)

Fun?  I should say so; driving the course was a blast, a real adrenaline rush. Each lap I tried to go faster and  really felt like I was racing. Another great secret- driving a go-cart only costs just $20 for a 10 minute session.

Children ages 12 and up are also allowed to rent go-karts. (I imagine my grandson would nominate me for best grandma if I took them there!) Children who join the track's race series get instruction from track manager and guru, David Watkins. He has worked with kids as young as five and six. They are grouped according to age, of course, when sent out on the course. I saw a few of these "kiddie karts" in the garage and they were adorable.  

Child size Go-Karts in the Garage

Carolina Motorsports is home to the 10-race POWERADE Karting Championship, the Maxxis Summer Series and two WKA national events are held at the facility. In 2015, CMP will host The Rotax Max Challenge Grand Nationals, one of the premier annual events in Karting.

The Party Room at Carolina Motorsports Park 

The facilities would also make a grand outing for a corporation, think team building, or for a group or party. To find out more call 800-475-5006. Carolina Motorsports Park is a fun place!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Catawba Insights

Having seen a few pieces of Catawba pottery, we wanted to see more and to learn more about the people who made it. The Native American Studies Center in Lancaster, SC, was the place to start.

Possibly the world's largest collection of Catawba pottery is housed in the 15,000-square-foot facility. Tending and teaching about it and its makers are an archivist, artist, folklorist, linguist and archaeologist, all faculty members of the University of South Carolina, Lancaster.

Their mission, "to promote the documentation, preservation, appreciation and study of Native American cultures and heritages."

Chris Judge and a few of the Center's 1,300 Catawba pots.
Assistant Director Chris Judge showed us around, pointing out some of their best Catawba pots. All are made from the coil method, the same way we all learned in grammar school, then formed and burnished using river stones, mussel shells, corn cobs and deer antlers as tools. Black was the only color they could control in the firing process.

Haigler pot.
"We think this is the oldest pottery tradition in the United States," said Judge.

Haigler pots.
Many of the Catawba pots have faces on them and are referred to as Haigler pots.

King Haigler was the beloved and still revered chief (1750-1763) whose diplomacy kept the Catawba traditions intact during increasing migrations of settlers into their lands.

Double-spouted pot, center right.
The double-spouted pots represented the bride on one side, the groom on the other. When dropped, the number of pieces the pot broke into represented the number of children the couple would have.

Although there are 13 recognized tribes in South Carolina, the Catawba, or "People of the river," is the only one federally recognized.

As usual, we found ourselves wishing we lived closer so we could take advantage of this wonderful facility with its monthly lunch and learn sessions and the periodic sales of contemporary Catawba pottery (Dec. 6, 2014).

Next it was time to visit the source, the Catawba Indian Reservation in York County. We were met at the Cultural Center by Beckee Garris, who had been born on the reservation and now works for tribal historic preservation and the facility.

Beckee Garris and a traditional bark house at the Catawba Cultural Center.
The Center, a reservation school until 1969 when the state fully integrated education, is a community center for residents and houses a store of Indian products and a reconstructed traditional bark house.

Also on the reservation is a high-stakes bingo hall. Of the 3,000 Catawba in the area, 1,200 to 1,800 live on the reservation; 99 percent work off of it.

Theirs is the typically grossly unfair story of government mismanagement and ignored treaties. The government "bought" their land for $50 an acre, but the tribe may buy it back at fair market value, anywhere from $12,000 to $500,000 an acre.

The tribe's last sacred clay hole, which tribal story tellers say has been used for more than 400 years, is on non-native-held land. Fortunately, the owner allows them to dig several times a year. Scientists tell them Catawba pots have been coming from it for 5,000 years.

When Winona Haire, a dentist and tribe member, arrived we  heard of the tribe's plans for the future, primarily to construct a living Catawba village. It has taken almost 4 years to finish the palisade - "It's not like going to Lowe's," said Haire - and a heritage garden has been started.

Catawba heritage garden
We got a glimpse of this outside the Center where the red okra was about to finish its season. Neither prickly nor green like the African variety, this native plant isn't slimy either. Everything is being replaced with native heritage seeds from corn and tomatillos to chocolate bell peppers.
Native red okra

One thing the tribe doesn't teach outsiders is its pottery skills. That would be like giving away their heritage, according to Haire.

"We've got a lot of things in the hopper, it just takes time," she said.

Kind of like the Good Girls' task of trying to see it all.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Exploring Lancaster and Cheraw

One fine morning during the Good Girls road trip, we stopped by the Olde English District Visitors Center, a place right off the highway. We found scads of brochures touting any and everything you might want to do in the state plus a delightful collection of South Carolina made items, pottery, jewelry, photographs and such. The collection of cookbooks was quite wonderful and we succumbed to Dori Sander's Country Cooking, teased by the chapter on cooking and baking with peaches.

On to Lancaster, South Carolina, known as the Red Rose City, after England's House of Lancaster for whom the flower was a symbol in the War of the Roses. The town was established in 1785 by British settlers who moved south from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Today, you'll find many red rose bushes planted in the downtown district.

Sculptor Bob Doster
We first stopped in to meet a famous resident and sculptor, Bob Doster. Bob is a very friendly, down to earth guy. His Backstreet Studio is housed in a row of formerly derelict buildings with an art-strewn garden out back. The brightly painted interior bursts with stunning paintings, sculpture and other objects d'art.
Doster's Workshop
Doster works with metal, mostly reclaimed metal and his next door workshop is a hodgepodge of scraps, saws, clamps, and soldering irons. Bob is a man with big vision and he produces some monumental works. His pieces are placed all over the South in sculpture gardens, on downtown streets and outside banks. One is a 40-foot high rocket at the Challenger Learning Center in Columbia; another, a depiction of DNA strands in brass and steel, is displayed in a five-story lobby at the University of North Carolina. 

Bob volunteers much of his time teaching children from elementary to college levels. He guides the students through the process of designing and drawing, then creating and installing a project.

We also met Bob's wife, Cherry, a real dynamo. She is also an artist and major advocate for the arts.
Cherry Doster
Cherry directs the Lancaster Council on Arts and she took us for a quick driving tour, pointing out highlights within the city and the Lancaster Wall of Fame. As always we were surprised to learn unusual details about a place. Did you know this old textile town is the place where all Duracell AA batteries in America are made and that a Lancastrian, Charles Duke, walked on the moon? More trivia facts for my brain!

Lancaster Wall of Fame

Soon we were off to sample some barbeque at Pig-n-Vittles in Pageland. The tiny hole in the wall restaurant (in the best sense of the phrase) is the real deal. Great southern food at amazingly low prices cooked by co-owner Logan Ring. Don't miss this location or the award-winning one in Chesterfield.


Following lunch we headed to Cheraw, a town named for the Indian tribe that inhabited the area in the early 1700's.  The town grew as a trading center. In the 1760's it was formally laid out with a gridded street system and later lined with trees. The town green flaunts a collection of 19th century public buildings including the Town Hall, Market Hall, a law office and the Lyceum.
Beautiful Streets in Cheraw

We especially enjoyed the effervescent statue of Dizzy Gillespie, who spent his childhood here. We made a car tour around the streets passing some 50 antebellum and Victorian homes and Gillespie park containing a musical themed fence made by Bob Doster.
Statue of Dizzy Gillespie

Gillespie Park & Fence

 One of Cheraw's treasures is Old St. David's Episcopal Church, 1770, used by both the British and separatists during the Revolutionary War and Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War. Soldiers from every American War are buried in the surrounding cemetery. The interior, open by appointment with the Cheraw Visitors Bureau, is simple and elegant. The box pews and pulpit are reconstructions. The steeple was added in 1826. Today, the stately church is home to many civic events and weddings.
Old St. David's Church in Cheraw
Grave Marker in St. David's Cemetery

Interior of St. David's Church

Historically, March, 1865, saw Cheraw become the unwilling host to General William T. Sherman's Union troops. They amazingly left the town buildings and homes alone because they liked them. We did, too, and encourage a visit.

Debi tried out the pulpit.

Don't forget to stop in the River's Edge Cheraw Bakery to taste homemade goodies that actually pass our stringent taste test. Yes, the Good Girls award a thumbs up for the chocolate peanut butter and coconut cream cakes.  The handmade quilts are also worth a look.

Cheraw State Park golf course.
Before returning we drove around Cheraw State Park that contains another hidden gem: an 18-hole championship golf course with a full service pro-shop.   

Monday, November 3, 2014

Historic Brattonsville: From the American Revolution to Antebellum South

Historic Brattonsville is a 775-acre, internationally known historical site and living history museum in South Carolina. (Just the kind of place I love.) The number of visitors increased exponentially when the location was chosen for filming The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson. At Brattonsville, you not only step back in time, you leap into the emotional conflicts of war and slavery. Our interpreter, Dontavius Williams, was extraordinary. He guided us through many buildings on the site tracing the history of the Bratton family and the farm workers from the 1760's to the late 19th century. His tales are spell binding.  
Dontavius Williams welcomes visitors to Brattonsville.

First we stopped by the Visitor's Center and saw a movie about Huck's Defeat, a complex series of skirmishes that happened in this area during the Revolutionary War. The British militia had entered South Carolina's backwoods and local tradition states that Martha Bratton sent a trusted African-American slave named Watt to find her husband and warn him of the British. Captain Huck, a loyalist,  interrogated Martha, but she refused to give him any information. Watt's delivery of the message lead to the destruction of Huck’s Loyalist force. The victory helped revive the morale of the people in South Carolina just when British victory seemed inevitable. It served as a rallying point and set into motion a series of significant events which eventually led to the even larger Patriot victories, and finally to the British surrender at Yorktown in October 1781.

Historic Brattonsville includes a working farm and heritage breed animals. We stopped by the milk barn, hog pen, tool shed, smoke house, corn crib and the backwoods cabin. These are the kind of buildings children really love. We entered the original Bratton House, a log house with one room downstairs and one upstairs. The family soon opened a tavern nearby and later added the schoolhouse wing. All of these buildings are now grouped close together for ease of viewing.

Tavern and Schoolhouse

The formal Dining Room
We crossed the street and stepped into the impressive Homestead which was built between 1823-26 The Brattons were a wealthy, influential family and their home reflects their high social standing. One of the rooms was used by Dr. John Bratton for his medical practice. He is noted for treating hundreds of people, both black and white. Three of his sons also pursued medical careers. The grand dining room was set for a banquet and we just had to have our pictures taken there, as this room was shown in the movie.

The main Homestead at Brattonsville

The highlight of our tour came when we visited the slave house. Dontavius disappeared into the dwelling and when he reappeared, he had a new persona; he was Adam, a slave who worked on the property.  Adam told us the impassioned story of his mother and the spirit doll. He presented each of us with a similar doll and I will always cherish mine. We left with a better understanding of the sacrifices made by both slaves and their descendants.   
Dontavius at Adam

We hope you will take the time to watch the YouTube version of Adam's speech. He is moving.