Monthly Archives: April 2009

Animal Refuge

Animal Refuge

There’s room in the Humane Society’s rescue barn for creatures great and small.


April 30, 2009


For the past year, the Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS) and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office have jointly operated the Equine and Large Animal Rescue Barn, a facility near Mount Olive that provides a safe haven for agricultural animals confiscated in cruelty and neglect cases. Farm animals needing shelter in the event of disasters, catastrophes, and emergencies—as determined by the sheriff’s office—can also be sheltered there. An eight-stall, $185,000 barn is currently under construction as the GBHS continues to raise the $25,000 needed to finish the project’s final phase.

The nine-acre property was donated by Deputy Dwight Sloan, animal cruelty officer for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. Sloan was named the National Humane Officer of the Year for 2008 by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) for his relentless efforts in finding and arresting the person who shot to death a horse named Champ in a local family’s pasture a couple of years ago.

Joe Murphy, cruelty investigator for GBHS, said that some 20 horses have been placed since the project began. The animals at the shelter have varied histories. “Two groups [of horses] actually came from U.S. Steel property. One group included a [horse owner] who did not have a lease with U.S. Steel, and had set up shop there and was boarding horses for other people,” he explains. He believes the trespasser was probably offering riding lessons, as well. “When we got there, none of the horses looked very good. There was one in particular that was probably on the verge of death—emaciated and dehydrated. The man pled guilty to animal cruelty, criminal trespassing, and criminal littering, and signed over his horses,” Murphy says. A second group of horses was found on U.S. Steel land near Wylam. “No food was provided,” he says. “The horses had stripped clean all the vegetation that was in the area. We never were able to prove who owned them. They came here in pretty sad shape.”

A white horse named Hurricane, one of a group of neglected horses reported by neighbors in the McCalla area, was of major concern to Murphy. “She was in very, very poor condition,” he recalls. Hurricane has been at the shelter since August of 2008 and is still waiting to find a home. Murphy says that most of the animals are adopted through word of mouth among those involved with the local horse community. The contract stipulates that if the person adopting the animal no longer wants it, the horse must be returned to the care of GBHS rather than be given away to someone else.

Recently, the facility housed 93 roosters confiscated from a cockfighting operation. The roosters were being held as evidence until the case was brought to trial. Rabbits, donkeys, mules, and goats have also stayed at the shelter.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture is considering building several similar rescue barns across the state to shelter livestock in the event of natural disasters. GBHS director Jacque Meyer says that catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina, which left many agricultural animals abandoned, further heightens the need for such shelters. &

The Professional Scoop on Poop

The Professional Scoop on Poop

It’s a dirty job, but . . .

April 30, 2009

Four years ago, Stanley Shafferman told his wife that he was going to start a new business called Poop Be Gone that would offer the removal of pet excrement from lawns and other areas. “I refer to myself as an ‘entremanure’ instead of an entrepreneur,” he says with a laugh. Shafferman, who opened Cosmo’s Pizza in Five Points South in 1986 and later worked at O.T.’s Grill in the Lakeview district, admits that he grew weary of the food business. “I had been in the restaurant industry for 20 to 25 years, and I was getting very tired of employees and bad work ethics,” he says. “And I was looking for something to do that did not require employees.”

Shafferman began submitting résumés as he contemplated what to do with his life. His wife, Peggy, a nurse at UAB, is active in the dog show world. (The couple raises a breed known as Havanese, which is Cuba’s only native breed.) “One afternoon I was reading one of the dog show magazines and I got to the classifieds,” he recalls. “I saw under ‘business opportunities’ two companies selling franchises for removing pet waste. I didn’t buy a franchise, but I immediately went to my computer and typed ‘pooper scoopers’ and found companies across the country.” After speaking with a few professional dog waste removers, he decided to go into business for himself. There is a national organization called aPAWS (Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists), which he soon joined.

Shafferman advertises the service with magnetic signs attached to his truck, fliers in vets’ offices, and word of mouth. Poop Be Gone has weekly, twice weekly, and twice monthly customers. Shafferman’s tools include a long-handled dust pan, a 13-gallon garbage bag, and a shrub rake that he uses to pop the poop into the dustpan. The bag is attached to the pan, then removed and tied shut once its been filled after a yard is finished. “My hands are not touching the poop,” he notes. (Shafferman disinfects his tools and shoes between yards to avoid spreading any germs from home to home.)

As for vicious dogs in yards, Shafferman has his own approach to winning over any snarling beasts he encounters. “One yard had a small mixed-breed dog and an American bulldog. The small dog liked me—I always carry treats in my pocket—and he took the treat. The bulldog did not like me. He was not interested in treats,” he recalls. Shafferman swears that all he had to do was begin singing and the bulldog immediately retreated to the other side of the yard.

Shafferman readily admits that he often talks to dogs to soothe any canine animosity. “I tell all new clients, if you hear me talking to your dogs, do not pay attention because a lot of the times it’s just gibberish,” he says. “It’s just the sound of my voice that calms the dogs down. They don’t really know what you’re saying anyway. I talk to dogs all day long.”

Where does all the recovered poop end up after it has been bagged up and loaded onto Shafferman’s truck? “When I first started, it ended up in my trash can at home. I soon outgrew that and I now have a dumpster,” he says, although he will not reveal its location. “The poop all finally winds up at the landfill next to the dirty diapers.” &

Poop Be Gone can be reached at or 968-0980. Prices range from $14.50 to $23 per cleaning, depending on the frequency. One-time yard cleanings cost $30.

Hell On Wheels

Hell On Wheels

A few words with racing legend Donnie Allison.

April 16, 2009

In the early 1960s, three race car drivers relocated from Miami to Hueytown, Alabama, where they established themselves as the famous Alabama Gang. Red Farmer, Bobby Allison, and brother Donnie Allison routinely dominated the small racetracks across the Southeast. The trio eventually started winning on larger superspeedways and soon became bona fide racing stars. Despite not winning nearly as many races as his more famous older brother, Donnie Allison remains one of the greatest drivers ever, due to his versatility driving both Indy 500 open-wheel cars (no fenders, no roll cage, and no roof) and stock cars for NASCAR. Allison still brags that out of all the one-two finishes he and Bobby collected in the same race during their careers, he beat his older brother 80 percent of the time.

Behind the wheel, Donnie Allison was a force to be reckoned with. His friendship with driving legend A.J. Foyt led to Foyt providing him with a car for the 1970 Indianapolis 500, where Allison beat his boss to pick up a fourth-place finish his rookie year. The previous week, he had won the 600-mile NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the closest any driver has coming to winning both races. However, he’s probably best remembered for an end-of-race fight on the track with driver Cale Yarborough after the two wrecked on the last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500. It was the first NASCAR race to be televised nationally from start to finish. For many viewers across the country, fistfights and stock car racing were forever linked after that telecast.

Black & White: Do you still believe A.J. Foyt is the best race car driver ever?

Donnie Allison his blue and gold Chevrolet sedan in the early 60′s. (click for larger version)


Donnie Allison: Yep. Everything he’s ever got in, he’s won in. He’s mechanically inclined enough, he knows what to do when he needs something done. There’s a lot of good race car drivers: Bobby [Allison], Richard [Petty], Dale Earnhardt, Mario Andretti. But if you take everything that A.J.’s run and put all those drivers in those cars, the [pecking order] would probably be A.J., then Bobby, then Mario.

Do you agree that bringing the Indy cars down South to race on smaller tracks in the late 1990s was a boost that open-wheel racing had been needing for a while?

Well, to an extent. The problem with the Indy cars down South is that all the racetracks are banked [in the turns]. The banked racetracks are not suited for Indy cars, because those things are rocketships. So for them to run how they need to run, they need to be run with a stiff suspension. And if you don’t run that stiff suspension like that, it bottoms out and it grinds the bottom [of the car] off. I feel like we have good racing when a driver has to back off the throttle. When a driver can run wide-open, the racing is not as good. Look at Daytona and Talladega.

Some of the older drivers say that racing is not what it was in the old days. Do you agree?

Well, to a certain extent. Racing is still just like it always was. It’s a group of drivers out there doing their best to win. The difference is the technology now is so much greater. They have so much more to their advantage to getting their cars better tuned in. I feel like in the old days, more of the drivers were in tune to their cars than they are today. I think the ego part of driving in 1978 and ’80 was not nearly what it is in 2009. We had some that were ego driven. But if we didn’t run good, we wanted to find out what was wrong with our car, or what was wrong with us, why we couldn’t do it.

Was there more camaraderie among the drivers in the old days?

Oh, yes. There were groups. There were certain drivers that were friends and certain drivers that weren’t. I guess that’s probably still maintained. I don’t know, I don’t go into the driver compounds anymore. We didn’t have those. We didn’t have the big buses and the areas roped off. We went out in the parking lots and a few racetracks had designated places for us to park our cars. When we would get together, it might be that night for dinner or for a drink afterward. We didn’t do like they do now. They might have a cordial conversation with one another right after the race. And we didn’t have that.

Did you know Janet Guthrie [the first woman to earn a spot in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, both in 1977]?

I knew her very well. I helped her. [Car owner] Ralph Moody asked me if I’d mind helping her. Guthrie never used the excuse of being a female. She never said, “They’re doing that to me because I’m a female.” But her car owner did, and it caused a little bit of rift, I think. It takes a gene [to compete successfully in racing] that I don’t think the women got. And I’m not a macho [type]. You watch [current Indy car sensation] Danica Patrick. She does an extremely good job until it gets to a lot of pressure there. And what I’ve watched and noticed about her is, when the pressure really gets there, for some reason or another, it appears that she gets out of there [abandons the confrontation]. Where, with men, they have a tendency to say, “Well, to hell with you, buddy. We’re gonna hang around here and see what happens.” That’s just my own personal thing. You take care of your equipment and you do the best you can to finish. When you need to be somewhere, you’re supposed to be there. It’s like that thing I’ve always said all my life, way back in the modified car days in Birmingham at the fairgrounds and at Dixie [Speedway] and all them places. I paid the same amount for my pit pass that [other drivers] did. So I own just as much of that place as they do.

I read a recent interview with Red Farmer where he said that he had an advantage because he was accustomed to running on flat tracks.

Well, I definitely believe that. That’s what I was saying about the cars handling better, about the chassis being better. If you could’ve watched Red Farmer run in south Florida where we were, it was amazing to watch him. He could run a car sideways faster than most people could straight.

Who had the worse temper in the old days, you or Bobby?

Bobby had the worse temper but I feel like he could control his more than I would mine. Me, when I lost my temper, they knew I lost it.

Do you miss driving?

Oh, yeah. Especially when I watch some of the things that go on now. I just don’t believe the guys get after it as hard as we used to. Look at the ball players. The football players don’t play as hard as they used to play, because they’re gonna get paid, regardless. The old guys used to get in there with broken fingers and broken noses, teeth knocked out, and what have you. Just look at the pictures of the old guys. It’s just like with us, it was a different era. I get a little bit aggravated sometimes when I hear some of the excuses the drivers today make. Because, to me, I’ve been there. I know. My motto is: “Don’t give me an excuse, give me a reason.” I can’t fix an excuse, but I can fix a reason. &

Donnie Allison will be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega Superspeedway on April 23.


The End of an Era

The End of an Era

The glory days of Birmingham International Raceway are recalled by veterans of the track, including one of the greatest names in NASCAR history.


Promoter J.P. Rotton’s 1953 Studebaker Starlight Coupe, which was painted with gold dust. (click for larger version)

April 16, 2009

Birmingham International Raceway (BIR), the third oldest automobile racetrack in the nation (only the Milwaukee Mile and Indianapolis Motor Speedway are older), has been demolished to make way for an indoor golf driving range. That change is part of Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford’s revitalization dreams for the Alabama State Fairgrounds in Five Points West.

Originally built as a one-mile horsetrack, the facility hosted a motorcycle race in 1906, its first foray into motorsports that eventually led to at least 95 years of auto racing. Some of the greatest names in automobile history passed through its gates. In 1925, the now-razed 8,000-seat grandstand was constructed, hosting the renowned Chevrolet brothers as they unveiled a new dirt-track race car. Richard Petty, David Pearson, and a trio of upstarts from Miami—Red Farmer, Bobby Allison, and Donnie Allison (who became famous as the Alabama Gang)—are part of the track’s history.

Most races were held in conjunction with the state fair until promoter J.P. Rotton began putting on Sunday afternoon races in the late 1940s. Tom Gloor took over racing promotion there in 1962, paving the dirt track and installing proper lighting that ushered in the city’s golden era of Friday night racing. Gloor changed the track’s name to Birmingham International Raceway.


More than one driver lost control of his car and plowed through the wooden fence, ending up in the “hog barn.” (click for larger version)




Though the track attracted sparse crowds during its final decade, events there once drew huge audiences. “I had some good days over a long period of time at BIR. I had good fortune there, and I was cocky about that,” NASCAR racing legend Bobby Allison says, during a recent afternoon telephone conversation from his North Carolina home. “I first got there in ’59 before they paved it, and the place impressed me from the first day. Then, when Tom Gloor took over in ’62, it became one of my favorite racetracks in the whole country. When Tom paved it, he stretched the front straightaway out to where it was closer to the grandstand.”

Rotton began promoting races at the Fairgrounds Raceway in the 1940s. As the 90-year-old Rotton recalls, “I had built a small racetrack called the Iron Bowl out in Roebuck, but it didn’t have a grandstand. So I decided to rent a racetrack. That Iron Bowl had no seats or nothing. People were sneaking in through the woods to get in free. These guys from Graysville and Sumiton wanted a place to race, and there were some bootleggers out of Chattanooga and Nashville that wanted to come down here and run. That was in 1946.”

Rotton eventually talked a reluctant fairgrounds manager into letting him run four races, where he drew some 6,000 spectators for each event. The crowd size impressed the facility’s manager. “He kept 20 percent of the gate and he got all the concessions,” says Rotton, who promoted races at the fairgrounds from 1946 through 1960. “We put on a good show. Mostly, we ran ’34 Fords and ’33 and ’34 Chevrolet coupes.”


A Corvette leads a parade of new-model cars before a race at the fairgrounds in the early 1950s. (click for larger version)




Rotton worked with an automobile body-work specialist named Cannonball Brown. Rotton also maintained a stable of his own race cars in addition to his promo duties. “I had a 1953 Studebaker Starlight Coupe that we set up to run really fast, and you’ve never seen anything like it. Back then, Studebaker was a joke,” he recalls. “Ol’ Cannonball Brown was a country boy painter. He asked me what color I wanted, and I said I wanted it really sharp looking. Cannonball said, ‘You want it painted gold?’ I asked him if he could find some gold paint. And Cannonball said, ‘No, I don’t wanna buy no gold paint, I wanna buy some gold dust.’ Gold was $8 an ounce then. So I said, ‘OK, but be sure and get enough,’ and I think he got two or three pounds. It cost us around $400,” Rotton remembers. “He painted on this red primer, then sprinkled in the gold dust and added layers of clear lacquer. When the sun hit it, it would just sparkle. You ain’t never seen anything like it . . . I always thought money was made to spend!”

One of the great anecdotes in fairgrounds racing lore concerns a race in the late 1950s during which Nero Steptoe won a 25-lap race after losing his front left wheel several laps in. Rotton smiles when asked about Steptoe. “Ol’ Nero was leading the race, and he was going into the first turn and the wheel and all came off. The car didn’t fall, it stayed up. Nero came around and we kept giving him the black flag [which signals the driver to pull off the track] but he wouldn’t stop. I said, ‘Give him the green flag!’ [allowing him to stay in the race] We paid the second-place driver for the win because we should have disqualified Nero. Everybody in the world knew who Nero was from then on.”

Jerry Massey, an 80-year-old former racer and car owner at the Fairgrounds Raceway, claims that the dirt at the track was from Kentucky. “It was the best dirt in the country. You could go like a blizzard,” he remembers. “I knew, because I used to ride with the guy that used to scrape the racetrack and turn the dirt over and put salt in it. Riding with him taught me a lot about how to read dirt. If it had a dull color, you could get a good hold [tire grip] of it. If it was bright and shiny, it’s too slick. You didn’t want to run where the bright and shiny was at.” The Allison brothers and Red Farmer were living in Miami in the 1950s and didn’t realize how much more money was paid to race winners in Alabama than in Florida. Bobby Allison had earned $95 finishing second at a big race in West Palm Beach. After some other Florida racers spread the word about the quality racing in Alabama, Allison and his younger brother Donnie decided to head north. “Donnie and I had a pretty good relationship. We supported each other about 85 percent of the time and fought each other the other 15 percent,” Allison says. “We loaded up and headed for Alabama, and I finished fifth at Dixie Speedway out in Midfield. I went to the pay window and the guy gave me 135 bucks—way more than I had won finishing second in a major event in south Florida. I said, ‘Donnie, we’ve died and gone to heaven. Look at all this money!’ So we went to Miss Mary’s Drive-Inn that we’d passed on the drive up and got one of her $1.98 steaks that she used to have advertised out there on the marquee. And Donnie and I found one of those little roadside inns on the way to Montgomery [where they raced the next day], and instead of sleeping in the truck, we bought a $2 motel room.”


Chattanooga’s Friday Hassler was a Birmingham International Raceway legend. He was killed while attempting to qualify for the 1972 Daytona 500. (click for larger version)




Bobby Allison purchased the contract to operate the track for the 1976–’77 seasons. BIR was where his good friend Neil Bonnett and later, Allison’s son, Davey, both found early success (Davey Allison died in a helicopter accident at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993, a crash that Red Farmer survived. Bonnett was killed during a practice run for the 1994 Daytona 500.) “It breaks my heart that BIR is gone,” Allison admits. “But it was a great place, and I have great memories.” &

My Turn

In the summer of 1998, I was hanging around Birmingham International Raceway while researching a story about the track. A driver nicknamed Sluggo asked if I’d ever driven a race car. I had not, so he graciously let me drive his racing Camaro some 30 laps with no other cars on the track on that Sunday afternoon.

It was fun until I put my foot on the brake pedal to come in for a pit stop and the pedal went straight to the floor. I had to coast an entire lap, as it takes a while to roll to a stop when you’re going 90 mph. Amused at my timidity to “put some speed on that thing,” as well as the fact that I was riding around with no brakes my first time in a race car, Sluggo told me I wouldn’t achieve a true racing experience until I had been on the track with other cars.

He wasn’t kidding. One Friday night, Sluggo turned the Camaro over to me during the 7 p.m. practice session for street stock cars, the classification in which he was competing later that evening. I was more or less “mixing it up” with a dozen other cars at race speeds. Nauseated from fear when I heard the engines being revved at deafening levels upon my arrival at the track, I was almost shaking when I climbed into the car. The worried expression on Sluggo’s face suggested that he was beginning to have second thoughts about putting me out there with the other drivers. Nevertheless, he reassured me that the brake failure a couple weeks earlier had been rectified. I’ll never forget his final instructions before I drove off: “Hey, if you wreck it, buddy, don’t worry about it . . . ’cause we’re just out here to have fun.” With those words of encouragement, I attempted to merge onto the track as several cars stormed out of turn number four at more than 100 mph.

Somehow, I put the car into the middle of race traffic, and away I went. I held on for dear life as cars passed me on the right and left, often at the same time. There were no side mirrors on the Camaro, just a wide rearview mirror above the dash. The full-face helmet and painfully tight seat harnesses that strapped me in allowed for nearly zero peripheral vision. I’ll never forget the sight of race cars rapidly approaching in my mirror. Suddenly, a car in front of me slowed, which meant that I would have to pass another driver. I sweated bullets but somehow stayed out for 10 noble laps.

I drove slowly through the corners but floored it as I exited the second and fourth turns, blasting down the respective straightaways (approximately 150 yards in length) at a top speed of maybe 90 mph before having to turn left again. On the 10th lap, the car’s rear fishtailed out of control as I tried to increase my speed between turns one and two. I gripped the steering wheel to brace myself for impact, with either the outside retaining wall or another car. I knew from racing lore at BIR that I’d probably have to fight whomever I wrecked—if I were still conscious. Amazingly, the car straightened out as I lifted off the accelerator. (The pros know you usually step on the gas to straighten out a sliding car, but I didn’t have that much courage.)

I barely touched the accelerator again as I crept down the back straightaway doing maybe 30 mph as others whizzed by at 120 mph. I returned to the pit, where Sluggo shook his head in shame, though relieved that I brought his Camaro back in one piece. The brakes indeed worked well, and I never had a desire to race again. —E.R.