The North Carolina Mason

March/April 2021

North Carolina Mason

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March/April 2021 The North Carolina Mason Page 9 By omas Pope Stedman #730 Freemasonry has had its share of famous racers. England's Sir Malcolm Campbell set nine land-speed records and was the first person to drive an automo- bile over 300 miles per hour – all the way back in 1935. Ohio's Sam Hornish Jr., winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 2006 and three IndyCar championships, has been a member of Omega #564 for 20 years. David Ragan, a victor in NASCAR Cup races at Daytona and Talladega, was raised at Williams #176 in Cornelius in 2012. Add to that list a North Carolina lodge member, Joey Knuckles, who in 2022 will enjoy his 25th year as a member of Charlotte's West Gate #738. e more impressive milestone is one he has reached this year. Knuckles, 59, has been hands-on involved in NASCAR for half a century. at's right, Knuckles started working on racecars at age 9 through friends Clint, Stoney and Danny Ballard, whose father, Walter, raced on a shoestring in NASCAR's top division. "One day I was playing with model cars," Knuckles said, "and the next day I'm working on the real thing." Walter Ballard, who had only one full-time employee, ferried his racecar to tracks around the country on the back of a ramp truck. His wife followed in their motorhome with the four boys, who were soon dubbed the "Peach Fuzz Gang." Together, they helped Ballard win the 1971 NASCAR Rookie of the Year award. At age 16, Knuckles was selected the circuit's Mechanic of the Year, and in 1980, he got to visit Victory Lane for the first time as a crewman when future NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte won the Southern 500. In addition to mechanical special- ties such as building transmissions and rear ends, Knuckles became a top-flight tire changer, bounding over the pit-road wall to remove old tires and bolt on new rubber. He later served as crew chief for Hall of Fame drivers Cale Yarbor- ough, Davey Allison and Buddy Baker. It was while working for Yarbor- ough's team that Knuckles got his first close look at the Masonic fraternity. A member of Metrolina Shrine Club asked if he could bring players from the Shrine Bowl of the Caro- linas football game to Yarborough's shop for a tour, and Knuckles set up the visit. "ese big guys came in and didn't really understand anything," Knuckles said. "en we took them back in the engine room to see a 'power run' on the dyno (the dyno- mometer measures engine perfor- mance), and we shut the lights off. ey see the (exhaust) header pipes go from blue to orange to red and the roof shaking – they just thought that was the coolest thing in the world." e larger impression that was made on Knuckles was by the Masons/Shriners who chaperoned the players. "ey were just giving people," he said. "A lot of people come through a race shop and want to take pictures and stuff, but these guys were all about the kids. One of them told me, 'Joey, this is our next generation of Masons. What we're doing for them, this is all about our future.' "I said, 'Man, I'd really like to be a part of that.'" Knuckles, who lives in Denver, was raised at West Gate in July 1997, and shortly thereafter joined Metrolina Shrine Club, which is located next door to the lodge on NC 16. e hours required of a NASCAR crewman leave little time for lodge and Shrine club involvement, but Knuckles said he's always done his best to pitch in with their fund- raisers. He has a strong desire to be much more involved when his daughter, who's 13, completes her schooling. When that time comes, he expects to devote more time to coaching lodge brothers on their catechisms. Many of the lodge's members, he said, are in their late 60s and 70s, but added that his 19-year-old son is part of a group of about 10 young men who plan to petition in the near future. "ey've all asked. ey come and help us on the chicken fries we have, and they come and help us clean after weddings at the Shrine Club. Just some kids that have stayed good, y'know?" he said. "Being around the Masons and Shriners has helped them grow up. ey're all 'yes, sir' and 'no, ma'am' and 'what can I do to help?' – stuff that you don't see out of a lot of kids today." He said his desire to "go through the chairs in a couple of years" is something that's "been calling me." He hopes he can earn the right to serve as Worshipful Master of West Gate. How much longer he'll remain involved in racing remains to be seen, but he'll always have a stellar NASCAR career to reflect upon. "I won seven Daytona 500s," he said. "I'm not a has-been or a never- was." Field trip sparked interest in Masonry Joey Knuckles is a proud member of West Gate #738. He hopes to make time to go through the officer line in a couple of years. Giving a tour of NASCAR shop to Shrine Bowl players gave Knu les a closeup look

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