It is no secret that when John Tinker arrived in the rural heartland of the Deep South, he was thrust into a cultural environment as different as custom-made wrought iron gates are from barbed wire.
Yet this son of New England patriots and Hollywood star-makers eased comfortably into a world that is in such contrast from all that was previously familiar. “I have found my true home,” he said once and then again and now quite often. Whenever he is on location to shoot a television series, he pines mournfully for the land he has come to love.
“I am homesick. I have never felt this way ever. I miss the Rondarosa with all my heart.”
Truly, his case of homesick blues is like nothing I have ever seen or felt. Not even the times when I was homesick at FHA or 4H camps. Or that time in the foreign land of Indianapolis when my sad heart dragged its way through the deep snow and gray days.
When Tink came South, he knew little or nothing about country music, SEC football or NASCAR. He had never heard of Conway Twitty. Seriously. It is remarkable but the unvarnished truth is that not once did he turn up his nose at our Southern quirks or express any condescension. He simply fell in love.
A couple of months after we married, I was on the back porch when he pulled up in my brother-in-law’s Chevy pick-up which he had borrowed. The truck windows were down and I heard the blasting sounds of Vern Gosdin belting out “Set ‘Em Up, Joe.” I peeped around the corner of the porch and saw, to my amazement, John Tinker singing along. He didn’t leave the truck until the song had finished. I laughed out loud and he looked at me.
“Why are you laughing?” He was puzzled. “I love this song.”
“That’s why I’m laughing.”
A few months ago, NASCAR held its annual Hall of Fame inductions. We attend every year with our friends, the Waltrips. This year was special because one of my mentors, Richard Childress, was being inducted. Additionally, Rick Hendrick, with whom I had worked a bit, and Mark Martin, with whom I worked a lot and holds the distinction of being my favorite driver to ever work with because of his ease and kindness, were also being inducted. It was a treat.
This event has become one of Tink’s favorites and something he looks forward to. He enjoys the time spent with folks like the Waltrips and the Petty family but, importantly, he looks up to them with admiration. As is normal, we had a delicious dinner then moved from the banquet room at the Charlotte Convention Center to a staged area where the inductions would happen. Only a couple of months earlier, Tink’s father, my beloved Grant Tinker, had died. Tink who, despite his notoriously bad eating habits, is tall and slim. He is the exact size in waist, shoulders, sleeves and shoes as his father was. So, Tink acquired much of Grant Tinker’s wardrobe including his very expensive, Italian leather shoes. There is something of great comfort to Tink in wearing his father’s clothes and standing in his shoes.
We settled down in the audience and Tink crossed an ankle onto his knee. He ran his fingers over the fine leather and said with a chuckle, “I bet your Grant Tinker never dreamed that his shoes would be at the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction.”
At that very moment, a voice boomed over the loudspeaker counting down until the event went live for a national broadcast. I looked from the shoes up to the enormous screen to see the NBC peacock logo that Grant had redesigned during his tenure as chairman and CEO of the network.
It is amazing how two completely different worlds can blend so beautifully.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.