Setting this track to music

Sure, J.C. Weaver owns a race car, but he would just as soon be singing at a honky-tonk.

Published February 8, 2007

J.C. Weaver could lounge by the spa in the grand back yard overlooking St. Joseph Sound, gazing  upon the unspoiled beauty of Caladesi Island  beyond.

He could jangle honky-tonk songs on the white piano in the  sitting room of a house so big he’s unsure  how many rooms it has.

But this self-described old country boy seems  more at ease  in his windowless recording studio downstairs, an old acoustic guitar slung across his lap, cowboy-booted heel hooked over a bar stool rung.

“I go to clubs and just play all night making up songs,’’ he smiled, pulling down the brim of his black cowboy hat and cradling the guitar neck.

“Give me an idea.’’

How about The Ballad of James Hylton?

 Weaver knows the  story well, but has  never put it to song. Maybe because he doesn’t know how it turns out . He’ll know better in a few days, when his lifelong friend, 72-year-old James Hylton, attempts to become the oldest to qualify for a race at NASCAR’s top level, the Feb. 18 Daytona 500. Weaver will be there. He’s the car owner.

Weaver draws his pick across the strings.

There’s a country boy, who lived on Yellow Mountain Road

Baled his hay, carried his load

Working hard every day in the snow

With a smile and a simple hello.

Much of Josiah Cephas Weaver’s 65 years have been the fodder for the  songs he has written, recorded and turned  into a  second career.  Foothills, old friends, fast cars, Old Glory.

Weaver grew up one of  11  children outside  Roanoke, Va., next door to a kid named James Hylton, who left home at 18 to race in a fledgling series called NASCAR. Weaver, who  bailed out his friend through the years  with emergency tire money or  a check for the occasional fine , is there with Hylton  as  the other half of a sunshine boys story that is mushrooming into a phenomenon.

“This is unbelievable,’’ Weaver said and smiled, pausing to consider his schedule this week. “This thing has gone around the world and back.’’

As Hylton was becoming a part of NASCAR’s foundation in the 1960s, though not a star as a two-time winner, Weaver too left home at 15. He was looking for more than the family sawmill  could offer. 

Heading for his sister’s place in Clearwater, Weaver  spent all his money on a bus ticket to Tampa in 1957, walked to Rocky Point and slept in a phone booth his first night in town.“I didn’t know that mosquitoes come as big as I saw that night,’’ he said.

Weaver  began working for a title company, and by 19 opened his own. He made enough money  to buy  40 acres  off Hercules Avenue and built  Weaver Industrial Park.

“That place has been very good to me,’’ he said of the business that has allowed him to buy  a 4,000-acre cattle ranch  in Virginia and has left him time to pursue  country music with his own record label.

Weaver  was named the 1991 Cash Box Independent Music entertainer of the year and had 12 songs in the top 100 during the 1980s.   He still plays with Charlie Daniels.

Well it’s the Ballad of James Hylton

As the mountain and the hills that he climbed

In his face, he’s smiling and he’s happy

But NASCAR, it’s always on his mind

James is out on Daytona Speedway

Trying to make the show on time.

 Standing in the marble expanse of his two-story foyer, Weaver reaches for the door to the garage: “People say, 'J.C., you should have a Rolls-Royce in front of this place.’ I say, 'Here’s my Rolls-Royce.’ ’’

Next to the Jet Ski piled with fishing rods is a 1929 Model A Ford with Pasco plates. Original parts. Still works, and he’s glad to prove it with a bumpy ride around brick-paved streets north of downtown, cackling all the way.

Weaver’s motorcoach is pointed out the gate in anticipation of  Thursday’s trip to Daytona Beach and what promises to be a manic run up to pole qualifying on Sunday. With an engine leased and 2-year-old race car bought from 

Richard Childress, Hylton was among the slowest during a 36-car test session at Daytona in January, but he improved to 15th-quickest  in the draft by the final session.

Weaver, his spotter, was howling.

“It’s like the Dukes of Hazzard,’’ said Weaver’s assistant, Mary Lin Brewer. “He’s like, 'Okay, just pretend you’re running the hills of Yellow Mountain Road and Back Creek.’ ’’

 Weaver said he’s not worried about Hylton looking foolish.

 “This old hound dog’s ready to run,’’ said Weaver, whose own racing career was limited to swapping paint at

Tampa’s Golden Gates Speedway in the 1960s and ’70s.

But  with more than 60 teams entered for a 43-car  field, and last season’s  top 35 teams  guaranteed entry, a fast hound dog  might not be good enough.

“We’ve talked about it, James and I,’’ Weaver said. “If we don’t make it, we’re going over to buy us a Coke and laugh about it. ”

All this after Hylton was finally ready to retire after finishing 18th in the ARCA series and qualifying for a Busch race last year.

“I am retired — from ARCA,’’ Hylton smiled. “I was going to retire from it all, but J.C. changed my mind.’’

  Weaver, a widower since 1980 with no children, isn’t sure how he packed so many interesting times into a life that began so humbly.

 “Good times, hard work, living good, staying in a straight course and let’s enjoy life,’’ he said. “I ain’t had no hang-ups and no hold-backs. Let’s roll. That’s why we put it on the side of this rig we’re taking to Daytona, 'let ’er roll.’ ’’

Come to see him in Daytona

And you’ll see him there runnin’ in the show

Puttin’ on a show, puttin’ on a show

It’s the legend

It’s the legend ….

Of James Hylton.

“I don’t know what I told you, but I just told you something,’’ he cackled.

Brant James can be reached at brant@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8804.