The Dart: In the Pit

Published 10:46 am Monday, May 14, 2007

VIDALIa — Ronald Swaggart grew up in Kingston working on cars. Saturday, he drove back down from his home in Jackson to show off one of his best.

His friend, Vernon Boteler, from Jackson, and his brother, Thomas “Hoppy” Swaggart, who lives in Natchez, tagged along.

“They’re my pit crew,” Ronald Swaggart said.

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Ronald, the older brother, grew up in the 1960s improving cars, Hoppy Swaggart said.

“You’d see him fixing older cars and tinkering with other people’s,” Hoppy Swaggart said. “He was always the mechanic. He kept a ’56 Chevy running for us and kept up the rest of the neighborhood’s, too.”

Ronald bought his first car, a Ford Model A, in his teens and fixed it up, he said.

“Back then, Mom and Dad didn’t buy that car,” Ronald said. “You had to buy a car and rebuild it.”

Any boy with a car was lucky, he said, especially living a good distance from town.

“It meant you could get out and go places,” he said.

It had pretty good advantages with the ladies, too, Boteler said.

“It was the same perk as today — the girls liked it,” he said.

Ronald Swaggart agreed.

“Girls didn’t want to go on dates if they had to walk,” he said. “And back then, gas was 20 cents a gallon. With $5, you could really go places.”

Since then, the hobby has turned into a passion. Ronald Swaggart, who now owns five classic cars, goes to car shows on a regular basis. Last year, he attended a Louisville, Ky., show, joining more than 12,000 cars.

Saturday, he had his 1932 Ford Highboy Roadster at Vidalia’s River City Bad Boyz Cruising on the River show. He parked it along the sidewalk, hood propped open for display, its maroon paint glistening in the sun.

“I’ve shown cars for over 20 years,” he said. “But I really enjoy it down here.”