Photo above: Carolina native, Andy Brown, talks sewing and stock cars.
By Molly Ingram
Very seldom do you get to meet someone who is really honestly interesting and who has lived a life worth both remembering and sharing. I had that great pleasure last week when I stopped in to chat with Andy Brown, owner for 40 years of Carolina Auto Trim.
Andy has no formal education past some high school yet he has managed to embrace his two passions in life – stock car racing and sewing. No, they aren’t normally linked but for Andy, one was a means to the other.
Andy started out in Columbia, SC where he was born and then in 1972 he moved to Lands’ End on St. Helena where he lives today. In the early days he lived in a small apartment near Fort Fremont he called the Frogmore Hilton. In those days he worked at a local garage and raced late model stock cars on dirt tracks on nights and weekends. Fixing cars turned out to be too “greasy” for him so he switched to an auto body shop (“hated sanding”) and finally to Smitty’s Auto Trim shop. Here Andy found his professional calling – to make top notch upholstered cushions for boats, cars, or whatever you want to sit on or lean against as long as it moves.
After a bad motorcycle accident, Andy opened his own shop called Carolina Auto Trim in Beaufort which is celebrating its 40th year in business. But he was still involved in auto racing. He may not have been racing himself like in the old days but he had morphed to the “owner” slot. “My driver, Hal McGraw in 1983, ran the first Grand National Race at Daytona Speedway. Oglethorpe Speedway furnished the car to run because Hal had won their Championship. We were in the garage next to Dale Earnhardt Sr. Our crew chief was Gary Hargett who was at one time a partner with Earnhardt Sr. and who was also his crew chief. Dale Sr. later picked Hargett to become Dale Jr’s mentor.” And so a lifelong friendship started between the two Earnhardt’s, Hargett and Andy.
Andy met his wife, Pam, who was working at the Oglethorpe Speedway Park, a dirt track down in Pooler, GA when we was competing there. When asked what he is most proud of, Andy responded, “Being smart enough to marry Pam and see all she has contributed to the Beaufort County Sherriff’s office where she has worked for the last whole-bunch-of years.” Along with Pam, Andy loves his two English Black Labs, Fremont and Ruby, a brother and sister team who come to the office with him every day. Never one to mince words, Andy said, “What’s not to love about English labs?” I have to agree with that.
As we chatted about all things car related, Andy shared a story that is so typical of the friend-helping-friend attitude you find in Beaufort. “We used to have an old wrecker; you know a truck with a big crane on it? Anyway, a local Veterinarian, Dr. Murphy, called one day and begged us to bring the wrecker down to his practice which we did. What we found when we got there was a HUGE bull who had collapsed and couldn’t get up. Well, we hooked him up to the wrecker and got him standing again but I tell you, I laughed for days.”
Andy has a 1931 Model A with a late model engine in it so it will cruise on the highway with no problem. You can’t miss it with the yellow flames all over the sides if it. It is the perfect car to represent Andy — a vintage hot rod with a big time engine would be exactly how I would describe him — a very sweet vintage hot rod at that.