GUIZERIX: My short-lived stint as a child star

Published 4:00 am Wednesday, July 28, 2021

At one point, I was a child actor. 

Not in any formal sense of the word — just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and ended up living every redneck’s cinematic dream. 

As a 10-year-old born and raised in the Deep South in the late 90s and early 2000s, NASCAR was part of everything: kids wore Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty t-shirts, carried Winston Cup lunchboxes and every Sunday afternoon, I’d find my dad in his recliner watching the race. The first time I remember my father crying was the day Dale Earnhardt died.

Suffice to say, NASCAR was a big deal, and no day was bigger in my family than race day at Talladega Super Speedway. For years, it was a boys-only trip, with my dad, uncles, grandfather and cousins, but once I turned 10, I was allowed to join the crew. 

We’d rise early in the morning after a night at the Key West Inn in Wetumpka, Ala., come to life over a bowl of hot cheese grits at the Huddle House and make our way to the North Tower for a day of loud engines and left turns.

So, what does my family’s fondness for stock car racing have to do with my ultimate turn on the silver screen?

Well, one fateful September afternoon, as pre-race festivities prattled on, the announcer stepped aside for a special request.

“We’re filming a movie entitled ‘Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,'” he said. “We’re introducing three racers, and we need the fans to cheer for two of them and boo the last one.”

So, Ricky Bobby was announced, and we all cheered as Will Ferrell strode across the stage at Pit Road.

Then Cal “Magic Man” Naughton, Jr., was presented, and John C. Reilly walked up.

The last actor, infamous in Vicksburg and elsewhere for horrible pranks in the name of filmmaking, was announced, and we all booed in unison: Jean Girard, also known as Sacha Baron Cohen.

Each time we cheered and booed, cameras would fly through the air, filming the crowd. Afterward, the race went on.

I don’t remember who won that day, but I do remember the running joke my family’s had for the last 16 years: The Gibbs family was in “Talladega Nights.”

While we did buy a copy of the DVD (which my mother promptly stopped and vowed never to let us watch after the first scene), we’ve never been able to pick ourselves out of the crowd and probably never will. What we do hold onto, however, is the memories of family time at the racetrack.

I’m reminded of this excitement as Lifetime is filming a movie in Vicksburg, with many familiar faces and places on the screen. We’re thrilled to have the production crew here, and excited for the opportunity to see our friends and neighbors — and our beautiful town — showcased on film.