Lunch with a legend

Published 8:47 am Thursday, March 30, 2023

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Even though April Fool’s Day is just around the corner, I promise the tale you are about to read is true.

When I woke up Wednesday morning, I was fairly certain how my day was going to go. How inaccurate that turned out to be.

My schedule was pretty tight for a Wednesday. I had the usual editorial meeting at 10;15 a.m. where we figure out what stories are going into Saturday’s paper, followed by a trip to Unity Christian Academy for a college signing. I was planning on eating lunch at home, then heading back over the bridge to Southside HS for a High Five interview and ending at Washington HS for their baseball and softball games against Northside.

Three opportunities for stories in one day is a good jump-start toward filling this sports page, and it was going to be a nice day, so I was ready for whatever lay ahead. Or so I thought.

On the way out the door I decided to check my email, which held the day’s first detour. The college signing was postponed at the last minute, which meant no story. I figured out plan B as I walked to the office.

Our meeting had already started because Holly Morgan and Ashley Vansant had an 11 o’clock appointment. Turns out he and Holly were going to Reggie Fountain’s home to do a Washington magazine interview/photoshoot on the ledgendary boat racer and founder of Fountain Powerboats.

I said that sounded really fun and Ashley replied that he could use me to hold the extra light for his photos. Not wanting to be the third wheel and having plenty to do to fill the weekend edition, I reluctantly declined.

Ashley said he was taking the photos first, then leaving, so it would only take an hour. My other colleague, Clark Curtis, said I would probably regret it if I didn’t go. I knew he was right, so I said okay.

I had never driven down Whichard’s Beach Road and hadn’t been to Chocowinity at all since the bridge closed except to go to Southside, so I was curious to see progress.

The bridge looked almost complete as we turned onto Whichard’s Beach Rd, which is very encouraging. It’s been a long 15 months or whatever and it will be great when the bridge reopens.

Mr. Fountain’s home is eye-catching to say the least. Palatial, in fact, rising high from the ground with a magnificent view of the Pamlico River and a small private beach to admire it from.

After a trip up the 30 or so stairs that led to the front door, the man himself greeted us.

I mean Mr. Fountain, not the near life-size statue of Elvis holding his guitar in the foyer.

Around a gigantic dining room table that looked like it could seat several families and surrounded by a mountain of magazines with his picture on the cover, Mr. Fountain, a Tarboro native, told Holly of starting Fountain Powerboats in 1980 without any boats and building over 10,000 in the 30 years he owned the company. He mentioned setting the all-time speed record of 177 mph out on the Pamlico river and told tales of the boat races he used to host. He won 100 of the 200 plus races he competed in and the trophies to prove it were in the living room that provided a wall to wall view of the Pamlico.

He spoke of traveling to boat shows all around the country and mentioned many famous people, including both Presidents Bush, who own his boats. The stories continued for a while, uninterrupted by further questions “” I’ll take y’all to lunch after we’re done here,” he said.

All three of us were enthralled at this point, so of course we accepted.

Ashley shot several photos and it was time to leave.

“I’ll meet you at the China Bay Buffet,” Mr. Fountain said. “I need to take my car out for a drive.”

A few minutes later, he rolled up in a black 1970 Dodge Charger Hellcat, equipped with 707 horsepower. Street legal, I guess.

After a delicious lunch and more tales of his days at UNC-Chapel Hill, selling life insurance then starting a multi-million dollar company, it was time to say goodbye.

He graciously thanked us for writing about him and invited us out for a boat ride later this spring.

“I’ll take y’all up and down the river a time or two,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.

He proceeded to hop into the Hellcat and did a mini-burn out on the way out of the parking lot.

“The man has a need for speed,” Ashley said.  Images of me hanging on for dear life as an 82-year old speed demon drove us way too fast down the river immediately popped into my head.

“I might have to pass on the boat ride,” I said.

What a pleasure it was to spend time with Reggie Fountain. Just goes to show that you never know what’s coming next.