Matt Olds and I met at a NASCAR race when we both were ten years old, and our love of racing blossomed into a close, life-long friendship. His favorite driver was Richard Petty, and I was fond of “awesome Bill (Elliott) from Dawsonville.” Matt loved the thrill of speed but also recognized its dangers, and he became involved in improving driving safety on and off the speedways. He was a staunch advocate of safety belts and helped push through the first safety-belt laws passed in the state – and received the NASCAR Safety Award in 1965. But nothing made Matt prouder than knowing that teen-agers, especially boys, looked up to him as a role model when it came to driving safety. When he visited high schools, students would stand in line for hours to shake his hand or to get an autograph, and he enjoyed that as much as they did.
It was late one evening when Matt’s son called me.
He said, “I’m at the county hospital with dad. He and mom were in an accident. She was killed, and the doctors say dad won’t live through the night. He has been asking for you; says he has something important to tell you.”
When I walked into Matt’s room, he smiled and motioned me to his side. He pulled me down close to his face and forced out these feeble words:
“Bill, tell the kids to do as I preach.”
He paused and said again, Bill, tell the kids to do as I preach.”
Matt passed away an hour later.
I was still trying to figure out the meaning of what Matt told me at the hospital when I finally dropped off to sleep that night. The next day I got my answer. The local newspaper carried a report of the accident on the front page.
It read in part, “Mr. Matt Olds and his wife, Alice, were killed yesterday afternoon in a one-car accident on State Road 112. Mr. Olds was known for his strong support for driving safety and was an outspoken advocate of safety belt laws. Deputy Sheriff Tom Johnson said that the car’s steering mechanism malfunctioned which caused the car to veer off the road and into drainage ditch and that both occupants were ejected from the car. He said the couple would likely have survived if they had been wearing their safety belts.”