Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat

Sporting a black cowboy hat, black leather boots and blue jeans, 74-year-old William Beaudry, of Tuolumne, is best known around town as "Cowboy Bill."

But that name isn't just heard around the Mother Lode. It can be found in autograph books of NASCAR fans across the United States.

The Connecticut native moved to the area about 20 years ago after leaving his lumber-hauling job in Oregon. Because of his lifelong love of NASCAR and several years of experience trucking for the lumber industry and Teamsters Union, his son-in-law suggested he check out the Olson Technology racing team stationed at Columbia Airport to see if they needed a driver.

Beaudry visited the airport several times until the racing team was finally in town. When he walked through the door, the owner asked him, "Do you know where I can find a driver?" Beaudry replied, "You're looking at him."

That was the start of Beaudry's 12-year career hauling NASCAR race cars. He also hauled cars for Ultra-Shield and Morgan Shepherd and tires for Hoosier racing tire company.

"I always loved NASCAR racing," he said. "I never wanted to be a racer because the speeds are too fast."

His wife, Theresa, accompanied him on most of his cross-country trips, after leaving her job at an attorney's office in Sonora. She sometimes kept score at the races, earning $50 each time. He has also taken his two daughters to NASCAR events.

His first date with his wife was at a NASCAR race in Stockton, and the two were married at Las Vegas Motor Speedway about 15 years ago.

Beaudry said he easily logged 20,000 miles a year hauling race cars, and was never late to a race.

He met numerous professional drivers and was often in charge of holding up the sign in the pit that told them to stop for service. He said the events attracted so many fans that the sounds of car engines were stifled by the roar of the crowds.

"It was fun, but it was always nice to get home," he said. "I love it up here."

Beaudry retired from the racing business about eight years ago and is now the Tuolumne station supervisor for the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Community Service Unit.

Beaudry hasn't retired from all aspects of his racing career. He still sings and plays guitar, which he did at several racing tournaments over the years. He performs southern gospel music at the Tuolumne Community Baptist Church and has won money singing Johnny Cash hits at Black Oak Casino, his deep voice bearing a striking resemblance to the famous musician's.

Beaudry is also a collector, keeping most of his prized trinkets in a Swedish cabinet that belonged to his great aunt. He locks it with a key he spontaneously purchased at an antique shop in Angels Camp, hoping it would fit the lock after he lost the original key.

He has a story behind each of the items, which include a meteorite, his great-aunt's 150-year-old jewelry box containing her Salvation Army memorabilia and his baby rattle, his uncle's wallet, a toy car worth $75 that he found stuffed in the wall of his house and a collection of sheriff's badges.

He has an array of miniature classic cars sitting on top of his piano, some of which resemble vehicles he and his family members used to own.

Although he no longer hauls race cars in a semi-truck, Cowboy Bill can be spotted around the county driving his life-size classic car - a 1974 red Cadillac that he won after purchasing two $5 raffle tickets at the Lumberjack Days parade and festival in Calaveras County.