Clifton Burton "Coo Coo" Marlin
Born: January 3, 1932 Died: August 14, 2005
Home: Columbia, TN
Coo Marlin earned a name for himself at the
short tracks in Tennessee and Alabama running against
Red Farmer and Bobby and Donnie Allison. He was a four
time track champion at Nashville Speedway USA.
Coo Coo was a speedway favorite with
a lot of kids during the 60's. He drove a fire-engine
red 1964 Chevy Impala, #711, and was the first real
"hero" to many youngsters. During this time, he and his
racing "nemesis," Charlie Binkley #125, continuously
thrilled audiences with their oftentimes nail-biting
finishes. Coo Coo was always available for photos and
autographs in the pits after a race. His brother, Jack
Marlin, was also a crowd favorite.
He moved on to the NASCAR circuit and
became one of the sports earliest stars. He never won a
race in his 165 Winston Cup starts from 1966-1980, but
he had nine Top 5 and 51 Top 10 finishes, with many of
those starts in a car numbered 14.
He died in his hometown of Columbia,
Tennessee on August 14, 2005 of lung cancer at the age
Shortly after his death,
his son Sterling was in negotiations
with MB2 Motorsports to join the team's
second car for 2006. When the team was
unable to retain the #10 (which was to
be used by Evernham Motorsports for
2006), MB2 was looking for a number. A
still-grieving Sterling found the #14
available and had MB2 request the #14,
which was granted, and is being used to
honor his father.
'Coo Coo' Marlin dies at 73
Sterling, also a tough NASCAR driver
Racing legend "Coo Coo" Marlin died
yesterday after a long battle with
lung cancer. Marlin was 73.
By LARRY WOODY
Staff Writer Published: Monday,
He was born Clifton Burton Marlin, but to
friends across Tennessee and to millions of
racing fans around the country he was always
known as "Coo Coo."
Marlin, 73, died at 2 a.m. yesterday in
Maury Regional Hospital after a long battle
with lung cancer. He left behind a legacy as
one of stockcar racing's most determined
competitors and one of its most colorful
Services were held at Spring Hill Memorial
Park and Funeral Home. Burial was in Rose
Hill Cemetery in Columbia.
Marlin is survived by son Sterling, the only
child of Coo Coo and Eula Faye Marlin, who
died several years ago.
Sterling Marlin skipped the Nextel Cup race
at Watkins Glen, N.Y., to be at his father's
side when his condition worsened.
As a teenager Sterling worked on his
father's pit crew and went on to become one
of NASCAR's top racers. He credited the
qualities of toughness and tenacity he
inherited from his father for helping him
endure a 17-year winless streak that was
snapped by back-to-back Daytona 500
victories in 1994 and '95. "Daddy taught me
to never give up," said Sterling, who
dedicated his first Daytona 500 victory in
1994 to his father.
Coo Coo Marlin was also an inspiration for
many other young racers who passed through
Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway. "As far as
Nashville racing folklore is concerned, Coo
Coo Marlin is at the top of the list," said
Franklin's Darrell Waltrip, a retired
three-time champion in the division now
known as Nextel Cup. "I still remember that
red No. 711 flying around the track at the
Fairgrounds. Coo Coo was one of our sport's
pioneers and I feel privileged to have
gotten to race against him early in my
"I was just a kid when Coo Coo was racing,
but I always admired him," said Mt. Juliet's
Bobby Hamilton, defending champion in the
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. "He went out
and raced against the best there was,
running out of an old tobacco barn on his
farm. Nobody had more determination than Coo
"Coo Coo was always happy-go-lucky," said
retired Nashville racer "Bullet Bob"
Reuther, an equally flamboyant driver from
the sport's early era. "But he was serious
when he got on the racetrack. I started
racing against him at the old Legion Bowl
(in downtown Nashville) and later at the
Fairgrounds. Coo Coo was as tough as they
Although Marlin was famous for his wide-open
racing style, that wasn't how he acquired
his nickname. As a toddler he was unable to
pronounce "Clifton." It kept coming out "Coo
Coo." That became the name he was known by
and raced under.
Coo Coo ran
this car in the early ‘60s. He turned his
first laps when his older brother failed to
show up one evening for a race.
Marlin ran his first race as a teenager at a
dirt track in Hohenwald in a car he
"borrowed" from his big brother, Jack, a
prominent area racer. Coo Coo sheepishly
returned the car in a crumpled condition.
Jack forgave him, and began helping his kid
brother develop his racing skills. In an
incident that reflected Marlin's toughness,
he was badly burned in a fiery crash at the
Fairgrounds that destroyed his car. But he
showed up the following weekend, heavily
bandaged and driving a backup car.
Coo Coo with his brother Jack and another
Fairgrounds Speedway Trophy
Fairgrounds Speedway Car with the "Mystery"
Marlin won four track championships at
Fairgrounds Speedway (now Music City
Motorplex) in 1961-62 and 1965-66. June,
2005, he paid a visit to the Fairgrounds,
assisted by some friends, but had difficulty
recalling those distant days when he ruled
In 1966 Marlin began competing in the Grand
National (now Nextel Cup) Series and became
the first area racer to achieve national
prominence. He even appeared in a 1960s
racing movie, Track of Thunder. Marlin
competed in NASCAR's top division for 14
years, running 165 races. He never won a
points race but had three third-place
nine top-fives, 51 top-10s and won a Daytona
500 qualifying race. At the end of his
career he said, "I always did as good as I
could with what I had to run with."
Coo at Daytona
Marlin was an
"independent" driver, fielding his own cars
with no major sponsorship backing. He was
forced to compete against such
well-financed, big-name drivers as Richard
Petty and David Pearson, racers he called
"hot dogs." After his retirement, Marlin
frequently attended races to watch his son
compete. He joined Sterling in Victory
Circle when he won his first race at Daytona
Except for his racing travels, Marlin seldom
ventured far from his vast Maury County
farm. When he wasn't racing, Marlin was
farming, raising crops and cattle. He
remained active on his farm until recent
months, when he was slowed by illness.
A few years ago an interviewer asked Marlin
if he had any regrets about his racing
career. At first he said no, but after
pausing a moment, he confessed: "I'd have
liked to have run against the hot dogs just
one time with the same equipment that they
had. I'm pretty sure I could have beat them,
but I never got a chance. I reckon we'll
Coo Coo has been along to offer
advice to son Sterling as he developed as a Winston Cup
Here the two share a moment at Talladega in 1989.
August 14, 2005 WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. --
Clifton "Coo-Coo" Marlin,
whose love of auto racing eventually led to three generations of
drivers, died Sunday. Mr. Marlin was 73. He had been suffering from lung
Coo-Coo Marlin was a farmer and cattleman who raced
on and off through the 1960s and 1970s. He never scored an official
victory, but he derived great satisfaction in 1994 when his son Sterling
won the Daytona 500.
The elder Marlin is generally considered to be the
first driver from middle Tennessee to rise to national prominence in
NASCAR. The Marlins live in Columbia, Tenn., and Sterling Marlin
continues to live there.
Marlin was one of the sport's earliest stars, a
hard-nosed racer who made his name racing around the short tracks in
Tennessee and Alabama.
He became a regular at the Tennessee Fairgrounds,
running against the likes of Bobby and Donnie Allison and Red Farmer.
Marlin won his first title at the Fairgrounds in
1959. He added titles in 1962, then again in 1966 and 1967. His four
titles are a record at the track.
Marlin moved onto NASCAR, where he made 165 Cup
starts from 1966 to 1980. He had no wins, but earned nine top-fives and
51 top-10 finishes. His series best points finish was 20th in the 1975
Sterling Marlin left Watkins Glen on Thursday to be
with his father, who passed away early Sunday morning. Scott Pruett will
drive Marlin's No. 40 Dodge in Sunday's Sirius at the Glen.
Coo Coo Marlin, left, receives a plaque from
Gov. Winfield Dunn making him an honorary colonel.
The Columbia farmer added to his fame as a stock car driver by finishing
fourth in the Daytona 500
earlier this month. Marlin was a track champion at the Nashville
Speedway before moving up to NASCAR.
Staff photo by Dale Ernsberger (The Tennessean) 2/26/1974
Speedway, Debbie Land, center, talks with promoter Bill Donoho, left,
NASCAR Grand National driver Coo Coo Marlin at the speedway's annual
party for the press.
Staff photo by Dale Ernsberger (The Tennessean) 4/4/1975
"It's yours now,"
says Coo Coo Marlin, right, as he hands over keys to his 1962 Chevrolet
racing car to
Tommy Andrews, a rookie who'll drive the car in the Flameless 300 at the
Staff photo by Robert Johnson (The Tennessean) 4/15/1969
Sterling Marlin, tire changer right front
Sterling knew racing was in his blood
Coo Coo's corner Trophy Room
Coo Coo's farm of 45 years - his pride, joy
How a farmer from
Tennessee cultivated one of the best-known names in
racing . . . . "Coo Coo" Marlin
Hohenwald. Say it with a fast
Southern drawl and it might sound like “hole in the
wall.” Actually it’s a small town about 33 miles
west of Columbia, Tennessee. That’s 13 miles closer
to Columbia than the big city of Nashville, which is
46 miles north. And it might be the reason a
15-year-old Columbia farm boy named Clifton Burton
Marlin found himself sitting in the grandstand of
the Hohenwald Speedway in 1948.
Marlin went there with his older
brother, Jack, and it didn’t take much to convince
both of them that they could do that. Jack went
first but, in no time flat, little brother Clifton
was out of the stands and on the track kicking up
the dirt with the big boys. Of course Clifton’s
parents didn’t know about it. But boys will be boys,
Clifton doesn’t exactly sound
like a name for a fledgling race car driver, but
probably none of the boys racing with him back then
knew him by that name. Even Marlin had trouble with
it. “I couldn’t say Clifton right and when I was
around 4, I gave myself the name ‘Coo Coo’ and it
That’s the story behind one of
the most colorful driver names in history. And it
marked the beginning of a lifetime of racing that
has since moved to Coo Coo’s son, Sterling, who
drives the Coor’s Light Dodge in the NASCAR Winston
One night brother Jack didn’t
show up to drive so Coo Coo said, “I’ll drive it.”
He showed everyone his first cousin’s license and
got in the car. Whether it was talent, beginners
luck or just his competitors giving him a wide
berth, Coo Coo’s confidence in that first race had
to be bolstered by the outcome. He finished third.
“I would like to think it might
of been a combination of all the above and a good
helping of a natural feel for the earth, as any real
farm boy would have to have. Some of the best dirt
drivers I have known, came from a real job that
connected them to it,” Coo Coo says.
Though he’s long retired from
racing on the dirt, and asphalt, Coo Coo Marlin is
still well grounded with the earth as he was some 54
years ago when he first plowed dirt with four tires.
As he approaches 70 years of age, he still actively
runs his cattle farm in the Carters Creek area of
He’s lived in the same modest,
but comfortable farmhouse for more than 45 years.
Just across the road is what you might call a
mansion on the hill. It shows the sharp contrast
between what racing is like today and what it was
back then. Racing people live there, too. The
mansion’s residents are son Sterling and his family,
including grandson Steadman, now the third Marlin
generation to leave a mark on the track.
Though it would be some 18 years
before he would enter the major leagues of stock car
racing on a fairly regular basis, Coo Coo remembers
the first big-time race he entered, an event held
“I drove up to Nashville and got
me a Hudson Hornet,” he says. “We put straight
exhausts on it and a seatbelt in it. Then I drove it
south to Decatur, Alabama, taped up the headlights
and raced it. I think I got third there. After the
race, we untaped the lights and drove to a curb
service place for something to eat, then drove it on
For most of the ’50s, Coo Coo ran
the short-track circuits in Tennessee and Alabama.
By the late ’50s he was becoming a regular at the
Tennessee Fairgrounds and running against some
strong competitors: The Allisons, Red Farmer, Bob
Reuther to name a few.
In 1959 Coo Coo won his first
driving title at the fairgrounds, driving a ’34 Ford
Flathead for Carl Wood. He repeated the
accomplishment in 1962 and then again in ’66 and
’67. That record of four track championships will
stand forever as the Nashville Fairgrounds track
finishes its last year of operation.
During his era of dominance at
the fairgrounds, Coo Coo had battles both on and off
the track with “bunches of them.” His most
affectionate ones, though, were with entertainer
Marty Robbins, who ran there on many a Saturday
night when he wasn’t on the road singing. On nights
he worked the Grand Old Opry, Robbins would ask to
be put on last so he could get some racing in.
“One night I was running up front
and Marty spun me out in the first few laps. Well,
down in the infield I went,” Coo Coo says. “When I
got the car re-fired, I was back around 27th, and I
went hunting for him. I was really making some
speed, and I think I lapped the field, but I
couldn’t find Robbins. Finally the crew gives me the
sign ‘Slow Down ... Marty’s gone to the Grand Old
“Another time he blocked me for
the whole race. I’d get up to his door, but he kept
me from getting by. The last thing I wanted to do
was touch him, ’cause them stands were pretty full
and his fans would of all come down out of them and
kill me. But all and all Marty was my buddy. We
would pit next to each other at all the big tracks.”
The big tracks came calling for
Coo Coo in the late ’60s and through the ’70s.
Basically self sponsored, he got some help from a
Tennessee car dealer named H.B. Cunningham.
“He gave me a wrecker and some
motor parts, but I pretty much supported it myself,”
Coo Coo says. “We never could afford to run the
whole season, so I ran around 12 to 20 races.”
For a low buck operation, he made
a good showing. He won a Daytona 125 in 1973 and had
several Top-5 finishes in the Daytona 500. Daytona
and Talladega were his two favorite tracks. “We
would run in a pack of 23 cars at Talladega,
clocking around 210 to 215mph in the draft on
old-style tires. Of course the tires were only good
for 10 or 15 laps,” he says.
How did that speed feel? “Well,
after you get above 175 or so you can’t tell the
difference if you’re going 190 or 210. I loved it.
Had a lot of fun, too.” During the early ’70s,
14-year-old Sterling started working as a
right-front tire changer on the pit crew.
Coo Coo is a fairly quiet man. He
basically listens to you, and if he has something to
add to it he might. Then again, he might just say,
“well,” then trail off, and that’s all you get.
There is no doubt, though, if you spend a little
time with him you will learn something.
One day this past spring, when
Coo Coo was about to get back to farm work, he told
one little story. He doesn’t recall the exact year,
but it was sometime in the ’70s. It was the Daytona
500 and it seemed like it was going to be Coo Coo’s
“We made our last pit stop and I
was leading it with 15 laps to go,” Coo Coo says.
“Well, they waved the black flag at me. I ignored
it. They waved it again. I still ignored it. When
they give it to you the third time, if you don’t
come in, you’re out. So I came in. They said I had a
loose lug nut. There was nothing wrong, nothing
loose. The NASCAR inspector said, ‘OK, you can go.’
Well. Hell.” By the end of the ’70s, Coo Coo was
rapidly becoming the oldest active driver in Winston
Cup. He was also having high blood pressure problems
and was very tired from running the farm and trying
to make as many races as he could. Sterling was
coming on strong and had some Grand National
experience. He had driven a few relief races for his
So Coo Coo ran his last race at
Talladega in 1980. In 1987 he, along with driver
“Bullet” Bob Reuther and promoter Bill Donoho,
became the first three inductees in the Tennessee
Motor Sports Hall of Fame. It was a proud day for
all the Marlins.
These days, Coo Coo can be seen
at some of his favorite tracks like Daytona and
Talladega, keeping a close watch on Sterling. Can
you imagine how this man felt when Sterling’s first
win came at the same place he was denied one? He was
with grandson Steadman, too, when he got his first
“It’s a good thing Sterling and
Steadman are race drivers,” Coo Coo says, “’cause
they don’t know nothing about farming.”
Marlin Grand National / Winston Cup Statistics
Nascar Nextel Cup Series Tickets
Copyright © 2003
by Roland Via. All rights reserved. Revised:
06/08/12 08:11:23 -0400.
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