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Clifton Burton "Coo Coo" Marlin
Born:
January 3, 1932      Died: August 14, 2005
Home: Columbia, TN

Coo 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 of 73.

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
Father of 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, 08/15/05

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 characters.

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 career."

"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 Marlin."

"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 came."

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" 427

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
the track.

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 finishes,
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 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 in 1994.

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 never know."


Coo Coo has been along to offer advice to son Sterling as he developed as a Winston Cup driver.
Here the two share a moment at Talladega in 1989.

Head of Marlin racing clan dies at 73      By Ryan Smithson, NASCAR.COM

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 cancer.

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 season.

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


Miss Nashville Speedway, Debbie Land, center, talks with promoter Bill Donoho, left, and
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 Fairgrounds Speedway.
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 and life.

 

 
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, won’t they?

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 stuck.”

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 Cup Series.

“I’ll Drive It”

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 Columbia.

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.

Big Time

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 around 1950.

“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 home.”

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 Opry.’

“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.

A Simple Life

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 day.

“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 father.

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 win.

“It’s a good thing Sterling and Steadman are race drivers,” Coo Coo says, “’cause they don’t know nothing about farming.”

Coo Coo Marlin Grand National / Winston Cup Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn Miles
1966 34 1 of 49 0 0 1 0 375 0 375 103 8.0 8.0 187.5
1967 35 3 of 49 0 0 0 0 158 0 755 88 19.7 26.7 155.0
1969 37 7 of 54 0 0 2 0 993 0 5,680 52 18.3 21.7 1284.9
1970 38 13 of 48 0 0 4 0 2531 0 14,799 38 27.5 19.3 3824.9
1971 39 12 of 48 0 0 0 0 1495 0 9,135 49 25.5 27.6 2335.9
1972 40 20 of 31 0 2 5 0 4092 31 28,124 25 10.2 21.0 5382.6
1973 41 21 of 28 0 1 8 0 5454 16 29,997 22 11.0 18.5 5947.8
1974 42 23 of 30 0 1 5 0 5623 28 41,944 22 17.0 18.1 6260.6
1975 43 23 of 30 0 4 11 0 5199 25 60,012 20 15.7 18.0 6399.6
1976 44 12 of 30 0 0 6 0 3074 0 39,485 28 16.8 15.7 4309.4
1977 45 11 of 30 0 1 5 0 2930 1 42,450 34 17.1 13.8 4209.7
1978 46 9 of 30 0 0 2 0 1518 4 19,415 36 11.4 26.6 2371.7
1979 47 7 of 31 0 0 2 0 907 0 27,540 33 23.7 25.3 1988.9
1980 48 3 of 31 0 0 0 0 377 0 8,400 54 31.0 20.7 978.0
14 years 165 0 9 51 0 34726 105 328,111   17.0 19.9 45636.5


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