Fearless Men, Fast Cars and Whiskey
By Orlena Miller
August 8, 2002
he held a tight rein, Bill France Sr.
could not completely control the shenanigans of NASCAR’s early stars.
Like most pioneers they worked hard and played with abandon. When
fearless men, fast cars and whiskey are in close proximity, expect the
NASCAR’s "wild bunch" could teach Dale Jr.
and the "Dirty Mo’ Posse" a thing or two. No sissy malt beverages for
these guys, no sir; they consumed whiskey and plenty of it. These
fellows were even known to imbibe while they raced. During a race at
Darlington Buck Baker
was caught up in a wreck at the exact moment he was turning up a Mason
jar full of Bloody Marys. His car went over the wall and landed in the
parking lot. The first rescue worker to arrive at the scene returned to
the ambulance ashen faced and told the other medics, "Ain't no use
hurrying, boys. Buck's done cut his head clear off!" Baker and the
interior of the car were awash with red; Buck was fine but the Mason jar
had not survived the crash.
good times and hell raising were like water and oxygen to most people.
Life wasn’t worth a damn without them. One of the sports greatest
drivers, Turner was a dedicated party animal. He was equally as
dedicated to winning races. He was dubbed him Pops by the other drivers
in reference to the "pop" sound his car made when he "moved" another car
out of his way. Pops threw parties that were the stuff of legends. These
were not dusk to dawn affairs but were truly bacchanalian and lasted for
days. Always, an excellent host, Turner would think nothing of inviting
a hundred or more guests. One of his favorite lines was, ‘If you don't
like this party, just hang around. Another will start in 15 minutes."
Weatherly was known as the "clown
prince of stock car racing", alone he was a terror. When he was
partnered with Curtis Turner
the two would get completely out of control, they were the Butch and
Sundance of NASCAR. One year at Daytona Little Joe and Pops raced their
rental cars down Highway A1A for a bottle for Canadian Club; the finish
line was their hotel. A bottle of whiskey being a great incentive for
both men, they raced like it was the last lap of the 500. They were side
by side banging doors and fenders; leaving behind a wake of glass, bent
chrome and car parts. As the two neared their destination Turner slowed
but Weatherly did not, he drove the rental car through a fence and into
the deep end of the swimming pool. The rental car company was not
amused. They distributed the outlaws’ pictures in every city that hosted
a NASCAR event along with explicit instructions not to rent a vehicle to
Practical jokes have always been rampant in NASCAR.
would stroll down pit road prior to a race and take the key from every
car. When the command to start engines was given Little Joe’s was the
only engine fired. I wonder if this prank had anything to do with the
change to ignition switches? Tomfoolery is a long-standing tradition and
has continued into the modern era. Dale
Earnhardt was a first class prankster;
he once scattered an entire tin of sardines in
car. The #2 car was lined up on pit road in front of Dale; with the
first sniff Rusty looked in his mirror and saw Earnhardt enjoying a
hearty laugh. Of course, as the day wore on the smell of rotting
sardines permeated the racecar. After the race Earnhardt walked up to
Wallace and said, "Thought about me all day, didn’t you?" The following
week, Wallace took The Intimidator’s steering wheel from the car before
the race. Once again Wallace was lined up in front of the #3 only this
time he was the one laughing as he watched Big E look frantically for
his steering wheel. By the time Rusty broke down and returned the wheel
there was a Goodwrench crewmember running back to the truck for another
However, some pranks were a bit more frightening than missing parts and
rotten fish. While Cale Yarborough’s
car sat on pit road prior to a race Tiny
Lund put a rubber rattlesnake in the
cockpit. Thinking the snake was real Yarborough reacted as you would
expect. Lund sat strapped in his car laughing as he watched Cale panic
over the fake reptile. Not one to take that kind of thing lying down
Yarborough exacted his revenge the following week. In addition to his
other talents Yarborough was also accomplished at wrangling
rattlesnakes, he found a prize specimen and de-fanged it. Tiny Lund was
not tiny; he was 6’5" and barely fit through the car’s window opening.
It took several people several minutes to secure his safety harness.
After Lund was strapped in tight, Cale threw the live snake into the
car. When the frightened creature landed in his lap with its rattle
going full out, Tiny came out of his car like it was on fire. The first
thing he saw when he was safe was Cale Yarborough laughing hysterically.
The second thing he saw was a ball peen hammer. Grabbing the hammer Lund
chased Yarborough through the garage. By the time bystanders had
restrained Lund and Cale had escaped with his life it was time to go
racing. The two returned to their cars and by the time the checkers fell
both men were laughing about the incident.
and fellow hell-raiser Larry Frank
frequently combated boredom by finding the nearest drinking
establishment and instigating a good old-fashioned barroom brawl. They
would be as obnoxious as possible until someone took the bait. And if
one of the local scamps took on one of them he had to take on both of
them. Other drivers would go along to sit back, enjoy malt beverages and
watch the show. One spectator described the action as resembling a fight
scene in a "B" Western. Fistfights were not limited to pubs; they were a
common occurrence in the garage as well.
Bobby Isaac let his fists do his
talking frequently, it was said NASCAR fined him for fighting so often
Isaac only raced to pay his fines.
NASCAR has always been a family sport and no family is more NASCAR that
the Petty’s. After one race, Tiny Lund
and Lee Petty
had words over an on-track incident. Feeling talk was accomplishing
nothing Lund took a swing at Petty and the fight was on.
grabbed a tire iron. His teenaged brother
Maurice headed into the fray and in
case they needed help Richard’s mother began beating Lund with her huge
purse. Tiny had had enough and beat a quick retreat. Later Lund
commented, "When you take on a Petty, you take on the whole darned
knuckle sandwich didn’t settle the issue, firearms could enter the
picture. After beating and banging for many laps
finally put Billy Meyer
into the wall. When the race was over Meyer went looking for Turner
armed with a tire iron. He found his prey leaning into a car, as the
irate driver approached Turner stood up and turned around. Aiming a .38
at Meyer’s mid-section he asked, "Where you going with that tire iron,
Billy?" A quick thinking Meyer said, "Why I'm just looking for a place
to lay it down" and set the tool on the ground.
raising did not always end with the driving career. According to
Tim Flock’s son
when his father was in public relations at the Charlotte Motor Speedway
he and his sons would sneak in and run the track after hours. What’s so
bad about that you might be thinking? They did it in the dead of night,
the track was not lit and they were "in their cups". In the family
sedan, with his equally inebriated adult sons as passengers Tim would go
flying down the front stretch declaring he "knew where turn one was".
I’m sure he did, too.
founding fathers of our sport were hard driving, hard drinking, hard
fighting men. They did not hesitate to take on each other or the world
to stand up for a principle, right a perceived wrong or simply for the
hell of it. However, there was an esprit’ de corps that superseded all
else. Quite literally, these men were willing to die for each other.
When Fireball Robert’s
had his fatal accident, Ned Jarrett
and several others received severe burns pulling him from his burning
racecar. In 1963 DeWayne "Tiny" Lund
won the prestigious Carnegie Medal of Honor that is given for heroism.
At the risk of his own life Tiny pulled his friend and fellow driver,
from a burning sports car. After saving his friend’s life, Lund drove
Panch’s Wood Brothers
owned Ford to victory in that year’s Daytona 500. These were very
special men and we are truly blessed to have had them as the foundation
of our sport.
Indeed, the founding fathers of NASCAR were a special breed of men. Like
Washington and Jefferson they would
probably be very pleased and somewhat surprised that the fruit of their
labor thrives and prospers still.
You can contact Orlena at:
Insider Racing News