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Travis Tiller
Born:   May 15, 1937
Born: Triangle, VA
 

 

Travis Tiller, born May 15, 1937 is a former NASCAR driver from Triangle, VA. He competed in fifty-two Cup events in his career. Tiller never recorded a top-ten and his most races run in a year was 14 in 1974. His better of two top-15s in his career came in that year, when he finished 12th at Richmond. His career ended in 1983.

The independent drivers of yore remember a simpler time in the sport of NASCAR

BRISTOL, Tenn. – The NASCAR Sprint Cup series is ruled by teams of engineers and familiar millionaire drivers driving space-age cars owned by five powerful owners.

While few current fans have heard the romantic story, the NASCAR script once featured a different element.

 

Just call them the independent gang.

The era, which culminated with Alan Kulwicki winning the 1992 Winston Cup drivers and owners champion-ships, featured a fun-loving gang of characters who relied on ingenuity, courage and friends instead of an over-whelming arsenal of manpower and horsepower.

Travis Tiller, 77, knows the story. From 1974 to 1983, the Clintwood, Virginia, native made 51 Cup starts.

With no Fortune 500 sponsor or major factory deal, Tiller was forced to cobble up enough money, tools, tires and crew members to go racing.

“It was tough,” Tiller said. “There would be three or four of us independent guys that would get some crew members together and they would do all the pit stops for us.”

As for technical support, Tiller used the old-fashioned approach.

“We did our own engineering,” Tiller said.

Tiller did receive financial help from several coalfield related businesses located in far Southwest Virginia, but it was still a struggle.

“Lord only knows how we did it,” Tiller said. “When I started in racing, I was lucky if I had two guys that would show up at the race track.”

According to Tiller, there is one way that an independent could survive under the current Sprint Cup structure.

“That driver would have to be supported by someone with a lot of money or be independent wealthy,” Tiller said.

Tiller never recorded a top-10 finish, but he did make five starts at Bristol Motor Speedway and make some important friends.

For example, Tiller was on the ground floor with the Abingdon-based Morgan McClure Motorsports team. He made three starts with the family-owned operation, which captured three Daytona 500 victories with drivers Ernie Irvan and Sterling Irvan.

“They had the car dealerships in Coeburn, Virginia, and I knew Tim [Morgan] and the McClures both,” Tiller said. “They wanted to get into racing, and we set up a whole race team about that time. G.C. Spencer got them started and then I came along.”

One of the main draws for Tiller and the merry band of independents was the fun factor.

“Oh, we had a lot more fun than drivers seem to have now,” Tiller said.

Tiller was associated with one of the most charismatic drivers in the history of Cup racing – country music super-star and fellow Dodge competitor Marty Robbins.

“The last race Marty ran at Atlanta, he was running a car from Junior Johnson,” Tiller said. “I told Marty ‘you’re running awful good. If I can follow you, maybe we can finish 1-2. If you make a pit stop, then I’m going to make a pit stop.’ ”

Tiller stuck to the back bumper of the colorful No. 42 Robbins entry, just waiting for the opportunity to pounce

“It was getting towards the end of the race,” Tiller said. “I don’t know if I got too close and took the air off of his car, but Marty got sideways. When he did, I tapped him on the left front wheel. He went on and neither one of us crashed.”

Since he was not chasing points, Tiller was free to serve as a relief driver for drivers such as Roger Hamby. In a practice that was once common in the sport, Tiller also allowed competitors to start his car and run a few laps in order to be credited with the points.

Tiller swapped stories with former Johnson City, Tennessee, racing greats Brownie King and Paul Lewis during a March 28 open house at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The three pioneers offered insight into the seismic shifts in NASCAR.

“It’s mind boggling,” said the 82-year-old Lewis. “The modern-day race car driver has no idea of how lucky they really are with the handling of the car, the comfort of the car with the air-conditioned helmets and the custom seats.

“Those cars we drove were 4,500 to 5,500 pounds and they were a handful, especially at tracks like Darlington, Atlanta and Bristol.”

Lewis said no track really compared to Bristol.

“With the banking and the speed, Bristol was very challenging but I loved it,” he said.

In the 1972 Permatex 300 Late Model Sportsman race at BMS, Lewis established a track record in qualifying that held for six years.

Lewis finished with 16 top-five and 45 top-10 finishes in 114 NASCAR Cup Series starts. In 1966, Lewis be-came the only Mountain Empire based driver to win a Cup Series race by edging David Pearson at Smoky Mountain Raceway in Maryville, Tennessee. Knoxville’s Trevor Bayne finally stuck another blow for Northeast Tennessee drivers by winning the 2011 Daytona 500.

King, now 81, earned a track title when BMS hosted weekly races.

“That was 1962 and I raced against a lot of good drivers,” King said. “There were 15-20 local drivers around here that were as good as any of the NASCAR drivers.”

King was also one of 19 drivers to compete in the final Cup series race on the old layout at Daytona Beach in 1958 and in the first Daytona 500 in 1959. He said BMS was an equalizer for independent and factory supported driers.

“Bristol has always been the perfect half-mile race track,” King said. “Back then, the banking was only about 15 degrees compared to the 30 or 36 it is now. But, it was something we enjoyed every week.

“They closed down the weekly racing in 1963 and ran just the two races a year in the Southeastern 500 and the Volunteer 500. Today, it’s worth the price of a ticket to just to see the grandstands compared to the way they were in 1961.”

Perhaps the most famous of all independent drivers was Dave Marcis, who served as both a driver and engine builder.

The all-business Wisconsin native made 711 Cup starts from 1969 to 2002, earning one win and 40-top five finishes while operating on a shoestring budget.

In the latter part of his career, Marcis received help from current Sprint Cup kingpin Richard Childress, who was also a journeyman driver before moving into an ownership role with drivers like Dale Earnhardt.

PICTURES


Blackie Wangerin, Marty Robbins, Travis Tiller


Talladega
 

 

NASCAR DRIVER Cup Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1974 37 14 of 30 0 0 0 0 2446 0 11,410 34 30.4 24.9
1975 38 10 of 30 0 0 0 0 1958 0 7,780 36 29.2 23.6
1976 39 9 of 30 0 0 0 0 2012 0 6,310 37 30.0 24.1
1977 40 3 of 30 0 0 0 0 250 0 1,615 62 29.0 27.3
1978 41 0 of 30 0 0 0 0 0 0 0     ?
1979 42 4 of 31 0 0 0 0 218 0 5,065 61 30.8 35.2
1980 43 4 of 31 0 0 0 0 830 0 3,050 65 33.0 31.0
1981 44 1 of 31 0 0 0 0 111 0 850 100 38.0 32.0
1982 45 4 of 30 0 0 0 0 557 0 6,395 51 33.0 28.0
1983 46 2 of 30 0 0 0 0 338 0 4,360 73 37.0 27.0
10 years 51 0 0 0 0 8720 0 46,835   30.9 26.4

 





 

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