A Few More Nicknames and Some Quaint Quotes
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and I come bearing good news this day. I stumbled across a couple more of these light-hearted collections lurking in a dusty corner of this old computer. Hmm, I sound like the newest member of "American Pickers" except that I don't do barn rafters as nimbly as I used to. Today's offering is a potpourri of nicknames and quotes from some of the stars of yesteryear. Funny thing is, to me yesteryear seems more like just yesterday. Be that as it may, I hope that each of you finds a smile or a pleasant memory along the way.
Last week, your scribe gave you a long list of nicknames either earned or bestowed upon many luminaries of the sport, and even included a few track nicknames to add spice to the stew. Many of you responded, adding names to the list, and a good time was had by all.
Let's continue in that vein for a bit today. “Mr. September”, or Harry Gant, as he’s more properly addressed, also had a couple of other nicknames throughout his career, at least one of which was pointed out by several readers. Besides being called, “High groove Harry” because of his proclivity for running on the high side of the track, Harry was lovingly referred to by everyone as, “Handsome Harry.” That one needs no explanation, as Harry was and still is an exceptionally fine specimen of manhood. (Hey, one is never too old to appreciate good looks!)
Cale Yarborough, whom we also discussed then as having been christened “The Chicken Driver” throughout his running verbal battles with Darrell Waltrip, was better known to most as “The Timmonsville Flash”, reflecting his home town of Timmonsville South Carolina. Hometowns have always been a popular part of nicknames and our “Golden Boy”, Fred Lorenzen was also known as “The Elmhurst Express”, Elmhurst being located in Illinois.
Even “King” Richard Petty was not without a hometown nickname, being respectfully referred to as “The Randleman Rocket”, Randleman of course, being in North Carolina, where his family still resides. Today’s crop of racers has a similar name in Tony Stewart, known to the racing world as, “The Rushville Rocket”, with Rushville being located in Indiana. Tony also answers to the familiar nickname of “Smoke” but though I’ve heard it for years, I can’t give you the exact derivation. (My educated guess would be that it has a lot to do with speed)
Kevin Harvick, he of the slightly surly temper, is known throughout the garage as “Happy” and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to where that came from. Once again going back in the day, Tom Pistone was always, and still is called “Tiger Tom” and Marvin Panch was “Pancho” to all of his friends. Charlie Glotzbach answered for his over thirty years in NASCAR, to the name of “Chargin’ Charlie.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting characters of "Back in the day" was a driver named Herman Beam, who raced from the late 50s into the early 60s. Herman honed the fine art of field-filling to a keen edge when he raced. (Or didn’t) It was his belief that a living could be made by building a good car (with the emphasis on “good") and then simply driving it slowly around track aprons and collecting his share of the purse after the race. In seven years of racing, I’m told that he never wrecked anyone nor was he himself wrecked. He simply occupied the lane that no one else wanted and chugged around at his own speed, harming no one. Please note, Herman did not park. He kept turning circles until the race had run its prescribed distance. In 194 starts, he did somehow manage three top-five finishes, probably due to very high attrition. He never won and he was never famous, but everyone in the sport lovingly referred to Herman as “The Turtle.”
Our last entry for nicknames today is not one person but a number of them, and refers not to their hometown but to their home state. Of course, I’m referring to “The Alabama Gang”, comprised originally of Bobby and Donnie Allison, Red Farmer and Neil Bonnett. The gang later came to include Bobby’s son Davey, Donnie’s son in law, Hut Stricklin and native Alabaman, Jeff Purvis who drove for both Bobby and Neil at various times in his career.
Under the heading of "Unfinished Business", when last we discussed nicknames, a couple of questions were left hanging. H.A. (Howard Augustine) "Humpy" Wheeler, got his nickname as a hand-me-down from his Daddy, H.A. Sr. It seems legendary University of Illinois coach Red Grange caught Dad puffing away on a Camel (cigarette brand from R.J. Reynolds) and issued some stern punishment to his budding left tackle… running for 30 minutes before each and every practice. His teammates branded him with the nickname "Humpy", since Camel cigarettes had the picture of a camel with a "hump" on each pack. When Junior was born, he quickly became "Little Humpy" and remains Humpy to this day.
The other big mystery remains a mystery. Someone asked about Robert "Bootie" Barker and where that nickname came from. Well, as best I can tell, that is Bootie's little secret and he ain't talkin'! Every time he's approached about the origin of the nickname, he demurs by saying he'd rather not say. That's all right with me; he's still a nice guy, and I don't care what he's called.
Waymond (Not a typo) Lane "Hut" Stricklin says his nickname came from his Dad, but he has absolutely no idea why. Must be an Alabama thing. And speaking of Alabama things, despite my best search efforts, I can find no nickname for Neil Bonnett, but did find out that his name was actually Lawrence Neil Bonnett, something I never knew before… or if I did, I forgot. As an aside to that, the Junior Johnson duo of Neil and DW did have a rather short-lived nickname… Double Bud Thunder. Neil… this Bud's for you!
And now gentle readers, let's leave the nicknames and move on to a handful of those old quotes folks love to hear spoken one more time…
"I think I had the best drivers that anybody has ever had. Over a period of years, A.J. Foyt, [Mario] Andretti, they drove for me some. You take LeeRoy Yarbrough and Cale Yarborough (no relation); those two were the most nervy drivers I had. Darrell [Waltrip] was a finesse driver, but he would trick you to death. He would hold back so much, he would almost lose the race. I would say, 'Hey Cale, are you laying down on me?' He would say, 'Junior, my name is Darrell; it ain't Cale.'”
"Most of them drivers I had in their prime, and that makes a difference. Cale wrecked the first eight races he drove for us. My boys said, 'What are you going to do with that crazy fool? He's going to wreck every car we've got.' I said, 'He's going to learn every time you hit that wall, it hurts worse and worse.' All he wrecked those cars, he became one of the best drivers I had."
Junior Johnson, wearing his "Owner's hat", which Darrell still imitates today.
"Don't hit him! I know you can hear me, and NASCAR said that they are watching you."
Ty Norris, attempting to talk Dale Earnhardt, Jr. out of paying back Kurt Busch for an earlier wreck
And Junior’s reply:
"You're breaking up man. I still can't hear you."
(In my house that was always known as “selective hearing")
"When I was a lap down, I think Jeff (Gordon) was trying to give me a little 'rookie education' when I was behind him. He was waving at me or something. I'm not sure what he was doing. I think he wanted me to back off."
(It’s called sign language Casey; maybe he was thanking the rookie for not wrecking him… or something)
"You’ve got to have a lead dog. You’ve got to have somebody out there for everybody to shoot at."
(Yep, and behind the lead dog, the view never changes)
"Making 31 appearances at Hooters wasn't exactly what I wanted to do."
Dale Jarrett, referring to almost signing a Hooters sponsorship earlier in his career.
(Dale, I don’t think they wanted you to show cleavage)
"All of the drivers here I can speak to because they all speak English, with the exception of Ward Burton. He speaks Ward, I guess."
Tony Stewart, explaining the difference between NASCAR and IRL
(And unlike in the IRL, there are no translators readily available)
"The problem is, you’ve got a young kid who is trying to replace Dale Earnhardt, who thinks he is Dale Earnhardt, and right now he wouldn’t be a scab on Dale Earnhardt’s butt."
Bobby Hamilton, referring to then rookie, Kevin Harvick
(Bobby, you could speak plainer than that)
“I like this story best. Buddy and I were flying near Rockingham. One of the engines began to sputter, and I didn't know why, although later I found a crimped fuel line. I decided to land in a pasture that was full of cows. I made a pass to scare the cows so I had room to land. After I landed, we got out and started walking, and here comes a bull that must have weighed 1,000 pounds. Both of us climbed a pine tree. The bull sort of camped out at the base of the tree, and we had to stay there for at least two hours.”
(Could have been worse; could have been a moose. They’ll wear a path around the tree waiting for you to come down)
“Another big deal was in 1992 when I went to the White House to receive the Medal of Freedom from President Bush. This is the highest award a civilian can receive, something like the military’s Medal of Honor. Racing got me to the forefront, but the medal was over and beyond racing, taking in the other things that I have done. That’s what made me feel good. It was a big day for [my wife] Lynda and me. I probably wouldn’t have gone to the ceremony if Clinton had called me up there.”
(I think they call that “partisan politics” but I really can’t fault his logic)
"I never dreamed I would see the sport where it is today. But I did see that when television got into it, there would be no end to where it could go. With television, you could get into everybody's house. People that had never been to a race could see it on television, and then after they went to a race, they're hooked."
(So how do we put the genie back in the bottle?)
As always, that means it’s time for our Classic Country Closeout, and your scribe is completely in love with some wonderful presentations of the Grand Ole Opry shows from long ago. This one brings Carl Smith, The Carter Family, Rod Brassfield, Faron Young and more. Please enjoy…
Daytona’s almost here race fans. I can’t quite hear those V-8s yet, but I smell high octane gas and rubber. Then we’ll have to get serious and talk about the new season and all that goes with it. I do hope everyone has enjoyed our little winter respite, featuring lighter things your scribe has gathered over the years. I find it fun to dust ‘em off on occasion and let ‘em see daylight again.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!