Tales from the Lighter Side of NASCAR
Over the course of the years, a NASCAR fan sees or hears many things to do with racing that have little or nothing to do with the sport itself, but are simply funny or strange. Ever since the beginning, NASCAR has had its share of characters, wild boys and just plain jokers, so it isn’t difficult at all to find many stories that might amuse the newer fans among us even if they don’t remember the particular person involved.
Many of these stories have been handed down through the generations and have been changed somewhat by constant retelling. In truth, if you hunt long enough and dig deep enough, you’ll probably be able to find several versions of the same basic story. Since word of mouth is about the poorest method of maintaining accuracy, I claim none here, but offer a scattering of some of the flavor behind the sport. As you’ll see, it was much more fun before it became politically correct.
As long as I started with Cale, we’ll stick with him for another story. DeWayne “Tiny” Lund, one of those jokers I mentioned, set Cale up before a race. Tiny casually sauntered onto pit road and tossed a rubber snake into Cale’s car, then continued on to his own car, to sit laughing hysterically at Cale’s startled reaction to the fake snake.
Now friends, Cale was not without a sense of humor of his own, and he was not without some diverse talents, one of which was the ability to handle snakes. Before the next race, he managed to snare a big ol’ rattler and defang it. Okay, you’re ahead of me, aren’t you? At the next race, Cale waited patiently until all of Tiny’s sizeable height and girth were tightly strapped into the car. Only then, did he walk up and toss that very live rattlesnake into Tiny’s lap, and it was rattling all the while.
Tim Flock was one of those old moonshine runners turned racer, back in the “Good old days” as we old farts like to call them. He was also one of the best drivers ever to sit behind a steering wheel and had a sense of humor that was perhaps only exceeded by his good looks.
One year, as a publicity stunt, Tim took a passenger with him in his racecar for eight races. (Yep, with NASCAR’s blessing; back then, they needed the publicity badly) That passenger was a small rhesus monkey, appropriately dressed up as a race driver, with the equally appropriate name of “Jocko Flocko.” Folks came from miles around, some who didn’t even care much for racing, just to see that monkey riding with Tim.
However, as things will when working with animals, one day at Raleigh Speedway, something went wrong within the racecar and Jocko got out of his custom-made little “driver’s” seat. He began playing with the string that opened a trap door on the floor, allowing the driver to check the condition of his right front tire. (We’ve come a long way baby) A pebble flew up through the opening and struck the little guy in the head. That sent him into a panic and he clawed the driver, so Tim had to pull into the pits and have little Jocko Flocko removed from the car. A few months after that incident, Jocko died, but Tim said that he didn’t have the heart to tell that to children that inquired about Jocko. “I just told them I had to let him go because he couldn’t sign autographs”, was the answer he gave them.
Sometimes, the funniest of stories are ones that folks tell on themselves, and racecar drivers are no exception. I remember a television interview from quite a while ago, probably in the mid-1980s, with the late, great Dale Earnhardt, when he told one that I’ve never heard since, probably because he never told it again. It seems that he and Teresa, along with other guests, were visiting the New England home of former NASCAR driver, Ron Bouchard for a weekend of good food and conviviality.
Once upon a time, there was a parody song written about the 1989 race formerly known as “The Winston” and set to the tune of Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Sometime later, a reader asked me if I by any chance had the lyrics from that song, and I didn’t, but I did have the race on tape, so I reran the tape, with a lot of rewinding, until I had copied down all of the words. Get out your imaginations and try hard to put these lyrics with the music.
This was written and recorded by two great (If a bit wacky) DJs from Charlotte, NC, John Boy and Billy @WRFX in Charlotte.
Darrell went down to Charlotte,
He was lookin’ for a pole to steal.
He was Racin’ Tide, filled with pride
He wasn’t gonna make no deal
When he came across this young boy
Drivin’ that Kodiak car real hot
And he pulled right up beside him, man
Said, “Boy, let me tell ya what!”
“I guess you didn’t know it,
But I’m a NASCAR driver too
And if you care to take a dare
I’ll make a bet with you.”
Now you drive pretty good NASCAR boy
But give the Darrell his due
I’ll bet a seat on the pole against your soul
‘Cause I think I’m better’n you!
The boy said, “My name’s Rusty
And it might be a sin
But I’ll turn your Tide and whip your hide
‘Cause I’m the best that’s ever been!”
There’s probably no driver more fun to tell tales about than NASCAR’s original “Bad boy”, Curtis Turner, because he just did so many wild and crazy things. For today though, I’ll skip the partying et al and just tell one that also involved my one-time favorite driver, Cale Yarborough. Now, Curtis was the kind of guy that would help a young driver with his racing career if he liked him, and there was nothing not to like about young Cale Yarborough. One summer, when Cale was visiting Curtis at his North Carolina home, he asked Curtis to explain to him the racing line at Darlington.
There was a time in racing history when there was no racetrack in Talladega, Alabama. What there was, in fact, was a huge, empty plot of land that had been purchased by Big Bill France, with a dream in his head of building a racetrack so awesome as to put to shame even his own Daytona International Speedway. A little story goes along with that land though. Rumor has always had it that it had belonged to a Native American tribe, and depending on which tale you listen to, was either a burial ground for tribal members or sacred ground used for tribal rituals. Whichever it was, the story goes that the tribe was quite unhappy about its planned use and sent their Medicine Man to try to change Big Bill’s mind, a feat that was tougher than moving mountains. True to form, France refused to budge and they say that the Medicine Man put a curse on what would soon become the new “Alabama International Motor Speedway”, or Talladega, as we know it today. I’m sorry, I have no idea what the fine for cursing was in those days, but Smokey Yunick could have told you.
As long as we’re at Talladega for a minute, allow me to share with you one of those eerie things. In the August 1973 race at Talladega, on lap 90, Bobby Isaac, in response to a voice in his head, radioed car owner Bud Moore and told him to find a relief driver. CooCoo Marlin took over the wheel and finished 13th. Isaac, on the other hand, retired from Winston Cup racing on the spot. “Something told me to quit. I don’t know anything else to do but abide by that”, he said. Introduce the theme from Twilight Zone please
Another famous or infamous prank was played on Rusty Wallace by his close friend and constant tormentor, Dale Earnhardt. This one happened at Darlington, and according to Wallace, "It was 105 degrees and those black bugs were everywhere.'' In that sweltering summer heat, Dale chose to scatter a tin of sardines under Rusty’s seat, and the hapless Wallace was forced to drive the entire Southern 500 with those nasty little fish rotting in the sun. Before the race, and even before getting all the way into the car, Rusty knew he had a problem and he had only to look in his mirror at the driver lined up behind him for the start, to realize from where the problem arose. In his own words, “It stunk way bad!” He had a few more choice words as well, but we’ll skip those today and keep the editor happy. When the race was over, a grinning Earnhardt approached Rusty and said, "Thought about me all day, didn’t you?"
No collection of NASCAR memorabilia would be complete without a story about legendary car builder and mechanic supreme, Smokey Yunick, so I’ll tell you one. Always far ahead of his time, Smokey understood aerodynamics at a time when few could even spell it, never mind employ it. Legend has it that he once built a car for Cotton Owens (though I’ve also heard it was for Herb Thomas) that was simply faster than anything else on the racetrack was at the time. Now that of course, drew the attention of NASCAR, and they proceeded to tear down the engine and weigh the car, finding nothing amiss despite their best efforts.
Staying with the innovation theme for a moment, in later years NASCAR was harassed so much by one particular crewchief and his shenanigans with the cars under his care that they actually hired him to replace a retiring Dick Beatty as the Top Cop of NASCAR. I’m referring of course, to Gary Nelson, who was later kicked upstairs to head the R&D department.
Gary himself told a tale on himself about the time when he and ol’ DW were winning a Championship together. It seems that he figured out a way to load several hundred pounds of buckshot into the roll cage of Darrell’s car, allowing it to “beat” the scales and pass prerace inspection. Once Waltrip was on the track and doing pace laps, he had only to pull a hidden lever, which allowed the lead (And of course the weight) to be ejected from the car and roll harmlessly down the banking. The signal that this had been accomplished was Waltrip, keying his radio and yelling, “Bombs away!” Needless to say, this much underweight car won more than its share of races.
Finally, we come to a story that most of you have heard more than once I’m sure. I’ve heard it several times myself, and each time, attributed to a different driver, though the crew chief, the irascible Harry Hyde, always remains the same. Today, we’ll hear it told by NBC’s own “Buffet” Benny Parsons, in his own words.
“In 1987, I drove for Hendrick Motorsports while the late Tim Richmond was ill. Harry Hyde was crew chief. We were at Darlington; the late Elmo Langley was driving then and his car dropped gear oil on the track. My car hit the stuff, which is as slippery as ice, and went straight into the wall. It was similar to what happened to Dale Jarrett’s car when he was going for the Winston Million bonus in 1996. Repairs were made, and I came back to log laps for points.
During a caution about halfway, I asked Harry if he wanted me to pit. Not right then, he replied. I drove another lap and asked again. No, not until he and the crew finished their ice-cream cones, he answered. On the pit stop, I got four tires and ice cream. The story was in the movie Days of Thunder.”
Well Benny, look on the bright side; at least you got some of the ice cream.
I hope that y’all enjoy reading some of these stories because I have a lot of fun telling them. For today though, as Porky Pig was always fond of saying, “That’s all folks.” Not quite, of course. It's time for our Classic Country Closeout. Please enjoy this collection of stars from the 1950s.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!