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Only Yesterday: The 40th Anniversary of NASCAR’s Greatest Con Artist

Like all forms of sports and business, NASCAR has had its share of shady sponsors, drivers, and teams.

There’s the tale of Angela’s Motorsports, a race team started by an Iranian scam artist that didn’t even make it past the 2003 Speedweeks due to fraud. Then there was DC Solar, the company that burst on the NASCAR scene, sponsoring teams and races alike until the owner’s home was raided in 2018 due to allegations that the company was really a Ponzi scheme, nearly derailing Ross Chastain’s career.

But there’s one person that NASCAR teams and drivers alike know about when it comes to defrauding their way into NASCAR.

That man is who we all know as L.W. Wright.

Any NASCAR fan that has an extensive trivia knowledge of the sport knows about Wright. In 1982, it was announced that L.W. Wright was attempting the 1982 Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, with sponsorship from T.G. Sheppard and Merle Haggard, two of country music’s biggest superstars at the time. However, Sheppard denied all involvement in the project, starting a whirlwind of mysteries surrounding the man.

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Later, Wright came to Sterling Marlin to purchase a racecar, to which Marlin also agreed to travel to Talladega and serve as Wright’s crew chief. Marlin would later become suspicious of Wright, too, based on his apparent lack of knowledge of a racecar and the track itself.

Meanwhile, NASCAR had granted Wright his license after Wright reportedly told them that he had 43 NASCAR Busch Grand National Series starts. However, no one in the garage could recall ever racing against him.

As more and more suspicion grew, Wright walked back on some of his claims as an attempt to prove himself more truthful than he actually was.  When it came to qualify, he crashed his car and ended up starting the race 36th.  After just 13 laps, however, Wright’s engine gave out and he was done for the race.  He was credited with 39th.

When Marlin returned to the garage area, he found his car, but no sight of Wright.  He had taken off and essentially fell off the face of the earth.  Checks he wrote to Marlin, as well as his landlord, and the owner of one of his backers, B.W. Terrell, owner of Space Age Marketing.

However, no one was able to find him.  Wright had disappeared and was nowhere to be found.  It was announced that he had failed to qualify for the next race of the season at Nashville Speedway (ironically, where the entire scheme originated for Wright), but Wright was never seen again.  He was referred to by many as “The D.B. Cooper of NASCAR,” a reference to the con artist that stole money from an airplane before jumping out and parachuting into the unknown, never to be seen again.

Wright has been a recurring topic of conversation among the NASCAR community, and some people began wondering if he would ever reappear again.  Some had even assumed that Wright had passed away due to old age given how long ago his stunt was.  Pictures began to surface of race day photos of Wright standing next to his car, giving people an even better idea of who Wright could be.  But it was still not enough for people to find him.

Not until this year, that is.

Forty years to the day following the 1982 Winston 500, on May 2, the Scene Vault podcast released its newest episode, in which they sat down with an older gentleman who revealed himself to be Larry Wright – the man who went by the alias, “L.W.”

Wright proved himself to be who he said he was by showing podcast host Rick Houston his race-worn firesuit from the race.  His appearance, as well as the firesuit, matched what was in old pictures from 1982.

Now at age 73, Wright wanted to come forward and offer his side of the story while he still could, as he stated he is in poor health currently.

In the interview, Wright stated that he bought a car from Sterling and his late father, Coo Coo Marlin, under the condition that Marlin’s crew pitted the car. His car number, 34, was an alleged tribute to independent driver and pioneer Wendell Scott, as well as his age at the time of the race.

Wright also disputes claims of the legend himself, saying that everything he paid for was in cash, and everything else he didn’t pay for was a result of “unpaid bills” rather than checks bouncing. He agreed to pay Marlin for the car following the race and was to be billed by Goodyear and others after the race, too.  He never wrote a check, he just never paid anyone. Wright also said that he had sponsors back out before the race, leaving the bills that needed paid to himself.

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In the interview, which you can find down below, Wright said, “if you can find somebody that said that I owed them $30,000 [which is what he owed Terrell, allegedly], you tell them and I’ll face ‘em. I want to see who they are, and I want to know how it come about. If that makes them stutter, you know what I’m talking about, okay?”

Among other details Wright shared included that Dale Earnhardt even offered him advice about driving the track, which Wright had never seen before going through the tunnel.

Houston has saved a lot of the interview for future projects, but he has finally uncovered the man, the myth, the legend – literally.

It’s a story that is unbelievable from the start, and the mystery is finally solved.  It is a wild end to a tale about one of NASCAR’s most infamous drivers, who only completed just 13 laps in his career.

Link to podcast: https://open.spotify.com/episode/2ToDWizOvK1oPdwB3rFOls?si=fplRTvYnQHScJOnNCvKgLQ

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ArkyBass

This is a interesting story. Thanks for bringing to Frontstretch. I’ve followed NASCAR for a long time and vaguely remember hearing about this a time or two. It great to have specific information. I’m not sure we have all the facts yet. Seems Ricky Houston and LW Wright still have some cards to play!

Kurt Smith

I listened to Houston’s entire 30-some minute podcast and learned next to nothing. He supposedly had two and half hours of interview with L.W., and he spent more time talking about his book and movie and other marketing plans than he did actually playing Wright’s words. I was pretty annoyed at the waste of time it was to listen.

From what I am learning about it, it sounds like the story wasn’t the mystery that ESPN or whoever sold it wanted it to be. It can’t have been that difficult to find the freaking guy, even in the 1980s. I was fascinated by it at first, but now I think the whole drama is likely overblown BS.

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