To racing fans, Richmond’s emergence onto the NASCAR scene in 1981 required many to readjust their images of the typical stock car driver. Richmond did not fall into the familiar stereotypical gritty, rags-to-riches, rural southern driver that dominated the Winston Cup Scene of that era. Far from it, Richmond grew up a child of privilege in a wealthy Ohio family. He did not grow up fixing up jalopies or racing along the dirt roads of the southeast honing his driving skills and dreaming of one day following in the footsteps of boyhood heroes such as Tim Flock, Junior Johnson or Fireball Roberts. In fact, Richmond did not even become interested in auto racing until he was 21-years old when he took a “joy ride” in a friend’s sprint car and became hooked on the adrenaline rush. Driving a racecar provided the dare-seeking Richmond with the thrill that he had sought in other risk-taking sports such as motorcycles, speedboats and airplanes.
It is easy to overlook the fact that Everett “Cotton” Owens was a racecar driver before he began his career as a successful mechanic and team owner whose stock cars were driven by historical greats of the sport. The names include David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, Junior Johnson, Benny Parsons, Fireball Roberts, Mario Andretti and Al Unser, among others. Though Owens’ talents with a wrench aided in many of his driver’s becoming legends in NASCAR, be assured, in Cotton’s day, despite his diminutive 5-foot 6-inch, 140-pound frame, he could turn a steering wheel with any of them, as well. Good enough in fact to be selected as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers by NASCAR during the sanctioning body’s 50th Anniversary celebration in 1998.
Ricky Rudd began his racing career the same way as many of today’s drivers; behind the wheel of something other than a fendered stock car. Ricky got his start in go-karts at the tender age of nine, at the same time running motocross, and didn’t get into stock car racing until he was 17 years old. He made his first NASCAR start in 1975 at the Carolina 500 at the North Carolina Motor Speedway, in the sand hills of Rockingham, N.C. “The Rock” had always been a test of man and machine, but even more so back then.
Let’s set the record straight. DeWayne Lund was not a small man by any stretch of the imagination. The name “Tiny” was a term of endearment. He stood a towering 6’6″ tall and weighed in at over 300 lbs. Safe to say, his cars never hurt for left side ballast.
Ned Jarrett was one of the first bonafide superstars of the sport, helping to bring NASCAR to the next level in the early to mid-1960s. What started out as a regional sport with an underground following began to rise to national prominence by the mid-1950s, with factory involvement from Ford and Chrysler. At the time, the heroes of the sport were characters that seemed right out of central casting from Dukes Of Hazzard: Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts, Joe Weatherly, and the Flock brothers. Ned Jarrett was the antithesis of the hell raisers of the early years. He was a family man who truly earned the nickname “Gentleman Ned.”
Rusty Wallace came of age during the late ’70s and early 1980s running USAC and ASA with such short-track luminaries as Larry Phillips and Dick Trickle. He also was competing with fellow future NASCAR stars Alan Kulwicki and Mark Martin, often driving the fastidious Martin crazy by showing up late to practice because he had to wait for his crewman and youngest brother Kenny to get out of school before they could leave for the track. In those days, Rusty sported what he referred to as his “nuclear hairdo,” a massive poofy Afro that resembled something rising into the atmosphere over Yucca Flats or Bikini Atoll.
Tim Flock was one of the legendary personalities of the sport, along with the likes of his brother Fonty Flock, Curtis Turner, and Fireball Roberts. He was a hell-raiser straight from the mold of the drivers of yesteryear, a far cry from the spit-polished corporate spokesmen of today. Tim Flock saw his first race in 1937, and became hooked. His brothers Bob, Fonty, and Carl wouldn’t let him drive, so he got behind the wheel of a taxicab in Atlanta.
Joe Weatherly’s driving career almost ended before it even began. He nearly died while out with a group of friends one night, losing control while driving through an S-curve; he had bumped into a curb and broke a tie rod. With no steering or time to react, he ran headlong into a tree. Weatherly was nearly ejected from the vehicle, his head and neck breaking through the windshield. As Weatherly was trapped and bleeding to death, one passenger was dead, and others badly injured. Weatherly recovered then, but in other instances, he wasn’t so lucky. He was left badly scarred about the face; rumors arose that it was the result of a Nazi sniper in WWII. Unfortunately, it would not be the last time he had an encounter with a parts failure in the middle of an S-curve turn.
Bobby Allison started racing around southern Florida while he was in high school, but after one too many accidents, his dad, “Pops” Allison made him quit. Following graduation, Bobby, along with brothers Eddie and Donnie, ventured north in search of more competitive and financially rewarding competition. It didn’t take long; they found their calling in nearby Montgomery, Ala. After getting wind of a race at Montgomery Raceway, Bobby entered his car – and won with ease. He never looked back as Donnie, friend Red Farmer, and some other buddies of his decided to set up shop there; soon after, what became known as The Alabama Gang was born.
Charles Robert “Bobby” Hamilton Sr. started his racing career similar to a man before him – Dale Earnhardt – by dropping out of school at age 13. He laid the foundation for a career at Nashville Speedway, now known as the Music City Motorplex. Nashville Speedway was raced by many NASCAR legends such as Darrell Waltrip, Coo Coo Marlin, and part time driver/country singer Marty Robbins. Bobby would gain the attention of many in the NASCAR community when he competed in a 1988 event starring Cup luminaries Waltrip, Bill Elliott, and Sterling Marlin at his hometown track.
Curtis Turner started out driving well before he was old enough to get a driver’s license. He hailed from the area of Bent Mountain, Va., and as with many who lived in remote regions of the South during this era, Turner worked to export the local product: moonshine. He became as big of a legend running illegal liquor as he did on the track. His ability to outrun Federal agents as well as local law enforcement earned Turner respect for his skill behind the wheel and unlike his counterpart Junior Johnson, Turner was never apprehended by the police. He ran his first race in 1946 in Mt. Airy, N.C. He finished last in a field of 18. In his next start, he won, beginning a legend as the best driver ever to race on dirt.
Fireball Roberts was one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history to never win a championship. And while the biggest prize managed to elude him; Roberts, the 1957 Most Popular Driver, still managed to etch his name in the NASCAR record books. In 1958, he became the first driver to win two 500-mile races in the same season, winning at Trenton, N.J. and the Southern 500 at Darlington. Three times he earned victories in two of NASCAR’S most prestigious races; the 1958 and 1963 Southern 500s and the 1962 Daytona 500. Perhaps his lasting legacy came in one of the sport’s darkest moments, his death in the World 600 in 1964; which was the catalyst for the development and implementation of fuel cells, driver safety products, and fire retardant uniforms.