By TOM HIGGINS
So now Robby Gordon and Michael Waltrip are mad at each other.
Ditto Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch.
The anger stems from incidents on the track Sunday during the 300-mile Nextel Cup race in New Hampshire.
The way some fans and television sports reporters are treating the fender-banging, helmet-throwing, gestures and naughty comments, it would seem that no drivers ever got perturbed with one another before.
Oh boy, have I got news for you!
Compared to confrontations and feuds of earlier eras in NASCAR, what happened Sunday relatively is kindergarten stuff.
Why, in days of yore even the womenfolk of drivers were known to sometimes accost their loved one's rivals in a physical way. And on at least one occasion racing teams banded together to battle irate fans.
I've compiled a personal Top Ten list, which follows in reverse order.
10. David Pearson, the legendary Silver Fox who posted 105 victories, second on the alltime list, had a very long fuse and seldom lost his temper.
But in July of 1984 at the Firecracker 400 in Daytona Beach, the veteran Pearson was in no mood to listen to complaints from brassy Tim Richmond. After the race Richmond approached Pearson to voice displeasure about a tangle they'd had on the track.
Richmond got out about two words before Pearson punched him in the eye.
Richmond had to wear sunglasses for two weeks to hide the shiner.
9. Feuds raged regularly in the early 1950s when there sometimes were several races per week on short tracks, where sheet metal was beaten and banged almost constantly. Among the bitterest rivals were Curtis Turner and Bobby Myers.
One night they clashed repeatedly at a dirt track. After the race, Turner was washing the grit from his face near his car on pit road when Myers approached from behind, wielding a 2-by-4 board. Turner, sensing trouble, pulled a .38 pistol from his pocket and turned around with the barrel pointed at Myers' belly.
"Where do you think you're going with that board?" demanded Turner.
"I think I'm going to find a place to put it down," answered a surprised, but discreet, Myers.
And he did.
8. At the Talladega 500 of 1981 driver Morgan Shepherd got into an altercation before the race with a crew chief and team members--his own.
Car owner Cliff Stewart had brought in Darrell Bryant to lead the team. The morning of the race Bryant and Shepherd disagreed on procedures. They started a scuffle in the garage area that crewmen joined.
Three days later Stewart released Shepherd and hired Joe Millikan to drive the car.
7. Kyle Petty and the late Alan Kulwicki were racing for position at Michigan International Speedway in June of 1990 when they swapped sheet metal on the last lap.
Petty, feeling he was crowded too closely, accosted Kulwicki in the garage and pinned him on a work table. "Hit me again on the track and it'll be too bad," Petty stormed at Kulwicki, who wisely had kept on his helmet.
Kulwicki apologized, and two weeks later, after things had cooled a bit, he approached Kyle asking for advice. "Kyle," Kulwicki said seriously, "do you think I ought to take karate?"
6. Richard Petty and Bobby Allison clashed so frequently in the early 1970s that their crews began fortifying the cars to withstand the pounding they knew was coming.
The rivalry came to a head in the Wilkes 400 of 1972 at North Wilkesboro Speedway as they dueled for the victory. The two repeatedly smashed into each other over the final five laps. Petty was two car-lengths ahead of Allison's smoking machine at the finish.
"He could have put me in the boondocks," fumed Petty. "He's playing with my life out there and I don't like it."
Countered Allison: "The other competitor had to wreck me to win, and that's what he did. I had so much smoke in my car I could hardly see."
After the race an incensed Allison fan managed to reach Petty and attacked him. Maurice Petty whacked the intruder over the head with his brother's helmet as officers moved into make an arrest.
5. Team members fought fans in August of 1961 in the North Carolina mountains at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway, a track that no longer exists.
Disgruntled spectators blocked the exit from the infield when the Western N.C. 500 was stopped after only 258 laps because the asphalt track was disintegrating. Most teams were held hostage for four hours as a crowd of about 4,000 demanded more laps or a partial refund of theier ticket price.
A Barney Fife-type deputy sherriff who sought to mediate the dispute was picked up by the rioters and thrown into a pond.
Finally, Pop Ergle, a 6-6, 285-pound crewman for the Bud Moore-owned team, wrestled a board from a menacing fan and waded into the crowd, breaking the siege.
4. Two of the biggest stars in motorsports, Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace, faced off angrily at Bristol Motor Speedway following a night race in the mid-1990s.
Wallace had been spun while leading by a tap from behind by Earnhardt, who went on to win the race.
An angry Wallace, his face as red as his hair, accosted Earnhardt after they got out of their cars. NASCAR officials and crew members strained to keep them apart.
"I'm not forgettin' this Dale!" shouted Wallace. When Earnhardt grinned, Wallace became even more enraged and hurled an empty plastic water bottle at his rival. The bottle bounced off Earnhardt's nose.
I've always contended that Dale was lucky. In the '50s and '60s that water bottle likely would have been a tire tool.
3. Crews scuffled at the track then known as Charlotte Motor Speedway after drivers Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace tangled in The Winston all-star race of 1989.
Contact sent leader Waltrip spinning as the rich event wound down, enabling Wallace to win.
As Wallace headed to Victory Lane, a Waltrip crewman kicked the car. A spirited melee ensued until officials were able to break it up.
A quote that endures in NASCAR lore resulted.
"Somebody bit by little brother John's ear almost off," huffed Wallace's crew chief, Barry Dodson. "I think it was very unprofessional."
2. Among the fiercest personal rivals ever were NASCAR pioneer Lee Petty and the late free spirit, Tiny Lund. The strapping 6-7 Lund drove a second car a few races for Petty in the 1950s, but there was a falling out and hard feelings grew and grew.
At a race in Greensboro, the two passed on a stage during pre-race driver introductions. Words were exchanged, followed shortly by blows.
Lund pounded the smaller Petty, leading the latter's teenage sons, Richard and Maurice, to join the fray. Lund was knocking all three Pettys around until Lee's wife, Elizabeth, came to the rescue of her husband and sons. Mrs. Petty began thumping Lund in the head with her purse, raising pumpknots.
"It broke up pretty quick when Momma started swinging that pocketbook," Richard still recalls with a smile.
The purse was even more of a weapon because it had a pistol inside.
1. It was Cale Yarborough versus the "tag team" of Donnie and Bobby Allison in a wild fracas at the conclusion of the 1979 Daytona 500.
Donnie and Cale crashed each other while battling for the lead in Turn 3 on the final lap, enabling Richard Petty to zoom by and win.
As Petty took the checkered flag, Donnie and Cale squared off on the track apron. Bobby stopped to aid his brother. Fists, helmets, elbows and feet flew.
"All I know is that suddenly I found Cale Yarborough's nose pounding on my knuckles," Bobby Allison cracked afterward.
Coincidentally, it was CBS' first live flag-to-flag telecast of the 500. An estimated 20 million watched as a blizzard blanketed most of America, snowing folks in and creating a captive audience.
NASCAR assessed nominal fines against Yarborough and both Allison and put all three on probation.
In retrospect, the sanctioning body should have awarded the trio big bonuses. Their skirmish widely is regarded as the catalyst behind stock car racing's booming popularity.
September 20, 2005 in Sports | Permalink
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Bravo, bravo, and bravo again.
You know, the way the announcers and drivers talk you'd almost think the ideal race would be one in which no car gets within 10 yards of another car, it is run caution-free, and everyone group-hugs afterward. I'm sorry guys, but real racing is all out, do anything you can to win, smashmouth, beating and banging and showing your emotion.
Why does everyone seem to forget that everytime something like this comes up?
Posted by: Josh | Sep 20, 2005 1:42:32 PM
back in the 60's what is now the Cup series used to race the 1/4 mile track Bowman Grey Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC. One year Bobby Allison and Curtis Turner got into it on the track... taking turns spinning each other out. The BG Stadium track is built around a Football Field where local HS play ball. Curtis and Bobby ended up in the middle of the football field and proceeded to settle it with a demolition derby... the good ole days... miss them madly...
Posted by: Rex | Sep 20, 2005 5:16:40 PM
Sounds like most of the real men of NASCAR confronted each other like men after (hmmm) disagreements on the track. Not hiding behind 3600lb weapons!(Yes I know there was some of that too. Hence "Most of).
Posted by: Keith | Sep 21, 2005 10:07:48 AM
Tom, great post! Thanks! However, Dale didn't win the race that you mentioned; you referred to the '95 night race in which he finished second after punting Terry Labonte across the finish line.
Also, I agree with Josh. Sure, Nascar needs to keep SOME kind of order, but it sure is good to see these guys showing emotion, instead of acting like sponsor-spewing, mindless automotons.
My question is, does anyone remember Sterling Marlin and Ricky Rudd duking it out in the back of one of the haulers during an ESPN race? I've seen just a little clip of that one, but no one seems to remember it. That was a GOOD fight, with lots of swings!
Posted by: Ironman | Sep 21, 2005 10:16:48 AM
Congrats, Tom, well written as usual. A lot of us miss the good ole days when racin was racin. I remember well as a teenager we would go thru the fence at the old Charlotte raceway (dirt track) sit on the ground near the 3rd turn and watch the fender bending action. Ralph Earnhart, Buck Baker, Flock, and the boys. Mix it up on the track, spin each other out, and fight at the end of the race. We would get home completely covered with red clay dust, only our eyeballs showed thru. Those were the "good ole days" for sure. Never to be again, with "Driver Safety" the motive.. Guess what we need is a new association, to Heck with NASCAR and their $$$$$$ madness.
Posted by: Joe Steele | Sep 23, 2005 6:13:46 AM
Great story Tom! Laughed till I was in tears
about the Turner, Myers incident.How about
the story where you "covered" a race at
Darlington in your sleep.
Posted by: stevo13 | Sep 25, 2005 8:24:39 AM
How about (sorry I don't remember the track or year) but Curtis Turner spun out Bobbie Allison twice? So Bobby waited for Curtis to come back around the track and ran into him. They then spent the next few minutes destroying each others cars by crashing into each other over and over again.
Posted by: Eslie Nordan | Sep 25, 2005 12:50:15 PM
Eddie, check the second reply at the top.. was at Bowman Grey Stadium, on an Easter Monday mid to late 60's, my family and I lived just a few miles from Bowman Grey and rarely missed a Sat Nite race, and caught all the Cup races there
Posted by: Rex | Sep 26, 2005 4:44:07 PM
I agree with Joe Steele competely! Let's get back to racing where competing and winning were the most important things...
not making sure the sponsors get their money's worth and the Frances and Heltons and Darbys of CASHCAR all make names for themselves!!! thankx Joe! and thankx Tom for the great topic! It is a great reminder of the link between ol time racin at North Wilkesboro, The Rock and Charlotte to the short track racing that goes on around the country every friday and saturday night!
p e a c e
Posted by: Brian Stutchman | Oct 6, 2005 7:46:06 AM
I haven't laughed that hard in a LONG time.
Posted by: Christa | Oct 7, 2005 1:56:20 PM
Great story Tom. This reminds me of the racing I grew up with in Asheville and the battles I watched with Jack Ingram, Bob Pressley, and Bosco Lowe. Those guys fought each other for probably close to 25 years. Jack and Bob had so many fights at Asheville that if they did not have one it was news.
Bosco was involed in a couple of the bigger ones. I watched Bosco and Bob destroy 2 $10,000 race cars one specialy nasty night in a demo derby with their cars. Those two cars would be equal to about $65,000 cars in this day
Bosco and Jack had it going one night in September in 1968. They had wrecked one another and Jack had already bailed out of his car and was running back to get Bosco, Bosco was just unhooking his seat belt and Jack stuck his foot in the window and was kicking Bosco in the faceJack had a death grip on the rollbar and had Bosco pinned in the seat, There was 4 guys that broke Jacks grip and Bosco finaaly got out the passenger side and came over the hood and here they went at it again.
Times changed though, when Bob developed a deadly cancer Jack was one of the first people to stop by and see if he could help.
When Robert Pressley was tryimg to decide what to do with his career int the late 80's he stopped by to see Jack.
I know this is long but one more story. This past summer at Newport TN. there was a Pressley, Lowe and a Ingram ont the track together again. Mike Pressley one of Bobs sons, Barry Lowe, Boscos son and Jack were in a late model race. Jack at 69 years old decided to run a late model race. He only ran about 15 laps and came in. I saw him at a restaurant a week later and asked him when he was going back and he just sort of chuckled put his hand on my shoulder and said son, I do not think I will be doing that again.
Tom, Please write a book on racing in WNC. Ther are so many stories, New Asheville speedway, Mccormick field in Asheville, the old Harris paved speedway. Hickory speedway and Asheville-Weaverville speedway
Posted by: paul woody | Nov 12, 2005 1:39:47 AM
And I used to wonder why my great grandaddy was pinned to his radio every Sunday or watching Winston Cup racing on TV.I love the stories Tom.Those were definately the good old days.
Posted by: james ferrell | Jan 27, 2006 8:30:35 PM