Stories Part Of Racing’s Treasures

Brandon Reed

Brandon Reed

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Columns 12/24/10

There are not a lot of good things you can say about rain delays at a racetrack.  Sure, we can always use the rain.  But other than that, rain at a racetrack is pretty much a miserable thing.

But there is one bright spot.  Usually when there’s a rain delay at a race track, you end up with a group of people getting together to share racing stories.

With all the characters that have passed through the American stock car racing scene over the years, the stories are absolute treasures.

Here’s a few of my favorites that I’ve had shared with me over the years.  Now remember, these came to me second, third and fourth hand. I don’t claim every one of them to be true.  I say only they came to me from some very reliable sources.

Richard and Lee Petty made the result of a NASCAR event at Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta a legendary one.

For example, did you know that Richard Petty’s first flagged win was actually in Atlanta, at the legendary Lakewood Speedway?  On June 14, 1959, Richard Petty was flagged the winner of the 150-lap race.  But as Richard climbed out of his 1957 Oldsmobile to celebrate, word came from officials that there was a protest lodged.  There was a recheck of the lap count, and, sure enough, Richard was credited with one lap too many.  The win was taken from Richard and handed to the man who had lodged the protest­­ – his father, Lee Petty.  Lee later claimed he did it because he was driving a 1959-year model car, and NASCAR gave a bonus to any driver who won in a new car.  Therefore, Lee getting the win got the entire Petty Enterprises team more money.

I’m sure that was a fun ride home to Level Cross for the Petty family.

Speaking of Lee Petty, it was well known that when it came down to the money lap, the one place you didn’t want to be was between Lee and the checkered flag.

One driver who learned this the hard way, according to legend, was Curtis Turner.  Turner, the legendary throttle-stomper from Virginia, was racing against Petty one afternoon when the two got together.  Petty was left with a pretty badly damaged racecar, while Turner was able to turn in a respectable finish.

Afterwards, as the story goes, Turner was sitting on the tailgate of a pickup in the pits, washing the dirt and calcium chloride out his hair.  Up walks Petty with a rolled up newspaper in his hand.  As he approached Turner, Petty called out Curtis’ name.  When Turner looked up, Petty hauled off and nailed him with that newspaper.  The blow sent Turner reeling, due to the flat tire tool Petty had rolled up in the paper.

Another great source of stories at the racetrack is the late Tiny Lund.  One of my favorites has nothing to do with being in a racecar.

Tom Higgins, the great North Carolina motorsports writer, told the story of going fishing with Lund and Buddy Baker at Lund’s fishing camp.  As the trio rowed out on the lake, Lund told the story of recent alligator sightings along the lake.

Tiny Lund leads Buddy Baker into the first turn at Charlotte in 1968 while David Pearson gives chase. While fierce competitors on the track, Lund and Baker were great friends off.

Baker took the story hook, line and sinker (you’ll pardon the pun).  As the trio fished, Baker commented about how hot it was.  Lund suggested that Baker strip down to his skivvies and take a swim.  Baker did just that, much to the surprise of Higgins.  Higgins turned to comment to Lund, only to find himself alone in the boat.

Baker surfaced, and was bobbing happily on the water’s surface when, according to Higgins, a look of terror crossed his face, and he disappeared under the water.  He re-appeared briefly moments later, screaming for a rope, a boat paddle, or anything else he could get.

What had happened was Lund had dived off the boat the same time that Baker did, swam under the boat, came up under Baker, and grabbed him in, shall we say, a delicate spot.

Baker thought it was a rogue alligator, until Lund popped up behind him, laughing like mad.

Higgins said later, he asked Baker why he didn’t just swim in the other direction.

Baker reportedly told Higgins “Tom, when you think an alligator’s got you by that part, you go where the alligator goes.”

Brandon Reed is the editor and webmaster of Georgia Racing

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