The Short And Tragic Career Of ‘Fatso’ Phillips

Mike Bell

By Mike Bell
Posted in Columns 12/31/10

The recent news that the Zebulon Speedway, located just north of Zebulon, Georgia, would soon be reopening put us in mind of a popular area driver who lost his life at the track about 43 years ago.

‘Fatso’ Phillips was killed at Zebulon in a crash back in October of 1967 during a feature race on the ‘Figure 8’ track.

Back in 2007, we made contact with Fatso’s sister, Martha P. Daniel, of Thomaston, Georgia.  First of all, his given name was Arthur Lyle Phillips, but no one knew him as that.

Fatso Phillips and his racing Ford.

“He would get mail addressed to Fatso Phillips,” Martha said.  “When he was real little, probably not more than a year old, he was very sick.  For several months, momma tried to do what she  could because people just didn’t go to the doctor much in those days.  Well, he lost so much weight, she had to.

“The doctor found that he had a blood problem.  When he got well, he was only about 16 months old.  He would eat everything.  Our grandmother saw a cartoon with Dagwood Bumstead and a big ol’ sandwich.  Dagwood’s wife commented in the cartoon that if he ate all that he would be a ‘Fatso.’  Grandma said the same thing to Arthur and it just stuck.”

We asked Martha about the circumstances surrounding Fatso’s death.

The remains of Fatso's car after his fatal accident.

“During the ‘Figure 8’ feature, he and his friend James Carter would signal each other with a hand wave if they wanted to race on through the ‘X’,” she told us.  “But this one time, Fatso forgot to signal and James went through flat out.  He hit Fatso right int he driver’s door.  The side bar of the roll cage broke loose and punctured Fatso’s left side.  It broke several ribs.  Two went though his heart and both his lunch, killing him instantly.”

“They were both friend and there was no malice of any kind in the wreck,” Martha continued.  “It was just a racing accident.  Nobody in our family was mad at James and never has blamed him at all.  It was just something that happened.”

Former GARHOFA president Bob Moore was in that race and went to Phillip’s funeral.

“Fatso was out of the Thomaston area,” he told us.  “The word on the street was his cage came apart and he was so broken up, his ribs pierced his heart.”

Fatso Phillips had great success as a drag racer, but when he heard that they paid money to win, he went stock car racing.

“Fatso got started racing on the streets as most kids did in those days,” Martha said.  “One night, my dad, ‘Sixty’ Phillips, went down the road where they were racing and told them all that they better find some other place to race.  He told them they ought to go to a racetrack somewhere.  After that, Fatso started drag racing.

“He was very good at that and in a short time had accumulated a lot of trophies because that was all they gave at the drag strips.  He found out about circle track racing when Zebulon opened and found out that they would pay you more money if you won.  That was all it took.  He went dirt track racing.”

“The real tragedy came years after his death as his widow, LaVerene, James Carter and James’ wife all committed suicide,” Martha said.  “Fatso and his wife’s child, Tammy, who was only about three at the time Fatso got killed, had a terrible time of it.  She practically raised her own mother form the time she was 12 until her mother committed suicide.”

Fatso, the family man, pictured here with his wife LaVerne and daughter, Tammy.

Martha and her family stayed away from racing for years after that.  But Martha and her husband Joe did go back when they happened on a car headed to Senoia.  They followed it and found that Curly Allison and Roscoe Smith were still racing.  They caught the bug, and went back each Saturday night after that to cheer on their heroes.

Martha told us Fatso had become so popular at Zebulon that he had a fan club.  The membership card had a photo of Fatso with his number 41 Ford.

A person around here didn’t have to be a big time driver chasing the brass ring across the country.  They could be just as popular at their local track, and get the same fulfillment as did Arthur Lyle “Fatso” Phillips.

Editors note: Portions of this story originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of the Pioneer Pages magazine.

Mike Bell is the CEO and historian for the Georgia Auto Racing Hall of Fame Association, Inc. (GARHOFA)

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