Sometimes A Race Would Break Out At A Good Fight

Brandon Reed

Brandon Reed

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Columns 6/10/11

There can be no doubt as to the biggest topic of discussion coming out of last weekend’s NASCAR events at Kansas City.  It wasn’t the winner, or the fact that there was a fuel mileage finish for the second straight event, and third in the last four, counting Saturday’s Nationwide series event at Chicago.

It wasn’t the second straight near miss by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.  It wasn’t the second career win of second generation racer Brad Keselowski.

It was instead the reported pummeling of 26-year-old Kyle Busch by 65-year-old Richard Childress after the truck of Busch and Childress’ driver tangled in Saturday’s truck race at Kansas City.

Much has been written about the incident, so much so that we don’t need to rehash it here again.

But, for those of us gathered together in Greenville, South Carolina, at J.B. Day’s Riverbend Racing Museum for the annual reunion of former racers and fans on Sunday, it was agreed that the moment was a throwback to the days of old.

Like it or not, the sport is built on the solid bedrock of being able to stand up for yourself outside of a car as well as inside of it.  In fact, back when the “real racers” were on the track, if you failed to stand up for yourself outside of a race car, it could easily ruin your career inside the car.

It brought back many memories to those gathered in Greenville, which included NASCAR Hall of Famers Bud Moore and David Pearson, Georgia Racing Hall of Fame members Rex White, Hubert Platt, Hoyt Grimes and many, many others.

Now, the story that’s told often is of the big fight that broke out in the third turn at Daytona International Speedway at the end of the 1979 Daytona 500.

But again, instead of rehashing that occurrence, here’s a look at a few stories you may not have heard about drivers having to deal with situations on their own outside of a race car.

NASCAR Hall of Fame member Lee Petty was tough to beat on or off the race track.

Like the night that NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty and future Hall of Famer Curtis Turner tangled on a little bullring in the Carolinas.  As the story goes, the two leaned on each other pretty heavily all night, with neither willing to give up or give an inch.

After the race, Turner was sitting on the tailgate of a pickup, trying to wash some of the dirt out of his hair and cool off.  Petty, carrying a rolled up newspaper, walked up to Turner, and called his name.

When Turner looked up, Petty hit him upside the head with that newspaper.  Turner hit the ground, out cold.

Petty had a flat tire tool rolled up in that newspaper.  Message delivered: don’t lean on my racecar.

Petty was never one to shy away from a fight, even when the guy he was fighting was much, much bigger than he was.  Like the night he and Tiny Lund, who stood 6’6” and weighed around 275 pounds, went at it.

The two got into a scuffle at the payout window, and the fight was on.  Suddenly, Lund found that as he was trying to fight Lee, one son, Richard, had a hold of one leg while Lee’s other son, Maurice, had a hold of the other.  Too make matters worse, Lee’s wife, Elizabeth, started hitting Lund on the head with her purse, which packed a pretty mean wallop thanks to the pistol she had in there.

Finally, Lund gave in.  “When you beat one Petty, you have to beat the whole damn family,” he reportedly said afterward.

Then there was the time that Lee and Junior Johnson went at it in Charlotte.  After tangling on the track, Junior, armed with a Coca-Cola bottle, went after Lee in the infield.  It was said to be a hellacious fight that only came to an end once the Charlotte police stepped in.

But Johnson and Petty were indignant.  They weren’t hurting anybody but each other, they said, and they were settling their argument.  They didn’t need anybody’s help, including that of NASCAR or the local constabulary.

But one of my favorites came during a NASCAR Sportsman division event in the mid sixties at Atlanta’s famed Lakewood Speedway.

During the race, Curtis Turner and Tiny Lund got into it.  After the race, Lund was mad as hell, and came looking for Turner.

Buddy Baker once told me that the way you could tell if his dear friend Tiny Lund was really mad was if he was crying.  If you saw him crying, Baker said, just go ahead and run away.

Friends Tiny Lund (left) and Curtis Turner (right) pal around at Daytona in 1967. Photo courtesy the Ray Lamm collection

I don’t know if Lund was crying when he approached Turner, but Curtis must have known he was in trouble, because he turned and ran like hell.

The only problem was that Lakewood had a big, beautiful lake in the center of it, and Curtis had no where to run.  On one side was the lake, and on the other was an angry Tiny Lund.

“Now hold on, Pops,” Turner started.  But Tiny was having none of it, and charged Curtis.  Both ended up in the lake, with Tiny on top.

Lund grabbed a hold of Turner, and started dunking him under the water, then bringing him back up just long enough for a gulp of air.

The next few moments apparently went something like this:

“Hang on, Pops (glub blub) I didn’t mean to (glub blub) I’m sorry I (glug glub) dammit Tiny (blug glug) I’ll buy you a drink (glug glug) just stop trying to drown me!”

Apparently after the fourth or fifth time of dunking him, Tiny got to laughing so hard that he forgot about being mad and let Turner loose.  Turner was good to his word and bought Tiny a drink and the pair were friends again.

Maybe that’s the lesson to be learned from all this.  This sport was built by strong people who knew how to take care of themselves on and off the track.  They didn’t need PR men or media consultants or race officials to take care of the problem.

They were man enough to deal with the situation, face it head on and face the consequences.

Brandon Reed is the editor and publisher of Georgia Racing History.com.


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