By Rick Minter-Guest Contributor
Posted in Columns 8/17/12
When the news came that Charles Leroy “Buck” Simmons, one of the greatest short track drivers who ever lived, had died at the relatively young age of 66, my mind wandered back to a Friday night some years back, to a race at a track called Highway 106 Speedway in the north Georgia town of Carnesville.
I was there to do a story on Buck, whom I’d known for years. He was closing in on 1,000 career feature wins.
The first question most fans – and editors – would ask is how do you know he really has 900-something wins?
I knew that question would be coming so I began digging through the data. His mother had kept meticulous records documenting hundreds of victories in his early days. I had enough records from my own reporting to cover about 550 wins. So I felt safe pitching the story to the editors at the big Atlanta newspaper.
By this time in Simmons’ career, he wasn’t in the best of shape. He rode a golf cart to the pit area and back, and sometimes sat in his race car between practice sessions to avoid the trouble of climbing in and out of the window.
He probably wouldn’t have been racing at all, had not his long-time supporter Gerald Voyles put him in a competitive car, knowing that he needed just a few wins to reach the 1,000 threshold.
In qualifying, Buck was about eighth fastest. The track, like many 3/8-mile dirt ovals, looked to be a one-groove kind of place.
With a photographer from the paper there, and representatives of a local TV station as well, I began to hope for Buck’s sake that he could at least salvage a top-five finish out of the night. If he went backwards, the story might never get anywhere near the section front or maybe not even in the paper.
When the green flag flew to start his feature, he rode in eighth for a few laps. Then he knocked off seventh place. Then sixth. With the help of attrition and some bold driving, he kept moving up.
When he got to third, the crowd began to appreciate what they were seeing. Many times, at a backwoods country race track, fans never budge from their seats, or show much emotion at anything short of fisticuffs.
But as Buck continued his march forward, old men in tobacco-stained overalls began to stand and cheer him on. I was there supposedly as an unbiased journalist, but I soon found myself pulling for a great story to write, one about a man I’d followed for years before I ever got a newspaper job.
When Buck muscled his way into the lead with just a handful of laps to go, it might as well have been Dale Earnhardt at the wheel. The crowd loved it.
Afterward, long after the pits had essentially cleared and the crowd and the photographers had left the track, I asked Buck how he, in the poor state of health he appeared to be in, managed such a stirring performance.
“I had to do it,” he said. “I didn’t want to look bad with the newspaper and a TV station here.”
Simmons and I also talked about his brief fling in the series now known as Sprint Cup.
In 1979 and 1980 he ran eight races. His best finish came in his first start, at Atlanta, where he was 14th.
Simmons said he didn’t particularly like the bigger race tracks, but the real reason he kept his focus on short track racing was financial.
“That NASCAR racing was about to leave me eating out of the garbage can,” he said.
Indeed, his total winnings for eight races amounted to just $9,390. He won that much on many a weekend in his dirt cars.
Racing never made Buck Simmons rich financially. It did provide him with a living for all but a few years of his life. He did cross that 1,000-win threshold, plus a few more to spare.
You generally don’t consider dollars when determining whether someone was a legend or not. One thousand wins would be a factor for sure.
Any way you add it up, Buck Simmons was a legend.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published at Racin’ Today.com on August 13, 2012.
Rick Minter is an award-winning sports journalist who began covering motorsports for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1991, as well as serving as a bureau chief. Minter focused on racing exclusively from 2000-2008 . Minter and his wife Joanne live on the family farm in Inman, Georgia. In his spare time he collects and restores antique tractors and trucks.
Questions, comments, suggestions? Email us!
This website is not affiliated with or endorsed by the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame or the Georgia Auto Racing Hall of Fame Association, Inc. All content is the intellectual property of the individual authors. All opinions are those of the individual authors. Please do not repost images or text without permission.