MONTE DUTTON: A LONG TIME FORGOTTEN
The death of Walter “Bud” Moore led me to reminisce about other stock car racing heroes I knew during my time traveling with the gypsy troupe that follows NASCAR from coast to coast.
A “troupe,” as opposed to a “troop,” refers to a group of entertainers. I found our troupe wildly entertaining.
In the 1990s fulltime and part-time for many years afterwards, I worked for Hal Hamrick at FasTrack, a weekly tabloid. Hal and I made many long trips together, and a lot of what I know about the heroes of my youth came from stories relayed by Hal while we were driving to and from Daytona Beach, or a trade show in Syracuse, N.Y., or just sitting around FasTrack’s Gastonia, N.C., office. I know the stories well because I heard most of them more than once.
Hal broadcast races for the old Performance Racing Network. A prized possession of his was a wooden Coca-Cola crate he sat on while bringing a race from Martinsville to radio listeners. Hal worked in public relations for Chrysler, on both the NASCAR circuit and the NHRA. He ran tracks in Atlanta, Hickory, Bristol and a wildly successful dirt bullring in Woodstock, Ga., at various times, and broadcast the first Daytona 500 in 1959. Hal died in 2008 at age 79. His was a friendship I cherished. I learned from him information about Fred Lorenzen, Fireball Roberts, David Pearson, Bobby Isaac and Junior Johnson, among many others, that I never could have gotten elsewhere.
Many were the nights on lonesome highways where I would ask Hal questions: “Tell me about Herb Nab (or Ralph Moody, or H. Clay Earles, or Ralph Seagraves, or Larry Carrier).” Without fail, he had an answer. I knew enough about NASCAR history to be dangerous. Hal filled in the blanks.
One of the first old-timers I got to know was Bob Welborn, the king of the old Convertible Division, whom I interviewed at Darlington about a year before his death. Herb Thomas made an appearance at Martinsville not long before he died, and I remember being embarrassed by the reporters asking stupid questions because they had no idea how great he had been. One asked him what it was like racing against Bobby Allison, which Thomas had never done. Afterwards, I overheard Thomas talking to Allison.
“This Jeff Gordon,” he said. “What in hell did he ever do?”
Gordon won 13 races that year.
Many of the greats converged at Darlington each year for the National Motorsports Press Association’s Stock Car Hall of Fame inductions. NASCAR had a Hall of Fame long before it constructed the grand money pit in Charlotte. Tim Flock was such a dapper gentleman, always well dressed, like a movie star. His silver hair made him look like Cesar Romero. I always thought he was the picture of health. Then he came down with cancer and was gone in a month or two.
The track hosted a golf tournament in which present-day drivers hobnobbed with legends of the past. Once I was sitting at the same table as Lee Petty when Goodyear’s Phil Holmer walked over.
“Beauchamp ever give you that trophy, Lee?” It was a reference to the first Daytona 500, when Johnny Beauchamp was originally declared the winner until a photo, taken by T. Taylor Warren, showed Petty had won.
Petty didn’t even look up.
“Nope,” he said. “I reckon that S.O.B. took it to hell with him.”
You just don’t get that kind of candor nowadays.