Some Timeless Quotes from NASCAR’s Earlier Days
by: PattyKay Lilley
Today I’d like to share some of the more colorful quotes I’ve collected over the years, all coined by icons of our sport. Most have at one time or another appeared in one of my older columns, from which I’ve plucked some personal favorites.
Some will bring a smile to the lips of older fans, some will leave you scratching your head a bit and all, hopefully, will impart to our younger and newer fans, a feeling of what it was like back in the days when these quotes were first uttered.
We’ll begin today with a few gems from one of the most quotable men ever in racing, Smokey Yunick. In fact, I suspect this entire column will be heavily weighted in his favor, as he was always my favorite racing personality. As a favor to my gentle readers, and especially with Smokey’s words, I’ve taken a few liberties with the words you wouldn’t want your ten-year old to read.
“As far as cheating goes, they’ll never stop it. There will always be some guy that’ll think of something that’s a little smarter than the average cat, but the reason there ain’t any more of it on a big scale is that the only way it can be done successfully, only one person can know about it.”
(And more on the same subject)
“They will find out there is no way to police creativity. No way in he**! There’s always some guy who comes along, like Ray Evernham, that’s smarter than the average cat, and he’s going to figure out a way to get around it. The difference between Gary Nelson’s ability to think and Ray Evernham’s – well, probably there’s not a lot of difference in their IQs, but Evernham concentrates on engines and certain areas with a lot of expensive, very educated help. For 60 hours a week, he’s studying new stuff to beat the rules. Gary Nelson is spending 50 hours a week trying to enforce the rules that were made yesterday. They’re not even in the same game.”
(Remember, when it came to “innovations”, Smokey was the undisputed King)
“Between 1947 and the year 2000, we had racing and then something that came after it; whatever name you want to put on it, I am not criticizing it. This is by far several hundred times more successful than we were, but, if I was a racer, then these guys competing today aren’t. And if these guys are racers, then I never was.”
“That doesn’t mean I consider that we were better, nor do I consider them better than us. The fact is, this doesn’t resemble what we had, what we started out with. It doesn’t mean it is bad. It is now operating as entertainment and has nothing to do with the sport. When we started, my pleasure was, the reason I did it, was I’d like to step out on the line Sunday morning and pull my pants up and say, ‘Let’s have a race.’ If I won, I was happy. And if I didn’t, I was already thinking about what I was going to change next week to beat their a**.”
(To those readers that tend to blame the current regime for everything that is wrong with racing today… if indeed there is anything wrong… please note that this man was racing personified, and he was seeing the transformation from racing to show business at the time those words were spoken, shortly before his death in April of 2001. No Chase, no Lucky Dog, no top-35, etc. Those things would all come later.)
“In the early 50s at a short track, Herb Thomas drove my Hudson Hornet to a runaway victory. Lee Petty finished second and Curtis Turner third. Turner charged that the scoring was crooked, and he and Petty argued. After the race, we were in the Hudson dealer’s garage. The argument got heated, and Lee finally swung at Turner”.
“Just behind where Curtis was standing, was a wall made of plywood with a bunch of hooks on it. A piece of iron that weighed 65-70 pounds was hanging on a hook that was 7-8 feet off the floor. When Lee swung, Turner ducked, and Lee’s fist hit the wall. The hook holding the piece of iron collapsed and a piece of iron hit Turner in the head, knocking him unconscious. While we were dumping water on him trying to revive him, he woke up and said, ‘Da**, Smoke, that (bleep) can hit.’”
(Smokey was always at his best when telling tales. Wonder what Mike Helton and his gang would have to say about that sort of horseplay in today’s more politically correct sport. Would that come under the heading of “Boys, have at it?”)
“What about the drivers? All you’re gonna do with this is kill ‘em deader, quicker.”
Smokey, to Tony George, on the new concrete walls installed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to accommodate the larger and heavier stock cars.
We’ll leave Smokey now, though I’d be perfectly happy to quote this man for days on end. Don’t tell his wife, but I loved Smokey! He was my hero.
“I think someday someone will have a race there, but it’s probably going to be after Bruton and I are in heaven or hell.”
Bob Bahre, on the rape of North Wilkesboro by Bruton Smith and himself
(Bob, most of the older fans have a very good idea which place it will be)
“If you don’t think there’s a God, just wake up in the morning and watch the sun come up, or watch a flower bloom over the period of a couple days. It’s incredible. There’s a lot higher power than we can account for.”
(If that one surprises anyone, wait until you read the next one)
“Roses are, because if you’ve got a really nice rose they are really awesome, but they are hard. You’ve got to really be on top of them all the time. I love flowers — any kind of flowers. They all have different personalities. Gerber daisies are very pretty flowers and so are geraniums, daisies, roses, petunias. Every kind of flower out there is awesome.
I think you also need to mix a lot of structure in there — hollies and things like that. Everybody needs to do gardening, in my opinion, because it is really relaxing and you realize there is a God when you watch that stuff bloom. That stuff don’t bloom by itself — there is a good Lord above, between the birds and the bees pollinating stuff, it’s awesome.”
Jimmy on being asked about his favorite flowers
(You thought he was a tough guy, didn’t you…Jimmy’s a pussycat in disguise)
“I came to a race and a rodeo broke out. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
Jimmy’s thoughts on qualifying laps at Daytona
“I’ll apologize to them after they get me to the front!”
Dale Earnhardt on being told by his crew chief that he was hurting his tires and needed to conserve them
(Yep, that was Dale all right)
“I got in the ambulance and looked back over there and I said ‘Man, the wheels ain’t knocked off that car yet … Get out. I gotta go’.”
Dale Earnhardt, after a wreck in1997
(You can’t keep a good man down)
“Stock car racing never would have started if the Government hadn’t chosen to tax moonshine”.
(And he would know)
“Drivin’ a race car is like dancing with a chain saw.”
(And Cale could dance with the best of them)
“Those boys playing football get their $2 or $3 million up front, and if they don’t have a good day, they are not out anything. They still get paid on Monday. If we don’t win, we don’t get paid on Monday.”
(Obviously spoken in the good old days before NASCAR went money-crazy)
“Well, he lived in the northern end of the house and I lived in the southern end.”
Ward Burton on how he and brother, Jeff have such different accents
“It’s like when your girlfriend breaks up with you, she has to tell all her girlfriends about what’s going to happen, but you don’t know. That’s the way it is here.”
Kenny Irwin on a driver being the last to know he’s being replaced
(It’s always called an unfounded rumor…until it happens)
“The best way to make a small fortune in racing is to start with a big one.”
(Might have been Junior, but I’ve heard that one quoted so many times, it might even have been Henry Ford)
“I made as many as four runs a night. I did that from the time I was thirteen until I was in the mid-twenties, 365 days a year, seven or eight times a week, probably more than that.”
Junior Johnson on running moonshine
Now THAT was definitely Junior)
“Basically, my philosophy is to keep working and try. It’ll all eventually work out. If it doesn’t, so what? You’ve got be doing something anyhow.”
(Ya know, that makes a lot of sense)
I’ll leave you now and let you to ponder Dave’s philosophy for a while; it’s a good one, if you think about it.
Over the years, I’ve been asked many times where one goes to find some of the things I’ve put in columns such as this one. There is no one source unfortunately; rather there are hundreds. The Internet is at our disposal and some diligent searching can turn up all sorts of things. Along with that, I have several wonderful reference books that only require reading in order to come up with some wonderful facts or fiction, as the case may be.
Those books include:
Four volumes plus an appendage of “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing” by Greg Fielden
The triple anthology of “Best Damn Garage in Town (The World According to Smokey)” by Smokey Yunick
“Tales from Pit Road” by Buddy Baker
“American Zoom”, “The Last Lap” and “NASCAR Confidential”, by Peter Golenbock
“NASCAR Legends” by Robert Edelstein
“Cheating” by Tom Jensen
“The Wildest Ride” by Joe Menzer
“Twentieth Century Drifter (The Life of Marty Robbins) by Diane Diekman) (Brand new and as yet unread.)
Because much of my writing tends to deal with the history of our sport and not so much with current events, my books reflect that. Click here for the link to the RacersReunion Club “Racing Books” for many pages of recommendations from various members for books they own and have read. Reading should never become a lost art and there is no better friend at times than a good book.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!
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