Marty Robbins: Country music legend. NASCAR legend.
Now, I knew that the “El Paso” and “A White Sport Coat” singer had a side-gig as a NASCAR driver. And overall it was a pretty unremarkable career, with Robbins only snagging six top-10 finishes over 35 races in 13 seasons.
But once I learned the story of the 1972 Winston 500, I realized that he was actually a legend during his time in the sport.
Robbins grew up a NASCAR fan, living within earshot of the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. In the 1950s, he began racing at the Fairgrounds on weekends after his shows at the Grand Ole Opry, and by 1966 he had worked his way up to the NASCAR Grand National Series (now the Cup Series).
By 1972, the first year that the Grand National Series became known as the Winston Cup Series, Robbins had a career-best 7th place finish over the past 4 years. In his first race of 1972, he scored an impressive 8th place finish at the Miller High Life 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway in California.
His second race of the season was on May 7 in the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, the 2.66 mile track that required restrictors on the carburetor due to the high speeds and dangerous crashes that it produced (and still produces today).
On the high banks of Talladega, Robbins’ bright purple and gold #42 car shocked the field, running laps 15 mph faster than he had run during qualifying and passing cars that he generally didn’t pass.
Robbins ended up dropping out of the race 9 laps early, but his performance was enough for NASCAR to attempt to award him Rookie of the Race honors. Robbins declined the award though, and suggested to NASCAR officials that they might want to check his carburetor.
As it turns out, R0bbins had knocked the NASCAR-mandated restrictors out of the carburetor so that his Dodge would run faster, later saying that he “just wanted to see what it was like to run up front for once.”
The stunt caused Robbins to be disqualified from the race and forfeit the $1300 purse. Robbins didn’t seem to mind though, laughing that he would have paid that much to see fellow competitor Joe Frasson’s face when he passed him. (Frasson ultimately finished 6th in the race).
That’s some legend shit right there.
Robbins also had one more notable moment in his NASCAR career, one that may have saved the life of another NASCAR legend.
During the 1974 Charlotte 500, now-car owner Richard Childress’s car had come to a stop across the track, with the drivers’ side door facing oncoming traffic. Robbins made the dangerous decision to crash his car into the wall rather than t-bone Childress, a decision which very likely saved Childress from serious injury or death.
Robbins raced in NASCAR until 1982, when he ran his last race at Atlanta just a month before his death. His best finish of his NASCAR career was a 5th place run at Michigan International Speedway in 1974, and the year after his death the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville renamed their annual race the Marty Robbins 420.
So while he wasn’t a full-time driver and never won a race (or finished higher than 38th in the points standings) Marty Robbins definitely managed to cement his legacy in the NASCAR history books.