When you think legends in NASCAR, you probably think of names like Earnhardt, Petty, Gordon or Allison.
But there’s one name in the sport whose legend comes not from his performance on the track, but the mystery of who he was off the track.
His “name” was L.W. Wright.
Even if you’re a NASCAR fan, you may not know the name L.W. Wright. He only has one start in the sport, the 1982 Winston 500 at Talladega on May 2, 1982, and he finished next to last in the race.
So why is L.W. Wright such a legendary figure in NASCAR?
Because nobody knows who he is.
If you’ve never heard about the mystery of L.W. Wright, reach up there and pull them belts tight one more time (as Larry McReynolds would say), because you’re in for a wild ride.
The story starts back in April of 1982. A man walks into the office of Space Age Marketing, a Nashville-based marketing agency, and convinces the head of the agency, Bernie Terrell, to give him $30,000 to buy a car to enter into the Winston Cup Series race at Talladega on May 2, 1982.
The man, who says his name is L.W. Wright, claims to have 43 starts in the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series (now known as the Xfinity Series). Terrell hands over the money to buy the car, a truck and trailer, and $7,500 to cover his expenses for the race weekend.
L.W. Wright then buys a car for the race from another Tennessee-based driver, Sterling Marlin. But Marlin was suspicious of the man, so he makes Wright pay $17,000 in cash for the car, and accepts a check for $3,700 to cover the remainder of the sale. And Marlin also insists on serving as Wright’s crew chief for the race at Talladega.
Wright also calls a reporter for Nashville’s local newspaper, The Tennessean. He tells the reporter, Larry Woody, that he’s entering the race at Talladega for a team called Music City Motorsports. And he says that his car would be sponsored by country music stars Merle Haggard and T.G. Sheppard.
But once the story about Wright’s entry into the race appears in the newspaper, the attorney for T.G. Sheppard calls Woody and tells him that Sheppard was NOT sponsoring Wright at Talladega. In fact, the attorney (who also happened to own Nashville Speedway) had never even HEARD of L.W. Wright.
When Woody called Wright to question his story, Wright claimed that the announcement of Haggard and Sheppard sponsoring his car was “premature.” And he also admitted that he didn’t actually have any starts in the Grand National Series, but he had raced at the same tracks in lower series.
But despite all of the questions about his background and qualifications (and who this guy even was), NASCAR granted him a license to enter the race at Talladega.
So when race weekend rolled around, L.W. Wright showed up at Talladega with his racecar and Sterling Marlin as his crew chief.
Surprisingly, Wright managed to run fast enough on his first qualifying lap to make the race, qualifying 36th out of 40 – but he crashed the car on his second qualifying lap.
And according to Marlin, it quickly became clear that Wright didn’t know what the hell he was doing:
“He kept asking questions any driver should have known. He didn’t seem to know much about what was going on.”
But Wright and his team – whoever they were – managed to fix the car after qualifying and get it out on track for the race.
His time on track was short lived though. There was a crash on lap 5 that took out the car of David Simko. And after the race went back to green, leaders quickly caught up to Wright and lapped him – causing NASCAR to give Wright the black flag and park his car after only 13 laps on the track and 8 laps of green flag racing.
Wright brought his car down pit road, parked it, and then just…disappeared.
He left the car at Talladega, took the truck and trailer that was given to him by Terrell, and was gone before the race was even over.
But that’s not the end of the story: People quickly began to realize that the checks Wright had written to pay for his scam weren’t any good. The check he had written to Sterling Marlin, as well as checks written to NASCAR for his license and entry fee and a check to Goodyear to pay for his tires, all bounced.
NASCAR contacted the authorities, who issued warrants for Wright’s arrest. Bernie Terrell even hired a private investigator to find this guy.
But L.W. Wright – whoever he was – was gone.
It’s been almost 40 years since the mysterious driver scammed his way into a race in NASCAR’s top series and found himself out on the track with names like Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty.
And we still don’t know who he was or why he did it.
At Talladega in 1982, some random guy told everyone he was a veteran driver, scammed a car from Sterling Marlin, and raced as "LW Wright" despite never driving a race car before.
Was he a driver from small local tracks who was trying to find a way to make a name for himself in the sport? (Well, he DID manage to make a name for himself…)
Or was this just some “Hey y’all, watch this” stuff from some bored, drunk redneck that got way out of hand? Maybe a bet between some buddies? (“I bet you I can get into a NASCAR race.” “Yeah sure, whatever.”)
At this point it doesn’t seem like we’ll ever know who L.W. Wright really was.
But one thing’s for sure: He managed to give us one of the biggest mysteries in the history of the sport.