Sunday, August 16, 2009

Remembering Legends of NASCAR: Curtis Turner

You think Little E parties too much? No way. Curtis Turner was the king of parties back in the day. Curtis was a former bootlegger who turned NASCAR driver back in the early days of the sport. Curtis won in every kind of car he ever drove in, but was especially known for his talent on dirt. Nobody could beat Curtis on dirt.

They called him 'Pops', not because of his age, but because he had a reputation for 'popping' other cars on the track. Dale Earnhardt was not the first NASCAR driver to do that!

Curtis was not only a race driver, he also flew his own planes long before most NASCAR drivers even flew to race tracks on private planes.

Fact: Curtis Turner once landed his Aero Commander, a 2 engine private airplane on Main Street, Easley, South Carolina, way back in the 1960's. It's true. Check it out.

Curtis earned and lost fortunes in the timber industry, all the while driving for NASCAR. Curtis was once banned for life from the sport for trying to start a driver's union. Big Bill France wasn't too happy about that. Curtis, along with a guy named Bruton Smith, financed and built Charlotte Motor Speedway, lately known as Lowes Motor Speedway, in Concord, North Carolina.

Curtis Turner lost his life flying his own airplane, in Pennsylvania. Curtis was 46 years old when he died.

Here's a passage from the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America site about Curtis Turner.

"The Babe Ruth of Stock Car Racing." Tag a sports figure with so mythic a
designation and he'd best be able to live up to it. Curtis Turner, the
superstar of NASCAR, whose cars danced brilliant slides across the
old beach
course at Daytona, whose determination behind the wheel made him a
fan favorite
and a threat on dirt ovals and swift superspeedways, and whose
presence in the sport as a driver-businessman made his
name, wore the
distinction well.
Whether he was setting the then-record
for most wins in a
season (23 in 1956), or raising the funds necessary to
build his beloved
Charlotte (now Lowe's) Motor Speedway, he remained a man
of enormous vision and
talent. As Humpy Wheeler said, "He may have been the
best natural race driver
we've seen." Added Benny Parsons, "Ask any fan
under fifty, ´Who's the greatest
driver you ever saw,' and it's Dale
Earnhardt. Ask anybody over fifty -
including the pioneers who drove at the
beginning - and the answer's Curtis
His illustrious career
began as many did during the seminal
southern racing days, driving modifieds
on makeshift tracks while moonshining in
the 1940s. By then Turner had also
begun his millionaire career as a timber
broker; he'd eventually buy and
sell the equivalent of six percent of North
Carolina. But when his good
friend William France started NASCAR, Turner was
there, running in that
first race in 1949, beginning an exceptional ride in the
elite leagues. He
was the first driver to win two-straight NASCAR races while
leading every
lap. He teamed with France in 1950 in the first Mexican Road Race,
essayed a final-day run so startling, one historian wrote, "It is doubtful
anyone ever put on a greater performance behind the wheel of an automobile."
When the NASCAR Convertible Division raced from 1956 through 1959, Turner
won an
astounding 33 of the first 74 races, including 22 out of 47 in year
one, the
season he also captured the Southern 500 and the sports first-ever
most popular
driver award. In all, he won 17 times in what is now the Nextel
Cup division,
including the 1965 American 500, the first race at Rockingham,
which sealed his
comeback after four years away from NASCAR.
But he's
remembered most for
doing what others simply refused to. Turner could
execute a perfect 180-degree
turn on a single-lane bridge. A handsome,
dazzling figure, he threw parties that
were legend, his house becoming the
land of a thousand anecdotes. Until he did
it, no stock-car racer had run
the treacherous Pike's Peak Hill Climb in under
15 minutes. He tried to send
satellites into space. And when Jimmy Hoffa and the
Teamsters asked him to
start a driver's union-in exchange for their broken
promise of a loan to
save his speedway-he did so, crossing swords with France,
who banned him
"for life" in 1961. After sitting out some prime years, Turner
was invited
back in 1965, and he thrilled again. It is for these achievements as
that he became, in 1968, the first NASCAR driver ever put on the cover of
Sports Illustrated.
And only two years later, he was gone, at 46, after
crashing his plane in Pennsylvania. His peerless legacy remains: Turner is
of NASCAR's "50 Greatest Drivers," a revered figure even among current
and a member of many halls of fame. And now, finally, he shines here
as well.
By Robert Edelstein

Sorry about the formatting. I reproduced it just like it was on the site.

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