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Woody: Sadler Leaves Big ‘Family’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 29 2009
Sterling Marlin, one of Earl Sadler's boys. (HHP Images/Harold Hinson)

Sterling Marlin, one of Earl Sadler's boys. (File photo courtesy of HHP Images/Harold Hinson)

When Earl Sadler was considering starting a racing team, he sought advice from legendary owner/driver Junior Johnson. Johnson advised Sadler to run a race team like a business – control costs and make careful, calculated decisions.

Sadler thanked Johnson, went out, and threw the advice to the winds. He raced from the heart. He delighted in giving young, green drivers a chance, taking risks on kids no other owner would take.

He was rewarded by watching over 20 of “his boys” advance their careers, including seven who made it to NASCAR’s Big League.

Sadler, 87, died last Friday. But his legacy lives on in the lives of drivers whose careers he nurtured.

“He was a great guy who would give you the shirt of his back,” said Sterling Marlin, one of Sadler’s early drivers who went on to win two Daytona 500s.

“My dad loved racing and he enjoyed helping young guys get started,” said Sadler’s son, Check. “Dad would follow their career with pride. He called them “my boys.”

The seven Sadler Racing graduates who went on to race in NASCAR’s Cup Series were Marlin, Davey Allison, Michael Waltrip, Jeremy Mayfield, Jeff Green and Bobby Hamilton Sr. and Jr. Another promising young driver, Mike Alexander, had his career cut short by injury.

“Dad never had any hard feelings when some big-time team took away his driver,” Check said. “He realized that we had limited resources and could take a driver only so far. He was glad to see them get a big break.”

Sadler was a history buff who traced his roots back nine generations to five Sadler brothers who arrived from England before the Revolutionary War. He was born in the quaintly-named town of Bug Tussel on the Tennessee-Kentucky border.

Following a WWII hitch in the Air Force Sadler was vacationing in Florida when he saw his first auto race, a sand-slinging battle on the Daytona Beach Course. He was mesmerized.

“It was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen,” Sadler recalled years later. “I made up my mind that I wanted to be part of it.”

Sadler started his first racing team in 1983 in Spartanburg, S.C. He moved it to the Maury County racing shop of Coo Coo Marlin, then to Bristol, then in 1987 to its final location on Murfreesboro Road.

Over the decades Sadler prospered in real estate, auto dealerships and trucking but his heart remained in racing.

“I never drove anything but a truck,” Sadler said, “but I always admired race drivers. They have the ability to do something that most us could never do.”

In addition to ability, an aspiring young driver has to have some help along the way, someone who believes in him enough to give him a chance. Earl Sadler believed.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 29 2009


  • larry weakley says:

    Iknew Mr Earl,what a great man, he would give me a call and i would get him in the pits, at the Fairgrounds Speedway,and hang out out with him. He Loved racing, and was a big supporter. He had a buddy of mine, who worked on his race team, D.W. Shacklett who raced and he would come and watch him, just lend his support!!

  • MiK Watson says:

    A very nice article, Larry. I didn’t know much about Earl Sadler, nor about his role in bringing drivers to Cup competition. Being out on the upper left coast, we hardly ever hear of the owners, sponsors, teams, and drivers in the lower series’. Many of the foundation people in motorsports are not spoken of much in the racing media. I feel I know more about this soldier in making drivers in the Cup series the best in the world. I hope there’s more of his ilk down there. RIP, Earl, you are a winner in life’s race.

  • The Mad Man says:

    It’s guys like Earl Sadler who helped make this sport. His spirit and the breaks he gave up and coming drivers who eventually moved on is something that’s sorely needed today. The little guys who were in the sport because they loved it, not because of the financial rewards. It’s sad that he’s no longer with us. My condolences to his friends and family.