Rex White Gets “Another Win”
Birmingham, Ala. – Rex White, NASCAR’s oldest living champion of the series now known as Sprint Cup, wasn’t about to let Atlanta’s treacherous, icy roads stop him from making his noontime appointment in Birmingham.
The 80-year-old driver skillfully steered his Mercury across icy patches and through nearly frozen slush and arrived at a Birmingham hotel in plenty of time to assist in the announcement of the 2011 class of inductees for the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
White is being inducted along with famed engine builder Maurice Petty, Formula One and Can-Am veteran Brian Redman, the late sprint car driver Jan Opperman and the late NASCAR team owner John Holman.
White, who won 28 races, 36 poles and the 1960 Cup championship in just 233 career starts plus a Most Popular Driver and Driver of the Year award in his driving days, has continued to win accolades in the post-racing part of his life. He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers and is in several halls of fame including the original Stock Car Hall of Fame in Darlington.
But the latest honor seemed to mean a lot, even to a man that already had plenty to brag about.
“It’s like another win,” he said.
As is often the case with White and the press, he seemed to be much more comfortable
answering questions about technical aspects of his racing and about the people he interacted with than in talking about his driving triumphs. But he’ll cheerfully answer them all.
He told about seeing a farmer at a Florida short track who had built a jackscrew-like device to quickly tune the front springs of his Modified car. White studied the device and had it incorporated onto his own 1957 Chevrolet NASCAR racer. The first time out with his new trick he lapped the field and put his friend Frankie Schneider three laps in arrears in the process.
“Frankie wouldn’t even go out to eat with us after the race,” he said.
White talked often about the ones that got away, including a race on the old oval in Birmingham. For that race, he’d left most of his crew back at the shop to prepare for upcoming races and had a friend from Atlanta filling in as gas man. When White made his one planned pit stop, he was leading the race. The friend, in his excitement, forgot to take his thumb off the vent hole once he had the fuel can connected to the car.
Instead of winning the race, White finished fourth after running out of fuel.
And there was the Coast-to-Coast Mexican road race in 1965, where his engine blew after just 20 miles. His team car, driven by Billy Wade, didn’t make it but about 300 miles before his engine blew. White rode along with the support vehicle that went to Wade’s car, and he wound up with a broken back after the support vehicle plunged off a 90-foot embankment.
He talked about the friends that were lost during his time in the sport, people like Fireball Roberts, his one-time teammate Wade and his close friends Bobby and Billy Myers.
He said the deaths didn’t affect him behind the wheel.
“You just have to kind of push that out of your mind and race,” he said. “People claimed that some drivers were scared, but I wasn’t.”
White recalled visiting Roberts in the hospital after Roberts was severely burned in a crash at
“He looked like he was in pretty danged good shape, and he was in good spirits,” he said. “I thought he was going to be fine. Two weeks later, he was gone.”
But Roberts said the losses that affected him the most were Myers brothers. Billy suffered a fatal heart attack during a 1958 race at Bowman-Gray Stadium. Bobby died in a crash in the 1957 Southern 500 at Darlington. White said that the first time he drove by the crash scene, he knew the situation was grim.
“The engine was not even in the car,” he said.
White said it was the Myers brothers who took him in, let him work out of their shop and even sleep there at times.
He said that there are times today as he’s riding down the road, listening to the NASCAR channel on his Sirius radio, that he’ll hear Bobby Myer’s son “Chocolate” Myers on the radio and suddenly it’s like he’s back in the ’50s.
“Chocolate is so much like his dad it’s unbelievable,” White said. “When I hear him I can almost see Bobby.”
White only raced in the Cup series from 1956 until 1964. In his final Cup race, driving a Mercury at Atlanta for Bud Moore, he was leading heading into the final pit stop. The crew decided to change left side tires, and with the left side up on the jack the fuel got away from the pickup and the car ran out of fuel. He would up finishing fourth.
He said budget decisions cost him his Cup ride, so he built a Sportsman car for 1965. In 32 starts, he won 20 times and finished second 10 times. During one stretch he won five races in a week’s time. In his final start ever in a race car, he finished second to Doug Cox at Greenville-Pickens Speedway.
He said his car was faster than Cox’s, but as he did throughout his career, he chose to race clean and didn’t dump Cox for the win.
Soon he was offered a job as service manager for a car dealership in Atlanta, making more money than he’d ever made racing. From there it was on to a long career as a truck driver.
Often times during his trucking career, he wouldn’t mention racing unless someone else brought it up. When he did go to a NASCAR race he’d buy a ticket and sit in the grandstands.
In recent years, that has changed. Now he has an annual NASCAR license and attends racing events and races on a regular basis. And he’s a lot more willing to talk about his racing days than he once was.
“Driving a race car isn’t something that everybody can do,” he said. “I thought I had a great career.”
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments