Sterling Marlin Back In Race Cars, Victory Lanes
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
Nashville, Tenn. – Sterling Marlin has come full-circle.
As a teenager in the 1970s he won his first race at Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway. A couple of weeks ago Sterling – now 54 and retired from a NASCAR career that includes two Daytona 500 championships – returned to the Fairgrounds. And won again.
“It’s as much fun now as it was back then,” says Marlin, who won the track’s Late Model season opener. “It’s great to see this old track still running. It brings back a lot of great memories.”
There are, indeed, plenty of memorable Marlin moments at the 54-old track that until 1984 hosted two annual NASCAR Cup races. Sterling’s father Coo Coo won four track championships, then Sterling won three more before moving up to the big leagues.
Sterling’s son Steadman raced at the track, as did daughter Sutherlin before being sidelined by an eye problem.
Sterling hopes to see his grandson Stirlin someday race on the track where his dad, grandfather and great-grandfather once raced.
“That’s one reason I worked so hard to help save the track,” Sterling says. “If we lose it, where are young drivers going to get their start?”
The city-owned track was scheduled to be demolished earlier this year but a last-minute effort, led by
Marlin, Darrell Waltrip and others, saved it. Or at last they gained it a two-year reprieve. That’s the length of the contract granted Chad Chaffin and Bobby Hamilton Jr. to operate the track. After that, the future is murky.
“We’ll keep working as hard as we can to save it,” Marlin says. “We’re gathering a lot of support.”
A couple of years ago Marlin walked away from the Cup series after struggling with non-competitive rides.
“I decided it was time to get out,” Marlin says. “It wasn’t fun any more.”
After graduating from the Fairgrounds into the Cup Series, from 1976 through 1994 Marlin ran 278 races without a victory. Then, finally, he won not just a race but THE race – the Daytona 500. The next year he came back and won it again.
In 2001 Marlin finished third in the championship standings behind Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. In 2002 he led the standings much of the season until a crash at Kansas Speedway ended his season seven races from the end.
From that point he began a steady decline in the standings: 18th, 21st, 30th, 34th, and 40th over the next five years. In that fifth year he ran only 21 of the circuit’s 36 races.
His NASCAR career ended without fanfare, without any “Appreciation Tour” or other official farewell. He simply road off quietly into the sunset.
Well, sort of. On hot Saturday nights at the Fairgrounds, when the lights come on and the engines start to roar, the years roll back. Suddenly Sterling is a teenager again, and driving like one.
He tears around the old racetrack, sparks flying, fans cheering, and up ahead he sees a familiar sight: a flapping checkered flag.
Sterling Marlin is home again.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments