Woody: Bud Moore Was The Genuine American Hero
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
Tom Wolfe once penned a famous Esquire article about moonshiner/racer Junior Johnson titled “The Last American Hero.”
Nothing against Junior, understand – I’ve always admired his gritty individualism – but I think the sobriquet might better be applied to one of Johnson’s fellow NASCAR competitors, Bud Moore.
Moore, crusty, craggy-faced and cantankerous and with a high-pitched nasal drawl that could curdle milk, fought his way across Europe during WWII. He was wounded five times, absorbing enough German lead and shrapnel to build one of the stock cars for which he was famous when he limped back home to Spartanburg.
Last week Moore, 83, was inducted into the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame, a tribute to his decades of contributions to NASCAR racing. He fielded cars for some of the sport’s greatest drivers – Buck Baker, Donnie Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough, Fireball Roberts, Darrell Waltrip and others — winning 63 races and 43 poles.
Some remark about how rough and rowdy stock car racing was back in The Day, but after you’ve stumbled up Utah Beach with bombs and bullets flying and men dropping all around you, a racetrack seems a pretty tame place.
“I don’t see how any of us made it,” Bud remarked several years as we sat around a motel swimming pool in Daytona swapping war stories. “Hell, I reckon we were all too young and too dumb to be scared. Otherwise I don’t think they could’ve got us off them dam’ boats with cattle prods.”
But Bud did get off the boat – he and several thousand other young Americans, struggling through the surf and the sand, the bullets and the blood. Some 4,000 didn’t make it that day.
Moore, 18, was a machine gunner with the 19th Infantry Division. His was among the hardest and most hazardous duty. The gun weighs a ton, and Germans didn’t like machine gunners – not live ones. The gunners were prime targets; take out the gunner and the squad’s fire power is cut in half.
Moore made it to the beach that famous, fearful day in 1944, but there was plenty of war ahead of him. In the ensuing weeks, months and years he remained in the forefront of battle. During one memorial engagement at the Battle of the Bulge, Moore helped capture15 enemy soldiers.
Five times he was wounded, and five times he was patched up and sent back into the breech. In addition to five Purple Hearts (one for each battle wound) Moore earned two bronze stars for heroism. Once while riding in a convey, the vehicle Moore was in was took a direct hit from an enemy shell. He remembers the impact, the explosion, and flying through the air. He somehow survived.
“I guarantee you one dam’ thing,” Bud said, “this ol’ boy was glad to get hisself back to Spartanburg when that mess was over. I was just a kid when I signed up – hell, never been 10 mile away from home before — but you got old real fast over there.”
A lot of returning WWII vets had money in their pockets and a craving for action, and were drawn to the wild new sport of stock car racing. Moore, a natural-born mechanic, found himself in the race-car business. And the rest, as they say, is history.
For several years I spent July 4 weekends around Bud and his family during the Daytona Pepsi 400. In those days race teams and the media generally stayed in the same motel. Over the many summers Bud’s wife and daughter-in-law became friends with my wife as they sat around the pool tending the kids while the racers and writers toiled at the track.
In the evenings, when the motors were silent and the day cooled, we would join them at pool-side where Bud and I sometimes swapped war stories. (Bud told me about getting blown up and I told him about nicking my finger on a potato peeler while pulling KP.)
Moore had – and probably still has – a terrific sense of humor. It’s as dry as a midnight martini, which makes it even better.
My sportswriting pal Monte Dutton does a terrific Bud Moore impersonation, and one of his classics is a repeat of a radio conversation between Bud and a driver who Bud kept urging to get up front and mix it up. The driver said he didn’t want to risk wrecking somebody and making them mad.
“Hell,” fumed Bud, “I don’t need a dam’ PR man – I need me a dam’ race driver!”
He’s tough and rugged and been places, done things and survived dangers that would have defeated lesser men. He is, indeed, part of our Greatest Generation.
Anybody who says there are no more heroes never met Bud Moore.One Comment