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Southeastern Racing Scene Loses A Tough One

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 15 2013

Luther Carter displays one of many checkered flags that he won during his driving career. (Photos courtesy of Mark Carter)

The Southeastern short track world lost one of its icons on Jan. 4 with the passing of Luther Carter.

Carter, who died at 75 after a battle with cancer, was an old-school racer who passed his love of the sport along to his son Mark Carter, who became a racer himself, as well as his grandson Luther Jenkins, now one of the regulars at tracks across north Georgia.

Carter was a big, tough man. He stood 6 foot, 5 inches tall, and his skin was weathered from a lifetime of running heavy equipment in the hot Georgia sun.

But his passion was racing, and he came along in an era when some of Georgia’s best racers were at their prime – drivers like Charlie Mincey, Bud Lunsford, Leon Sells and Leon Archer. Carter could hold his own with the best of them, and in an era where drivers settled issues on and off the track among themselves, Carter was known as one of the ones not to mess with.

“He wouldn’t put up with much, and he wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he thought was right,” Mark Carter said. “He told me when I started racing that if you ever start taking abuse you’ll have to take it for the rest of your life. And you had to be tough back when he raced.”

Luther Carter was big and tough.

Carter never pursued a NASCAR career, but he did play a role in the early career of Bill Elliott.

In Elliott’s first-ever Late Model race, he was involved in an incident with Carter.

Carter was in contention to win late in the race. Elliott was struggling in the back, and when Carter tried to lap Elliott, they crashed, and a fairly large ruckus ensued in the pits.

“I wanted to quit that night,” Elliott said several years ago. “I really felt bad about that.”

Elliott turned his car over to Jody Ridley for the remainder of that season, and only resumed driving after much encouragement from Ridley, among others.

Soon Elliott had moved on to NASCAR, and Carter continued to race the short tracks.

In 2004, when Elliott had ended his full-time career, I was covering motorsports for the Atlanta newspaper and was looking for a way to write something about Elliott without making it seem like a retirement story, since Elliott insisted he wasn’t retiring.

I decided to try to organize a reunion of the drivers Elliott raced against when he first started.

Elliott had two conditions: No PR people were to be involved, and Luther Carter had to be there.

The PR ban wasn’t much of a problem. Carter was another story.

“He really didn’t want to go,” Mark Carter said, adding that his father wasn’t sure that bygones between the Carters and Elliotts could actually be bygones.

But Luther Carter eventually gave in and showed up at the reunion. Elliott arrived alone, as promised, with no help from a PR type.

When Elliott walked in, he and Carter huddled privately in a corner of the room. It was clear when they joined the rest of the group that there were no lingering hard feelings.

After that, it was Carter who helped set the tone for the evening. He asked Elliott: “Bill, when you and I were boxing back then, did you ever think you’d wind up where you are today?”

Elliott’s reply: “No, I did not. I just worked hard every day and didn’t try to plan too far ahead.

“Anybody in this room could have done it with the right circumstances.”

When the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame inducted its first class in 2002, Bill Elliott entered the Hall. Seven years later, Carter joined him.

Both had earned it, each in his own way.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 15 2013
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