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All-Star Flashback: The Clown Was Shut Down In Showdown

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 16 2009
  
The stars come out tonight in Charlotte. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The stars come out tonight in Charlotte. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com 

The late Joe Weatherly was NASCAR’s original “Clown Prince,” a driver who loved to have a great time and went to great lengths to make sure everyone around him enjoyed themselves as well.

Delma Cowart was the most recent driver to wear the “Clown” crown. The Savannah, Ga., native ran his first race in the division now known as Sprint Cup at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1981. He ran 21 races over an eight-year span before an incident during the NASCAR All-Star race in the mid-1990s ended his Cup career.

It was a vintage Delma Cowart affair.

He showed up to run the preliminary race now known as the Sprint Showdown.

His engine blew in practice, and his crew spent the whole afternoon trying to make the repairs.

They finished their work just as prayer was said and the National Anthem sung. The only thing missing: the required NASCAR inspection.

“They said, ‘Gentleman, start your engines,’ so I cranked mine up in the garage area,” said Cowart, 67. “I hopped in it and drove by the tech shed, but it was locked up.”

He figured, “What the heck?” so he pulled onto the track and started racing. He ran about four laps before NASCAR officials black-flagged him off the track.

“They were raising cain with my crew chief, and after the race they called me to the trailer for a little conversation,” Cowart said. “It was kind of a warm conversation. … They said I should have known better.

“I told them I didn’t think they’d mind.”

Told he’d be fined $5,000, he paused and said, “Make it $5,000,000 because I ain’t giving you a dime.”

His days as a NASCAR driver were over for Cowart, who now works as a construction contractor, building swimming pools and installing septic tanks in his hometown.

But he’s far from forgotten on the NASCAR circuit. Most of the good Delma Cowart stories carry a dateline of Daytona Beach.

Cowart made four starts in the circuit’s premier race, the Daytona 500, but he was better known for his Speedweeks parties than his performance on the track.

Atlanta Motor Speedway president Ed Clark remembers one year at Daytona, when he spent most of Speed Weeks sick in bed with the flu. Unfortunately for him, his bed was right over the hotel bar, where Cowart was spending most of his nights playing the piano and entertaining the audience. “The whole bed was rocking,” Clark said. “I couldn’t sleep.”

After several years away from the track, Cowart was once again allowed to enter the garage. Mostly he comes to reminisce and to line up some Cup drivers for charity events he ram-rods around Savannah. He said the same man who once banned him, NASCAR president Mike Helton, signed the pass that now gets him in the track.

 “I asked Mike if he’d gone brain dead when he signed for me,” Cowart said. “He just grinned and said he must have slipped up.”

He said that age 67 he still enjoys himself, whatever he’s doing.

“You hear people say that if they’d known they were going to live that long they’d have taken better care of themselves,” he said. “The way I look at it, if I’d known I was going to live this long I’d have run a little harder into the corner at some of those short tracks.”

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 16 2009
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