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Minter: American Racing Loses Another Pioneer

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 19 2009
Racing pioneer Frank Mundy was a piece of work in his day.

Racing pioneer Frank Mundy was braver than Dick Tracy.

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

The life and times of the flashy Frank Mundy came to a sad end last week at an Atlanta nursing home. Mundy died at age 90 from complications from a fall.

Reporters who found their way to Mundy’s home in an upscale Atlanta neighborhood, always got a great interview from a real live connection to NASCAR’s past. His home was like a museum, filled with mementos from decades of participation in motorsports.

He was there, at the old Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach in 1947, when NASCAR was formed. He drove in the first race for the division now known as Sprint Cup, at Charlotte in 1949.

He and his wife Mae occasionally helped Bill France Sr. promote races in the early days. In his later years, he traveled with Roger Penske’s Indy car teams, offering hospitality to team members and visitors.

Mundy was a big-,time entertainer long before he ever sat in a race car.

 He attributed his life-long desire to be somebody special to the great Macon, Ga., boxer Young Stribling.

Mundy, born Francisco Eduardo Menendez, was living in a Macon orphanage during the Great Depression and came to know Stribling, who passed by the facility on his morning run. Soon, young Frank was joining him.

What impressed Mundy the most wasn’t Stribling’s success in the ring – he won numerous bouts and was knocked out just once, a TKO against the German Max Schmeling in 1931.

Instead it was the boxer’s money, his airplane, the flashy jewelry and his fast motorcycle.

Mundy vowed to have all that, and one day, he did. In his retirement years, he ate only at the best restaurants and drove only the fanciest cars.

His first claim to fame came at Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta, when he was a last-minute replacement for one of Lucky Teeter’s Hell Drivers.

Later he was one of Jimmy Lynch’s Death Dodgers at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and 1940. His specialty was driving a car on two wheels.

During an interview when he was in his mid-70s, Mundy was asked if he could still drive a car on two wheels. He responded with an incredulous look.

 “Of course I can,” he said. “Can you still ride your bicycle?”

Mundy eventually moved from stunts to racing, and was a key figure in the early days of NASCAR.

Unlike some, who tend to overlook the unflattering parts of sport’s early days, Mundy called it like he saw it. If one of his car owners or a race promoter was primarily a bootlegger, that’s how Frank described him.

One of favorite sayings involved what kind of person it took to drive race cars back in the day. “You had to be too lazy to work, too much of a coward to steal and braver than Dick Tracy,” he’d say.

Mundy won three races in NASCAR, all in 1951. Two were in a Studebaker. He won the first Cup race which was held on the lights, in Columbia, S.C. in 1951.

Later in his career, he drove for Carl Kiekhaefer in the AAA circuit, winning stock-car titles in there in 1953 and 1955. Driving for Kiekhaefer, Mundy won six NASCAR Convertible division races in 1956.

Kiekhaefer, in his day, was like Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush rolled into one.

Mundy said the end of his driving career started with problems Kiekhaefer had with then-NASCAR boss Bill France Sr.

Mundy, who had a dispute or two of his own over alleged technical violations on his cars,  said in his later years that he understood both sides.

“Carl kept France on the phone all hours of the day and night, arguing about the rules,” Mundy said. “He was an engineer, and he knew what he was talking about.”  

Mundy said France had to consider the long-term best interest of the sport, and that meant finding ways to keep Kiekhaefer and his Chryslers from winning most of the races.  

Kiekhaefer pulled out of racing, but Mundy remained loyal to his car owner, retiring to become a sales manager for Kiekhaefer’s boat company.

 “Carl offered me a good job,” Mundy said. “I’d put off getting one as long as I could.”

 Mundy’ wife Mae is his only immediate survivor.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 19 2009
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