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Woody: Marty Robbins Loved Racing As Much As Singing

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 15 2009
Marty Robbins would drive race cars and perform at the Grand Old Opry on the same night.

Marty Robbins would drive race cars and perform at the Grand Ole Opry on the same night.

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Nashville, Tenn. – Marty Robbins used to race at the Fairgrounds, then rush downtown to the Ryman in time to take the stage – sometimes still bearing the sweat and grime of the track – for the final set on the Grand Ole Opry.

“The only thing my dad loved more than his music and his family was his racing,” said Ronny Robbins who was on hand last Saturday night for his father’s induction into the Fairgrounds Speedway Hall of Fame.

“He didn’t like it when somebody said he raced as a ‘hobby.’ He considered himself a serious race driver.”

Marty Robbins, a country music legend who died in 1982 at age 57, was one of five new Hall of Fame inductees. He was joined by drivers Sterling Marlin, Joe Buford and Chad Chaffin, along with long-time announcer Joe Williams.

In addition to competing at the Fairgrounds Robbins also ran several races in the NASCAR Grand National (now Sprint Cup) Series.

He named his prominent purple-and-yellow race car “Devil Woman” after the title of one of his hit songs.

Robbins never won on the big-league level, but was liked and admired by his fellow drivers for his competitive spirit and his devotion to the sport.

Robbins’ crew chief was Charles “Preacher” Hamilton, grandfather of future NASCAR star Bobby Hamilton. Preacher Hamilton’s daughter Beverly tells a story about one night at the Fairgrounds when the race was drawn out by a series of crashes and cautions.

“Marty was leading when he suddenly pulled off the track and came onto pit road,” Beverly said. “My dad ran over and asked what was wrong – gas, tires, what?

“As Marty began to climb out he said that nothing was wrong; but the race was running late and he had to get to the Grand Ole Opry. My dad wasn’t pleased to have his driver park the car when he was leading the race.”

Robbins retired after a series of hard Grand National crashes, one of which left him dazed and bruised.

“I got tired of being NASCAR’s official wall-tester,” he later quipped.

About Robbins’ fellow inductees: Buford, 42, holds the track record for wins (66). Chaffin, 40, is a two-time track champion who went on to race in mid-level NASCAR divisions. Marlin, 52, won three Fairgrounds championships before launching a spectacular NASCAR career highlighted by two Daytona 500 victories.

“These people helped make this the greatest weekly track in the country over the past 50 years,” said Fairgrounds Speedway operator Danny Denson.

“This is a great old track with a lot of great memories,” said Marlin who still runs an occasional NASCAR race and competes in some Late Model events at the Fairgrounds.

“I literally grew up at this place,” said Marlin, who was two months old when his mother first took him to the track where his father, Coo Coo, raced.

The elder Marlin won four track championships and was one of the Hall of Fame’s first inductees, along with fellow drivers Bob Reuther, Darrell Waltrip and track founder Bill Donoho.

Bobby Hamilton will be inducted later this summer as part of a special Hamilton memorial race weekend.

“No other track has produced as many great drivers as Nashville’s,” said Denson who is campaigning to keep the track operating amid debate about the best use for the Metro-owned property. “It’s part of the city’s heritage and history.”

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 15 2009
4 Comments

4 Comments »

  • Doobie says:

    I saw Marty Robbins compete in the Champion Spark Plug 400 at Michigan in August 1979, quite possibly in the very same Dodge Magnum shown at the top of this column.

  • Count Culo says:

    Like Sterling, I too grew up at the Fairgrounds Speedway cheering for Coo-Coo & Marty…I even remember seeing him pull in while leading to go to the Opry!!!
    I have such vivid memories of those days and those men who would talk to a 10 yr old kid like he actually knew anything… The likes of Charlie Stofel, Malcolm Brady, Bobby Celsor, Jimmy Griggs, Freddy Fryar, Joe Lee Johnson, etc.. they were like GODS to me in those old Coupe Modifieds and later in the Late Models, which then brought along Charlie Binkley & Walter Wallace to continue the rivalry they started years earlier in the old Hobby division..
    I live in Atlanta now but anytime I’m in Nashville, a trip by the Fairgrounds is a MUST… like saying hello to an old friend…. I never miss a chance to make it by the Gerst Hause either, but that’s a whole different topic!!
    Here’s hoping that racing can somehow be continued at the Fairgrounds, but as we saw with the demolition of the Birmingham Fairgrounds track earlier this year, that just ain’t likely..
    Thanx for the memories all you Fairgrounds racers of the 60’s, you’ll always be my heros!!

  • The Old Guy says:

    I remember many a night at the old, and first real highbanked half mile, Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway in that Purlpe and Yellow car. Number 777 if my old memory serves me correctly. Marty would race the Late Model Modifieds against the likes of Bobby and Donnie allison, Charley Binkley, Coo Coo Marlin and many others. Now, that was real racing.

    Many folks wondered why Marty was always on the last segment of the Opry on Saturday nights. Well that was why.

    Marty definitely lived life.

    • will dossett says:

      You’re not really old if you cant remember Marty driving the Devil Woman or G.C. driving the Flying Saucer.