Auto racing is arguably humanity’s most dramatic pastime, and it enjoys a rich history stretching back more than a century, which includes a wide variety of characters who participated with varying success, including celebrities. Most everyone is at least somewhat familiar with the Steve McQueen saga, which culminated last year when Mecum Auctions hammered the hammered remains of the immortal Bullitt Mustang for more than 3 million dollars. McQueen was a global megastar who was uncommonly good with cars, and he wasn’t alone. Mecum, for whom I’ve worked from time to time, is preparing to sell another relic that belonged to a pretty well-known guy who, like McQueen, unquestionably knew how to drive fast. His name was Marty Robbins, he had a Hall of Fame career in country music, and he had an impressive secondary career as a NASCAR competitor, which he took very seriously and approached with genuine, unforced skill. And he did it against some of NASCAR’s undying legends. You now have an opportunity to own an unquestioned piece of intriguing stock car history.
Born in Glendale, Arizona, Robbins zoomed into the public’s consciousness when he won a Grammy in 1959 for his ballad El Paso, which would become his signature song. Relocated to Nashville, Robbins was exposed to stock car racing, which grabbed him hard. By this time, Robbins had the means to indulge his newfound hobby, and got the famed fabricator Cotton Owens to build him race cars to drive, usually sporting number 42 and an impossible-to-miss color combo of magenta and bright yellow. Robbins was no slouch. In a part-time campaign that ran from 1966 to 1982, Robbins started 35 races at today’s Cup level and scored six top 10s, an impressive run against names that included Petty, Pearson and Yarborough. One day after 9/11, I found myself at the Country Music Hall of Fame, which had an affectionate exhibit on Robbins’ racing days including his final race car. a Dodge Magnum. The Robbins car being auctioned by Mecum at its Orlando sale late next month started out as a 1969 Charger 500 being raced by independent James Hylton. Robbins bought the Ray Nichels-built Dodge from Hylton and had it reskinned as a 1969 Charger Daytona by Bobby and Eddie Allison. Its sole race in Daytona skin was the 1970 National 500 at Charlotte. The car is said to be fully authenticated, having been restored by Ray Evernham at his Big Iron Garage in Mooresville, North Carolina, and fitted with a Ray Barton-built 426 Hemi. It’s the real deal, and a good guy, with good chops for driving race cars, made it famous.