Hut Stricklin is probably the most unlikely gang member you’ll ever meet.
But for more than two decades he ran with one of the most infamous gangs around.
It was a small crew but it was a wrecking crew nonetheless, wreaking damage and havoc from the short tracks of Alabama to the high banks of Daytona and all points in-between.
The Alabama Gang was one of the most feared collections of racing gangsters there was. Their home crib was Hueytown, Alabama and from there few could stop them from plundering checkered flags and prize money.
Gang members were brothers Bobby and Donnie Allison, Red Farmer, Jimmy Means, Bobby’s sons Davey and Clifford, Neil and son David Bonnett, and Stricklin, who married Donnie’s daughter, Pam (some also consider former Busch Series champ Steve Grissom as a member of the Gang).
“I was honored that I was from Alabama and to be involved with all those guys because Bobby and Donnie (Allison) and Red Farmer, they were all my childhood heroes and I got to race against all of them,” Stricklin told NBC Sports. “Then Neil Bonnett came along and I got to race against him and then Davey and I raced against each other.
“They were definitely a special group of people on and off the race track. They’d do anything to help you, regardless of what it took and I would do the same thing for them. It was a pretty cool group.”
After a successful short track career and winning the NASCAR Dash Series championship in 1986, Waymond Lane “Hut” Stricklin moved to Cup part-time in 1987. He was runner-up for Rookie of the Year in 1989 and would go on to make a total of 328 starts. While he never earned a win in NASCAR’s premier series, he had eight top-five and 29 top-10 finishes.
The 58-year-old Stricklin, whose best season was 1991 when he finished 16th driving for Bobby Allison, hung up his fire suit for good after the 2002 season.
But he’s still involved in the sport as a warehouse manager for Stock Car Steel & Aluminum in Mooresville, North Carolina, a company whose products are used by many NASCAR teams.
“I enjoy my job and work for a great owner, Greg Fornelli, a longtime friend of mine who even sponsored a car I raced one time,” Stricklin said. “I like it because it keeps me in touch with all the race teams.
“I sometimes have to go out and fix things. A lot of the race team members know me and will say, ‘Hey man, come on in over here and look what we’re working on. Man, this is pretty cool.’
“When I was in the middle of the sport (as a driver), everything was closed doors and tight lips and they wouldn’t let you in to do that. It’s pretty cool to do that now and I see some pretty neat stuff long before it comes out.
“But I keep everything I see a secret. The racers trust me and that’s a big part of the whole sport.”
Stricklin has been with Stock Car Steel & Aluminum for the last four-plus years after owning an automobile salvage yard for more than a decade in Cleveland, North Carolina.
“I owned it for 10 years, 4 months and 3 days,” Stricklin chuckled. “A guy came in one day and asked if I’d be interested in selling. I named my price and about two months later, he took it.”
Stricklin then added with a laugh, “I guess he needed it more than I did.”
Stricklin retired from racing at the age of 41. He planned on taking 2-3 years off to get the business started, but had every intention of getting back on the race track eventually.
Unfortunately, that never materialized.
“At age 46, I came down with a rare blood clotting disorder,” Stricklin said. “I have to live on high doses of (blood thinning medicine) for the rest of my life so there was no way I could ever take a chance of coming back, getting in a race car, going against all the doctor’s wishes.
“Every one of them told me if I ever took a lick or trauma to the head, I could bleed to death internally. When all that happened, I pretty much decided then I was done. I didn’t want to. I had aspirations to maybe drive in the Truck Series, like a lot of older drivers did. But I had to put my priorities first, had to take care of my family and do something that wasn’t as dangerous.”
Stricklin had a number of highlights in his career, but two in particular stand out.
“The first was when I finished second at Michigan to Davey Allison,” Stricklin said of the June 23, 1991 race. “We led (27 laps) of the race that day, battled Davey for the lead back and forth all day. The race on the track was definitely memorable but more so than anything for me was the flight home.
“I flew up there with Davey in his plane and flew back and also that weekend, in the ARCA race, two guys from Alabama (Dave Mader III and Roy Payne, a Texas native living in Alabama at the time) had finished 1-2 in the race the day before – and then two guys from Alabama finished 1-2 in the Cup race the next day.
“That was personal bragging rights. We got to talking about it on the plane and how the guys from Alabama went north and kicked ass. It was a pretty cool moment to live in that time with him and talk about that.”
Another memorable moment for Stricklin also involved the other runner-up finish of his Cup career, the 1996 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
“I was driving the Circuit City car for the Stavola Brothers,” Stricklin said. “We had a brand new car that we rolled out that first day of practice, it had never been on a racetrack. I never have done this, never ever in my whole career, but I rolled out on pit road and went on the track, I keyed up my radio and told the crew chief and the race team, I said, ‘Boys, this car is going to be good.’
“My crew chief came back and said, ‘How do you know that right now?’ I said, ‘All I can tell you is it has a feel in the steering wheel that it’s just going to be good.’ We qualified 10th and about 100 miles into the race we took over and should have won the race.
“We dominated, led the most laps (143) and then some young kid named Jeff Gordon came out of nowhere with (16) laps to go and passed me.
“Leaving there after running that good, even finishing second, it was still a good day for us. It was disappointing to say the least, but still one of the highlights as I look back on my career because it’s such a challenging place and some place where all the drivers want to win on because it’s such a challenging place. We didn’t win, but we had a good run.”
Stricklin was and remains popular among NASCAR fans to this day.
“Oh man, yeah,” he replied when asked if fans still recognize or reach out to him. “I have a lot of people coming here at Stock Car Steel all the time that somewhat recognize me. They’ll tell some of the sales people or someone up front and say, ‘You know, there’s a guy back there that looks just like Hut Stricklin. I wonder if anyone has ever told him that?’ (he said with a laugh).”
Stricklin drove for a number of team owners in his career, including Rod Osterlund (for whom Dale Earnhardt won his first of seven Cup championships in 1980), Bobby Allison, Junie Donlavey, Junior Johnson, Larry Hedrick, Travis Carter, Kenny Bernstein, the Stavola Brothers, Buz McCall, Scott Barbour and finished his career in 2002 with Bill Davis.
While tough competitors on the race track, Davey Allison was Stricklin’s best friend off it. It was Allison, who was killed in a helicopter crash while attempting to land at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993, who introduced Stricklin to his cousin, Pam Allison.
The couple has been married for 34 years, have two adult children Tabitha and Taylor (who is a Super Late Model racer), and still live in the same house in Mount Ulla, North Carolina.
Donnie Allison is Stricklin’s father-in-law but also holds a high place in Stricklin’s racing memories.
“I was very fortunate to race against a lot of people, but by far one of the toughest I ever had to race against was Donnie,” Stricklin said. “I never raced with him in Cup, but I raced with him in short track stuff.
“When he showed up to race, you knew you had to be right to beat him. He wasn’t one that would go wreck you and do all sorts of things, but you knew you had to be right when he showed up or you weren’t going to win the race.
“As far as Cup stuff, you have to go with the obvious, you have to go with Dale Earnhardt, he was the toughest in Cup stuff. But Donnie was the baddest dude I raced against on any short track stuff when I was coming up, that’s for sure.”