NASCAR racing is intense, loud, long, occasionally controversial – and often funny.
The fun stuff goes back to stock car racing’s early years, when rules weren’t quite as tight, there was no prying eye of television and drivers were more likely to be adventurous. And goofy.
This helps to explain why, on a very hot race day at Darlington, someone might slip an open can of smelly sardines behind a driver’s seat minutes before the start of a race, thus making the comment “My car was a stinker today” all too real. Drivers learned not to reveal a fear of snakes because, at some point, someone would toss a plastic one into the race car. During a pit stop.
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Fans can be funny, too, although not always in a welcome way. A fan who perhaps had been overserved actually ran across the track during green-flag racing at high-speed Pocono Raceway. A fan approached Darrell Waltrip for an autograph – during a pit stop, and another one ran over to Matt Kenseth’s car during a red-flag period at Pocono hoping for an autograph. A fan hijacked a pace car at Talladega Superspeedway and led officials on a chase.
Here’s a list of some funnies that have occurred along the NASCAR road …
Who’s that I’m racing for? — Being so close to all that neon on the Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas Motor Speedway often tries to jazz up its race weekends with guests who might bring a bit of pizzazz to the proceedings. Such was the case in 2004 when the track welcomed Robin Leach, host of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” to lend his distinctive voice to pre-race driver introductions. Before Leach began his introductions, speedway public relations director Jeff Motley ran down the list of drivers to help Leach with the proper pronunciations. This helped, but it didn’t solve every potential stumbling block. Entered that day was veteran driver Morgan Shepherd, who called his team Racing with Jesus Motorsports. When Leach reached that part of the lineup, he introduced Shepherd as driving the “Racing with Hay-Soos Dodge,” using the Spanish pronunciation of Jesus.
Fat folks need not apply — Victory Lane celebrations can range from intense to very intense. This became a problem one year at Martinsville Speedway, which, for decades, has presented a tall grandfather clock to each race winner. On this particular occasion, some rambunctious celebrating in Victory Lane resulted in the clock being tipped over and damaged. For future races, track officials stationed someone in Victory Lane to “guard” the clock, but you have to look closely to see the person. “Take a good look at the clock, and you might see him,” track president Clay Campbell said. “But we get the skinniest guy on the payroll to stand behind the clock to make sure it doesn’t fall over.”
Thanks for the help, officer — During the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company’s three-decade run as the Cup Series major sponsor, RJR officials often took part in pre- and post-race ceremonies at various tracks. Prior to a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, T. Wayne Robertson, a key Winston official, was driving a high-level RJR executive to the track for pre-race activities. Traffic was difficult, and they were running late. Determined to make the important pre-race appearance, Robertson pulled out of traffic onto the breakdown lane and zoomed along, making excellent time. A few minutes later, the flashing lights of a police vehicle appeared in Robertson’s rear-view mirror. He kept driving. When the cars arrived near the track’s infield gate, the officer pulled his car in front of Robertson’s, forcing him to stop. The officer walked to the window of Robertson’s car and asked why he hadn’t pulled over. “Oh, I thought you were my escort,” Robertson said.
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The Man in Pink? — Dale Earnhardt built his reputation for aggressive driving by scoring victories and championships in the Richard Childress Racing black No. 3 Chevrolets. The car was the Darth Vader of its time. But Earnhardt’s first race car, the one he banged around Carolina short tracks, was painted pink.
Not Junior’s best side — Bud Moore and Junior Johnson raced for decades across the NASCAR landscape and eventually into the Hall of Fame. They were friends and rivals. Their paths often crossed while on the road. Moore remembered one particular occasion. “We were coming back from a Richmond race one year and ran up on Junior Johnson and his guys,” Moore said. “They saw us coming and kept holding us up. Wouldn’t let us by. Finally, they pulled over to the left side to let us by. We got up beside them, and I was ready to shake my fist at them. Then I saw Junior. Stuck his big rump out the window. Mooned us. I couldn’t believe it.”
Let’s settle this outside — Darrell Waltrip eventually became one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR history, and he added to his popularity with many years as a commentator on race broadcasts. But Waltrip could be an agitator and a loudmouth early in his career, and he often heard resounding boos from the grandstands. After falling out of the 1982 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and being hammered by boos, Waltrip had had enough. “Meet me at the Big K parking lot,” Waltrip said to fans over the race broadcast, suggesting a throwdown at the local Kmart might be a solution. There was no report of such an encounter. A similar incident occurred at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2019. Michael Annett and Mike Harmon made contact during a practice session. During a television interview, Annett called Harmon an idiot. Harmon later tweeted: “Come bring your punk ass down to Applebee’s on Crawford Road and call me an idiot to my face.”
It’s OK. I’ll take it from here. — One of NASCAR’s most spectacular wrecks occurred at the finish of an April 2009 race at Talladega Superspeedway. Brad Keselowski shoved leader Carl Edwards approaching the finish line, sending Edwards’ car flying into the air and into the catchfence in front of the grandstands. As Keselowski crossed the line to win the race — his first win, Edwards’ car slammed to the ground and came to a stop. Despite the calamity of the scene, Edwards remained calm, climbed from his battered car and ran on foot across the finish line to “finish” the race, mimicking a scene from the racing comedy “Talladega Nights.” Despite Edwards’ best effort, he didn’t get credit for completing the lap. He finished a lap down in 24th.
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Rehabilitation works — After he retired from racing, veteran driver Dick Brooks was badly injured in a motorcycle accident. More than a week into his recovery in a hospital, Brooks was visited by a racing friend, David Pearson. Pearson asked about Brooks’ progress. “The doctors tell me if I keep up the rehab work, I’ll be back to 90 percent,” Brooks said. “Hell, Brooks,” Pearson replied. “That’s better than you were before.”
What else can I say? — In one of the most remarkable streaks in NASCAR history, Richard Petty won 10 Cup races in a row in 1967. After the 10th win, Petty made his way to the press box at North Wilkesboro Speedway for the usual post-race interview with media members, some of whom had watched all 10 victories. “I don’t have much to say that I haven’t already said,” Petty said. “Maybe I should ask the questions.”
Orange alert! — The 2004 Xfinity Series race at Chicagoland Speedway was sponsored by Tropicana and was named the Tropicana Twister 300. During qualifying for the race, a huge inflatable orange advertising Tropicana got a lot more publicity than promoters might have had in mind. High winds sent the inflatable rolling onto the race track, where it became a big orange menace before being successfully corralled.