Remembering racing legend Raymond Beadle: ‘Once upon a time, I was the best at what I did’

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They say they always do things bigger in Texas, and that phrase would perfectly describe legendary former drag racer and NASCAR team owner Raymond Beadle.

Beadle, who passed away early Monday in Dallas at the age of 70, seemingly was always thinking bigger and bigger.

A native of tiny Spur, Texas (population: 500 when he was born in 1943), Beadle and his Blue Max Funny Car became legendary on the NHRA and the IHRA circuits.

Borrowing pages from other promotional-minded drivers like Tom “Mongoose McEwen and Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Beadle campaigned the Blue Max to not only numerous wins and three straight Funny Car championships from 1979 to 1981, but into the sport’s lore.

Prudhomme put Beadle’s life into great context in the latter’s obituary on NHRA.com:

“I was very sad to hear that Raymond Beadle had passed. I really, really liked the guy and admired him. We always remained close, even during the days when we were racing against each other.

“He did so much in drag racing and in NASCAR. He led a life that most people could only dream of, like a high-stakes gambler, and was a cool guy to be around.

“When our rat pack of a group got together, he was at the top of the heap.  I was glad to be a buddy of his and he is going to be missed.”

Current Funny Car driver and former champion Cruz Pedregon tweeted about Beedle, “RIP Raymond Beadle. Forever a legend.”

ESPN drag racing announcer Alan Reinhart echoed Pedregon’s tweet with his own: “(Beadle) lived with his foot on the gas.”

Because Beadle also raced in the rival International Hot Rod Association (winning championships in 1975, 1976 and 1981) and American Drag Racing Association circuits, as well as being a legendary barnstorming racer who booked dozens of match races across the country, it was rare to go to a drag strip anywhere in the country in the 1970s and 1980s and not see countless fans decked out in Blue Max t-shirts, ball caps and other memorabilia.

In fact, many consider Beadle as the pioneer of producing, marketing and selling racing-related souvenirs and memorabilia.

But Beadle wanted to do more, to branch out from drag racing and try to replicate his success on the quartermile in other forms of motorsports, like NASCAR and sprint car/World of Outlaws racing.

He did just that.

He took a pair of cocky, boisterous kids and began to mold them as potential champions in NASCAR. First was Tim Richmond, who spent three seasons with Beadle before shifting to the then up-and-coming Hendrick Motorsports operation after the 1985 season.

Beadle then took an equally raw St. Louis area kid by the name of Rusty Wallace and within four years had turned him into a Winston Cup champion in 1989.

In doing so, Beadle had achieved what he set out to do, with plans and aspirations of adding many more Cup crowns to come.

But when Wallace was lured away by Roger Penske after the 1990 season, Beadle surprised – rather, shocked might be a better word – the NASCAR community by abruptly closing up shop and moved on, never to return to the stock car racing world.

Some say that while Beadle understood Wallace’s departure was a business decision, he was nonetheless heartbroken that Wallace left, and that he just didn’t see another talented young driver out there at the time that was worth the time or monetary investment to continue on.

While Wallace would go on to other great success, eventually culminated by his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame two years ago, he would never replicate with Roger Penske what he did with Beadle, namely winning a Cup championship.

Wallace tweeted earlier today: “Really saddened by news about Raymond Beadle. Without him, I would have never gotten to where I am today. He will be greatly missed.”

At the same time he ran his drag racing and NASCAR teams, Beadle also branched out into the WoO world, with Sammy Swindell as his driver.

Beadle could be both easy-going and cantankerous at times. Think of a combination of Prudhomme, McEwen, John Force, Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt.

That was Raymond Beadle.

I remember talking with Beadle at Phoenix International Raceway in fall 1988. That was the first time I had ever met him and within five minutes, it was like we were old friends.

Later that same day, he showed great classiness by walking over to congratulate that day’s race winner, Alan Kulwicki, for winning his first career Winston Cup race.

Not every owner takes time to congratulate the driver of a car that beat his (with Wallace behind the wheel, finished fifth), but Beadle did. I’ve never forgotten his gesture to NASCAR’s Polish Prince. He seemed to be as genuinely happy for Kulwicki as if the latter drove for Beadle himself.

Beadle had a smile and laughing personality to go along with it. While he was stone serious when it came to business, Beadle also had a great sense of humor.

In his quest to be first in everything he did, he and both his motorsports and business acumen also rubbed off on others, particularly fellow Texan and legendary Funny Car and Top Fuel drag racer Kenny Bernstein.

Borrowing several pages from Beadle’s playbook – if not the entire book – Bernstein tried to emulate his fellow statesman by becoming a promotional whiz, as well as also venturing off into ownership in both NASCAR and IndyCar.

For many years, it was Bernstein, the Budweiser King, against Beadle, the Blue Max, both on and off the racetrack, be it a two-lane dragstrip or a NASCAR superspeedway.

The interesting thing about Beadle is he didn’t hang on as long as others of his era. His drag racing tenure was less than two decades, his NASCAR and sprint car time less than one decade each.

It’s not that Beadle tired of those ventures, but rather he looked forward to other new realms he wanted to try his hand at, including raising a different kind of horsepower – actual horses – on his ranch.

He also took to raising cattle for a while, too, but most of all, Beadle returned to living the simple, laid-back and easy life in the Texas backcountry, rather than a life spent traveling from one racetrack to another for weeks and months and years on end.

In later years, enjoying the good life was Beadle’s pleasure, along with spending time with his wife. He rarely ventured to races, essentially considering that a closed chapter of his life.

But Beadle, who was still recovering from a heart attack he suffered on July 15, will forever be remembered as a true Texas gentleman, a legendary motorsports innovator and driver, astute businessman and one of the most passionate individuals behind a wheel or on a pit box.

On BlueMaxRacing.net, which Beadle owned and remains still a popular news and e-commerce site more than 25 years after his last drag race, he very easily could have written his own eulogy when he talked about his decision to leave NASCAR, as well as the other high points of his career:

“It was time to move on to something else,” he said of the NASCAR world. “I was interested in trying my hand at ranching.

“I have no regrets about drag racing. My high points were the ’75 Indy win and that first Winston title. It’s a satisfying feeling to be able to say, ‘Once upon a time, I was the best at what I did.’”

Indeed you were, Hoss. R.I.P.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski