Rex White, NASCAR Hall of Fame driver — and storyteller

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Rex White will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next Friday for his success as a race car driver in the sport’s early days.

But after an enthralling interview with White recently, he could also be inducted into the Hall of Fame of NASCAR storytellers.

The Spartanburg, S.C. resident spent time recently with MotorSportstalk doing what he does best these days, telling stories about what racing was like back in the day – his day, of course.

White, now 85, had an outstanding but fairly short career in NASCAR compared to other drivers. Still, from 1956-64, he made 233 career starts in what was then the NASCAR Grand National circuit, winning the 1960 championship. He recorded 28 wins, 110 top-five and 163 top-10 finishes (70 percent of all his starts, best in NASCAR history), along with 36 poles.

Let’s listen in on some of White’s favorite stories, as told in his own words:

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STILL OWES BILL FRANCE JR. 20 BUCKS

“I ran around Winston-Salem, N.C., quite a bit in 1955. I raced a whole season there (at Bowman Gray Stadium). He (Bill France Jr.) was going to college and was living with Alvin Hawkins, who was the promoter at Bowman Gray Stadium (and NASCAR’s first official flagman). Billy and I had some great days together.

“I went to Daytona in the winter of 1955, we went home to Christmas. My wife and I were on our way back to Boynton Beach, Florida, and I got broke.

“So I went by the NASCAR office and there was nobody there but Billy. I borrowed $20. I never did pay him back.

“I think it was 2005, I ran into him at Darlington and the $20 came up (in conversation). The first thing he did was pull out his calculator and started figuring interest on that loan for all those years that I had it. He never did give me the total, but it would have been a lot for 50 years. I knew Billy pretty good.”

 

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FIRST TIME AT DAYTONA, THE RACETRACK:

“I was down there in 1958 when they were building (Daytona International Speedway). As a matter of fact, they were close to getting ready to pave it.

“It was still dirt at the time. I drove (Bill France Jr.) and myself in a ’58 Pontiac around the racetrack and we ran over 100 mph on dirt.

“That track never scared me. It looked like just another track, only that it was big and I knew you were going to go fast.

“I qualified 24th (in the 500 qualifying race) in a 1959 Chevrolet. Really, you could drive around almost by yourself and with no other cars out there, light a cigarette and think nothing of it.”

 

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MEXICO RACE WAS NO VACATION:

In 1965, White took part in a two-day endurance race in Mexico that began in Cordovaca, overnighted in Mexico CIty and was scheduled to finish in Acapulco. But White never made it to the finish line — thanks to a herd of cows. He  picks up the rest of the story:

“The man that owned some Chevrolet dealerships down there decided he wanted to drive (White’s car, relegating White to passenger status). So we were going through the mountains and we came upon four cows in the road.

“I would have split the cows open; don’t worry about the cows.”

But the driver thought otherwise and swerved to avoid them.

“He lost control of the car. I got ahold of the steering wheel to try and save it. But I couldn’t hold it and we went off a 90-foot cliff and wound up upside down on some rocks and I broke my back.

“And then, about nine weeks after that, in a brace, I won a race at Harris, N.C.”

 

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FROM BROKEN BACK TO BROKEN JAW:

White was competing in a race at Bowman Gray Stadium in 1969 with Lee Petty in front. Late in the race, White forced Petty into the wall — “I helped him mow the wall,” White said with a laugh — and went on to win the race.

“After the race, Lee was talking to me and said, ‘I’ll turn you over my knee and spank you.’

“A fan reached over Lee’s shoulder and punched me in the mouth and broke my jaw. I didn’t know he had broke it. It hurt but we went on home. That was on a Saturday night. About Monday, I could hardly talk. I finally went to a doctor, who said I had a broke jaw. I had to have it wired together to let it heal, have a tooth pulled out, and had to drink potato soup and milkshakes.

“Maurice Petty was inducted a few years back into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega and we got to talking. The guy that had punched me in the mouth is Maurice’s neighbor and still is today.”

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PARLEZ VOUS FRANCAIS?

After running a race on a Saturday night at New York’s fabled Polo Grounds, White towed his race car all night to Montreal, Canada, for a race the next day.

“When we were getting close to the racetrack, we were going through all these stoplights. (At one of the stoplights) there was a guy that tapped on the window, talking to us but speaking in French, and I didn’t know what he was saying. So, I just drove on.

“I get to the next stoplight and this guy had ran the whole block and caught up to me again. He’s talking to me in French. I said, ‘I’m going to get away from this guy,’ so I took off. I felt like maybe he was wanting money or something.

“We got to the racetrack and the promoter said, ‘Why didn’t you go to breakfast?’ I told him I didn’t know he was buying breakfast. He said, ‘Yeah, I had a guy down there on the sidewalk, telling you to where to go.’

“So I told him, ‘Well, there was one little problem, I didn’t understand him.’ ”

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NO MONKEY ON HIS BACK:

White never had a chance to race with fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Tim Flock, known for both his racing and his pet Rhesus monkey, Jocko Flocko.

There were other drivers who had pet monkeys, too:

“Frankie Snyder had a monkey in the car while racing at Jersey City (N.J.). That was only one time and the monkey went crazy. He had a monkey in his car way before Tim did.

“In Florida, in 1952, Dick Egan was racing and had a monkey with him. I even played with that same monkey.”


REX WHITE’S NASCAR RECORD BOOK:

Year Races/of Wins Poles Top 5 Top 10 Laps Led Start Finish Winnings Season Rank
1956 24 / 56 0 1 3 14 0 14.3 12.0 $5,333 11
1957 9 / 53 0 1 4 6 193 18.1 10.8 $3,870 21
1958 22 / 51 2 7 13 17 471 5.1 8.1 $12,232 7
1959 23 / 44 5 5 11 13 827 7.4 10.2 $12,360 10
1960 40 / 44 6 3 5 35 541 6.4 5.3 $57,525 1
1961 47 / 52 7 7 29 38 1224 7.6 7.0 $56,395 2
1962 37 / 53 8 9 18 23 1129 6.7 9.9 $36,245 5
1963 25 / 55 0 3 5 14 171 7.7 12.2 $27.241 9
1964 6 / 62 0 1 2 3 27 11.2 13.7 $12,310 28
Totals 233 28 36 110 163 4583 8.1 9.0 $223,511

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Supercross points leader Eli Tomac finds silver linings in interruption

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Though his Monster Energy AMA Supercross championship charge was put on hold, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had a silver lining for Eli Tomac.

Off the road while the season was postponed for nearly three months, the points leader was able to be present as his girlfriend, Jessica, gave birth to their daughter, Lev, on April 26

“A huge blessing for us there,” Tomac told host Mike Tirico during a “Lunch Talk Live” interview (click on the video above) in which he also joked about becoming a pro at busting off diaper changes. “That was one good blessing for us as we had our daughter on a Sunday, that would have been on a travel day coming back from the race in Las Vegas.

NBCSN

“That was probably the only positive out of all this mess was being able to be there for the birth.”

But there also could be more good fortune for Tomac as the series resumes Sunday at Salt Lake City, Utah (3-4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, 4-6 p.m. on NBC).

The final seven events will be held over 22 days in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which sits at just over 4,000 feet.

The elevation could favor Tomac, who was born and lives in Colorado and is accustomed to riding and training at altitude, which is a departure for many Supercross riders (many of whom hail from California and Florida).

COVID-19 TESTING REQUIRED: Supercross outlines protocols for last seven races

“That’s going to be the test for us,” said the Kawasaki rider, who five of the first 10 races this season. “We’re at elevation in Salt Lake, so when you’re on a motorcycle, you have a little bit of a loss of power. That’s just what happens when you come up in elevation. And a lot of guys train at sea level, and we’re at 4,000 to 5,000 feet, so cardio-wise, we’ll be pushed to the limit.

“Most of our races are Saturday nights and back to back weeks, but this go around it’s Sunday and Wednesday, so recovery is going to be key.”

Supercross will race Sunday and Wednesday for the next three weeks, capping the season with the June 21 finale, which also will be shown on NBCSN from 3-4:30 p.m. ET and NBC from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.

Tomac, who holds a three-point lead over Ken Roczen (who also recently visited “Lunch Talk Live”), told Tirico he had been riding for 90 minutes Thursday morning on a track outside Salt Lake City.

“Most of us we can rely on our past riding pretty well,” Tomac said. “The question is if you can go the distance. That’s what a lot of guys have to train on is going the distance. We go 20 minutes plus a lap. That’s what you’ve got to keep sharp is your general muscles. Within two to three days, your brain starts warming up more if you take a few weeks off the motorcycle.”

Here is the schedule and TV information for the rest of the season:

  • Sunday, May 31 (3-4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4-6 p.m. ET, NBC);
  • Wednesday, June 3 ( 10:00 pm – 1:00 am ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 7 (5-8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 10 (7–10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 14 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 17 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 21 (3-4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. ET, NBC).
Eli Tomac rides his No. 3 Kawasaki in the Feb. 29 race at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia (Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).