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

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