With the NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) 2015 season officially started Sunday, February 22, 2015. Joey Logano won the 57th running of the Daytona 500 at the at Daytona International Speedway. Daytona, Florida. Stories will be told of this race as it has for many races before and races to come. Celebrations, honors, trophies and great racers will be forever remembered in NASCAR history. However, sometimes we forget all the stories of drivers who perform selfless and lifesaving heroic feats in the midst of dangerous circumstances. One such story involves Country music icon Marty Robbins and the legendary NASCAR racer Richard Childress on a fateful day in October, 1974.
Flashback to 1974, when Country music’s much loved icon, Marty Robbins was not only singing his enduring songs but was also a bonifide NASCAR racer. He raced for Owen Cotton, a championship racer, turned Dodge race car builder and owner and a well-known and highly-respected Cotton Owen Garage and NASCAR force. On one fateful day in October of 1974, Marty Robbins life would prove himself worthy of much more than music and his racing finishes.
Throughout each NASCAR season, Richard Childress, a legendary NASCAR championship racer, now one of the largest NASCAR car owner of Richard Childress Racing, still remembers the hero who saved his life on October 6, 1974 during the NASCAR Charlotte 500 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. This hero’s name was Marty Robbins. The same Marty Robbins, as our Country Music Hall of Fame member and legendary singer/songwriter.
Martin David Robinson, professionally known as Marty Robbins was born on September 26, 1925 in Glendale, Arizona and passed away on December 8, 1982 in Nashville, Tennessee. Best known as the Award-winning singer/songwriter for such songs as “El Paso(City),” “A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation),” “The Hanging Tree,” “Devil Woman,” “My Woman My Woman My Wife,” leading further into a pattern of “gunfighter ballads” that lasted the balance of his career. Robbins left behind an immense legacy, including no less than 94 charting country hits, several gospel works and a solid and passionate career in music that proved how enduring and timeless he and country music can be.
Although, Marty charted major hits in four different decades, he also had a very strong NASCAR career that began as a hobby. A dedicated Dodge man, he competed in 35 NASCAR races and logged in six top ten finishes. At one 1975 NASCAR event, Robbins joked, “You know, I could win any race I entered. But, as soon as I did, Cale Yarborough or Richard Petty or somebody would pick up a guitar and start singing. So I let them win out there.” *
However, on October 6, 1974 during NASCAR’s Charlotte 500, there was no laughter in what happened on that day. Along the front straightaway on the 2nd lap of the race, Richard Childress and three other drivers wrecked. As Marty Robbins turned his purple and lime green #42 Dodge onto the straightaway doing 160 mph, he saw four cars blocking the racetrack completely. There was nowhere for Marty to go without maiming or killing himself and surely other wrecked racers in front of him – most of all Richard.
As a musician and performer, Marty Robbins had to earn the respect of the NASCAR world. What Marty would do in a split second decision, speeding at 160 mph toward the side panel of Childress’s wrecked car in the middle of the Charlotte Motor Speedway straightaway, earned Marty Robbins the deepest respect ever needed from his NASCAR driving peers and NASCAR fans. Marty, in that split second, decided to risk his own life by swerving at 160 mph into a concrete wall rather than plow into the pile of drivers and wrecked cars. For a full agonizing minute, the crowd fell silent, fearing the worse for Marty. Finally, he slowly emerged from his mangled #42 Dodge. The crowd roared. They couldn’t believe Marty survived, but were praying that the extent of his injuries would not be crippling or even later, fatal.
The onsite ambulance took Marty Robbins to the infield care center, later transferring him to the Charlotte Memorial Hospital. Miraculously, what could have been death for Marty, he instead suffered a gash between his eyes (32 stitches to close,) two broken ribs and a broken tailbone. Had his decision to save others’ lives, yet, sacrificing his own, surrounded him with the protection of a higher power intervening? If he were alive today, Marty would agree.
Later, Marty explained to reporters, “The only thing I knew was that there were people in those wrecked cars in front of me and I couldn’t hit one of them because they’d probably not walk away from it.” Richard Childress told reporters, “I looked down the track and saw Marty coming right at me. I knew if he hit me in the driver’s side I’d either be mangled badly or killed. There was no way of me escaping injury and no way out of his path. Then I saw something I am still not sure I can believe. Marty turned the wheel of the car right and it veered into the concrete wall.”
After the race, a NASCAR official said, “What he (Marty) did out there today saved at least one life and probably kept some other drivers from being maimed. He could have killed himself moving into that wall that way. But in the split second that counted, he chose to possibly give his life over hurting somebody else. “There is no doubt in my mind I wouldn’t be here talking to you right now if Marty Robbins hadn’t risked his life to save me. I don’t think you can be much more of a man than that.”
When Marty Robbins passed away in 1982, the following year NASCAR named their annual race at the Nashville Speedway the “Marty Robbins 420.” Nashville understood what a truly great man he was, in his singing, but also in his heroic actions in racing.
Marty’s’ discography consists of 52 studio albums, 13 compilation albums, and 100 singles. In his career, Robbins has charted 17 Number One singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, as well as 82 Top 40 singles.
Robbins’ highest charting album is 1959’s Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. It charted to #6 on the all-genre Billboard 200, and certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. The album’s first single, “El Paso”, become a hit on both the country and pop charts, charting to Number One on the Hot Country Songs as well as the Billboard Hot 100. Although being his only pop Number One, in 1957, “A White Sport Coat” charted to #2, and in 1961, “Don’t Worry” charted to #3. Since his death in 1982, four posthumous studio albums were released. His final Top 10 single was “Honkytonk Man” in 1982, which is the title of the film Robbins had starred in, however, he died shortly before the release of the film.
In 1969, there were 124 NASCAR team owners, only three of which remain today (Wood Brothers, Richard Petty and Richard Childress). Over its 45-year history, Richard Childress Racing has become synonymous with success and championships with the legendary Dale Earnhardt and Childress’ growing Chevrolet powerhouse team.
He and his racers have won some of the most prestigious honors in NASCAR and racing history. Childress’ drivers are not the only ones who have received honors throughout the years.Numerous accolades are awarded on Childress himself. He received the 2001 NASCAR Owner of the Year by The Sporting News, earning the award in 2006 and 2010.
In 2011, he collected one of NASCAR’s prestigious and longest-running awards, the Buddy Shuman Award, that recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to NASCAR racing. Childress was also inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega Superspeedway and the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame at Darlington Raceway in 2012.
In 2008, Childress was the recipient of the Humanitarian of the Year Award for his role in establishing the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
Even in the face of possible death on that fateful day, Marty and Richard recovered. Marty went on the become a legend in Country Music. Now, look at the amazing racing legend, Richard Childress and his racing team. It was no accident that both lives were spared that day. Both Marty and Richard are still amazing mentors, going on to reach greatness and inspirational successes they deserve.
Country music’s Marty Robbins’ amazing list of awards and successes could never come close to the actions of a brave and selfless man who thought more about other lives than his own. This is “award” is far beyond any material award on earth. With a true Country-strong spirit and love for humanity, Marty earned the highest award of saving his fellow man. We remember Marty Robbins for the Country music icon he was, but also for his heroic humanity. Rest in peace, Marty. I would not doubt that you have been and still are the guardian angel of NASCAR and its racers.