The Story of LW Wright and one of NASCAR’s enduring mysteries

Has NASCAR’s DB Cooper been found? Here, at the start of the week when a new NASCAR Hall of Fame category will be announced, a member of the sport’s Hall of Fame broke a four-decade silence.

“I said, ‘That straight line is almost a mile long! How much more can that car gain before you hit that turn? ” I said, ‘God, I’m down here, but I’m going to need some help,’ and I didn’t tell anyone else that.”

On this very day 40 years ago, a man named LW Wright competed at the highest level of motorsport on its fastest track, starting in 36th and finishing in 36th. 39th place at one of NASCAR’s crown jewels events, the Winston 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway. Before the race, no one in the Cup Series garage had heard of Wright, but the sanctioning agency for some reason accepted his racing background a little more than the trucking businessman said. Tennessee Highway, and a public relations team launched on his behalf.

Shortly after the race ended, he reportedly dropped the Chevy Monte Carlo he had bought for the event and disappeared. He’s spent the past four decades hiding from everyone from NASCAR officials to private investigators hired by people to whom he still owes that race car to numerous lawyers and increasingly. Many amateur racers, eager to meet the man. who somehow conquered his track alongside the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty and race winner Darrell Waltrip.

As Tennessee Sports Writers Board member Larry Woody wrote late that summer, “If he could drive as fast as he can talk, LW Wright would be the NASCAR champion now.”

Over time, Wright’s story has become a NASCAR legend, especially in the conspiracy-obsessed corners of the internet. Woody himself revisited the mystery in a story in The Anniston Star two weeks ago. But after years of efforts by journalists to find Wright, he was finally located by another longtime motor sports writer, Rick Houston, who worked at the legendary and current Grand National Scene. is hosting a tournament based on NASCAR history. Podcast “The Scene Vault”. Houston spent a year searching, locating, and eventually convincing Wright to tell his story. On an agreed date in mid-April, Houston was led to an undisclosed location where Wright, now 73, was waiting. Houston was understandably suspicious of meeting a man who had worked so diligently for nearly half a century to remove anyone from the NASCAR community. Therefore, the writer has been very thorough in identifying Wright positively. Over the years, many have theorized that this one-time racer’s name was never actually LW Wright. However, armed with a pile of later issues of the National Great View and photographs from that date in 1982, Houston insisted the man he interviewed was the person in the images. The uniform that Wright brought to the meeting was also a perfect piece of clothing, down to the stitching.

“If you can find someone saying I owe them $30,000, you tell them I’ll face them,” Wright told Houston, denying any wrongdoing. “I want to see who they are, and I want to know how it goes. If it makes them stutter, you know what I’m talking about, OK?”

In ill health, Wright seemed to want to set the record right away. Skeptics will no doubt doubt whether the stock car race’s most notorious scammer can be trusted. There is even confusion about the disappearance after Talladega. He was listed as Ineligible at next weekend’s race in Nashville, but no one recalls seeing him and neighbors reported he showed up at his home the following night. Talladega events, took some of his belongings – including some of them he had stolen – and drove off, never to be seen again.

Regardless of who said what and what really happened, everyone will be stunned that Wright is back.

“I have a lot of friends in the country music scene,” he said on the podcast. “And I didn’t use any of them other than what they wanted to do.”

The story of Wright’s lone race begins with the same story. In the spring of 1982, a newspaper reporter contacted newspapers in Tennessee, reporting on a story about Wright. He is described as a 33-year-old short-distance racer with 43 starts in NASCAR’s Busch Grand National Series (now Xfinity) who will make his Cup Series debut at Talladega with backing from the superstars country music he has worked on building buses and trucks for touring, including Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and TG Sheppard, who have sponsored vintage car races. The team is called Music City Racing. Wright applied for a NASCAR license, priced at $115, and also paid a $100 fee to apply for the Talladega event.

According to news reports at the time. Wright then convinced Nashville-based Space Age Marketing and its owner, Bernie Terrell, to lend him $30,000 to buy a race car, $7,500 to cover additional costs, and one. Big truck to carry the car south to Talladega. That car was purchased from local racing hero Coo Coo Marlin and his son – future two-time Daytona 500 winner – for $20,700, almost all of which was paid in cash and the rest is paid by check. Wright wrote lots of checks, to Goodyear to buy tires, to other teams to buy parts, and even to spend $168 on racing jackets for his team.

Wright says he asked the Marlins to paint the car all red and black and set it as number 34. “Because the number 34 came from Wendell Scott,” Wright explains now when talking about the first full-time black racer. NASCAR, who competed throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. “He was someone who tried to race but didn’t have the means or the money. So I picked 34. Plus , I was 34 years old when I started racing.”

Wright told Houston that he also asked Sterling Marlin to come down to oversee his stops and racing strategy, to educate his new team about the future they plan to have. Marlin, who always said his idea was to follow Wright and the car to Talladega, was immediately questioned.

“Damn, I’ve never heard of this guy,” Sterling Marlin explained to ESPN in 2019, saying that Wright claims to have won a lot of short-distance races in Virginia but doesn’t seem to know the names of any. any Virginia racer, even alive. legendary Tommy Houston. “So I decided to go down there with him, sort of as his captain, just to keep an eye on him, you know. As soon as we got there, it all became fishermen. “

Marlin said that Wright spent the weekend asking questions “to which any real racer would have known the answers” and that none of them knew the answers to. When the story was published in a Nashville newspaper leading into the Winston 500, TG Sheppard’s camp immediately released a statement that he had never heard of LW Wright. Wright responded with an apology, explaining that he announced the funding too soon. He also said there was some confusion about his experience, that he didn’t actually run 43 Busch Series races, but rather lower-level events run at Busch Series tracks. However, NASCAR allowed him to make a qualifying run at its biggest, fastest track.

“I never saw the track,” recalls Wright in Houston of his arrival at the massive 2.66-mile tricycle. “I remember that day I pulled into the field and stood at the end of the track and looked down at it and I looked over at my brother. [a member of the crew] and said, ‘Lord, have mercy. There’s no way… you think of keeping that car, pedals flat on the floor, all this way! ‘”

In a conversation before his death in 2010, Jim Hunter, a former NASCAR executive and president of Talladega Superspeedway, cited Alabama’s Right to Work law as a “shackle” to the trial agency’s efforts. fines to keep Wright off the track, located 50 miles east of Birmingham. . “Besides,” said Hunter, with a laugh, “that damn guy has qualified for the race.”

He actually hit a speed of 187.37 mph, around the same time that Benny Parsons became the first Cup Series racer to top 200 mph in pole qualifying. But Wright was also troubled in practice. Leading the 500-mile race, he said he was approached with unsolicited advice from a pair of future NASCAR Celebrities. First, Bobby Allison says don’t feel bad if he doesn’t play but says, “Wow, you’re cocky enough.” Then, according to Wright, Dale Earnhardt spoke to him after practice, advising, “When you’re out there, you’re going to lean on someone who’s been here before and follow them, stay in.” with them and then move.”

Once the green flag fell, the only move LW Wright made was to get out of the way. Unable to maintain the 180 mph minimum, he was ordered by NASCAR to retreat to the garage after 13 laps. He finished 39th out of 40 cars, earning $1,545.

And that, according to reports at the time, was when he disappeared. The checks he wrote did not disappear. According to Sterling Marlin and all the investors in Music City Racing interviewed by press reporters at the time, Wright’s check had bounced due to insufficient funds.

“Don’t ask me if I’m surprised,” Marlin said in 2019. “Because I wasn’t.”

Houston worked for a decade at the newspaper known simply as “Scene,” the must-read weekly publication of the stock racing industry and fandom alike. Since the newspaper was shut down in 2010, Houston has dedicated her career to digitizing back-and-forth issues and interviewing heroes – and now anti-heroes – of NASCAR’s past. But he has never had an experience like this one.

“What I learned is that LW has finally found a way to take the weight off his shoulders, to finally get his story out of there,” Houston said. “In the grand scheme of things, in the rearview mirror, what he did wasn’t really that bad. And I’ll say the story we’ve all heard all these years and the story. the story he’s telling us now, it’s not the same story. Will it end? I don’t know. But to sit there and hear him finally talk about it, to so many NASCAR fans , it’s a day we never thought would come.”

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