Richard Brickhouse special feature
Brickhouse, a 63-year-old farmer/truck driver from Rocky Point, N.C., raced full-time from 1968-70. He started his NASCAR career in a car that he bought from Richard Petty -- a '67 Plymouth that earned him a fourth-place finish in his first ...
Brickhouse, a 63-year-old farmer/truck driver from Rocky Point, N.C., raced full-time from 1968-70. He started his NASCAR career in a car that he bought from Richard Petty -- a '67 Plymouth that earned him a fourth-place finish in his first Grand National start at Rockingham in 1968. Brickhouse also raced for Bill Ellis in a Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird.
"I was invited down here for the 25th anniversary and they made me honorary starter of the race. They gave me a sendoff you wouldn't believe. I was invited to the 30th anniversary that Winston had in Charlotte. I was in that little Legends race they had and finished third. I've been fairly active coming to the races. I've been to Darlington, and I keep up with it all the time.
"When you come through the tunnel here, everything is like it was in 1969. When you get inside and look at the grandstands, that makes it look smaller than it used to. That's the main difference I saw. Everything else is pretty much the same. A lot of people were already here or on their way (in 1969) when all that stuff (driver boycott) started. They were determined to see it through.
"Ford Motor Company was worried about losing the race, and Dodge had everything involved and wanted their car in the race regardless, at any price. Richard Brickhouse had his first factory ride, and that's what he had been working for for two years. I spent a fortune getting to that point. A lot of forces were at play.
"Hindsight is 20-20, but I had a 170 airplane at that time. I had already been approached by three different teams to drive a factory car the next year. It looked like it was a sure thing. We were tire testing for Firestone. I took the money I won at Talladega and went and bought me a new Mooney Super 21 (airplane). It was a 200 mph airplane that I could fly. Bobby Allison had one just like it. I finally had to go back to the farm. That Firestone tire testing meant everything to us. It was a perfect way to have a free practice and prepare yourself for the race. We were scheduled to go to Daytona Beach for a tire test before the 1970 Daytona 500 and it got canceled. Firestone walked out of Winston Cup.
"I raced the entire 1969 season, and I probably drove more cars than anyone else. I drove the 88 car, the 99 car. The car I was driving in the Talladega 500 that year was about 8 mph faster than those other Dodges. I was told to pace myself. Bobby Isaac and I were trying to do that, but it put us right in the thick of things. We were trying to hold position until the final stages of the race. Isaac didn't end up second, but he was the only driver I was worried about. His car was just as fast as mine.
"I finished sixth in the 1970 Daytona 500 driving for Bill Ellis, racing as an independent. He had built one of the SuperBirds in anticipation of getting a factory deal, and we found out before we got down there that it wasn't to be. He raced as an independent and sold the car after we finished the race. That was the end of my ride as far as having a ride with anybody.
"When I talk about my career, I try to point out there was more to it than just Talladega because we bought a Richard Petty Plymouth to start my career. We finished fourth in it in the first race I ran it in. That got us hooked up with Firestone and got us a tire deal. I had several more good finishes.
"I'm out of the farming business now. I was a tobacco and grain farmer. I've been associated with trucking all my life, buying and selling.
"It looks to me like racing has turned into a young man's game. They're getting younger and younger. The profile is like Casey Atwood, a small, young guy. They don't have to have the stamina we used to have. It's kind of like horse racing and everything else. It's getting more fine tuned. Somebody like John Sears would be laughed out of the garage area now. He used to couldn't get through the window.
"Sometimes you had to drive with both hands, and you don't have to do that anymore. I drove a lot like Dale Earnhardt. I was very competitive. I loved racing. When I got in a race car, I was a different person -- highly competitive. I wasn't evil, but I had a competitive spirit. Now, they have to keep a balance with the drivers. They have to be as good in front of a TV camera as they do behind a wheel. Sponsors have to be pleased.
"When I first started, I was not a member of the racing family. A Chrysler dealer in Southport (N.C.) approached me about a deal. It was something that was totally out of the reach for me, and we went and bought a car from Richard Petty. Nobody knew me, where I was from or nothing else.
"My philosophy on being a winner or being accepted was my performance, so I didn't do any socializing. In those days, if you didn't know them personally, it didn't matter much anyhow. We'd go to Charlotte and Marvin Panch would invite all of us over to his house for dinner. Little things like that would help you get to know people, but there wasn't that much of it. My public relations was very poor.
"My career was moving so fast, I really didn't have a chance to sit down and take a second look at it, anyway."