WINGED WARRIORS/NBOA SPECIAL FEATURE

COTTON OWENS AT WW/NBOA 2004 FALL MEET

taped and transcribed by Sue George

Cotton and Dot Owens were the special guests at our fall meet in St Louis this year. 80-year-old Cotton, now retired from racing, built and drove his own racecars. He now runs a salvage yard in Spartanburg, South Carolina. In his spare time, he built a replica of his 1964 Dodge racecar that David Pearson drove, which he had on display in the WW/NBOA show area at Gateway International throughout the weekend. Cotton drove a Dodge just like this one, except it had a black roof instead of burgundy. Cotton told me he looked for almost 2 years for a car and finally found this car just five miles from his home. He gave $1,500 for the body and estimates with the engine and the suspension that are now in it, it is valued at approximately $50,000. Cotton and three of his friends began the restoration in January and they spent a total of about 30 days restoring it, working on it about a day and a half per week. Club member Dean Yeargin worked on the restoration and helped Cotton transport and unload the car at the meet. This car could be raced as it has all of the required safety equipment, however, Cotton will use it only for exhibition. The following  is a transcript from the recordings I made of Cotton's presentation to our group.

I loved to drive a racecar even before they started racing really. I was a speed demon before the cops got radios in their cars. I worked at a grocery store delivering groceries. And we had a race track there in Spartanburg, it was a horse track. So Joe Littlejohn who was the promoter there decided to put on a race with Bill France--this was 1940 I suppose--and I had to get up there and climb that fence to see that because that's about the only way I could get in there and still deliver groceries. So I stood in the back of that truck outside the fields and watched that race. Bill France was there, racing against Littlejohn. As well as I remember, someone said it was him that rolled a new Mercury, a '39 Mercury, right there going into number one.

Well, the races stopped on account of the war came along and I went in the Navy in 1943 and when I got back out, I went to work for this wrecking yard after I met my wife and we got married and I wound up with Gober Sosebee, who was a stock car racer at that time from way back and a guy by the name of Bob Ozee, who went to Daytona and was the first man to go 180 mph at Daytona with an inverted wing on an Indianapolis racecar with some drag racer--I want to say Malone but I'm not sure about that name. Anyway, Bob and Sosebee came there and they had wrecked their car and wanted a body put on this '37 Ford and wanted to know if I could do it for them because they were wanting to race in Spartanburg on Saturday night. So wound up I cut through the windshield and across the floor and welded it back together and bolted the rear section of it down, welded the doors shut and put the windshield back in it.. They went out on Saturday and won that race. And I said, 'Hey, if they can do that, I know I can!'  It wasn't quite that simple...you had to have an engine to go with it.

So then we wouud up building a little old car two or three months later and I wouud up driving it. That was about the start of my racing career and that was in 1946.

[Someone asked Cotton if he'd ever known anyone who ever hauled moonshine] Yeah, I knew quite a few. I was never involved with whiskey. One time with Joe Eubanks, who was a friend of mine--this was just before the war--and we went in the service together, was one of the only two racecar drivers that I knew that ever has had a ticket for speeding or anything pertaining to racecars. Now racecars were nothing special then, they were just our regular old cars that we thought were racecars. But they were just old stock cars that we ran around the streets in.

I've had quite a few drivers drive my cars, in fact it's up in the thirties, the drivers that have driven for me at one time or another. I don't know which one was the best, but anyway I'd still take [David] Pearson over them all. 

[Someone asked who was the worst driver] Probably me! Charlie Glotzbach drover for me, I guess for a little over a year. We won Charlotte together, that was the 500. Dale Earnhardt's father drove for me, which was Ralph Earnhardt. He was a Sportsman driver. And I was a Modified driver and we raced together a lot of places. We actually ran together and they'd pay a first place for a two-barrel carburetor racecar and plus the Modified. I was the Modified and he was what they called the Sportsman--the two-barrel carburetor. Ralph was a good racecar driver. He wanted to drive my car which was a Pontiac back then. I let him drive three or four races for me before I took back over.

The reason I was doing this, I had a bad accident in 1951; it messed my face up and gave me double vision. The people I drove against didn't know I couldn't see them! But anyway I won a lot of races after that but I was driving with double vision. And if you got double vision, you know what your depth perception is. With depth perception going away from me, I had to get more and more out of that racecar or I was going to kill somebody or I'd kill myself. So really this happened a little bit in '61 and also in '62. I had Junior Johnson drive for me a good bit. I guess [David] Pearson came along in the latter part of '62 when we were with Pontiac.

Then Dodge came along and wanted me to run for them in '63 and they wanted me to run two cars. So I picked up Billy Wade out of Texas. He wanted to come into NASCAR. He and [AJ] Foyt were good friends. So I hired Billy Wade who got Rookie of the Year that year. Pearson was the number one driver for '64 and Wade was the second one. Then Wade got his chance to go to Bud Moore's as number one driver for '64 so I picked up on Jim Paschal and Pearson, then as the one-two drivers. So we ran that year. And came back and NASCAR threw us out for '65. And then came back in '66 and won the Championship.

[Someone asked how much money did it take to run back in the sixties; to run a year?] About the cost of one of those tow trucks out there. Actually, it was less! [Did you get much help from sponsors?] I think we won $6,000 for winning the Championship in 1966. I ran second to Lee Petty in 1958 and I believe I got $350. That's quite a bit of difference with what they're paying now and what used to be.

[Is that basically because of the union?] Mainly it's the television. They peaked the crowds up, they brought the people in. You can give credit, really, to Winston cigarette company. They're the ones who first put the dollars in and made the money grow and made everyone ashamed of theirselves so promoters started putting more money into it also. 

[Was your dad a mechanic or how did you get into it? I understand you had the grocery store and delivered, but did you work on cars on the side or how did you get into it?] Well, I really started when was really a young guy. I was six years old when Grandfather had a late model and we worked on that thing day and night. We stripped it down. This was back in the '30s. We stripped that thing down, took the top off of it and the seats and the instruments, set fire to it, bought it back from the insurance company and put all that stuff back into it. You knew the tricks of the trade back then! I think we even had some bed mattresses in it that burned--made it look like it still had the seats in it when it burned!

[Someone said: When we talked to Ray Nichels and several others, they always tell us stories about "creative racing" that was going on outside of the rules. Were you ever involved in any of that?] Well, I didn't get caught cheating or anything like that! But they did make me wrong. I was sitting down a little too low when they throwed two cars out that day. They throwed LeeRoy Yarbrough out with a Dodge Charger and they throwed me out because I was still too low and wouldn't fix my car.

And me and Bill France and Norris Freil, we had a real good roundy-round talk. I'm still not going to change my car, when you let a car run out there that I know is more illegal than my car. 'That was the Ford that Junior Johnson brought. 'The crew could not get him in the car unless they slid him in inwards, the car was that low.

[Did you and AJ Foyt get along and have a good relationship?] Oh yeah, AJ drove for me in '62 in Atlanta, Georgia. I had two Pontiacs, two '62 Pontiacs. And Pontiac wanted me to carry a car down for him, so I did and I think he qualified fourth and I qualified sixth or seventh with the other car and it rained the race out. So he didn't go back. He didn't come back for the race, Junior Johnson called and wanted to know if he could run that car that Foyt was going to run. I said, you can run the car, just go and meet me down there. So he came down. This is a little something you can tell your kids about. It takes more than horsepower to get around the racetrack, you also got to have a chassis. Junior said, "You got the best motor," because we're out there running and I could outrun him bad. And I said, "Junior, I built both engines, I built both cars, they're identical. I wouldn't turn around for the difference."

He said, "Anyway, you got the best one!" I said "Junior, I'm going to go qualify real quick, I'm going to come back in here and we're going to swap those engines and then you go qualify."  I went back out there and set a new track record and he came back in there and put his engine in my car and he went back out there in his car and ran the same speed he'd been running. I took his engine out there and run just like I'd been running! A good chassis is equally important as the horsepower and he didn't realize it.

[Someone asked: What rule did you bend that they ever caught you on?] Well, those NASCAR inspectors were after me pretty much. We went to Daytona, I forget just which year it was and I don't even remember who was driving for me, but they had two Gazaways--Bill Gazaway was Chief Inspector and Joe Gazaway was his flunky and his brother. And Joe was after me strong, I got wind of it before we went down there that they really were going to shake me down one way or the other. So we went in down there and Joe says, "I'm going to follow you through [inspection] and I want your gas tank and I'll stay with it until we get through." And I said, "Well, I'll put Roy on it and you stay right there with him." But I was set for it. I took a 2 gallon can of gas and put it underneath the right front fender with an electric pump on it. So I told Roy, "Now when you get through fiddling with that gas tank, let's just beat on it and I'll put that 2 gallons back in there."  So I primed the intake on the fuel pump and lifted it back up by that can and pumped that 2 gallons back into it. And we went to the gas pump and it held 21.9, just one tenth short. He said, "I would've swore that tank was bigger than that!" I said, "You can't go by size." That was one of our Chargers.

[Didn't you have a Charger that was called The Cheater?] That was a '67. We had a new inspector who was a real nice gentleman, I can't think of his name right now, but I heard that he took over and he had authorized us to do anything underneath of the car that we wanted to do as long as it was in a good workmanship manner. I had already built this car, practically through with it and it was going to be my Daytona car. And I went back out of the office there and I said, "Take that thing back out of there; we're going to start over." So I cut everything loose from the chassis and dropped it all together and when you drop it, it's all got to be pulled back into the chassis. So I pulled it all back into the chassis and cut off all of that and I lowered her about three inches. So I got it all put back together but I didn't have enough time to fix up the oil pan, and the oil pan was way too low for what I already did. In fact, I got caught on my oil pan. I had it fixed to where I could drop the car after I went through inspection. I had to go through inspection to clear that oil pan and I had that thing about that much too low and Gazaway hit that thing and says, "Your chassis is too high. You're not going to go out there and come back in here and it be any lower than that." The chassis was too high and the oil pan was too low. He didn't put his stick underneath my oil pan. So I grabbed his stick and I hit the oil pan and I said, "That's the reason it's that high. I didn't want to drag my oil pan."

And what I'd done is made slots on the torsion bars to where the thing could drop when you got on the track. And he said he was going to have an after-qualifying inspection, so I told them to lock the thing up because we'd already got caught. We couldn't drive--the qualifying wouldn't count. So I guess they really caught me there!

[What do you think about the cars today, being so much alike? Do you think it's better than in your day or what?] I don't like them. I like stock cars. This car I have out here (#6 1964 Dodge) is a car just identical to what we built in '64 other than the hood--I did cut the hood out, which you couldn't do in '64. I took the front inner panels out of it; you could not do that in '64. The only thing you were allowed to do in '64 is cut where the shock absorbers went and the tire turns. That's the two things you could cut out of those cars. And they had to be AMA specs which meant there's going to be so many cc's in the cylinder head, so much piston height over the block, this much bore and stroke, and the carburetor had to meet those standards also. So we were strictly stock years ago. They're not stock anymore, not at all. I don't know that they could ever get it back to stock anymore as far out as they got it now. 

Photos below show Cotton's restored Dodge, a clone of his original 1964 Dodge racecar. Last photo shows Judy Bolzenius, Dot and Cotton at the meet where Cotton's car was on display and Dot sold T-shirts and postcards from the race shop.

[Did they ever tear your motors apart back then, you know, did they go to that trouble to see if it was legal?]  We tore the motors completely down before we went out on the race track. We went in there on Tuesday mornings. Tuesday morning it went through inspection. As well as I remember, we qualified on Wednesday at Darlington. [You had to tear the whole car apart on Tuesday and then put it back together?]  Yeah, put it back together. Most of us went there with the heads already off, just sealed up, and we'd just pick up the heads and carry them to the inspection station and they'll cc it and pull the valves and make sure you hadn't whacked the valves.

[So the short block was out of the car or was it in the car?] No, they didn't check it or make you tear the bottom end out. Just the bore and stroke and lifters, they'd check the lifters to make sure you didn't have any oversized lifters.

{In comparison to the cars that you drove, when the winged cars came out do you feel that the winged cars were the best? Or did you like any of the other body styles you ran better than the wing?]  The winged cars made drivers. They were that good. You could almost try to lose the car and it would straighten itself up if the chassis was set up right. They made a lot of people look good...that never could drive before!

{I always heard that it was hard to make them go around the curves. Is that true?]  No, we always thought they went real good.  [They were great straight, but I read some of the drivers said they had a heck of a time turning them.]  Well, I found out a lot that I guess other people really didn't know--what I said a minute ago--the chassis is just as important as the engine. Chrysler went to Texas and tested. As fast as they run, I bet there wasn't more than two laps at 174 mph. We took that #6 car, unloaded, and ran 176 mph on the second lap around the race track with Buddy Baker. He's the same one, you know, that ran 200 mph at Talladega. It just was the chassis.

I unloaded at Talladega for the first race with the needlenose car and it wasn't none too good at all. I beat some springs on Saturday, and I got my big torsion bars out and Saturday afternoon I ran over 200 mph. I wasn't running but 190 mph before that because it was burying itself in the race track so heavy that it just couldn't pull itself out of it. They got so much down-force on these cars and the ones that are really getting around the race track are running a whole lot stiffer than those other guys.

[What was your first thought when they presented you with the winged cars with the wings and nose? Were you excited when they came out?]  I don't know really....I thought it was out of this world! I thought it was a big, long racecar! I just wondered how long we'd be able to keep the nose on them!

[You guys were innovators. You put the stuff together, you tested it, you did it yourself. Today, engineers are dictating all of that. So the drivers got to talk to this person and that person. This is a compliment to people like you. You build the cars, you drove the cars--you're the engineer. I don't care if you have a 4-year degree or a master's degree--you did it all. There's a big learning curve there and it's something to be proud of.]  Well, that's true. We began doing things back in the early 50's. Chrysler did have what they called an export kit, even in 1950. It had some shock absorbers, it had some wider wheels which I know they just took off of one of their other heavier cars, and also the springs. We tried to get NASCAR to let us fix this little Plymouth Coupe that I was going to run at Darlington in 1950. We fought all week to do that.

We were just driving our cars just on the street. All we had to do was get the headlights taped up, tape up those taillights to keep them from busting and falling out--the tape would hold them--and the inspection station was five miles from Darlington towards Hartsville, up there in a barn. So we went through inspection, still carried the car back home with us--they just sealed them up [so we couldn't change the car]. I had the car back in Spartanburg, carried it back on Saturday. The meeting--to tell how we were going to run the Southern 500 on Monday--it was going to be at 11 o'clock on Sunday morning. This car that won the race, I beat that car by 3-4 mph with my racecar. Wound up that car was sitting there in front of all the drivers, car owners, mechanics, and they told us, "This is how you can run tomorrow." That car, he went back home and came back with about 7" wide wheels, big lug bolts, Firestone tires from California and he's using the same car as he was when he qualified. He says, "You can run this tomorrow--this was 11 o'clock on Sunday and the race is going to start at 11 o'clock on Monday. There wasn't no hope of getting anything done back then because everything shuts down on Sunday. So that car won the race, never did change his tires or anything. Just so happened that the good Lord looked after him because I sure was going to crash him on about the 17th lap when I lapped him. I ain't givin' up because I was that hot about it. I had been trying to get that done all week long and then we were going to do it and they still wouldn't let us do it.

[When you beat the springs out like that, it takes someone that knows what's going on with the car to make that work?]  That was the beginning of letting stuff go for safety. Really, we needed that. We needed the wider wheels, we needed the bigger lug bolts, we needed the heavier shocks. We ran the car on it's ragged edge; you don't know what's going to break all of a sudden. And this is why, I guess, that made us start going safety minded.

Wound up, I know I put a lot of safety in my old Modified. I was a Modified driver all the way along. The only time I ever ran really a Grand National race was in 1950 when I ran for the Championship and made it to second behind Lee Petty. Otherwise, I spot raced. People called and wanted me to drive their car, I'll drive it. I drove a Pontiac in '56 at Daytona. I drove a Pontiac for Ray  Nichels and won it in '57. But I still had my Modified and I was still running my Modified. Wound up, I guess I bought the car, after the factories pulled out in '57, from Ray  Nichels and what parts he already had and I ran some more races that year on my own with it--went to Darlington, sat on the pole with it, tried to get me up a pit crew. In fact, I called Ray and asked if he'd drag some of his crew down there to help me. And he says, "Well, it [the car] won't stay together." And I said, "Well, I believe it will." Wound up, the pit crew cost me the race. I ran second to Speedy Thompson. Speedy Thompson beat me. But if I'd had the pit crew I could've beat him because I'd outrun the best. I'd outrun Curtis [Turner] there.

And, by the way, one of my good friends got killed that day. We'd been together for a long time, even in the Modified days....Billy Meyers and Bobby Meyers. Bobby got killed that day on the back straightaway at Darlington. The car that Fonty Flock was driving, he lost it and they spun up against the outside guardrail, and I suppose that they [other drivers] didn't realize what was happening. I threw my hand out the window going into the inside coming off of number two and so did Curtis. I think they thought we had problems. All those that had been together racing strong, they both drove to the outside and they crashed into that car that was sitting there and it actually killed him. Killed him...Bobby...right there.

So I ran second that day and I was on the front straightaway when they stopped the race and Curtis says, "Boy, let me lead this thing, son. You be second and we'll put them on a show."  I said, "Before you put on a show, you'd better look at your right front tire."  And he said, "What's wrong with it?"  And I said, "It's about to go!"  And he said, "How's yours?"  And I said, "Oh, mine's alright."  I went around that track and Boom!...we both went into the pits. We didn't do anymore racing that day!

[How did you make a living, only making $350 to come in second place; did you guys eat beans and taters everyday?]  That's the reason I stayed with my Modified. I had a deal that I would put you on a show. This car I had was so supreme as far as horsepower to these other cars. By the way, it was a Hemi. I put the Hemi in it in '52. I could play with it. I had four carburetors, alcohol, magneto, I had the works.

But in the daytime, I worked on other people's cars. I worked as a mechanic for a living. Then I'd race on weekends for my pleasure. In fact, I'd race two or three times a week! I'd work it the way I could. But I had a standard deal with Rich Smith who owns about six or eight racetracks now, that I'd put him on a show for $100 to $150 a show. So I had $100 or $150 every time I showed up at his racetrack Which took care of everything because I'd run tires a dozen races or more, you know, a lot them were recaps. My car just didn't tear them up.

[Someone asked Cotton to tell the story about the old Ford that he up to street race.] Oh, that was a '34 Ford that I had saved up my money to get. I think that would be about 1937 or '38, somewhere along in there. I had saved my money up and bought this car, fixed it up and traded it for a '34 Ford. A green two-door coach and it had these mud flaps on it, and it had these things on the headlights, and it had the dog up there on the front. And the muffler--I fixed it so I could slide it off and on. The spare tire, I had one nut on it and and I'd take it off. I'd go down through the back road and stop down there where I had my place to hide all this stuff--I'd take the muffler off, I'd take the spare tire off, I'd take the flaps off of it, I'd take the things on the headlights off of it and then I was on the terror until about 11 o'clock that night! The police didn't have radios--I'd just play with them. We had this one guy--I was at this service station where all the young kids hang out--"I'm going to get that guy in that green '34 Ford. You just watch me."

I had it [the car] around there in the back so I slipped out the back door and went out there and turned it around and drawed him a circle and lit out. He liked to got me that night because I went around my house down there [in a place] that I hadn't been around before and I tore the right rear tire off of it. He liked to caught me on that rim, it didn't do too good! But he never did. He got a big joke out of that afterwards.

And this policeman would come and tell my dad, he'd say, "Wilson" --that was my dad's name--"We know it's him but we just can't catch him."  I'd come down to lunch, I was on the third shift and I'd sleep four or five hours, and I'd come down to eat and he'd say, "That policeman was here this morning. You were speeding."  I said, "Dad, it had to be somebody else. I mean, you go look at my old car. I saw one the other day with no mud flaps, no muffler on...."  It was mine!

On top of that--this happened before the war--Bud Moore and about eight or ten guys were down there at the service station on Main Street. They had a '34 Ford that had blowed the motor, done busted it. On top of that, he'd torn the transmission out. Well, they had pushed that thing off and tried to turn it over. They just couldn't turn it over. I came in down there after I went to church on Sunday morning and went in there and they said, "Well, we can't turn this old car over."  I said, "You all haven't really tried to turn it over, have you?"  "Oh yeah, it just won't turn over."   I said, "I've never seen one that wouldn't turn over."  They said, "Hell, you can't do it."  And I said, "Oh yeah, I can."  We lit out and went over there, what they called Dodge Cliff Road. I stopped. "Ha, you done backed out!."  I said, "No, I ain't backed out. I just ain't going to use my name. Who's name am I going to use? We're going to flip that thing but who's name is it going to be in?"  Bud Moore said, "You can use my name, Bud Moore."

I went down there and turned that thing over and tore it all to pieces. My foot got hung up between the brake, clutch and the steering column and I could not get it out. And I could hear those sirens coming and my big foot was hung in there and I couldn't get it out. My first thought was my momma will kill me! And she would've! She was rough on Cotton--Daddy wasn't too bad, but she was!

I finally got my foot out of there and so we lit out and circled around a bit and came back down after they had the wrecker down there getting the thing. The policeman writing it up said, "Well, what happened?"  "Well, a tire blew out."  "You kids have been out here all morning trying to turn this car over, so now what happened?"  We said, "The tire just blew out."  So wound up he said, "Who's the driver?"  "Bud Moore!"  And Bud was standing right there behind him.  And I'm standing down there with him. Guy came up and hit old Bud on the back and said, "What do ya say, Bud?"  And you ain't ever seen old Bud Moore run! I can guarantee there isn't any athlete that would have ever caught Bud Moore! He lit out!

Bud was also from Spartanburg. He went into the service right after I did. But before that, Bud's dad had a grocery store and he had a Hudson Hornet that he delivered groceries with. I guess this is what you might say was about 1940, early 1941. Bud would take a sardine can key and he could work that lock and steal that truck. And Bud Moore was on the terror because this other guy was dating his girlfriend. He would sideswipe that man's '38 Ford sitting over in front of his girlfriend's house. It made him put it around in the back yard. Finally, he [Bud] married Betty Clark and they're still together to this day.

[How did you meet Dot then, to be married for 59 years?] I met Dot when I think she was dating somebody else. I ran him off! That was in 1946. Latter part of 1945 I had just got out of the service. I was in the Navy for a little over two and a half years.

[Is Dot interested in cars?]  She isn't. She went and got herself pregnant right off the get go! Wound up, this race car we built after Gober Sosebee's deal....well, Bud Moore and Harold Ballard, who was the manager where we were working, they took that race car up to Hendersonville. So I lit out after we closed up and it was one o'clock on a Saturday and I had to run myself to death to get up there. I went in and parked and was walking out through there and here comes Bud and Harold up through there and I said, "Where you all going?"  He said, "We're going to get a professional race car driver to drive this car."  And I said, "Not until I've had my chance at it."  Well, I put that thing on the pole, would you believe that? I won the first heat. Don't believe I won the second one. I lit out, I was leading the race and the cussed switch fell off with, I guess, about five laps to go. That old '37 Ford just died right down. I finally figured it out and kicked it back on in time and I was in third place to win. I got the second place car, went back up beside the lead car and the flag fell but I ran second. But I got a little change and I went back in--you know, change was hard to come by. And I just washed my face and I was still red. I went in the house that night and said, "If you don't mind, I'm going to have to borrow some money. I need to go buy me a little better car." Momma said, "He ruined that race car!"  And she [Dot] said, "Take me home!"

So I carried her home and her momma said, "You just get back in that car and you go back with him!" So that was about 58 years ago. We had a daughter then after I got my face tore up in '51. And so I have a boy and a girl and they each have two kids apiece. My son has a daughter and a son and Deb, my daughter, she's got two sons. And I built a racecar for them, just a little 4-cylinder Plymouth Arrow. They were Plymouth Arrows but I called them Dodge Arrows. Used a Mitsubishi engine in it. Wound up they outlawed my 2600 cc after so long. I had to go down to 2000 cc. So I cut the cars up a little big, got them down to where they weighed one pound per cc and started to win back with the 2000 cc. Didn't take them long before they put a restrictor plate on us that put us out of business.

But I'm real proud of them because they were with me from the word go. In fact, my youngest grandson--I think he was 4 or 5 years old--I even had him in Detroit with me. He'd go anywhere with me. I had him in Arizona. The other two, they looked forward to school and they had to stay and go to school. The little one could go with me. Then we started building these race cars and they all turned out pretty good.

[Do you have any involvement with NASCAR today?] Just like I told Bill France about ten, twelve years ago, I'll come back to his races when he sends me a pass with my picture on it. Would you believe he just did that?! He absolutely JUST did that for me and Dot both! I was in Detroit picking up some cars from Chrysler at the proving grounds. I went out there that Sunday because we were going to pick them up on Monday and go back home and France, Jr. was there and said, "When are you coming back?" And I said, "Well, you send me my card with my picture on it saying I can go anywhere I want to go with no questions asked."  Dot said, "I told Cotton, there isn't any way we'll ever use it because we're too old!"  Too bad he waited until I had one foot in the grave!

[The cars you went to the proving grounds and got, who do you go get those cars for? Do you have something with them (Chrysler)?]  Well, they started moving stuff over to the auctions and then they got into a bunch of lawsuits and the lawsuits were more than the stuff was bringing in so they started stripping it. They cut us completely out. If they didn't, they'd never had a lawsuit. I guess I bought that stuff for ten or twelve years. I think there were five or six of us car dealers that were buying it.

[What was the last year that you had a NASCAR racecar and why did you get out?]  Too expensive. It really was. You couldn't make any money back then. The only way you could make any money is like I did before: you build your own car, you drive it, and do everything to maintain it. Like I worked on other people's cars to fix my racecar and then I'd go racing. And I guess the guys don't like to do that today. They get big signing bonuses.

[Did you ever, when you built their motors, make a little weaker version so you could win? Did you ever tweak yours just a little bit more?] Uh, I'll tell you a good one. In 1958, I went up to Taylorsville and I bought four wrecked and burned bootleg 1958 Pontiacs from Baumgardner, Baumgardner Pontiac. I brought those cars home and took the chassis off one, the front off of one and rear end off another one. And I built a few engines out of that stuff. I put it al together and I had a real good friend that was a body man and he came up there and worked all the kinks out of it for me and his brother painted it for me. And while I was building the engine and other stuff, I worked night and day to do that, because I sold my '57 Pontiac to a guy in Chattanooga--Charlie Griffith. And I had to deliver it to Daytona also. So I'd already gotten it ready to go to Daytona and wound up I was a week late getting to Daytona.

Fireball (Roberts) was sitting on the pole at Daytona at 140 mph. We'd never seen that place. I mean, we got there and were looking down the straightaway, as long as they were, we didn't know what to think! So wouud up, I went over and stood in the pits and the man said, "Go to the hospital and get a blood test."  I couldn't pass the physical. I went over there and I had so much sugar in my kidneys that I had to get a blood sample to see how I was, so my blood was alright. So I came back and he said now go home and spend the night and come back in the morning and you can go on the racetrack. So that's what happened in Daytona in 1959.

John Roland, who built a lot of the Ford racecars, he actually worked for Ford Motor Company in a shop with him and Ralph Moody. He was running around there with these T-birds. He had about five or six of these new T-birds there with 430 motors in them and he was running around there saying, "We've got the record, we've got the record."  And I said, "What you got, John?"  He said, "We've got Fireball beat all to pieces."  I said, "Well, you ain't beat me because I haven't qualified yet."  And he said, "Well, you can't beat that."  And I said, "You just watch me. I can run faster than y'all all day!"  I went out there and ran 143 mph, tore 'em up!

I had to carry two cars to Daytona. I towed one and Charlie Griffith drove the other one. Lee Petty won the race. (Johnny) Beauchamp ran second. I ran fourth. Charlie beat me in that '57 Pontiac. So I had two cars in the top four--me and Charlie. I came back in '60 and won that race on live television. That was just for qualifying.

[What cars do you have today?] I only have the car I'm building out here, the racecar (#6 Dodge) out here and I have three little Plymouth Arrows, Dodge Arrows I call them, plus this car I'm building now.

I had to drive because I'd been telling (David) Pearson, but he wouldn't listen to us--and he had to listen to us if he wanted to win those races--and he wouldn't listen to us so Jim Pascal was my other driver and I had both cars at Richmond, Virginia for a 300-lapper. So I walked out of the motel after Jim had called me and I told Pearson, "Take your pick now, because I'm going to wear you out."  This was on Saturday night. And he says, "You ain't wearing out anybody." Well, I messed around there fooling with his car, he qualified seventh and Richard Petty qualified eighth. I went out there, I was the last place to qualify, and qualified tied for the outside pole, so it really put me in third.

I was standing up there, oh maybe back to where Richard was, seventh or eighth, and I saw David Pearson and I stood up in front and Pearson said, "Come on back here. You haven't even drove a racecar in so long you don't even know where the driver's meeting is!"  I paced it off back there and I said, "I'm just twenty-one paces ahead of you two guys now."

I beat Pearson that night by three laps. He ran second and I ran first. But he did wear me out! I couldn't lift my arms. I hadn't been in a racecar in over a year and you don't realize that you get that far out of shape, but I was out of shape.

I ran the following Sunday in Hillsboro. I led the race after the 40th lap. He beat me for 30 laps, but he didn't take time enough to pass the cars like he should, he got all that mud, covered himself up with mud, and I was riding back there with a clean windshield. He pulls into the pits with steam going sky high. And I was just sitting out there riding around, no dirt on the windshield, no mud on me at all. But right at the end of the race, the right rear--we had open rearends then, you couldn't run locked rearends--and the right rear brakes started locking up every time I touched it. You couldn't get it broke loose, except jumping back on the throttle. Ned Jarrett actually beat me the last two laps there. He won the race and I ran second. They were both up there crying--Dot and my daughter--and I said, "Well, I quit."  I didn't get back in another car. Except I had to drive to show my grandsons how to drive.

[Do you like dirt or asphalt better?]  There ain't  nothing like dirt! I was never an asphalt guy, but I set some records on asphalt. But I was broadsiding it about every ten or twelve laps and it would just get to feeling too good, you know, and I'd just carry it too far. On dirt, you can save it. On asphalt you don't save much.

[Do you have any Hemis in your garage that you don't want that I can have?]  I got some Hemi engines left! I got two dry sump engines. One of them is absolutely the last engine I built. It's got a Keith Black gear drive, only because Charlie Glotzbach HAD to have it. With Charlie, I couldn't keep a timing chain in his engine at all on the dirt track. He jumped in it with both feet! Asphalt or dirt! He'd snap the chain at the flag. So I went to gear drive and we solved our problems.

Wound up I got this engine that I built but I didn't put any heads on it because I didn't know where I was going to carry it--for short track or long track. I was originally going to put it in this '64 out here because it will be a dry sump engine.

The D-port cylinder heads, I still got some of them. That was a funny story, you know, nobody could run those D-port cylinder heads. Twenty, twenty-five horse by the time you bored them out. I don't understand why they couldn't run them. So I sure bought up their heads. They couldn't run them so I bought 'em! I bought Petty's, I bought Mario Rossi's, I bought Dick Brooks', I bought every D-port cylinder head that I could and then even Larry Rathgeb sent me the headers for them! I've got the headers yet.

I sold most of them back several years ago to Steve  Ead that works for Crane Cam company in Daytona. You can call him, you can talk to him and order cams through him in Daytona. Steve worked with me for a while, that's the reason he knew I had them. And I sold them to him, I don't know what he got for them. I believe Dean (Yeargin) back there said somebody had a set for $2,400 a piece. They've really jumped up. I believe I gave $100 a piece for them when I bought them. And I sold them for $500 or $600 a piece to Steve. But every time you'd bolt one of those heads on there, it was twenty to twenty-five horsepower, just depending on how good the valve job was.

[Did you guys have a lot to do with Chrysler's development of the 392 and 440? Did Chrysler involve a lot of drivers or engine builders to help them develop those?]  I did a lot of development work with Chrysler. We had two or three problems. We had a wrist pin problem with the Hemi when it first came out. I don't know why...if they'd left it, the pressed pin didn't give us any problems. Then they went to a float wrist pin and that was when the problems started. I lost a wrist pin lock--just the lock--in Daytona in '67. And Bob Wagner who was a Chrysler engineer that was going to be checking on everybody's engines back then, he came to my place. And this lock was right down beside the crank and the rod. It just burnt that one rod. And you could see it was burnt to this side here and just burnt a scorch on the rod next to it. He stayed there for three days looking at that engine, every piece of it, because it was flying. It could go by anything there just like it was tied (up). That was that cheater car. That's what everybody called it anyway.

And wound up, I said, "Bob, what do you think happened?"  He said, "That bearing was just too tight."  I said, "Bob, where is my wrist pin lock at?"  He said, "I don't know but this couldn't cause that."  I said, "Well, look at that rod, the way that it burnt it. Something had to take the clearance out of the side clearance on my rod."  "It was just too tight."  And he left there saying that rod bearing was too tight, after the thing had run 400 miles, and these were practices that we'd run on.

I looked at the rods and went back there and I told Ralph, "Ralph, we ain't getting any lubrication in the rod at all, to the wrist pin."  Got to the top of that wrist pin and I drilled that wrist pin a 1/8th or 3/16th hole, tapered it. We ran the next race and came back and pulled that engine apart, pulled the wrist pins out of it and it was just as quiet and pretty as when we put it in there. So that eliminated that problem whatsoever.

Then we had a problem when they came with the dry sump system. They didn't have enough clearance in the oil pump. And it would wring that shaft off every time you'd crank it up or every time you'd really put the pressure to it. At high rpm it would wring the shaft. So I knew what happened there and I fixed it.

Wound up, we went to Atlanta, Georgia and Buddy Baker was driving for Ray Fox, went to the race track and ran for two laps and lost an engine. Put another engine back in and went two more laps and lost another engine. I walked by and I said, "I know what happened there," and just kept on walking. Larry Rathgeb heard me say that. He came over there and said, "What wrong with this engine?"  I said, "Hey, you talk to Petty. I'm not supposed to know what's wrong with this engine. That's the way to find out!"

Well about three, four hours later, here comes (Ronney) Householder in. Here comes Larry and got me and says, "Householder wants to see you now, just go around there." So I go over there and Ronney says, "What's wrong with Baker's engines?"  He didn't say (Ray) Fox; he said what's wrong with Baker's engines because Baker was driving for him.

I said, "Ronney, I buy pistons, I buy camshafts--I don't use your stuff! Although you furnish me that stuff if I'd order it, I don't use it. I use Forge-Tru, I use Racer Brown cams and I use Keith Black gear drives," I said, "I don't use that."

He said, "You go round up all those bills (for parts you bought), you send me those bills and you're going to tell me what's wrong with that man's engines down there! I said, "Well, go down there and pull his oil pump off, pull it apart and you'll see it is galled."  He said, "Stay right here." He was hot! I was sitting right there in that car. He went down there and came back and he said, "What did you do about it?" And I said, "Well, you need to take that old body grinder down there and just give it two or three licks. It won't hurt it. Just get it some clearance to where that won't happen."

Wound up, he went down there and put that thing back together and went out there and set a new track record! They beat us; I ran second.

But I did have Goodyear tires on and they had Firestone. Well, Charlie (Glotzbach) got mad at me. He wanted to put Firestone racing tires on. Firestone fired me in 1966 when I won the Championship. They fired me and said Cale Yarborough and Buddy Baker were going to be their test drivers from now on and they were the only ones that were going to get tires. So I went to Chuck Blanchard and said, "Chuck, I need Goodyear tires."  He said, "I'll see what I can do for you."  He picked me up. It cost me nothing for those tires and I definitely was not going to put Firestones back on and that's what Charlie wanted me to do. Charlie really got mad at me, but yet he got mad at NASCAR later on that day and gave them the finger and they black flagged him! It just wasn't a good day for us! But anyway, Baker had to go to the rear of the field because he had to go to Goodyear. Firestones just wouldn't stand up. They were too soft and just blistered.

And Charlie, you know, he still didn't get over it because I kind of went against him to start with. But you ought to have seen that man drive that racecar that day. He went after all those Goodyears and he'd run his eight or ten laps and he'd smoke those tires all the way through those corners, I think it was about 140-150 mph back then, trying to tear those tires off. Chuck Blanchard came over and said, "What's Charlie doing?"  I said, "Trying to tear your tires up."  He didn't tear them up. They had a good tire then.

[Charlie kind of had a mind of his own?]  Oh, Charlie always had a mind of his own! He still has. But I'll tell you what, he's great. He can drive a racecar.

[Pictures that I've seen of your #6 Daytona, most of the pictures show the driver's side--like on the passenger's side the headlight door is closed--but it looks like it's mesh?]  I used that to get air to my oil cooler. I took that and put screen wire in it and it went into my oil cooler.  [Okay, I was curious whether it was for air flow]  I had the oil cooler right in the front of the left front tire and that's what cost me the Talladega race. I ran one lap too many and it blowed the left (tire), well it didn't blow it, it shredded the tread off of it. It hit my cooler. We come in and put on four new tires and went back out and spun oil all over and called my boss man over who was at that time, Gale Porter, and I said, "Gale, might as well call it back because I done knocked a hole in my oil cooler."  He said, "Oh, what do you think Baker would want to do?"  I said, "I don't know."  Me and him sat there and we talked and he said, "How much oil you got in there?"  I said, "Well, I had 20 quarts in it to start with." But that come out of it idling right there on the pit stop and that time we were turning about 7800 rpm, so with about six laps to go, that thing came apart. It lit up the straightaway coming off number four turn. He spun it and the fire went out, and I think it actually passed the flag stand.

[The openings in the tops of the fenders on the Daytona...we've heard different stories and theories on what they were actually for. Some say they were for cooling brakes, some say for tire clearance. What were they really?]  I never did really know, but we did have them open. But what they actually did, I don't really know because we had drum brakes on the thing. In fact, I don't believe I had any disc brakes on my cars all the way through '72; I think they were all still drums. We had to make everything we had back then. You couldn't buy it like you can this day and time. You can buy upper control arms, you can buy lower control arms, in fact you can buy any piece of that race car at this day in time, but we had to make it.

[Did you build all of that in your shop or did you job it all out?]  I had--in '57--when I started to run that Pontiac, I messed up one or two studs so I went down there to that machine shop and asked this guy who was a real smart machinist what was the best metal he could get to machine a hub or a spindle out of. He said it was 4140, that he could machine it real good and it was tough. I got him to get me some and he made an adapter to go over  a stock spindle and bolted it through the spindle itself and he bent me a hub to go on that spindle. That was the first, I guess, spindle of that nature back then. And then I got a hold of somebody else, and well, really didn't do anything to the rear except change axles pretty often and made a safety ring...I welded flanges on the back of the brake plate and put a ring around it. In fact, it actually saved me in '60. I believe it was '60 when I broke the right rear axle, and I coasted in to the pits on that ring. We did all that on our own. And this is the funny part of it: in 1964, when Chrysler went racing, they copied that piece! They made that son-of-a-gun way too heavy. It weighed five ton. And the hub's the same way. They could lighten that thing a whole lot better than what they did. You could pop that wall down there with it and not hurt the spindle or wheel. That's the truth. It's on that car right out there now. If you don't believe it, just pull the hub off and look. It's bigger around than it is on the outside bearings.

[What did you do for pit crews back then?]  People didn't want to come help me because I couldn't afford to pay anybody. You might feed 'em if you done real good at the race. When we went to Charlotte and we won the race, I'd feed everybody at a place, I believe it was called the Plantation, on the way back home. That was the main thing, I had one guy that worked with me all the time and I had one or two guys that would come and help me at the race track. In '57, when I was sitting on the pole there with the '57 Pontiac--like I said, I tried to get some help there to pit me--it cost me the race because I ran good all day but couldn't get in and out of the pits.

[When did you really realize what a pit crew was worth, that they make a big difference in the race?]  Oh, I knew it then, but I couldn't afford them. I couldn't afford to pay anybody to come because, uh, I believe when I won the beach (Daytona) in '57 I believe we got $2,200, I'm not sure.

[Where were the pits on the beach?] Right there on the beach itself.  [Right on the beach, not up on the road?]  Right there on the beach because it was wide enough.  [What were they, about two or three minute pit stops?]  That's how long they kept me! I was chasing (Paul) Goldsmith down when it blowed because he beat me in the pits over a minute.  [Back then, there were no air guns in the pits or nothing, was there?]  Well, you didn't have to do anything but put gas in it. Somehow or another they screwed up with what (gas) we went there with and was using somebody else's and it really messed it up. I was chasing Goldsmith over his second lap but I didn't know whether I could've got him or not because I was 16 seconds behind with 18 laps to go. I don't know whether I could've got got him or not because somebody just got in my way on the lap and I could have lost that much.

[What normally happened to your old cars when they couldn't be used anymore? Did you just re-body it or what?]  I sold Marty Robbins a Plymouth racecar and he changed it into a '72 Dodge. And Pete Hamilton's car. We made Dodges out of both of them. I sold Marty Robbins that car and that car is in the museum now in Talladega. We ran that car all the way, just kept changing. Changed it into a Magnum and I don't know what else we changed it into there at the last, but you could run three years, I believe. It ran until it could run no more and then we bought a Buick from Junior Johnson for '81. And then we took that car (the Dodge) to the museum in Talladega.

[And when you took the old seat belt off of it, what, you just trashed it?]  Just done away with it. They sell that stuff now.  [Yeah, on eBay!]

[What kind of safety equipment did you have?]  Back then....we actually came up with a roll-over valve. And we came up with a filler pipe gold valve, called a check valve. And we started that right in my shop. I had a guy there by the name of Pop Ergles who was a machinist I hired. And we came up with that right in my shop and we started manufacturing them. But Holman came up with a better deal on some company by casting all that stuff. All you had to do was drop the ball in and bolt it all together. But ours required a whole lot of machine work so we didn't make any more of them. That was the beginning of the safety valve in the gas tank that way.

The one thing I really don't know why they're not up to date on so far is I saw on two or three different occasions, people shot off this fire fighting equipment. Don't know why we cannot put out a fire with this new type of stuff that they've got by hitting a button. I don't understand that. That would be my main concern, is fire.

And I think NASCAR has gone to the extreme on roll bars. Your car has to give if you want to survive. If it doesn't crash and give, then your body is going to take it. Or your body is going to come apart. Ford told us in 1957, I believe it was 35 mph, that an unmovable object, no glancing blow either way--didn't matter if you were in a foam, a seat belt, or whatever you were in--the body cannot stand it and would come apart inside. That's what we learned and I always went by; what they told us there in '57.

[Did you have an experience with fire that caused you to develop this valve?]  Well, we have had that problem with our fuel cells. Fireball Roberts's fire came from having something in the trunk that ignited when the gas tank erupted. He had a cooler back there that cooled the rearend grease. Norris Freil threatened to send me home all year because I had mine (oil cooler) behind the driver's seat. I didn't tell him what the reason was. I figured if he was stupid enough not to know it and just let me go on, which I guess I should have told the man because this experience happened to me in 1956. Going down the back straightaway at Daytona, a man hit another car in the rear. It exploded right in front of me. I was running second to Banjo Mathews. And I just turned left; it lit up the whole highway. I wasn't going through all that fire. I turned left and went out through the infield, I don't know where I went. Anyway, when I came back down, I was facing south right off the pavement and he was facing north right off the pavement not another car length from me, just like I had run over the man. I'd been out in the infield! This other car is what did the damage to him! He was on fire and it wound up, he hit the ground before I did. I chased him out into the infield, it's harder than this floor and I couldn't put the fire out so I tore the clothes off of him and brought him up by the trailer that was sitting by the side of the road and I didn't know what I looked like. I had his flesh all over me, he was burnt that bad. But he was still conscience and talking to me. I looked around and my car had caught fire from his car. So I told those people by the end of this crowd, just keep him sitting here, he was sitting with no clothes on. I had him sitting there and I went and put my fire out and then I got into it with the policeman. He was pulling on me and we went around and around there and about that time Bill France and Joe Littlejohn came up there and France said, "What's wrong?"  I said, "This man is pulling on me and wants to carry me to the ambulance," I said, "Bill, I'm not hurt. I wasn't in the wreck. That kid over there is the one they should be taking car of. "  I didn't know how I looked. That's the reason they were pulling on me, because I didn't know I looked that bad.

So I went over there about eleven o'clock that night and he died. These people were there from Miami and he said, "I understand you ran over him."  And I said, "No sir, I did not run over him. But I know who did."  And I said, "It's better off, if he don't want to tell you that he was involved in the wreck, just let it go."  The man who ran over him....I didn't tell anyone until after he died, it was Jimmy Thompson. He was driving #71 Dick Johnson's car from Orlando, Florida. I just figured there wasn't any need to cause hard feelings because it was an accident. The battery was in there with the gas tank when the car got hit. That's the reason I would never put any fire in my gas tank compartment at no time. Fireball Roberts had that cooler in there in '64, the car was wrecked, there was a fire in there and shorted the wire out. I showed Norris Freil, after the race over there, he did all this.  "Come on over here, I'll show you something now." I carried him over there to Fireball's car, I said, "Don't want to get cocky, sir, now but just get underneath there and check and see if that wire ain't burnt all the way to the switch. The fire started from that wire."  Monday morning we had a telegraph from NASCAR that they (oil coolers) couldn't be in the trunks any more. That's just the way it goes.

My face created two safety features. Hubs on steering wheels and caution lights on the turns for an accident. That's how NASCAR has learned 99% of their stuff. They had some of it invented on their own, and this joker they got passing through inspection, I don't have time for him. He may be the smartest man in the world, but he's lost all his common sense. Because he's got so many bars sitting in and under that car, it can't give. And yet, he's not doing anything to protect the gas tank in the rear. If he wants some reinforcement in something, put it in the rear! Because you're going just like that there (and get hit), it just automatically crunches the tank. I don't know what's wrong with them.

    Shown are the padded hub on the steering wheels in Cotton's Dodge; one of his many safety features.

[I read that you were always an innovator of safety features on cars because you were always concerned with protecting your drivers.]  I was the first one to put four-way bars in the cars. (David)  Pearson gave me a bad time because 'they're too heavy, too heavy.' I don't know, but I believe he would thank me today because he was never hurt in one of my cars. I can thank the good Lord that no one ever did get hurt in one of my cars. Sam McQuagg at Darlington, was fighting with Dick Hutcherson for the lead. They tangled at the flag stand and he knocked down one of those concrete walls about the length of this room and chunks went through the Firestone tire changer's tent. I mean, took it down with him and I just sat down because I knew poor Sam was dead. Someone said, "He's running across the race track!"  And I jumped up and saw him running across the race track and man, you talk about happy, I was happy! The rollbars that were in that car didn't meet NASCAR standards. They were seamless welded moly tubing. They bent but they didn't give up. They did not break in any spots, so then after that NASCAR approved them. They were .108 wall thickness, which was more than what they required. I still use that today; it's what's in that car out there. It's a seamless rolled moly tubing steel.

[What was your favorite track to race on?]  My favorite track? Dirt!  [But was there one in particular that you went to that was a favorite?]  I guess the one I ran the best on, ever ran the best on, was in 1957 we ran in Ashville Weaverville Speedway, a half-mile high-bank racetrack. Didn't have any guard rail; it had a big high bank. But they did have some of those telephone poles posted around. They said the posts would stop anything. I said, "I don't guess they would."  I guess there were six or eight cars, running two by two, there were 40 to 50 laps to that race that day. We'd swap around and finally a guy by the name of--he was from California--Lee Davis was on the pole and was holding everybody up. Bill Amick was on the outside pole. So I went over there and pushed Bill in the back, got him a little out of shape and slipped by him and then I passed Lee on the outside. And we came around and lapped Lee and I was right behind him before I lapped him, I pulled my little flap to look at that tire on the outside there to see if I was going to make a change that day. And it looked like that thing was set up with so much tread still there and the very next lap that son-of-a-gun blowed and then into that big post I went. I guess that was one of the best races I'd ever run as far as that goes because I only lacked lapping Lee to lap the field. That's when I went to Norris Freil and started arguing for wider tires. Fireball Roberts was hitting the walls everywhere, due to blowed right fronts on the Pontiacs. Seemed to be the Pontiac that was the one having the problems. So we kept getting wider with the tires and the wheels and then Goodyear started getting wider with their tires so finally I got Norris Freil to build a cage (template) so that Goodyear and Firestone both had to go through a cage to keep the tire down to one size and then we got, I think we got out to 9 inches on the wheels to stop that problem. I think right now some of the problem they're having again is dropping the air pressure down so low that the inside of that tire is running up inside that wheel and cutting it and busting beads again then you're in the wall. I mean, that's my theory on it.

[NASCAR today is big business, but it doesn't look like it would be as much fun today for a driver as it was back in your day. What do you think?] I know it isn't! We sit out there and argue and laugh (about today's racing). I'll tell you a good one. This is true if I was holding my life. We were going on a 100 mile race...I'm sorry, it was a 100 lap race I guess. I messed up my face up in Southern Fairgrounds. We had to go in there and qualify and then run this hundred lap race. We were all sitting out there about two or three o'clock in the afternoon. Let's see, I drove two cars with Hemi engines in them. One of them wasn't my car. The other car belonged to a guy was down there in Anderson, South Carolina, a guy that owned a grill down there. I forget what his name was now, I can't even say it hardly. Anyway, I drove that car to two wins at Daytona in '53 and '54. My car, I talked to a kid at that last track and they said, "Your car is not as fast as that #30 car is."  I said, "What are you  talkin' about?  " That #30 car can outrun you!"   I said, "One of these nights that car is going to show up at a racetrack and I'm going to run two car lengths in front of him just like I'm runnin' in front of you all."  And you think I wasn't the laughing stock of that crowd out there, about fifteen to twenty (people).

We went in there and qualified on the pole. Banks Simpson qualified on the outside pole and here comes that car again, and it's about time for the driver's meeting. It just can't run. I said, "Who's driving that car tonight?"  "Curtis Turner."  I said, "Boys, there's your best. You said that car's faster than me, I'd like to see you outrun me." Wound up, I had to hound them like the devil to let that car run, because they didn't want it to run. We'd run about twenty-some odd laps, him starting in the rear and I saw him coming. But when he got up to behind Banks, Banks was running second to me. I just eased on up and let him (Banks) get in. We lit out. About fifteen or twenty laps, I lapped Banks as I went by him down the front straightaway, I just slapped him right real good. Thirty laps later I slapped him again. About eighty laps go by and I slapped him again. Two car lengths ahead of Turner, the #30 hadn't made it with about ten laps to go. I knew that car had a LaSalle transmission in it. It would go that whole front straightaway in second gear. I had a little old Ford pickup transmission in mine so I had to get on it and go pretty strong. So I went all the way down into the corner and just jerked it back into high gear and literally jerked the left rear wheel off of it. Just pulled it all the way off. It could  have been coming off all along but I just didn't know it. That car went into the lead. He got the green flag after they got me out of the way and everybody missed me. I don't know how, but they did miss (hitting) me. He broke the crankshaft going off the number two turn in that other car. Banks won the race. You talk about overhead valve engines, you ought to have seen Dutch Pollard Friday night, I mean Saturday night--Friday and Saturday. I don't know how they got a hold of overhead valve engines that quick but they had them.

[Who's the craziest driver you ever dealt with? I mean funny crazy, like you're always talking about the guys pulling pranks.]  You always had quite a few pulling pranks. Joe Weatherly was a good prankster. He had pulled on Curtis Turner a lot. Tiny Lund was a big one. Course I could say anything, they're all three dead! I really don't know a lot.

[What about one of the Flocks with that monkey that you were talking about the other night?]  That was Tim. He was a showman. Fonty was more wild than he was, I would say. He drove in Bermuda shorts and a funny hat, in a parade before the race started. He was something else.

[Who was the orneriest and meanest?]  I guess it had to be the Thompson brothers. The one who ran over that boy with the #71 car. When me and Speedy hit it, I ran over Speedy one Sunday afternoon. I didn't mean to but I hit him pretty hard. Then he hit me back hard. Then we got out and scuffled a little bit and we shook hands and called it quits. I really did hit him. I didn't know the man was stopping in the car and I was running wide open. I had started in the rear that day because I broke the gear shift off in practice and they had to go get me a gear shift and back then, finding something on a Sunday morning was pretty hard. But I went over to Speedy and we shook hands and we were real good friends after that.

[In that Legends video, they were talking about towing the cars from one race to another race, leaving on a Friday night and race somewhere else on a Saturday. Did you tow the cars on their own wheels? You didn't have trailers?]  Still back then, I guess Bill Strum from California really showed us the way to get it, but we didn't pay any attention to it. But he came out here, in the '54s and '55s, with Mercury teams. he had them on trailers then. But nobody else had them; we was just flat towing them. Wound up, in '57, I go to Nashville, Tennessee to race with a Pontiac, and I popped the right front. I popped that fence again and put the motor up beside me, and Neil Castles was the only man out there with a trailer. And I went up and told Neil, "Let me tow your car home and you haul mine."  Because that's the only way I could get it home. There just wasn't no way. So that told us all that we needed trailers to bring these cars home on so from then on we began to get ways we could haul 'em or carry them. Neil Castles had got one of those trailers off Bill Strum and that was the way to go. We'd have been out there three or four days trying to weld stuff up underneath that car of mine because I did put the engine up beside me. That guard rail was railroad ties. That's all it was. I had an experimental helmet. A man actually gave me helmets to test. I got to experiment with almost all of them!

[You didn't have driver's uniforms or any of that kind of stuff during that time, did you?] I drove in skivvies and my dungarees! Or white pants. We didn't have any of these fire-retardant deals. Fireball had to get a....it's funny he died of fire...when he actually had a doctor's prescription keeping him from dipping his clothes (in fire retardant). So they started there in the end, after I quit driving, they had some solution that they would dip the driver's--whatever it was he was going to drive in--in this solution. And he had gotten a doctor's certificate that he didn't have to have it. But yet he got burned to death.

[How many 1969 Charger 500s and/or Daytonas did you actually own?]  Two cars of the 500s that I actually raced with. Then I bought the car that they used to make up the car (Daytona) with that you saw in the magazine. I bought that car. It was stolen out of California. It was brought to me. I carried it to Detroit. They cut the nose off of it and made the needle nose car and then I bought it back, fixed it and then I bought a nose that Neil Castles wrecked going across the Daytona Speedway in, I guess it was '69. He had a white 500, and I bought it from Chrysler. You know, they loaned us cars back then. So I'd say all together, four of them total. I just got through building that, I guess four or five years ago, I had two or three of those kits that we put in it back there; we sold them now. I don't have another one. I sold the last one. I really gave it to a friend of mine, Rodney Daniels out of Detroit. The car is in Spartanburg. It's a 500 now, but it's really just a '69 Charger. He's making a Hemi-powered car out of it. I don't know if he's going to put the wing on it or not. So far, he's just got it as a 500.

[You've got a Daytona in Darlington, don't you?] The car at Darlington is that red #6 (Daytona) with the black rims. That's my car at Darlington. In Spartanburg when we started racing, this is the beginning before NASCAR, and I guess you could say we helped form NASCAR, because Ed Samples won our Championship in 1946 and Joe Littlejohn gave him a new Oldsmobile for winning the Championship. And somebody said that year that NASCAR got $200, I believe, or $300 for their champion. Then France came to Spartanburg real often because we'd been so successful. We had anywhere from twenty to thirty cars at every race track we were running. We had real good crowds. So Littlejohn got in with France, which they were friends before the war because he (France) raced there for Littlejohn then.

And Littlejohn gave us to NASCAR in 1948. He gave us to them and I still stayed on as an Outlaw, as I ran all the local tracks. I didn't join NASCAR for a while unless I had to.

If Darlington doesn't have a crowd, that racetrack won't be there anymore. And if the racetrack goes, I believe the museum will go. So I'll bring the car back to Spartanburg because we are trying to get a museum there. That's where it all started. As little as people realize this, they haven't been told this too much, Spartanburg is where it began. At one time, we had twenty race teams there. We had them all. We had Buck Baker, we had Speedy Thompson, we had Tiny Lund, we had Tom Pistone, people we've done forgot about....we had them in Spartanburg. Because they called it "Race City", so if we could get that museum there we'll have those cars from Darlington that had poles. And they're working on the museum now.

[Cotton took me to the museum site about a month and a half ago and it's going to be something to see.]  It's an old cotton mill. And right beside it, they're filling it in and we'll have a third floor. And then underneath of it, they're going to put in restaurants and they're going to put a whole deal in there, and make a little shopping center out of that cotton mill. The sports shop is still going to stay and I think they're going to have a museum-part of the (original) cotton mill underneath the second floor.

***POSTSCRIPT: This speech by Cotton Owens was made in September 2004. In December 2005, we saw Cotton's #6 Daytona offered for sale on eBay.

Above left to right: Cotton the mechanic works on his racecar;  Cotton sits atop the Dodge with his crew;  Cotton's #6 Daytona that Buddy Baker drove; Buddy Baker poses with the Daytona;  Charlie Glotzbach poses with Cotton's #6 Charger.

Cotton Owens tunes his show-go car. The chrome air filter cover and valve covers are for show but the 426-cubic-inch Hemi engine Cotton is tuning is strictly for go. The 1964 Dodge, which traveled across the country for auto show and dealer appearances, is now among Owens' stable of racers ready to roll to duty if one of the 1965 racers is wrecked. 

 

In this photo, Cotton Owens and Eddie Allison work on a racecar. 1963 Chrysler Photo

 



Here is the top view of the 1963 Dodge engine compartment as it looks after it is set up for the NASCAR racing circuit. There is a single four-barrel
Carter carburetor and a special heavy-duty carburetor air filter. Notice at the left a special bracket holding a fuel filter. Larger fuel lines run to the carburetor to handle increased gasoline flow. Cutaways on each side of the engine compartment are required to provide clearance for the long heavy-duty multiple shocks. The radiator is also of special make with increased capacity, heavy-duty brass tubing and a heavy-duty core to combat dust and clogging. Notice radiator hoses have been reinforced with electric tape. The battery box is reinforced. Hose extending at bottom of picture near battery, leads to oil cooler in front of radiator. 

The engine compartment, here ready to receive the 426 Ramcharger, clearly shows extra plating and reinforcements on the frame rails and unitized body. The K-frame is reinforced and rewelded . The right torsion bar (to the left in the photo) is heavy-duty and clearly larger than the left side (right in the photo) which will receive less punishment under racing conditions. Longer, heavier shocks, two on each side instead of one in regular passenger car, extend through cutaways into the engine compartment. A large capacity fuel filter is mounted on a reinforced bracket at the left. Running to it are larger diameter fuel lines.

 


This is an inside look at the enlarged oil pan used on the 426 Ramcharger engine on Owens' Dodge race cars. He has baffled it on the right side along the pan rail in the well, on the right side and in the back to assure even oil distribution despite centrifugal force in left turns at high speed. 

 

 

 

This is the way Cotton Owens mounts heavy-duty racing shocks under the 1963 Dodges which will be in competition on the NASCAR circuit this year. Using tie rod end type fasteners instead of the standard rubber bushing, the shocks are attached to a special reinforced beam crossing below )the housing and welded to the spring brackets. Notice there are two shocks on each side instead of one. The reinforced, vented axle housing can be seen in the background. The metal "U" strap, shown in bottom center background, is a safety feature to prevent the driveshaft from falling in case of universal joint failure at high speed. 

 


Upper rear shock mounting. The upper mounting is a steel beam which is anchored to the body structure at both sides and in the center. The dual shocks extend into the trunk area to allow increased travel. Shocks are inclined to provide added lateral stability for the rear end of the car. 

 

 

 

 

The NASCAR-approved racing radiator is shown at left in comparison with the stock 1963 Dodge radiator (right). Notice the racing radiator is of heavy-duty brass construction. It has larger capacity for extra cooling under high-speed conditions. The deflector rings on the NASCAR racing radiator help protect the core from fan damage in case of minor speedway accidents. 

 


This is the view of the right front suspension system on one of Owens' completed 1963 Dodge racers, looking in from the front. The two shocks are angled in to absorb the force of the weight being thrown on the right front on constant left turns during races. Upper and lower control arms are reinforced with plates and welds. Part of the K member is shown at right with extra welds and plating to help stiffen the chassis. An adjustable strut runs from the forward portion of the K member to the lower control arm. Heavy-duty steering linkage can be seen at the bottom of the picture.


To protect the rear axle housing against rocks and other obstructions, a shield (upper left photo), made of 1/4-inch mild steel, was installed over the housing. Protection for rear spring hangers was furnished by welding gussets, also made of 1/3-inch mild steel, to the hangers (upper right photo). Tapered gussets help car ride over rocks and provide added strength to hangers and shock mounts. In lower left photo, disc brakes replace the standard system because they have more resistance against fade after repeated braking. Hub is 30 per cent larger than standard. Shocks are heavy duty. At lower right, a sway bar, similar to that used in circuit racing, is welded in four places to K-member. The sway bar gives the car more stiffness and control is tight turns. Also shown is the deep well oil pan and protective cover plates for the headers.  Dodge News Bureau

 


Here the rear axle is modified from the street set-up. It shows how simple things were made back then. Note they used drum brakes.

 



The special stock car racing tire, right, dwarfs the standard passenger-car tire at left. The 7.50x14 standard tire has a five-inch tread width and is fitted on a 5 1/2K rim. The racing tire 8.20x15, has a tread seven inches wide and runs on a 8 1/2K rim. The wider tread provides more traction.

 


 


Wheels make a good comparison of standard vs. racing equipment. The standard 14-inch wheel at left has a 5 1/2-inch rim width. The 15-inch racing wheel at right is 8 1/2 inches across at the rim.

 

 

This view of the end of the racecar door shows that the stock door lock contents have been removed and plate locks added.



 


 

)Racing brake shoes, on the left, are made of heavy duty material and have sections cut out to aid in cooling. Stock street car brake shows, on left, are ordinary bonded material.

 


 

Cotton Owens left nothing undone when he set up this 1964 Dodge race car for national tours as this network of heavy-duty roll bar protection proves. Now that millions of auto fans have seen the car in cities from coast to coast, it is ready for the race track as a back-up car.

 

 

This is the rear interior view of the Owens-built race car showing roll bar construction. The bars must be 1 3/4-inch OD. Here they are braced top and bottom. Note they are bolted to the unitized body rather than welded. This way Owens was able to get strength of all plys of metal into roll bar foundation. This picture was made before addition of foam-rubber protective padding behind driver.

 

 

 

Cotton Owens, left, one of NASCAR's top race car builders, discussed his new roll bar design with driver David Pearson. Owens went beyond existing rules and added an elbow-high bar after two NASCAR drivers were killed in driver's-side crashes this year. From: Carolina Dodge Dealers Association

 


 

Here David Pearson, who will drive one of the Owens-built Dodges on the 1963 NASCAR circuit, is surrounded by safety. Sturdy roll bars, padded with foam rubber, cage him into a bucket seat. Padded S bar at his right side helps hold him firmly in seat against centrifugal pull in left turns in addition to providing more protection. Heavy-duty safety belt is bolted to body members. Notice fire extinguisher in bottom of picture within easy reach of driver. Power-type extinguishers are compulsory in all NASCAR-approved race cars.

 


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