Scanner Chatter 1960 Champ Rex White talks Hall of Fame and More
28 career wins, 36 poles, a championship, and a remarkable 163 top 10s in only 233 career Cup starts. This is the sparkling career record of the driver of the famous gold No. 4 Chevy, Rex White. White learned from NASCAR one week ago that his name would be one of several that the NASCAR Hall of Fame added to its nominees list. The 83-year-old celebrated the news Saturday afternoon by signing autographs for fans – and selling the first-ever 1:24 die cast of his own car – at Love’s Racing, a small, but robust racing memorabilia shop in Lawrenceville, Georgia. White explains how he received the good news from NASCAR.
“I got a call from NASCAR Media Center at noon Wednesday and they asked if I would be available for an interview around 7.” He says that after that conversation he figured there would be good news about his becoming a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee later. However, he didn’t find out officially until the rest of the world did. “That’s all I knew about it, until I seen it on television.”
White’s career, like him, was short, but strong. He only ran for the then-named NASCAR Grand National championship in three of the nine years he competed at NASCAR’s highest level. But he was a force those years, winning six races and the title in 1960, seven races and 2nd in 1961, and eight races and nine poles en route to 5th in the standings in 1962. At one point in 1958, White won four-straight poles. He also won one NASCAR Convertible Series race in 1959. But manufacturer support in this era of NASCAR is akin to multi-million dollar corporate backers these days. When Chevrolet chose to no longer back White and his team, his days running for championships ended. He retired suddenly just a couple of years later, running his last NASCAR race in 1964 at age 34.
Hampered by polio as a kid, White had a tough-as-nails childhood on a farm, as his father pushed him to work the land despite his disability. As much as parents coddle kids now, this sounds ludicrous. But eventually he overcame that and began tinkering with cars and then racing them. Standing only 5’4’’, White never let his previous impairment or his size keep him from standing up to the competition. It did keep him from confronting drivers when they wronged him on the track.
“I really wasn’t built for fighting, because of my size.”
Smiling as he recalls some wild stories of days past, White tells how drivers settled spats back then.
“Probably years ago, there was more fisticuffs involved with it. Now they don’t quite as much. Logano even threw a water bottle at Tony – that’s not fightin’.”
White is referring, of course, to the fight a few weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway, spawned by Tony Stewart’s complaints about Joey Logano blocking him on a late restart. Did drivers gripe about the same problem in White’s day?
“Racing hasn’t changed any, as far as that is concerned. You get cut off, you get wrecked, you get spun out – your blood pressure is gonna go up, you’re gonna have words with people. That’s been going on for years.” White says that NASCAR rarely, if ever, broke up a fight. He even recalls a story of the police holding back crew members from breaking up a fight, because they knew it would put more people in the stands. But as the sport grew and television became involved, “It took years to kind of dress up the sport.” He added, “Racing has really changed so much. About the only thing that hasn’t changed is that they still go counter-clockwise and they haven’t changed the green flag and the checkered flag. They’re probably going to change that, maybe.”
An idea discussed often lately, particularly by SMI Chairman Bruton Smith, is slowing down the racecars to make the racing better. He’s not the only one that feels that way.
“I don’t think the average fan would know the difference would know the difference between 195 and 185 miles per hour. And if the cars slowed down, it would probably put on a better show.”
The big show for White hopefully will be his going to Charlotte one day to accept a NASCAR Hall of Fame nomination. The nominating committee votes in five people each year, but really only three drivers get the nod. White takes pride in his stats, but knows getting in this year may be tough.
“Really, actually, there’s only one spot open. There’s three drivers that go in each [year]. Fireball [Roberts] is gonna go. Jerry Cook is gonna go in as a Modified driver. That only leaves one spot.”
The Riverdale resident has to compete with new nominee Dale Jarrett and White’s former on-track rivals Curtis Turner and Joe Weatherly, among others. And White is glad to represent Georgia on the nominee list, joining car owner Raymond Parks and his championship-winning driver Red Byron. He may not make the Hall of Fame this year, but already has his guest list together and will gladly accept the award. He would put the Hall nod alongside his 1960 championship and his superspeedway win in the 1962 Dixie 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“If I get in, it will be one of the biggest wins of my career.”
White won $223,511 in his entire career – over $45,000 less than Carl Edwards got for finishing 3rd place in Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. He retired early from racing and worked blue collar jobs. Now he receives accolades every now and then – such as his induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega Superspeedway in 2011. But he doesn’t live the large lifestyle that today’s Cup champions – even today’s 30th place drivers – live. His biggest reward is the interaction with fans far and wide, such as middle-aged die cast collector and WSB listener Randy, six-year-old aspiring race announcer Eric, 18-year-old Gresham Motorsports Park Mini Stock driver Eric Czechowski, and twenty-something racing nut Jake Kitchen, all of whom sought autographs from the NASCAR champ at Love’s Racing. Take some time to support, read about, visit, and even meet one of NASCAR’s hidden treasures right here in Georgia.
Hear Rex White’s interview in full, including how he broke his jaw after wrecking Lee Petty. http://wsbam.media.streamtheworld.com/audio/scanner_chatter_1960_102275261.mp3