Balladeer Marty Robbins is probably best remembered for the tremendous catalog of songs he recorded including ”El Paso” and “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation”. He would tell people repeatedly however, that he was as passionate about his auto racing as he was about song writing.
Born in Glendale, Arizona Robbins became enamored with racing at an early age. He followed the exploits of local standout Jimmy Bryan and the Bettenhausen family back at Indianapolis. When his musical career took him east to Nashville, Tennessee he found himself in a hotbed of short track activity. He attended a micro midget race in 1959 and officially launched his driving career shortly thereafter.
Typical of most racers, Robbin’s desire for more power soon led him to the V-8 powered hardtops at Nashville Speedway. 1962 found him piloting a magenta ’34 Ford coupe with a Thunderbird mill built by Preacher Hamilton. He used the vehicle to promote his new record album “Devil Woman” and even featured the car on the album’s jacket. It was in Nashville that Robbins established a huge fan base. He was a regular performer at the Grand Old Opry and on the popular 5/8th mile oval. He was known to pull off the racetrack early at times to traverse town for a live singing engagement. He always put his music first, understanding that one passion financed the other.
He evolved into a Mopar guy and in a corrugated tin garage behind his home, built his own modified using a ’64 Plymouth Belvedere body and a huge displacement Hemi engine. The engine was so large in fact, that once installed, there was no room for the radiator so he mounted it in the trunk. (The “777” car was discovered years later and restored by Ray Evernham for his television show “Americarna”).
The sixties were kind to Robbins and his wealth afforded him the opportunity to move up to NASCAR’s premiere division (what today would be the Monster Energy Drink Series). He purchased a ’71 Plymouth which Cotton Owens had constructed for Petty protégé Pete Hamilton. Robbins had the car reskinned as a Dodge and raced it for the first time in the Alamo 500 at Texas World Speedway. Owens maintained the car for the following nine seasons while Robbins tested his skill at all of NASCAR’s greatest venues: Daytona, Talladega, Michigan and Charlotte. He earned the respect of his contemporaries and all agreed that he had become a very capable racer. AII tolled he amassed thirty five career NASCAR starts. His best finish was a fifth in the Motor City 400 at Michigan in June of 1974. The event had particular significance to Robbins as one of his idols, Gary Bettenhausen finished directly in front of him.
A history of cardiovascular disease was what ultimately brought Marty Robbins down- that and his age by the time he reached the professional ranks. He drove in his last race, the Atlanta Journal 500 on 11/7/82 and died after open heart surgery the following month at the age of fifty seven.
Once during his rookie season, Robbins had stunned officials by turning in race laps that were fifteen miles per hour faster than he had qualified. At the conclusion of the event, NASCAR attempted to present him with honors but he stopped them in their tracks. He admitted to them that he’d cheated by messing with his carburetor.
“I just wanted to see what it was like to run up front for once,” he confessed.