|WOODY: Racing icon, Marlin, slows down, looks back
|Posted: Sunday, July 8, 2012 5:46 am
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|After decades of running in circles, Sterling Marlin is finally slowing down. Well, sort of.
"I'm starting to take it easy," Sterling said recently when asked about the status of his racing career, which currently consists of running an occasional amateur-level race at the Nashville Fairgrounds. "I still enjoy racing, but just for fun. I don't miss the (NASCAR) Cup stuff one bit."
Sterling, 55, spends most of his time working on his Spring Hill farm and helping grandson Sterlin, eight, with his go-kart racing.
"I built him a little track out back and he's really into it," Sterling says. "He's going to be a good little racer."
Throughout a big-league career that began in 1976, no driver was more popular with fans than Sterling, with his dry wit and down-home demeanor.
And now, after decades of success in all levels of stock car racing, nobody has a better perspective on the sport and some of its issues.
During our recent chat he offered his views on various topics:
• James Finch, the colorful team owner for whom Sterling once drove, on the hiring of trouble-prone Kurt Busch: "James is a great guy who's been in racing a long time. He knew what he was doing when he hired Busch," Marlin said.
"Busch is a good driver but he's had some problems off the track and James has laid down the law. Driving for a no-nonsense owner like Finch could be just what it takes to straighten out Busch."
• The Matt Kenseth mystery; why the defending Daytona 500 champ and current championship points leader is leaving long-time team Roush Racing: "It's a big surprise because Matt has been so successful with that team for so many years. But they haven't been able to get a sponsor this year for whatever reason, and I guess Matt decided to give it a try somewhere else."
• Big money: "In NASCAR that's what it's all about. If you don't have a lot of money, you can't race. That's why sponsors get to call the shots. The days back when drivers like my dad (Coo Coo Marlin) could build himself a car and go racing are over. Nowadays a lot of teams spend more on one race than he spent in his entire career."
• Missing NASCAR: "I don't miss it a bit. I haven't watched an entire race all season. Sometimes I'll turn on the TV and watch part of one, and that's about it. Once I quit driving I lost interest. I still miss being at the tracks and seeing all the people, but I don't miss the racing. It got to where it was all about money and politics and it just wasn't fun anymore."
• The Fairgrounds: "I hope they can keep the old track going after this year (when the current lease expires). I think Tony (Formosa, track operator) has done a good job. During the first race of the season I looked up at the grandstands and they were packed. It looked like the good old days. That should send a message to the people in charge that there's still lots of potential in the track. But there is a group of people determined to shut it down, so we'll have to wait and see."
• His grandson Sterlin, who could become a fourth-generation Marlin racer: "He's really into it, just like I was when I was his age. Right now he's driving his go-kart, and eventually I'll build him a car and let him run it in some lower divisions. I get a kick out of puttering around with him. We have a lot of fun together."
• Racing regrets: "None, really. Oh, I'd have liked to have had a better car during those last three or four years that I ran NASCAR. I felt like I could still win races if I had a capable car, but I guess every driver thinks that. So no, I don't have any real regrets. I had a good run."
Larry Woody can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.