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Paying their Dues

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing

Paying their Dues

Joe Dudas
September 15, 2007

This article is a response to a question posed in Random Lugnuts: Paying Dues?

"Paying their dues" is a phrase that for the most part can not be used in today's modern day NASCAR. It's a phrase that started to fade when Jeff Gordon entered the then Winston Cup, though I am not blaming Gordon. Gordon came up fast. USAC was one thing but NASCAR was the place where if you wanted to be a driver you had to gain your experience by working in the shops, sweeping floors then progressing to other responsibilities in the garage. You helped build the engines, made the framework, while you were racing your own cars in NASCAR's sub divisions. Cars that were a far cry from what we see today. In my neck of the woods we called them jalopies. If you had a chance to race in the big leagues it was with a lower tier team with little or no support. It might be 3, 4 years before you got a better team, and years before you got a top 10 ride. Most of these guys didn't come up and start racing In the top tier till they were in their late twenties and early thirties. These guys had a family to feed and it meant having a full time job, then working on their cars at night and racing on the weekend.

There were no 19 or 20 year old boy wonders. Car owners with the money would not give a young driver a chance to race their race cars. They had to "pay there dues first".

That driver you mentioned that won the champion in his second year? That was his second FULL year He had been racing in Winston cup for years before his first full year. It was just that he ran races when he could catch a ride or some lower car owner would give him a chance. That drivers first race car was in 1970 and it was a 1956 Ford. He raced it on the dirt tracks around Charlotte. It took him five years after that (1975) to finally make it into his first Winston Cup start at the age of 24. That year he only started one race and only a total of 8 races until his first full time ride in 1979. And, as they say, the rest his history.

Today's drivers have a rocket express to the big leagues. They are set up with the top owners and teams and some of the best equipment right from the get go. Everything is handed to them at the start. Except in rare instances, nobody pays their dues. Now if you're 39 yrs old you're considered being too old, not marketable to the big corporations.

By the way that driver you talked about who won the championship in his second year? He believed in the "pay your dues" so much that he applied it to his son when he wanted to race. His son's first full time cup ride was in 2000 when he was 25 yrs old. He would turn 26 that October. His daddy wanted him to pay his dues first!

God Bless his Daddy!



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