A day draped in black: Tiny Lund loses his life
Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2010
First of a two-part series on DeWayne 'Tiny' Lund, killed 35 years ago in a Talladega 500 crash. Lund, named one of NASCARs 50 greatest drivers, is among five of this years nominees to the National Motorsports Press Association Hall Of Fame in Darlington, S.C.
Its a date that forever will be draped in black in NASCAR history.
Aug. 17, 1975.
Thats the day that one of stock car racings most colorful and popular characters, Tiny Lund, lost his life in a crash at Talladega Superspeedway.
The accident happened just eight laps into the Talladega 500 at the 2.66-mile track then known as Alabama International Motor Speedway.
There was contact between cars in heavy traffic coming off the 33-degree banking of the second turn.
Suddenly, eight of the cars were spinning and colliding in a cloud of dust and smoke.
"Tiny came by me backwards," said J.D. McDuffie, tragically destined to lose his own life in a wreck on Aug. 11, 1991 at Watkins Glen, N.Y. "Someone then hit Tiny. I dont know who."
Lunds Dodge skidded through the grass alongside the track, then looped back onto the asphalt. The drivers side of the car faced oncoming traffic.
Rookie Terry Link, unable to take evasive action, slammed into Lunds door, caving in the cars protective cage. Lund was unconscious, but alive, when an emergency crew removed him from the car. But 10 minutes after arriving at the infield infirmary, he passed away at age 46 from massive chest injuries.
Link, just-turned-23 and a rookie making only his third start on the leading NASCAR tour, was hospitalized with facial cuts. He never ran another race at that level.
Lunds fellow competitors and thousands of fans were stunned by his death. The general reaction was, "Oh, God, no! Not big ol lovable Tiny!"
Lunds nickname was a misnomer. The native of Iowa stood 6-6 and weighed about 275 pounds.
He was a 20-year NASCAR veteran. He listed only three victories on the sanctioning bodys major circuit, but one of these was the Daytona 500 of 1963. That win remains perhaps the greatest storybook racing triumph of all time.
Prior to the running of the 500 in 63 NASCAR star Marvin Panch flipped a Maserati sports car while testing on the infield portion of the road course at Daytona International Speedway. The car landed on its roof and burst into flame. Panch was trapped inside.
Lund was standing nearby, along with several other spectators. The men rushed to the scene. Tiny, exerting the great strength of a giant, almost single-handedly lifted the car to an upright position. Panch was pulled out. He had sustained serious burns.
The injuries forced Panch from the Daytona 500. He asked his team owners, the Wood Brothers, Glen and Leonard, to put Tiny in their Ford. They complied, and Lund won the race. It was his first victory at the leading level, and was to remain his biggest triumph.
In addition to the Daytona 500 trophy, Tiny wound up with another great award: A prestigious Carnegie Medal for heroism.
In bitter irony, Lund wasnt supposed to be in the field at Talladega. He hadnt qualified.
However, the 500 was rained out on its original date, Aug. 10. On. Aug. 9, Gene Lovell, crew chief for driver Grant Adcox, had suffered a fatal heart attack while working on the teams car at Talladega. A grieving Adcox withdrew.
Lund got in as an alternate, making his first start since 1973 in what was then called the Grand National Division.
He had been racing in a NASCAR sportsman series and stood second in that circuits point standings when he was killed. Tiny had finished fifth in a sportsman race at Hickory Speedway on the eve of the Talladega 500.
Tiny enjoyed splendid success in NASCARs Grand American Division for smaller cars, winning 41 times and capturing national championships in 1968, 70 and 71. He triumphed 10 straight times in 1970, including a victory in the Dogwood 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Lund claimed another championship in 1973, this one in the NASCAR Grand National East Division.
The victor in the ill-fated Talladega 500 of 75 was Buddy Baker, a close friend and frequent fishing companion of Lund, owner and operator of a sportsmans facility on the vast Santee Cooper Lakes near Cross, S.C. Lund once held the world record for landlocked striped bass with a 55-pounder he caught on the lower of those impoundments, Lake Moultrie.
Baker, who edged Richard Petty by about three feet at the finish line, came to the press box for the winners interview unaware of the tragedy at the start of the race.
Told of Lunds death, Baker paled, dropped to his knees and appeared to lose his breath.
Buddy had to excuse himself for several minutes to regain his composure before continuing the interview.
"This is as bad as it gets," said the shaken Baker. "It takes all the joy out of winning this race."
Baker was among the dozens of drivers, crew chiefs and team owners at Tinys funeral on Aug. 19 at the small, ivy-covered St. Michael Lutheran Church in Moncks Corner, S.C., not far from the lakes Lund loved and where he made his home.
The church couldnt come close to seating all those attending. So loudspeakers were positioned outside, where dozens of mourners stood in 90-degree heat, listening from the shade of long-leaf pines and oak trees draped with Spanish moss.
Tough men wept openly. Not only racers, but grizzled Santee Cooper fishing guides like Capt. John Sellers.
As the service ended drivers and other competitors lined the steps and sidewalk at the church, paying tribute as Tinys casket passed by, followed by his widow, Wanda, and young son, Christian.
To say the scene was somber is understatement.
The mourners included Panch, the Wood Brothers, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Neil Castles, Jim Vandiver, Elmo Langley, Joe Frasson, Darel Dieringer, Morgan Shepherd, Butch Lindley, L.D. Ottinger, "Little Bud" Moore, "Big" Bud Moore, Ralph Moody, Buck Baker, Stan Starr, Tom Pistone and Jack Smith.
Also there were Big Bill France and Bill Jr. of NASCAR, along with officials Jim Foster, Lin Kuchler and Bill Gazaway.
Promoters Humpy Wheeler and Joe Littlejohn were present.
Such was the esteem in which the fun-loving Lund was held.
"People from coast-to-coast are touched and are here paying homage," Rev. John E. Wertz proclaimed during the service. "Tiny had a heart bigger than his imposing stature."
Touched most of all was Panch.
"If it wasnt for Tiny, I wouldnt be here," said Panch.
Said Yarborough: "I bet Tiny made a million dollars in his life, considering all the short track races he won. And he gave it away to somebody he thought needed it worse than he did."
Added Wheeler: "If Tiny had five cents, hed spend four of it on someone else. Down-and-out drivers often stayed months for free with him at the fishing camp he ran on Santee Cooper."
As Lund was laid to rest a thunderstorm threatened to break the drought that had parched the S.C. Lowcountry for almost a month. He was buried next to a lone, massive oak tree.
The racing folks present then departed with resigned urgency.
Another race loomed at Michigan International Speedway, and even with the death of a friend, the show went on.
"Tiny would be the first to go along with that," concluded Wheeler.