Floyd County native Curtis Turner accomplished many things on and off the track in his NASCAR career but fell short, once again, in balloting for a place in the racing series’ Hall of Fame in Charlotte.
Danville’s Wendell Scott, the first African-American driver in NASCAR, made it, along with Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen and two-time champ Joe Weatherly, a former boyfriend of my mother and the motorcycle racer my future dad beat in a street race in Norfolk for the right to date her in 1945.
Turner, who died in a plane crash while scouting timber locations in 1970, won 360 races in various racing series, including 22 in the old Convertible Series of NASCAR and 17 in the Grand National division that is now the Sprint Cup.
An early part of the team that built Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1960, Turner was forced out by his partners in a business dispute and banned from NASCAR for a while after trying to unionize drivers.
But he came back, as he always seemed to do, won more races and developed a legend as one of NASCAR’s most colorful drivers.
As a young reporter for The Roanoke Times, I interviewed and photographed Turner, who was driving then for the legendary Wood Brothers racing team in Stuart.
Asked how he knew if he was driving fast enough, Turner said: “If you feel like you’re in control of your car, you ain’t going fast enough.” The quote was later incorrectly attributed to Indy Car racer and one-time Formula One champion Mario Andretti.
When asked about his reputation as a hard partying driver and drinker, Turner said: “Hell, I get all the sleep I need waiting for a traffic light to change.”
In 1967, he became the first driver to qualify at Daytona at a speed over 180 miles per hour.
Turner became a member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2006 but has yet to make it into the NASCAR one.
My late mother also dated him during her (and his) single days.