That's Racing: Last ride for Marlin?

Monday, November 16, 2009 at 1:05am
Marlin celebrated his Daytona 500 win in 1995.

Sterling Marlin plans to run NASCAR’s Nov. 22 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and then, after more than 30 years of life in the fast lane, he’ll probably hang up his helmet.

“Will I miss it? Yeah, in some ways,” said Marlin, 52, who raced his way out of the Carter’s Creek tobacco fields and into international fame with back-to-back Daytona 500 victories in 1994 and ’95. “But in some ways I’ll kinda be glad when it’s over. The sport has changed. It’s not much fun anymore.”

Marlin attended his very first race when he was just 2 weeks old. His mom, Eula Faye, held him in her arms while his dad, Coo Coo, banged his way around Fairgrounds Speedway. The roar of racing engines became his lullaby.

By his early teens Sterling was behind the wheel, following in the tire tracks of his dad and uncle, Jack. He won everything there was to win in Nashville.

At 18, he made his debut in the big-league Sprint Cup Series and he hasn’t slowed down since.

Until now, that is.

Sterling has spent the last few years struggling with second-tier rides — the kind he was forced to accept throughout the first 17 years of his career. When he finally got a good car, he broke it in by winning the Daytona 500.

Now he’s back where he started, trying to make a slow car go fast and keep up with the superstars that his daddy always called “hot dogs.”

When Sterling was just starting out I wrote a story titled “The Prince and the Pauper.” I compared self-reliant Sterling to fellow racing teen Kyle Petty whose famous father had given him the world.

Sterling’s mom didn’t like the story. “We’re not paupers!” Eula Faye declared. “We may not be the Pettys, but we’re not paupers.”

I explained that I meant “racing paupers” but I don’t think Eula Faye bought it. (Her “pauper” son would go on to win more than $40 million in NASCAR gold.)

Those were heady days, fun days, watching colorful Coo Coo in his prime and following the rapid rise of his talented son. It seems like just yesterday Sterling was a tow-headed kid tagging around the track after his dad and dreaming big dreams. Today he’s a grandfather preparing to ride off into the
racing sunset.

He now spends most of his time tending the Maury County farm he yearned to escape as a youngster. The one-time terror of Daytona now drives a tractor.

But Marlin has been to the top and basked in the bright lights. And if it’s over, it’s over — no complaints, no regrets.

He has lived his dream.




Woody is a Nashville sports writer who has covered racing since the early 1970s.