For roughly five minutes last Friday night, it was not music from the honkey tonks that was heard along Lower Broadway. It was the roar of a racecar.
Ronny Robbins, the son of country music legend Marty Robbins, hopped behind the wheel of the 1964 Plymouth Belvedere, fired the ignition and temporarily drowned out the sound of all the dreamers who would love to emulate the latter’s success on stage.
The din was music to the ears of Ronny Robbins, who nearly half a century ago as a teenager helped build the car in the shop on the family farm in Franklin, and to NASCAR legend Ray Evernham, who roughly two years ago acquired what was left of the long-forgotten machine and painstakingly brought it back to life at his state-of-the-art North Carolina facility.
“We went as far north as New Jersey and as far west as Iowa to find parts for this car that were correct,” Evernham said. “We wanted to salvage as many of the pieces as we could and then build it exactly like they had.
“… I was always a big racecar fan so I knew about Marty Robbins the racecar driver before I knew about Marty Robbins the singer. It was, ‘Wow, that guy sings too.’”
It was appropriate therefore, that Evernham brought the car to Nashville last week for its first public appearance since the restoration.
It was parked in front of The Stage under a purple cover. Inside a panel discussion with the central players, including local racing historian Al Jones, who sought to restore the car in his own right until he crossed paths with Evernham, served as a prelude.
Finally, the familiar purple and gold paint scheme was revealed and the engine was fired to the equal delight of members of local racing community as well as surprised tourists who basked in an ad hoc bit of country music history.
“I love the old music. I love the old cars,” Evernham said. “Then the more research I did on Marty — in his day, he was the man. He could hold his own with Elvis and any of them guys. He had an unbelievable string of hits.”
The plan was for the car, which features the number ‘777’ and the name ‘Marty Robbins’ on the sides, to be showcased the following night during Marty Robbins Night at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. As part of that event, Ronnie Robbins was to drive it for several pace laps.
The hope was to create some publicity for and to celebrate the history of the beleaguered facility.
“When I first met Al we talked about it,” Evernham said. “Right then and there I tried to buy the car and he told me about what was going on with the Fairgrounds and what his plan was for it. I just knew at that point that we needed to restore it and bring it back here. I promised him at that point that we’d put it back together. I promised him we’d bring it here and put it back on the racetrack.”
Rain postponed last week’s night of races until this Saturday (first race begins 5 p.m.), but Evernham and the Plymouth were unavailable to return.
Marty Robbins Night will go on, though. Jones will be on hand to discuss Robbins’ legacy in the sport and the restoration of the car.
“Daddy has been gone 31 years now … time marches on and a lot of time people get forgotten,” Ronny Robbins said. “It’s just neat to see that there’s so many people that still remember him and are still touched by his music and a lot of people by his racing.
“He wasn’t the greatest racer in the world but he loved doing it and he loved the sport. He did everything he could to promote it when he was running here at the Fairgorunds and then when he stepped up to what was then Winston Cup.”
Even though racing was his passion rather than his profession, Marty Robbins competed 35 times in NASCAR’s top division over a 13-year period. He finished in the top five once (Michigan, 1974) and in the top 10 six times.
Likewise, Evernham promised that last weekend’s appearance was not a one-off for the machine that Robbins drove in those races. He plans to explore other opportunities to bring it to town.
“Maybe the CMAs,” he said. “I want to see it honor Marty and then we’ll figure it out from there. We’ve talked about doing several things with it.
“The most important thing is it’s got to be where people can see it and appreciate what it stands for.”
Last Friday night it not only was seen, it was heard.