HUT STRICKLIN (No. 23 Hills Bros Coffee Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Growing up in Calera, Ala., Hut Stricklin's mother, Vivian, was known as a dare devil. She encouraged her son's love for speed and shared in it with him. She still watches her son...
HUT STRICKLIN (No. 23 Hills Bros Coffee Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Growing up in Calera, Ala., Hut Stricklin's mother, Vivian, was known as a dare devil. She encouraged her son's love for speed and shared in it with him. She still watches her son race, mostly on TV now, and continues to give him pointers and support.
"My mom was pretty much a speed demon and dare devil herself. Her whole family had grown up around cars. They didn't race, but a lot of her family owned wrecking yards around Birmingham. My mom and dad each owned one. My mom's was in Calera and my dad had one in Pelham, Ala. They were about 15 miles apart. Mom was always a hard worker. At the time, my dad worked for the railroad trying to make ends meet, while my mom ran the wrecking yard. Once it got up and going where it could pay the family bills, dad quit the railroad and started working at the wrecking yard.
"I ran my first two races in 1977 (16 years old). When I was growing up, if I wanted a motorcycle, my mom was like 'yeah, get a motorcycle. That sounds like fun. I'll ride with you.' Mom was opposite of most moms. She was always behind me, encouraging me to do a lot of things. I bought a used Honda 350 from a guy. I'd never even drove a motorcycle, just a mini-bike. The first day I got it, mom hopped on the back of it with me and we took off down the road. She was always that way. She was a Tom-boy type mom, and she always encouraged me to keep going. It was just and my older sister Diane and me.
"I went home and took the mufflers off the motorcycle. I drove it through town, and it was killer loud. A cop pulled me over and gave me a warning for illegal mufflers. I came home and put the mufflers back on it. I told mom I got stopped for illegal mufflers. She said it wasn't too loud, and I said I knew that. She said, 'come on, I'm going to ride it down there with you and we're going to show 'em it's not too loud. I had put the mufflers back on it. We went back down there and you could hold it just about wide open and it wasn't too loud. She couldn't figure out why they'd never come get us. She thought they were just picking on me. I didn't tell her what I had done until about a year later.
"We had brought a brand new wrecker. Sometimes she'd drive it. It had an incredible low gear. I thought it was so cool. You could drop the clutch and light up both rear tires and it had dual wheels on the back. It would leave four tracks, skid marks. For three weeks, I drove it to school and light up the tires when I left school. It kept breaking axles. Mom carried it back to the dealership and told them they had defective axles in it..She did that for three weeks straight weeks. One day, a friend of ours, a highway patrolman, was sitting at the end of the road when I left t. I was spinning the tires, and he pointed his finger at me. I was hoping he wouldn't tell mom. Sure enough the next day, he told mom. She figured out why we kept having the defective axles. She took my wrecker license away for awhile.
"My sister was more conservative. She really wasn't into the dare devil stuff. Early on, I just always liked the motorcycles and the real fast go-karts. Mom even let me get a go-kart one time that ran about 130 mph. That thing was really fast. I had to get rid of it because I did have enough sense to know I was going to kill myself on it if I didn't. She wouldn't get on the go-kart.
"She was always wide open when she drove a car. To this day, and she's 70 now, I'll never know how she keeps her license. She's had her share of speeding tickets. She's probably had as many as I have, without a doubt. I think that's where I got my need for speed. My dad (Wayman) introduced to me cars. By having a wrecking yard, we had a wrecker, and we could go to races for free. We'd take the wrecker and go pull the wrecks off the track. After doing that for four or five years, my dad started driving himself. I just kind of picked it up from him. He was very good on short track stuff around Alabama. When it came to the quarter-mile or three-eighths mile tracks, he was the king. The bigger the track, the better car you needed. He didn't really have a lot of funding to make it. He had a pretty bad wreck in '75 and almost got killed. He was on a quarter-mile race track and the throttle stuck on him going down in the corner. He hit the entrance to the pit gate. He had a lot of internal stuff torn loose from the impact. He came back and ran a few races, but that was about the time I started driving and he didn't care much about it when I started driving.
"Mom will come to Talladega and Atlanta now, and occasionally she'll get a wild hair and go to some far away place. She loves going, but she's working around home and taking care of some family members, so she doesn't get to go like she once did. We won't be able to get together for Mother's Day, but we talk all the time on the phone. She'll call me up regardless of how I do in a race. Even when I do bad, she'll tell me I did good. That really means a lot. You need to hear positive, especially when you have a few down weeks. You need to hear that from someone you respect a lot.
"She was like I was when we didn't make Daytona this year. She was about in tears when I talked to her. She knew how important it was to me. That's the one thing I always noticed about her. When I hurt, she hurt. It means a lot to have somebody like that behind you. She kids with me sometimes. She'll tell me she's going to come somewhere because we run good there. I kid with her and tell her she doesn't need to wait to come somewhere that I run good.
"About the last five or six weeks, our whole race team has been getting better and better. Everybody is more confident in each other and I'm more confident with them, they're more confident in me. We've got a lot more unity now than when we started the season. We all do things together now, and we're all one unit now. I don't care how smart the people are or whatever, if they don't have that bond, success is not going to happen.
"I'm comfortable with the Dodge now. I would have been the same way coming here in any car. The car these guys build are so much better than anything I've been in in a long time. The hours they spend in the wind tunnel, getting the cars balanced right, the aero, the brakes, whatever are so much better than anything I've ever had. It's taken me awhile to get used to the feel. We know how are car is aerodynamically and we know how our engine is. We know what spring to put where. We know we're not trying to overcome an aero problem or whatever. That's been a plus knowing you don't have to worry about things like that. I'm more comfortable in the cars. I know what I'm feeling now and it seems like when we can communicate that, we make more progress.
"It helps us when Ward and his team do well. We know we have the same stuff and we see what can be done with it. We know we have the stuff capable of running as good as they are. We've got all the ingredients. We've just got to mix it up and get it fine tuned.
"It seems like to me we're getting better every race. The over-the-wall crew is better. Our whole team is better. We've got some good tracks coming up. Charlotte has been good for me, and we're looking forward to going there, but we're looking forward to going everywhere. I'm a little concerned about Sears Point. I'm going out there to school this week and hopefully figure it out. I'll be out there Tuesday and Wednesday.
"I'll probably try to catch up on my farm next weekend. I've got so much to do. We're trying to build a new barn and put up a new fence. I've got a corral I need to build to get my cows in there and give 'em shots. I've got a couple of guys who'll help me, but I like doing that stuff. It's very relaxing for me. It takes your mind off everything, and I enjoy doing that better than playing golf or anything else. It's hard work, but it's a good kind of work, and I really enjoy it."