CORNELIUS, N.C.— Kansas Speedway is Larry Phillips country.
If you haven't heard of Larry Phillips just ask Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Kenny Schrader or any of the NASCAR crew members from the area around Phillips’ Springfield, Mo. race shop and they’ll tell you all about him.
Some will call him one of racing’s greatest drivers.
“Anyone who raced against him will remember him,” recalled Martin. “He was unique. He was fast, won lots of races and beat a lot of people with slower race cars. That says a lot about him.”
Martin also remembers him as a racer who hired him to work at Phillips’ Performance Parts in 1975 just after high school graduation.
“The first day I was there Larry threw out a bunch of steel on the workbench and he told me to build some upper A-frames,” recalled Martin. “I really couldn’t weld. But I tried. I don’t know if he could have ever sold them, but I did them.”
Martin worked on Phillips’ race cars during the week then raced against him on Friday and Saturday nights. He learned a few lessons along the way.
“Larry would try every trick in the book and he caught me once when I was a teenager,” recalled Martin. “I was running second to Larry, but so much faster than him. I had him beat. There was a restart toward the end of the race. He was riding around with his hand out the window with a cigarette in it. I had no idea there was one lap to go before the restart.
“He threw the cigarette down and took off and I was not ready. He had lulled me into thinking there were more laps left. He threw it down, jammed the gas and drove off. I didn’t catch him in time.”
Martin took consolation losing to Phillips who died of cancer in 2004 and was named one of the NASCAR Weekly Series All-Time Top 25 drivers in 2006.
“He pulled that trick on a lot of other people over the years,” Martin laughed.
Phillips’ 24th-place finish in the 1976 Ontario Speedway race was his only Sprint Cup appearance. Could he have succeeded on the highest level?
“I think so,” replied Martin. “But, Larry was only going to do it on his terms.”
Source: Michael Waltrip Racing