Long-time official Pete Babb a fixture in NASCAR Busch Series Veteran addresses his career, series' evolvement in special 'Q&A' DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 2, 2003) -- Pete Babb has seen it all, literally, when it comes to the NASCAR Busch ...
Long-time official Pete Babb a fixture in NASCAR Busch Series
Veteran addresses his career, series' evolvement in special 'Q&A'
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 2, 2003) -- Pete Babb has seen it all, literally, when it comes to the NASCAR Busch Series. A 76-year-old official with more than 50 years of service to the sanctioning body, Babb had worked every NASCAR Busch Series event until earlier this year, when he missed the April 5 event at Talladega Superspeedway due to the death of his mother-in-law.
Babb was born April 30, 1926 in Chesapeake, Va., where he still lives with wife, Elsie. He's been a chief steward at several tracks, including Langley Speedway in Virginia, where he worked for 12 years, as well as Princess Anne and Chinese Corner Speedways in Norfolk, Va. He worked every race in every division at Richmond International Raceway for 31 years. He's also worked in what's now the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, and has held nearly every job there is to have in the NASCAR Busch Series, including flagman and inspector.
Babb recalls a time when inspections consisted of a lone body template, as opposed to more than 30 today. He once was responsible for checking carburetors, and used one gauge. Now, there are five in use.
Babb is considered to be the longest-tenured and oldest NASCAR employee, according to Jim Hunter, vice president of corporate communications for the sanctioning body and a long-time friend of Babb's.
"I have never met anyone in NASCAR or involved in NASCAR who didn't like Pete Babb," Hunter said. "That's hard to say, because when you're a chief steward and you're involved in the inspection process, you're going to make people mad from time to time. But you never hear anybody say anything bad about Pete."
Following is a transcript of a "Q&A" session with Babb.
Q: Today, what are your responsibilities in the NASCAR Busch Series?
Babb: [NASCAR Busch Series Director] Brian [DeHart] says I'm the garage supervisor. That consists of coordinating the parking of the trucks. Anything that moves in the garage, I'm supposed to know about it. I have to help with garage sign-in, and the garage tours. Mostly, I'm just taking care of things in the garage.
Q: Is the word "retirement" in your vocabulary?
Babb: The reason I keep doing it is because I don't even know who lives next door to me, but I know everybody out there [in the garage]. I don't have an enemy out there ... not one. I've had a lot of fun.
@#Q: How did you first become involved in racing?
@!Babb: We had a Saturday night show at home called Princess Anne Speedway, and I started attending. Pretty soon, I built me an old car and was running jalopies. My first wife talked me into quitting, but when I quit, NASCAR had started coming into that area. They asked me if I wanted a job, and I've been doing something with them ever since.
@#Q: When was your first race with NASCAR?
@!Babb: 1948, I believe. I'm not exactly sure. The first race I remember working was Hillsboro [N.C.] Speedway. It was a mile, high-banked dirt track. Man, that was some race track.
I'll never forget ... [NASCAR founder] Bill [France] Sr. was working the tower, and I had just bought two of these little ol' cheap walkie-talkie radios, the first radios I ever saw around racing. I put one in the tower and put one in the pace car. When Bill Sr. called the pace car, the guy in the pace car had gone to sleep.
Bill Sr. said, 'This damn thing ain't no good,' and he threw it out of the tower. I said, 'Wait a minute, sir. That's my radio.' He said, 'Don't worry about it. I'll pay you for it.' And he did. That's one of the first races I remember working.
@#Q: Who are some of the characters you've known in racing?
@!Babb: Jim Hunter ... he's my best buddy. It would be hard to pick out one. Junie Donlavey, he was one of the characters of racing and one of the greatest men I ever knew. I remember him before he came to Winston Cup ... or Grand National ... racing. He used to come down to the track that I operated that was called Chinese Corner Speedway. That's a track that [Joe] Weatherly and [Paul] Sawyer promoted.
@#Q: What's your best Tommy Ellis story? Virginia native Ellis was the 1988 NASCAR Busch Series champion, and was widely known for his fiery temper.
@!Babb: Tommy Ellis used to come to my house on Friday night with the other teams, and we had parties. Saturday night, I'd have to fine Tommy Ellis. There was no other way, but to fine him, because he'd done wrecked somebody. But he'd be right back to my house on the next Friday night. He would tell you right today I was the best friend he ever had in racing, because if I got one of [the competitors involved in an altercation], I got them both.
He and Sonny Hutchens used to get into it every week. I wore Len Cooper [then the executive director of NASCAR] out. Every week, I'd get Sonny Hutchens and Tommy Ellis. I had to drive to Richmond, Len would have to fly to Richmond and we'd have to meet in the hotel and hold court on them right there every Monday morning because of something they'd done that weekend.
@#Q: How would you describe your management style?
@!Babb: I don't think you're going to find anybody that'll say I wasn't fair, or tried to be. If I got one, I got them both. A fight isn't one-sided. It takes two people to fight. My wife proved that to me.
I take drivers and talk to them, tell them to keep their nose clean, what they should do. I don't try to tell them how to drive a race car, because that's not my job. I just try to tell them how to conduct themselves, what's right for them, what's wrong for them.
@#Q: What would your schedule be like, running a local track and working with divisions higher up the NASCAR ladder?
@!Babb: When I ran Langley Speedway, I'd run a Saturday night show and then I'd drive all night to get to [Darlington] or to Charlotte. And I used to run a race [at Darlington] on Saturday, leave and go to Myrtle Beach and flag another Late Model race that night.
I came [to Darlington] one time, and [fellow NASCAR official] Johnny Norton and I drove all night. We got out there and Carl Hill [the NASCAR official then in charge of garage sign-in] says, 'I ain't got no more pit passes. You're gonna have to buy one.' I said, 'Here's $15.'
I came over to [Bill] Gazaway [then the Winston Cup director] and said, 'Bill, I don't mind driving all night working for you, but damn if I'm gonna pay for it. They charged me $15 for a pit pass.' He said, 'Let me
see them.' He took [the pit passes] and tore them up. I said, 'Wait a minute, that's all I've got.' He got it straightened out.
@#Q: Tell me about working at Langley Speedway.
@!Babb: The track had a lawyer, and the lawyer's son was racing. I was running the tower, so I penalized the lawyer's son. The promoter, which was ol' Joe Carver, came running up there and said, 'You can't do that! That's our lawyer's son!' I said, 'I don't care who it is.' The lawyer came running in there, and I had to get security to throw him out while I was running the tower. We had a hell of a time.
I penalized him, so Joe Carver wanted to get me out of the tower. He didn't want me directing races no more. That was on Saturday night. Monday morning, I went back to the race track and they had remodeled an office over the weekend that had my name over the door, 'General Manager.' They took me out of the tower and made me general manager.
@#Q: Working at Langley was a family affair, wasn't it?
@!Babb: My wife worked there. She did the sign-in. She went up and did the scoring, and then came back and did the pay-out.
@#Q: Bob Bahre had a wild show at the quarter-mile Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine.
@!Babb: Oxford is a track that Bob Bahre ran before he built [New Hampshire International Speedway]. I was flagging there. We didn't have a flagstand. We had a mound of dirt in the infield, and you climbed up on the mound of dirt. That's where you flagged from.
That was a funny race track. If you qualified in the top 20, you pitted on the race track's pit road. That's all it would hold. If you didn't, you'd go off the race track in turn one, go behind the barn and pit. You'd come back on the track in Turn 3.
@#Q: Earlier this year at Daytona, you received an award from NASCAR President Mike Helton honoring you for more than 50 years of service to NASCAR. Bill France Jr. was also in attendance. What did that mean to you?
@!Babb: It meant that they knew I was still here. I'll tell you a story about Bill Jr. I know he's known my name for years, but he'd never actually said it. The second year we were at Homestead, I was cooking some hot dogs between the trucks. He walks up and says, 'Pete, can I have a hot dog?' He knew my name then.
@#Q: You worked the old beach and road course at Daytona, didn't you?
@!Babb: Yeah, that was one of the first years. I worked at Hillsboro and then went down there. I've actually drove on the beach road course, on the 'Flying Mile,' the way they used to qualify. You had two miles to get to speed, a mile [in which to be timed] and then two miles [to slow down]. I thought I was really doing something. I had a 1937 Chevrolet, hopped up. I went through the trap at 131 [mph]. A guy from Nashville, Tenn. named [Bob] Reuther ... he was flying. I wasn't even in the race. He had a Chrysler. You used to go down there and pay a dollar, $3 or whatever and run your own car through there.