Pioneer Frank Left His Mark on Racing

Larry Frank, a former NASCAR racer and ex-Marine, died this past week in Piedmont, S.C., at the age of 80.

Former NASCAR driver Larry Frank, who passed away this past week at age 80, had a colorful but abbreviated racing career. — NASCAR/GETTY IMAGES
Former NASCAR driver Larry Frank, who passed away this past week at age 80, had a colorful but abbreviated racing career. — NASCAR/GETTY IMAGES
For those who are too young to remember, or not well-versed in NASCAR history, Larry Frank made an indelible mark on the sport in 1962 when he was eventually named the rightful winner of Darlington Raceway’s Southern 500. Hall of Famer Junior Johnson received the checkered flag on Sunday afternoon, but an overnight scoring recheck revealed Frank as the winner.

It was the only race Larry would win during his colorful, but abbreviated career. To writers of Larry’s day, stock car racing was still trying to gain acceptance in newspapers, on radio and television (there was no Internet at the time). He was probably one of the most popular drivers on the circuit. He always had time for the media in a period when stock car drivers, other than Richard Petty, didn’t have much to say.

Larry always had something to say and when he and racing buddy Tiny Lund got together, you could have opened a comedy club on the spot. Lund, a Daytona 500 winner, was a big fella (6-5, 260 or so) and dwarfed Larry in size, but Tiny always said he’d rather tangle with a pride of lions than his pal Larry Frank.

It was only fitting his lone victory came at NASCAR’s toughest track because Larry Frank set the standard for toughness in a sport that definitely required it during his racing days.

Evernham Ponders Return

Ray Evernham, the crew chief who helped Jeff Gordon win four NASCAR Cup championships, said he would like to return to NASCAR. But for those fans who think he might again take on the role of Gordon’s crew chief, Evernham said that wouldn’t happen.

But he did tell Michael Smith of SportsBusiness Journal that if he can clear up some legal issues he would like to return as an engineer or project manager for some team, preferably with Gordon’s or one of the other Hendrick teams.

“Sure, I get the itch a lot to return,” said Evernham. “ Part of my NASCAR consulting with Richard Petty Motorsports is exclusive. It’s a non-compete. Once we get that settled, I’d love to help Jeff Gordon or Rick Hendrick. I’ve always felt like that place is home to me. I have no interest in going 38 weeks a year sitting on top of the pit box. I was a crew chief before in my life, and had a great run with Jeff Gordon, but I’m a project guy now. Let me help figure out how to make a car go faster or how to straighten out a driver’s head. Give me a project.

“Economically, it’s harder on everybody, no matter if you’re Rick Hendrick or Tommy Baldwin. Even Rick has had to squeeze his people and watch his headcount and watch his spending.

“The business model of multiple teams works if you have sponsorship. The problem is that you’ve got these teams trying to run multiple cars, and they’ve only got one car sponsored. The other cars just drain the one that has sponsorship. Over the years, teams have taken on a lot of overhead, they’ve built their own cars and engines. The shops went from 30,000 or 40,000 square feet to over 100,000 square feet. Drivers’ salaries skyrocketed, crew salaries skyrocketed. That overhead is tough to maintain.

“Now there are a lot of empty buildings and a lot of people who were making six figures walking the streets. If it wasn’t for (owners) Rick Hendrick, Joe Gibbs, Jack Roush and Richard Childress, the sport could be in real trouble. They’re winning a majority of the races, and they’re holding it together.

“Unfortunately, I see the teams in the future being owned by multiple partners. To start something these days, you’ve got to be like the guy from Red Bull and have a gazillion bucks. NASCAR’s got a lot of work to do to say, “What is the sport going to look like 10 years from now?” They’ve got to keep the costs down, keep a strong hand on the way things are run, and not be too greedy.

“NASCAR is going through a little bit of an identity crisis at the top, and at the same time the economy went in the Dumpster. We hit a peak, it’s coming down, and it’ll go back up, but not at the same trajectory.”

When asked to give his thoughts on Dale Earnhardt, he replied, “I’d sit and talk to him, ask him what he thinks. I’m a little bit surprised and amazed they didn’t run any better. Dale Jr. has the talent to drive, unquestionably. He’s got the equipment. So what does he feel is missing? It’s got to start with him because the team revolves around the driver.”

Racing Trivia Question: Who will drive the No. 82 Red Bull Toyota in this year’s Budweiser Shootout?

Last Week’s Question: How many Cup teams will Roush Fenway Racing have in 2010? They will have four, driven by Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and David Ragan.

For more sports news, pick up a copy of The Ellsworth American.


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