The Man With No Name In NASCAR.
To celebrate the 4th of July I've decided to do an Article about a Blue Collar, Hard Working, Good Ol' Boy American Con Artist!
I've looked over to my calendar to see that today is the Fourth of July, which is American Independence Day. This is a day where everyone in America celebrates all that is good about America, Freedom, Gun Laws, Coca Cola, Bic Macs, V8 MOTORS, Baseball, Apple Pie, Rock and Roll and quite a lot of ingenuity from the 500 Million that live there. But how did James Pumphrey of Donut Media put it? "They say the two most American things are Baseball and Apple Pie. Well news flash for ya! Apple Pie was invented in England and Baseball is boring! So what is the most American thing? Fricking NASCAR Man!" And because a lot of people are doing their own motoring related Independence Day Drivetribe posts, I've decided for my contribution to be possibly my favourite NASCAR story.
Richard Petty may have won 7 Daytona 500s and another 192 NASCAR wins. And Dale Earndhardt and Jimmie Johnson may have won 7 championships. But I'm going to talk about a driver whose name is unknown. And I mean it, to this day no one has any idea who this guy was. The name on the side of the car read L.W Wright, and that is all anyone will ever know him as. Back in the early 80's it was quite a bit easier to enter a professional Motor Race, so as long as you had a sponsor, a car, a helmet and a knowledge of driving you'd be allowed to enter a NASCAR race. And at the 1982 Winston 500, a Confidence Trickster decided to take full advantage of this.
In April 1982 a man named William Dunaway of Hendersonville Tennessee contacted the local Newspaper about a promising young driver named L.W Wright who had just declared his entry into the Winston 500 at Talledega. Wright claimed to have started 43 Busch Series races and been racing all throughout the previous decade. However, no one had heard of him, no one had ever seen him race and he was only announcing his entry into the race just a week before the race. Wright then submitted a check of $115 (around $400 in today's Benjamin's and Jefferson's) for a competition license. Which is a little weird for a man who had already started 43 Busch Series Races. But then again the right to work laws of NASCAR said that if he could come up with $100 for the entry fee and provide a working capable car, then the officials had to let him race. If it was that easy I'm surprised there wasn't a lot more "Stingers" like this in NASCAR's history.
After all of his mechanics had got their mechanic licenses, (How on earth did the "Mechanics'' need licenses?) Wright then wrote another check to Bernie Terrell for a good quality car, a big rig truck and trailer and a further $7,000 to cover expenses. It was here were suspicions on Wright were being raised. How was a man with no sponsorship able to scribble down so many checks? The car he eventually found was a Chevy Monte Carlo from Sterling Marlin for $30,000, half of which was paid in cash and the other half was paid in Wright's best friend The Bank Check. Marlin even followed Wright and his team down to Talledega to serve as his crew chief. Do you believe it or not? After finally arriving at Talledega Wright wrote a flurry of Check's for Racing Jackets, Spare Parts, Tyres and Fuel. All up Wright had written at least 10 Checks, but had produced hardly any cash.
Things began to take a turn for the worse with Wright as his so called sponsors claimed "They had never heard of the guy." When Wright was asked in a Newspaper interview about the involvement of his sponsor and his racing career he admitted he had participated in Sportsman class races that took place at Grand National tracks, but not in a Grand National race. The suspicions had now gone all throughout the paddock and where now rumours. His own team manager Sterling Marlin even expressed his own suspicions about Wright's behaviour at the track. He was constantly asking Marlin questions that no driver would ever ask.
A news paper clipping from the day of Qualifying when Wright stuffed his Monte Carlo on his Qualifying lap.
For Qualifying day, Wright bumped his Monte Carlo into the wall. The damage was minimal and thankfully (for Wright at least) he was allowed to start in 36th Position. Which is really not where a driver who has driven a lot before should be. ESPN broadcast the race all over the US and Wright wasn't able to really even be shown during the broadcast.
There's old L.W on the formation lap of the race. The only time the commentators would mention him was when they were showing the Grid Positions and Drivers who had retired from the race. Even when he was black flagged they didn't mention his name!
On race day there was 4 laps of running before an accident with David Simko brought out the caution flag, and the pace car was out on the circuit for the next 6 laps. Then after 4 laps of Green running and Jeff Bodine, Darrel Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt and Terry Lobotti dicing for the lead, good ol' L.W was black flagged with charges of going too slow. The commentators for ESPN had the following to say.
After that minor moment, Wright returned to the pits and collected his participation reward in the form of $1,545 or $2,856.78 in todays money. And by the time Darrell Waltrip won the race and was in Victory Lane soaking up the rewards, L.W Wright had already left. Leaving behind his car, his crew and all the equipment he'd bought. And now the rumours had been confirmed, L.W Wright wasn't all he claimed to be. In fact he had lied about everything, his name was probably a lie as well. To the surprise of no one L.W Wright had just swindled his way into a race for North America's biggest Auto Racing League, and nobody had thought to maybe do a back round check on the guy. Bernie Terrel was quite rightly miffed having just been conned out of $10,000 to Wright. It was later revealed that the checks which Wright gave were invalid; South Central Bell and Wright's landlord received bad checks worth $700 and $4,500. Though he had left the track he was still on NASCAR's list. Terrell and NASCAR hired a private investigator to track down Wright and all of his money that he had collected.
But guess what, L.W Wright was never seen or heard from again... Ever! He'd gotten away with it all. To this day nobody knows who the kid from Hendersonville was, or is. In the end though whilst other NASCAR drivers would have their name's in the hall of fame, and people will remember them for years to come. But there will be one man who will be remembered whom no one know will ever know his name.