Earlier this week, we caught up with, Buz McKim, a gentleman that has one of the coolest jobs in the motorsports industry: Historian at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina. Now, if you're a diehard NASCAR fan with a good breadth of history under your belt, you may know Buz' name from the early part of his career, during the 1970s, when he designed paint schemes for a number of cars in NASCAR's premier series – including back-to-back Daytona 500 winners, Benny Parsons and David Pearson in 1975 and 1976.
A lifelong NASCAR fan, Buz was introduced to the sport at a young age through his father who was involved in PR and announcing. An enduring passion for the sport in tow, Buz would later go on to become the Director of Archives for the International Speedway Corporation in 1999 and later, in 2003, Coordinator of Statistical Services for NASCAR's PR Department.
These days, the wealth of knowledge that he's acquired over his decades of involvement in the sport has landed him one heck of a unique job title, as the aforementioned Historian at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Appointed to his current position in 2007, Buz is integral in curating many of the artifacts that make up the numerous exhibits at the Hall.
We talked to Buz about a wide range of topics related to the creation of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and its aforementioned exhibits. However, with the Daytona 500 having just passed, we wanted to talk to Buz about the race's historical significance in the sport, as well as some of the legends who have managed an ever-so-elusive spot in the winner's circle at Daytona.
So, join us for Part 1 of our informative interview with Buz McKim today, and make sure to come back next week for part 2.
Leonard Wood was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next to his replica 1963 Daytona 500-winning car. Buz, you actually helped paint the replica that will be featured in the Hall. How long did it take? And what did it mean to you to have the Wood Brothers call on your expertise to letter the car?
I just happened to be at the right time and right place. I broke out my old sign- painting brushes, took them out of retirement and it worked out well to be a part of that whole thing.
What did it mean to Leonard Wood to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next to his replica 1963 Daytona 500 winner?
It was amazing. The Woods are such a remarkable family. It was a major celebration last year when Glen went in. It was an all-family deal. It was about the family. It wasn’t Glen’s induction. It was the family’s induction. And Leonard even made the statement that he was so glad that Glen went into the Hall of Fame first. There was no ego. There was no jealousy. They’re so amazing and so appreciative and so giving and so easy to work with. It’s something to see. Like a Norman Rockwell type family.
It was Leonard’s idea to go ahead and do this replica for the Hall. The Daytona 500 this year falls on the 50th anniversary of the win, which is pretty remarkable. They got that win because of course, Tiny Lund was an excellent driver, but it was the expertise that Leonard put into that car. They ran the entire 500 miles on one set of tires. They never changed a tire in 1963. They were able to get incredible gas mileage and he made one less fuel stop than everybody else. It really put Leonard on the map as far as being a mechanical wizard and then add-in the incredible pit stops they were doing and Tiny was destined to win that race. He came to the racetrack with no car to drive and literally 17 cents in his pocket.
And then after Marvin Panch was injured in a sports car wreck and they put Tiny in as a substitute and he became the Cinderella of NASCAR. It really was a proper choice for that car to go in the Hall here. It took all of Leonard’s talent. They faithfully replicated that car to a T, and to a point where the straps on the rear window glass had to be re-done. Well the black electric tape that they wrapped those straps with went in two different directions, the right went one direction, the left the other. Well they were both wrapped incorrectly at first in the reproduction. They noticed in another old photograph, “wait a minute, wait a minute, the tape is going another way on the left hand side strap!” so they re-taped it so the tape would be exactly like it was in ’63. Then there was a support bar that was mounted next to the driver’s seat. It was covered with foam padding and then wrapped with electrical tape. That was standard procedure back then. But there was one section on that bar on the original car where the tape didn’t cover the foam rubber and the foam rubber stuck up a little bit, well they rewrapped that bar exactly the same and had that foam rubber sticking up at the exact same spot and angle.
How long did it take them to create the replica?
I guess they had been working on it since right after Leonard has been announced for the Hall of Fame Induction that was in May 2012. When Tiny Lund was assigned the car, they had Marvin Panch’s name still on it, so they covered over Marvin’s name with duct tape and then Tiny’s name was lettered on the tape. And if you look at pictures of the car, you’ll see that gray tape. It was 3-inch tape and it took them MONTHS to get the right size tape. They tried all kinds of different things, like using a magnetic strip and putting the tape over the top, that didn’t work. Then they bought bigger tape and tried cutting it down and that wasn’t right. That was one of the biggest headaches of the whole reproduction deal. Getting the right size duct tape because that size isn’t made anymore. It was absolutely a labor of love. They really pulled out all the stops to get it correct.
Len gave me a call and asked if I’d be interested in painting the car and I said “Are you kidding me?! Of course!” over the course of a couple of weekends, I’d go up on a Saturday and Sunday, it took one complete weekend and then I went back the second weekend and handled all the rest. In the 1970’s I was working freelance artwork for the Purolator Corporation and I designed the color scheme on the Wood brothers paint job in 1974 and I had never met them. The Woods were bringing out the new model Mercury Montego in 74 and Purolator was coming out with a new logo. So they thought lets blow this out of the water, new body style, new logo. Well the Woods were very resistant to change. They were winning a lot of races and didn’t want to change anything. So I had to come up with a design that was good and happy for everybody. Some minor changes. Finally came up with something everybody could live with, and the Woods ran that color scheme for many years so I thought that was really nice of them.
I had never really met them until the late 1990’s when Mr. Wood would come in the Archive Department when I worked in Daytona. It’s kind of like, wow, 40 years later and I’m back doing artwork for them. (laughs). In fact David Pearson won the Daytona 500 in 1976 with my color scheme. I just had moved to San Francisco working for a new company and the furniture hadn’t gotten there yet so we went down to the mall and sat in the Sears watching the TV, that’s where they had the crash at the start-finish line and Pearson limped across the line with my paint job and I about came unglued in the middle of a Sears. It’s been a very interesting ride with these Wood Brothers! There were a couple of fellas in the shop that did the basic building. Leonard was on board for every phase of it. He was the details guy. There was another fella who did the paint and body work. It was a group effort. I know Len Wood was very much involved too. If anyone had a few spare minutes, they’d jump over and help mess around with the car.
The whole team was on board with Leonard there every step of the way. They worked off of photos and recollections. Luckily they had tons and tons of photos of the original car. What’s so funny too, they thought the car was just about done and somebody came up with another picture of the car that Fred Lorenzen drove the car at Riverside California in January of 63 and during practice he rolled the car over and he got off the track and hit some soft dirt. So they saw on the photograph, there was paint that covered the fuel tank under the car and that there were 2 shocks mounted on each rear wheel of the car. Well Leonard didn’t have the pan over the fuel tank and only 1 shock mounted. So here when everyone thought the car was about done, here this photo shows up and “Oh my… look at this… we have to mount another shock on each side.” It’s phenomenal. When you’re standing in the Hall of Fame looking at it you think you are in a time warp. Nothing has changed.
What did it mean to you to be asked to help on the car?
Len (Leonard’s nephew) called me. I just jumped at the chance to be associated with them on a personal basis. It was really, really cool. And it means a lot to me. And to have it on display for the whole year right here in the Hall of Fame, it is just really, really nice. It’s amazing. When I was a little goofy kid growing up in Daytona, I never dreamed of actually being associated with the Wood Brothers.
What did it mean to Leonard when the race team he created in 1950 got another Daytona 500 win (in 2011) with the youngest Daytona 500 winner in history, Trevor Bayne?
You talk about a high from that! It had been awhile since they had won some races. Folks are wondering, golly, maybe the Wood Brothers are going to get a resurgence and sure enough everything fell into place that day and what a fantastic, memorable moment for the history of NASCAR. And it certainly gave resurgence to the Wood Brothers team. Heck, they have five Daytona 500 wins and 12 Daytona wins altogether. You know what’s interesting, this year, everyone going into Daytona, everyone has a blank sheet of paper with the new car. No one knows really, really what to expect and I think everybody is pretty much, if you talk about a level playing field, I think we have the classic level playing field this year. Everybody starting from square one. It is literally anybody’s race.
And that’s the kind of thing that the Wood Brothers thrive on because they have Leonard Wood who is their secret weapon and he’s probably already figured something out, at age 78. I want to be like him when I grow up. And golly what are they going to do next year, with no Wood going into the Hall of Fame, ya know? They were so incredibly dominant in the early to mid-70’s. Folks had kind of written David Pearson off a little bit. You know, he had won 3 championships and all that, but he wasn’t really picking up any rides in the early 70’s. People saying, “oh there’s Pearson there, oh boy he was really good in his day.” And then he was able to hook up with the Wood Brothers and holy cow! For the next 5 years, they just kicked butt, you know, their cars on the superspeedway, and ending up winning 11 straight poles at Charlotte. No one has ever done that any single racetrack. Amazing. They always ran a very limited schedule, very conservative, but he was just phenomenal. That whole combination just clicked.
Does winning the Great American Race (the Daytona 500) ensure your eventual selection into the NASCAR Hall of Fame?
I don’t think so. I think there have been dark horses that have won the race, some surprises, but induction into the hall is seen as an overall career achievement, looking at the numbers and all that. I can’t say never. It all depends on what the nominating committee comes up with and then has to get past the voting committee but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be in the Hall of Fame. Same with Indianapolis. There are an awful lot of guys, great drivers, that have won Indy but they wouldn’t necessarily be involved in a hall of Fame. It would be one of those highlights of their life but you cannot really hang a career on one single win.
Buck Baker was just inducted into the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class and is considered one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers. His son, Buddy Baker, inducted him, and Buddy actually won the 1980 Daytona 500. What did that Daytona 500 win mean to Buddy and mean to his father, Buck?
Buddy raced for his dad early on, drove his dad’s second car up until the mid-60’s, when he broke away and raced for the major teams like Ray Fox, Cotton Owens, and people like that. He also drove for the Wood Brothers for a while. He won a Pepsi 400 for the Wood Brothers in 1983. Buck’s career was winding down and he was getting involved in his race driving school so he wasn’t too much of a car owner when Buddy was immerging as a big star. Buck was present for Buddy’s Daytona 500 win in 1980. It was just one of the crowning achievements of his life to watch his son win the Greatest Race and the one that Buck was not able to capture but I think even more so than that winning the Southern 500 in 1970 was such a highlight for not only just Buck because he had won it 3 times but then to see his son win but also for Cotton Owens because Cotton had try to win it his entire life as a driver and as a car owner.
Cotton had always said that winning that race at Darlington in 70 was the highlight of his career. It was really one of the highlights for Buddy because he thought ‘wow, my dad was the King of Darlington, for all those years and here I’m able to do something that he did too.’ That’s the cool thing about the family aspect of ANSCAR NASCAR, truly fascinating. But the Daytona 500 was his biggest win. Emotionally it may have been the Southern 500. It’s hard to say. You know what’s so interesting. Talk about ironic. In 1964 when Buck won his third Daytona Southern 500 he was 45 years old and a grandfather and drove for Ray Fox and people told Ray ‘what are you doing having that old man drive your car?! He’s over the hill!’ and then he goes out and wins the race. So Buck won his last race in a Ray Fox Dodge and then Buddy Baker won his first race in a Ray Fox Dodge.
How about that? One of the most amazing stats that just fascinates me is Lee Petty, he was never out of the Top 5 ion in points for the entire time he raced. He was first driver to win 3 championships, he won the first Daytona 500, and he drove in the first NASCAR race. The first Cup race. He never got into a racecar until he was 35 years old, when he started his career. Talk about the ultimate anomaly in racing. That is just incredible. I can remember all this. But mind you I can’t recall my granddaughter’s birthday...
What an awesome NASCAR history lesson from Buz... Make sure to keep it locked to TheBLOCK.com and check out Part 2 of our awesome conversation with Buz McKim next Monday!