Kingsport Times News Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sports

Bear Hunley's impact on NASCAR lives on

March 23rd, 2007 12:42 am by Jeff Bobo





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CHURCH HILL - There's no telling how many NASCAR races Ken "Bear" Hunley drove in his career.


The Church Hill racer didn't always use his real name when he drove in the NASCAR Grand National (now the Nextel Cup), or the Convertible, Modified and Sportsman series.


"The insurance company said it wouldn't cover Daddy if he raced," his son, Kenny, told the Times-News earlier this week. "That's actually where the nickname Bear came from. He used that name so the insurance people wouldn't know it was him in the race.


"I know we had a guy who worked on the crew named Jack Marsh, and he used his name a few times, but I couldn't say what other names he used."


NASCAR record books show that Jack Marsh competed in three Cup races in 1957 and had a best finish of eighth place at Concord, N.C.


"I'm sure there are names in the NASCAR record books of drivers who didn't exist," Kenny said. "It was really him."


The stage where Hunley really shined as a driver was at the local short tracks, however. No one will ever know how many races he won on the local circuits.


Witnesses like Gene Glover who raced out of Hunley's garage, and Tony Morton, whose father raced with Hunley, have estimated the total at several hundred.


"I guess he got started racing when he was 16 or 17 years old," Kenny said. "He never did really talk much about his driving. All I know is what other people told me - that nobody around here won except for him and Gene Glover.


"Then they went off to race in Chattanooga and Cleveland. I don't know if they went down there hunting more competition or if they just got run off from around here."


Although much of "Bear" Hunley's driving career will always be a mystery, the impact that he left on NASCAR as a crew chief and innovative mechanic are still being felt today. Hunley's legacy will be on the racetrack this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, and in NASCAR competition for many years to come.


Chip Ganassi Racing team manager and Kingsport native Tony Glover spent his childhood in Hunley's shop working on race cars and learning the skills that would take him to the top of his profession.


"Bear was a very, very smart man, especially about the mechanics of a car," Glover said. "I learned a lot from him, especially about paying attention to detail and doing things right. As far as my mechanical skills, I learned a lot from him. My dad drove for him a long time, and I was very close to him, and I was fortunate enough to get to hang out and learn the tricks of the trade.


"When I was in high school hanging around with him and Robert Christian, they treated me just like one of the guys, and I was a 16-year-old kid. Bear took a big liking to me because I think he realized how bad I wanted to absorb it, and how bad I wanted to do it."


It was in Hunley's garage one night when the 16-year-old Tony Glover realized that he "had arrived" as a mechanic, at least in Bear Hunley's eyes.


"My dad was racing out of his shop, and we were changing a motor out from Friday night to Saturday night," Glover said. "We actually had the short block assembled and was getting ready to put the rest of the motor together. Everybody left, and it was just me and him, and about 2 in the morning he said, ‘All right. Finish it up. I'm going home and go to bed.'


"He left me there to finish it up, and that gave me a lot of confidence, and we won the race the next day."


Hunley seemed to have the magic touch as a crew chief and mechanic. He stopped driving in the late 1960s and became chief steward at Kingsport Speedway in 1969.


Then in the early 1970s he got back into NASCAR racing. In an unprecedented run of success in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Series (now the Busch Series) he was the championship crew chief four years in a row.


In 1975-76 he won championships with driver L.D. Ottinger, and 1977-78 he won championships with driver Butch Lindley. And then the very next year in 1979 Gene Glover won the Late Model Sportsman championship working out of Hunley's garage with Tony Glover as crew chief.


That was the same year that Hunley made the step into the Cup series again, this time as crew chief and car chief for the team owned by Black Diamond Coal Co. owner Kenny Childers.


As a Cup crew chief and car chief, Hunley worked with NASCAR stars like Harry Gant, Neil Bonnet, Jack Ingram, Donnie Allison and Lindley before coming home to work out of his own shop again.


Hunley's sons worked with their dad's race team, and today Kenny continues in racing, working with local racers as a shock and setup specialist.


Kenny was one of the four original crew members for Morgan-McClure Motorsports, has worked with countless local championship teams, and this year is helping drivers Caleb Holman and Wade Day in the Hooters Pro Cup Series.


The Hunley legacy lives on in a third generation as well, as Kenny's 18-year-old son, Kent, is a mechanic and tire changer on Day's team.


Kenny remembers his dad as a great racing innovator and a perfectionist.


"He was always pretty innovative," Kenny said "He was probably the first one to put a wing on top of a car. He built his own fuel injection. He built a quick change rear end. He had cars rigged where he could jack wedge into the rear spring while he was running. I remember he would also mix his own blend of fuel that ran cooler.


"We never had much money to race with, and that's probably what made him have to be so innovative."


Bear Hunley continued working with racers mainly at Kingsport Speedway until just before his death in 2002 at the age of 72. A couple of good examples were winning Late Model driver Nate Monteith and back-to-back track champion Keith Stiltner.


Shortly after Bear's death, Kenny wrote some things in a notebook about his father that he didn't want to forget.


"Pretty much he was one to stand in the background and let somebody else take all the credit, and he pushed us up to the front," Kenny said, reading from his notebook. "He helped anybody who asked. He had several sayings. He'd say if you ever get too smart to learn something, and if you can't learn something new every day, then you're pretty much useless. One of his favorite sayings was, ‘Can't never could do anything.'


"He was a perfectionist too. The biggest thing about him was, if you don't want his opinion, don't ask him. He told you the truth, and he had an opinion on everything."


Race car builders Rick Townsend and Mike Laughlin had the same response for Kenny when he asked them for advice recently about one of their cars.


"We had a Townsend race car, and I called Rick for some help, and he said, ‘You know how to do it,'" Kenny said. "He said, ‘Just do it like your daddy taught you because he taught me.' Mike Laughlin told me the same thing when we went to pick up Caleb Holman's new Hooters car.


"I was quizzing Mike about the car while we were sitting in the office, and he said, ‘You know what to do with it. Your daddy taught you how to do it,' and he was right."


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