Gene Glover holds a memento of his racing days.
KINGSPORT - Gene Glover started his 1979 championship NASCAR Late Model Sportsman season with what he thought was a good sponsor, but early in the season the company went bankrupt.
With his son Tony Glover serving as crew chief, and several friends and cousins serving as volunteer crewmen, the Glover team took on the other highly funded teams in the series and beat them all.
"If there's one thing I'm most proud from that championship season, it's that we did it on a shoestring budget," Glover said. "The same car owner had won it the previous four years in a row, and they said he spent at least a half million dollars every year. We ran 59 races that year, and we pretty much went from race to race out of our pocketbook.
"I had a great bunch of guys who helped me because they wanted to be a part of it. They weren't in it for the money because there wasn't any. We used the same equipment over and over, and luckily it held up."
It was the crowning moment of a racing career that had started 26 years earlier in 1953 on the dirt tracks around the region.
Church Hill racers Ken "Bear" Hunley and Robert Christian would play a big role in Glover's career, especially in the early years.
By coincidence they had decided to start racing in Chattanooga around the same time in the mid-1950s. The prize money in Chattanooga was a lot better, and one night Hunley and Christian put Glover in one of their cars and discovered they had chemistry together.
"We won a lot of races together," Glover said. "We raced together like that through the '50s and into the '60s. The first track championship I won was in Chattanooga, and the second I won was at Sportsman Speedway in Johnson City.
"When Kingsport Speedway opened in 1965, I won the first two championships, and then Bill Morton won one, and then I won the next two before they paved it."
In all he won 10 track championships, two state championships, and according to Tony Glover's calculations well over 300 races in his local short track career.
"One time Hunley built a Modified to run around here, and we lost the first race because it ran out of gas - the gas tank wasn't big enough," Glover said. "Then we came back and won 15 in a row. I won 10 in a row at Kingsport one time, I won eight or nine in a row at Lonesome Pine. It was those winning streaks that I enjoyed. I'd have these stretches where I felt bulletproof."
He made his one and only Grand National (now Nextel Cup) start in 1957 in a car that Bill Morton found for him.
It was in Shelby, N.C., and the only thing Glover remembers about it was getting lapped by Fireball Roberts on the outside and Lee Petty on the inside, and a few laps later he passed Roberts, who'd driven off into the bushes.
He had a mechanical failure and finished 18th.
"I needed a little more time in my apprenticeship before I tried that again," Glover said.
That wasn't Glover's only excursion into the Cup series.
In 1973 Glover relief drove for L.D. Ottinger in the Volunteer 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway and helped him finish second.
Ironically that was the same race that John A. Utsman relieved for Benny Parsons and they won.
Racing was dangerous in his era. He drove a little Modified car for a man in South Carolina and won five out of six races before wrecking the car in Nashville.
"I got my back broke in that one," Glover said. "I was in a wreck early in the race and messed up the front end of the car. I came off the corner and spun it, and turned it around and was heading straight. A guy hit me, he was running wide open, and if it hadn't been an awful good car it would have killed me. We had a 42-gallon fuel tank on it, and they said the fuel tank went about 125 feet in the air."
Bill Morton was the first person to him and got him out of the car. He missed about two months of work on his construction job recuperating.
Toward the end of the 1960s, the local Modified divisions started to run out of cars. They'd been built out of early 1930s model chassis, and eventually "they became extinct," Glover said.
When Kingsport Speedway was paved in 1969, he started racing in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman series, which was the predecessor to the Busch series.
"We built a car, and it was too high off the ground and had a lot of things wrong with it, but the first year we ran it we still managed to win a lot of races," Glover said. "We would run dirt one night and asphalt the next. All you had to do was change the tires. We'd head out and run two or three races - dirt one night and asphalt the next.
"I guess that taught me a lot about setting the car up for asphalt."
That was around the time that his son, Tony Glover, began helping out with the race cars. Tony Glover is now the team manager for Chip Ganassi Racing.
He started out sweeping up the garage and gradually began to work on the cars.
"He helped build the motors when he was 16 years old," Glover said. "Of course, he had to work on the cars too. I think that helped him an awful lot because Richard Petty told him he'd give him a job when I quit racing.
"Then when he went up here at Morgan-McClure he knew every aspect of putting a race car together and making it go fast. He learned a whole lot in the garage here at home."
Glover was a regular in the top 10 in the Late Model Sportsman point standings throughout the 1970s. But he hit that hot streak at the end of the decade where he wound up third in the points in 1978, won the championship in 1979, and then was third again in 1980. The 1979 championship paid $10,000, but the 1980 season was the beginning of the end for Glover's driving career. Money shortages were the main problem.
"A lot of our stuff was getting worn down where we'd run so many races, and we didn't really have the money to do the motor the way it ought to be done," Glover said. "It made it hard to race. Our motors had too much time on them, and we couldn't replace the rods and a lot of stuff like we should, and it just caught up with me."
Glover said one of the worst wrecks he ever had was at Charlotte in 1980. He'd blown a motor and was coasting around the track when Dale Jarrett hit him at full speed.
"I blowed a motor going into turn one, and they said he ran a half a lap full throttle under the caution before he hit me," Glover said. "It flipped nine times, and every damn time it came down it hit hard. It don't matter how many times you flip, if you don't hit the ground it don't hurt."
Although he lost his "money making" car at Charlotte, he continued driving in 1981.
He retired in 1982 shortly after starting the very first Busch race at Bristol. Today 72-year-old Glover still lives in Kingsport and follows racing closely. He looks forward to Bristol race week, when Tony comes back home and they get to hang out together at the racetrack again.
"I guess I enjoyed racing more than anybody in the world," Glover said. "But there comes a time you've got to give it up. It got to be an awful hassle trying to bum and beg, and race at the same time. But the thing I'm proud of now, when I quit I could still win.
"And one thing I'm proud I did was I drove with some of the best race car drivers in the United States, and I beat most of them at one time or another."