Thursday, January 6, 2011

Woody Fisher

The word 'woody' can conjure up a lot of visual images. With the full intention of keeping this entry on the safe side of the fine line of decency, a few Woodys folks often think about include:

An iconic beach-combing car ...

Cheers, White Men Can't Jump, The Cowboy Way, Kingpin, Natural Born Killers...

The Toy Story trilogy...

The legendary Ohio State football coach who choked...

However, I also recently learned of another Woody - race driver Woody Fisher. He was from near Cincinnati, Ohio and became successful in the family's beer distribution business. He took up stock car racing as a hobby, ran several ARCA and handful of USAC stock car races in the Midwest, and earned enough jack from distributing beer to have another residence in Florida.

During the period of his brief career, Woody won five career ARCA races. In 1975, he won 3 of 8 races he entered in a 13-race ARCA schedule, finished 4th in points, and earned the series' Rookie Of The Year award. He moved up one spot in 1976 to finish 3rd in the final standings.

Source: ARCA Racing
Among the cars Fisher raced, Woody raced several times in Chrysler "kit cars" such as Plymouth Dusters, Plymouth Volares, Dodge Darts, etc. In the late 1960s through the mid 1970s, Petty Enterprises was a distributor for Chrysler racing parts. They built turn-key "kit cars" and sold them to late model racers across the nation. Many of the cars even came with 43 decals in the Petty Enterprises font. When I was a kid, I remember building a model such as the one pictured here.

Fisher won an ARCA race at Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway in June 1975 driving one of these Chrysler products. And, here's a photo of Woody racing a Stroh's beer-sponsored kit car to finish second in an October 1975 ARCA race in Dayton, Ohio.

In 1976, Woody raised his racing stakes a bit. He procured what appears to be a Petty Enterprises-built Dodge Charger, numbered it #75, added Fisher Brothers as a sponsor (presumably the family beer distributor), and raced it to the pole in the ARCA race at Talladega. Unfortunately, he suffered engine failure and finished 22nd.

For the February 1977 ARCA 200 race at Daytona, Fisher increased his commitment yet again. From what I've learned, he went to Petty Enterprises and offered to to buy a top-of-the-line '74 Dodge Charger equal to what Richard would race in the Daytona 500 Cup race. Look closely in the photo below of the Petty shop, and you will see Woody's Charger in the background.

The Pettys agreed to the sale with a couple of conditions:
  • One, Fisher couldn't race the car in NASCAR Grand National (now Sprint Cup) events against Richard.
  • Two, the Pettys would maintain the car for him. I'm sure Richard, Maurice, Lee, and Dale Inman didn't want too many trade secrets made available if Fisher happened to get a handsome offer for the car.
Woody got his car, took it to the beach, won the pole, and then won his 5th and final career ARCA race! As noted earlier, Fisher was a successful beer distributor. Schlitz Light beer adorned the sides of the winning #70 Dodge in 1977.

Source: Russ Thompson from the Jay Donoho Collection
Chris Hussey, who once work for Petty Enterprises, told me the following through an e-mail exchange:
Dale [Inman] said the Fishers were good people and had nothing but nice things to say about the two brothers from the Cincinnati area. The car in question was built brand new for Woody to debut at the Daytona ARCA race. It was identical to the Cup car built for Richard that winter. Dale claims it was as nice as the 43 with the same attention to detail throughout. Long-time PE employee Richie Barsz went to Florida with the car as crew chief, and the PE crew pitted the car for the race. Dale remembers Woody being very nervous before qualifying and then going 7 MPH faster than he had practiced.
After Woody's win at Daytona in February, he piloted the #70 Charger a couple of more times in 1977 - at the March USAC stock car race in Ontario, CA and again in August in the Talladega ARCA race.

Woody's driving of the car seems to have ended at that point. He had a brief dalliance with Cup racing starting three races in 1978 for former driver turned owner Henley Gray. Returning to Daytona in February 1979, Woody participated in a a couple of races:
  • He finished 21st in the ARCA 200 (won by Kyle Petty in his debut stock car race).
  • He also attempted to qualify for the Daytona 500 by racing in the first 125-mile qualifying race in a #75 Chevy; however, he finished 20th and did not make the 500.
The 1977 ARCA-winning Charger itself, however, apparently had more life in it after Woody moved on to other cars. In a transaction I don't yet fully understand - but am still exploring - Woody's younger brother, Bobby Fisher Jr. took over the car. Bobby re-numbered the car to #74, replaced the Schlitz Light beer sponsorship with Stroh's, made whatever tweaks were necessary to convert the car from ARCA-eligible to NASCAR-eligible, and raced the Dodge to an 11th place finish in Bobby's debut NASCAR start in the World Service Life 300 late model sportsman race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October 1977. (For you young'uns, the NASCAR late model sportsman series was the predecessor to the Busch/Nationwide series we know today.)

Credit Don Smyle of Smyle Media / Checkered Past Collectibles 
Woody Fisher passed away on December 21, 2003, at the young age of 60. According to Chris Hussey, Dale Inman "said Woody died with a brain tumor. But stayed in contact with the PE folks till his death."

Two weeks ago, I knew ZERO about the Fishers. I've followed the Pettys since the mid-1970s. I've got books, photos, magazines, autographs, collectibles, etc. I post to multiple Petty-themed message boards, and I've developed friendships with folks who have followed the Pettys as long or longer as me. Yet, somehow I'd never heard about this aspect of the Petty history.

As for Bobby Fisher, I'm still learning. Stay tuned for Woody and Bobby Fisher...The Sequel.

An unintended search result in the Google News Archive led me to this trivia. Subsequent Google searches didn't help me a lot. Several folks helped me nail down some answers to my questions and provided photos. Thanks to Roush-Fenway's Mike Beam, Chris Hussey, Dale Inman (via Chris), Billy Biscoe, Russ Thompson, and Don Smyle of Smyle Media/Checkered Past Collectibles (pictured below with - who else - The King).


TMC

5 comments:

  1. Cool woody was a friend of mine,great,great man.w.b.

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  2. My father worked for Woody and Fisher beverage for over 20 years. Started out in Cincinnati and we left for Cocoa, Florida in 1977. A few years later he sold the distributorship to his youngest brother Jimmy. My father continued working there until around 1987. I have many fond memories of Woody and his race car driving. He owned the Tri-County Speedway just outside of Cincinnati for awhile and my dad drove the pace car for a few races. He use to let me sit in his race car when I was just a kid. I thought that was the coolest thing ever!! I remember collecting rubber from the tires of the cars as they passed the fence and making big rubber balls haha. Good ole days! R.I.P. Woody

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  3. Hello,

    My name is Tyrha and I am the granddaughter of the late Woodrow (Woody) Fisher. My mother is his eldest daughter and we all are currently located in Ohio. I would really like to get more information on my grandfather it you have it. I would over to hear from you soon as possible and learn about the father that I never had. Please email me at tyrhahayes@rocketmail.com

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    Replies
    1. My name is Jimmy Fisher I'm ready younger brother I now live in Florida my brother would even ask why but not from a brain tumor and he's very good Florida Memorial gardens right here in Florida and I relocated hometown if you'd like more information you can email me at fish56@mcom.com

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