Thursday, May 2, 2019

Nashville's 1980 CRC Chemicals 200

Fairground Speedways opened in 1958 as a slightly banked half-mile and with modified coupes as its featured series. The track introduced Late Model Sportsman cars in 1964 as its top division.

LMS drivers continued to roar for the next 15 years through a rebuilding of the track to a high-banked, 5/8-mile version in 1970, a third configuration in 1973 to the current 18-degree banking, a name change to Nashville Speedway in 1974, and another change to Nashville International Raceway in 1979.

The familiar and fan-embraced division, however, disappeared following the track's abbreviated 1979 season. It was replaced with a "new" Grand American division - a NASCAR brand re-purposed from its original use in the early 70s. The change had been rumored throughout 1979 and was formalized during an announcement in November of that year.

Source: The Tennessean
As was known to happen from time to time, Larry Woody's reporting in The Tennessean about the announcement included a bit of an error. Most of the Grand American cars were Chevy Camaros and Pontiac Firebirds - not Novas and Venturas. The older model cars were allowed to participate - but they could rarely hang with the sleek, lighter GA cars.

One of the drivers selected to attend the press announcement and 1980 schedule release was a bit peculiar. Sterling Marlin was a full-time, winning LMS racer known well to race fans, so his participation made sense. Part-time racer Don Light, on the other hand, had hardly been a dominating force in the track's mini-stock division.

But...he was that Don Light. On the track, Light was a racing hobbyist who hadn't experienced winning at the Fairgrounds. Off the track, however, he knew winning well. Light managed superstars such as Jimmy Buffett and the Oak Ridge Boys. (Light later managed Kyle Petty during his fledgling music career and founded the short-lived Sound & Speed pre-season NASCAR event.)

 Getty Images
Source: Getty Images
* * * * *
The 1980 season began with the CRC Chemicals 200. Though the old LMS division had been retired, Nashville's tradition of opening the season with a big feature pitting local racers against out-of-town heavyweights continued as it had since the 1966 Flameless 300.

CRC Chemicals returned as the race's title sponsor for the second season. CRC also continued their use of motorsports as a marketing platform. In addition to sponsoring Nashville's inaugural Grand American race, CRC sponsored the fall Cup race at Dover and Richard Childress's Cup program.

Promoters Lanny Hester and Gary Baker ponied up some solid bucks to land Cup veteran David Pearson. Though Pearson's long association with the Wood Brothers ended about a year earlier, Pearson raced a part-time Cup schedule in 1980 for Hoss Ellington's Hawaiian Tropic team. He arrived in Nashville fresh off his tenth and final win at Darlington - a race coincidentally sponsored by CRC Chemicals.

Source: The Tennessean
The other out-of-town name for the race was two-time national LMS champion, Butch Lindley. Since traveling to Nashville for the first time in the early '70s, Lindley had pocketed six big wins at the Fairgrounds - two each in 1974, 1977, and 1978.

Source: The Tennessean
Joining Pearson and Lindley as early favorites were a couple of veteran locals in their new rides - Marlin and Mike Alexander. Though several other locals filled the field each race in 1980, Marlin dominated the year with Alexander grabbing his share as well. The two would develop a serious rivalry over the next few years - as well as a solid friendship in the long run.

Lindley didn't arrive in Nashville just to putz around. He set the track record, won the pole, and let the field know his mastery of Nashville in a Chevelle or Nova transferred to his Grand American Camaro.

Though Marlin dominated Nashville's 1980 season, his reign did not begin until after week one. He ran over debris from the car of local racer Dorris Vaughn, cut a tire, and never recovered the rest of the race. Steve Spencer, Nashville's 1977 LMS champ, also struggled and finished deep in the field.

Racing a #21 Purolator Camaro resembling his former Wood Brothers Cup ride, Pearson chased Lindley early. Staying with Lindley, however, was another matter. He ended the race in third - and a distant third at that.

Alexander was the only driver who could consistently stay near Lindley. But even so, Lindley's #16 gapped him significantly in the second half of the race. When the checkered flag fell, Lindley nabbed his seventh Nashville feature with a two-lap victory over Alexander.

Source: The Tennessean
With two LMS titles and a bushel of feature wins at numerous tracks, many speculated Lindley would be a natural to advance to Cup. Many of his LMS peers had already earned permanent rides or at least a handful of starts including Neil Bonnett, Dale Earnhardt, Harry Gant, Joe Millikan, Jody Ridley, and Morgan Shepherd.

Lindley acknowledged that while he could go to Cup, he didn't want to advance and struggle. He wanted to compete regularly for wins. If that meant towing his car all over the place for points, show money, minimal travel luxuries, and trophies, so be it.

Source: The Tennessean
Lindley did make eleven Cup starts for a handful of car owners - including himself - between 1979 and 1985. His best finish was a P2 to Gant in Martinsville's 1982 spring race. While handling the occasional one-off Cup start, he continued racing the short tracks of the south.

In 1985 during an All Pro Series race, however, Lindley wrecked and suffered a devastating head injury. He languished until June 6, 1990 - just over 10 years from his win in Nashville's inaugural Grand American race.

  1. Butch Lindley
  2. Mike Alexander
  3. David Pearson
  4. Phillip Grissom
  5. Richard Waters
  6. Al Henderson
  7. Sidney Minton
  8. Tony Cunningham
  9. Phil Spickar
  10. Sterling Marlin
  11. David Jones
  12. Jimmy Williams
  13. Andy Pope
  14. Billy Clinton
  15. Dorris Vaughn
  16. Mark Taylor
  17. Charlie Adcock
  18. Steve Spencer
  19. Mike Montgomery
  20. Dennis White
  21. R.A. Brannon


  1. I had no idea Don Light had done any racing. When I first met the soft spoken Light in 1984 it was in his capacity of Kyle Petty's musical business agent. Never too old to learn something new.Great bog, Chase.

  2. When I was very young, and later in college, I remember certain 45 rpm "singles" carring a graphic logo for
    Don Light Productions. That was supposed to tell you that this artist was the real deal. No idea he raced, though.