CORNELIUS, N.C.— Kansas Speedway is Larry Phillips country.
If you haven’t heard of Larry Phillips just ask Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Kenny Schrader or any of the NASCAR crew members from the area around Phillips’ Springfield, Mo. race shop and they’ll tell you all about him.
They’ll tell you about Phillips’ five NASCAR weekly national championships, the estimated 1,000-plus dirt and pavement victories and the 13 track championships he won in a 40-year career driving career.
Some will call him one of racing’s greatest drivers.
“Anyone who raced against him will remember him,” recalled Martin. “He was unique. He was fast, won lots of races and beat a lot of people with slower race cars. That says a lot about him.”
Martin also remembers him as a racer who hired him to work at Phillips’ Performance Parts in 1975 just after high school graduation.
“The first day I was there Larry threw out a bunch of steel on the workbench and he told me to build some upper A-frames,” recalled Martin. “I really couldn’t weld. But I tried. I don’t know if he could have ever sold them, but I did them.”
Martin worked on Phillips’ race cars during the week then raced against him on Friday and Saturday nights. He learned a few lessons along the way.
“Larry would try every trick in the book and he caught me once when I was a teenager,” recalled Martin. “I was running second to Larry, but so much faster than him. I had him beat. There was a restart toward the end of the race. He was riding around with his hand out the window with a cigarette in it. I had no idea there was one lap to go before the restart.
“He threw the cigarette down and took off and I was not ready. He had lulled me into thinking there were more laps left. He threw it down, jammed the gas and drove off. I didn’t catch him in time.”
Martin took consolation losing to Phillips who died of cancer in 2004 and was named one of the NASCAR Weekly Series All-Time Top 25 drivers in 2006.
“He pulled that trick on a lot of other people over the years,” Martin laughed.
Phillips’ 24th-place finish in the 1976 Ontario Speedway race was his only Sprint Cup appearance. Could he have succeeded on the highest level?
“I think so,” replied Martin. “But, Larry was only going to do it on his terms.”
- ONE OF THE BEST: Martin’s average qualifying effort of 9.4 in 2012 is the third best of all drivers. Only Kasey Kahne (8.7) and Greg Biffle (9.1) own a better average.
- THE MOST: Martin’s four poles are the most of any driver.
- HISTORY: Martin won his fourth pole of the 2012 season and 55th of his career at Michigan on Aug. 17. He is tied with Bill Elliott for seventh in all-time poles. Martin also owns 30 Nationwide and three Camping World Truck Series poles.
- KANSAS: In 13 Sprint Cup starts at Kansas, Martin owns a victory (2005) and two top-5 finishes. He’s led 152 laps. He won the pole in 2009.
- WINS: Martin owns 40 Sprint Cup, 49 Nationwide and seven Camping World Truck Series victories. He’s led 12,719 laps in Sprint Cup competition. Martin has started 850 Sprint Cup races, 236 Nationwide races and 25 truck events.
- MWR IN 2012: MWR’s five Sprint Cup Series drivers have scored a combined record of three wins (Bowyer at Sonoma, Richmond and Charlotte), 21 top-five and 50 top-10 finishes in 2012. MWR’s Toyotas have led 939 laps.
- 102 TOP 10s: MWR owns 102 top-10 finishes since it began racing.
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- No. 55 2012 Driver Schedule:
Oct. 28 Martinsville- Vickers
Nov. 4 Texas – Martin
Nov. 11 Phoenix – Martin
Nov. 18 Homestead – Martin