Thursday was Veterans Day. A day to remember those who served our country. My dad was a veteran. Three uncles served as well.
So it’s a special day.
But on this day I also remember one who I only knew through NASCAR. This is a reprise of my tribute to him and our story, that I shared a few years ago at Race Fans Forever.
Thank you veterans and thank you, Bud Moore.
Bud Moore was a hero, a true hero in so many ways. A hero long before I knew he was a highly decorated WWII hero, an infantryman earning two Bronze Stars and five Purple Hearts. Before I knew he landed on Utah Beach on D-Day. Before I knew he served under Gen. George Patton and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Bud Moore was one of my heroes growing up. He was my hero long before I ever knew he won back to back Cup Championships as a car owner and crew chief with Joe Weatherly as his driver. Or how they won their first race together-the 1961 Daytona qualifier, before winning seven more races that year. Or any of the other racing accomplishments over his long racing career in Grand National, NASCAR Grand American “Baby Grands” and SCCA Trans-Am.
There will never be another Bud Moore.
Over his illustrious Cup career, Bud Moore fielded cars for so many great drivers-each heroes in their own right. Bud Moore’s list of drivers is like a Who’s Who of stock car racing that included –
Cotton Owens, Fireball Roberts, David Pearson, Darel Dieringer, Bobby Johns, Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock, Sam McQuagg, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Cale Yarborough, Tiny Lund, Dick Brooks, Donnie Allison, Brett Bodine, Morgan Shepherd, Wally Dallenbach Jr., Derrick Cope, Ted Musgrave and many, many more.
In 1973, Bobby Issac drove 19 races for Bud Moore before unexpectedly pulling out of Talladega mid-race, saying he would never drive again. Bud Moore then tapped a second year hot shoe, Darrell Waltrip, to finish out the season for him. After a promising eighth place finish at Darlington things went south with two crashes and two engine failures in their remaining four races together. That ended Bud Moore’s “Wild Child” experiment. The next season opened with George Follmer behind the wheel and Buddy Baker would finish the season in the #15. Baker would drive for Bud Moore for the next four seasons, winning five races, including three Talladegas in a row.
In 1981, Benny Parsons drove Bud Moore’s Ford with Melling Tool as the sponsor. Their three wins that year inspired Harry Melling to make the leap from car sponsor into team ownership. At season’s end he purchased a little race team from Dawsonville, GA owned by George Elliott, father of Bill, Ernie and Dan. Chase’s grandfather. As they say, the rest was history.
In 1993, Geoffrey Bodine put Bud Moore’s #15 in Victory Lane for the final time. It was Sonoma, the tenth race of the season and just five short weeks after the tragic death of reigning Winston Cup Champion, Alan Kulwicki. Before season’s end, Bodine would acquire Kulwicki’s team and move to his #7 Ford for the final seven races of the season. Bud Moore tapped Lake Speed to finish the season in his #15.
Yes, Bud Moore had quite a list of drivers over the years. Two of his drivers were very special to me and when Bud Moore hired them to drive his Ford it gave me the chance to finally pull for them. You see, we were a Ford household and pulled for Ford drivers. Bud Moore fielded Fords. This automatically made
Bud Moore one of the “good guys” as were his drivers who were now driving the “right” make of car.
I liked these two drivers so much that when they drove the #15 I did what any hard core race fan would do back then in the early days with few souvenirs… I bought their caps.
In 1978, Bobby Allison began driving the #15. He and Bud Moore started out with a bang with Bobby winning his first Daytona 500 (with the rear bumper cover still on the car). They would race three seasons together, winning fourteen races.
I’d first seen Bobby race on Wide World of Sports and had followed him from his days when he was in Hialeah FL to Alabama to become the leader of the Alabama Gang. He was smooth, hard charging, hard working-a real blue collar kind of driver. He was not intimidated by Darrell Waltrip and now he was driving a Ford. In other words, he was my kind of driver.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to wear his cap long. At the end of the 1980 season Bobby moved to Harry Rainer’s team. There he drove a variety of makes including Chevys, Buicks, Olds and Pontiacs-but no Fords. Though I always had a special place in my heart for Bobby, his hat went up when he left Bud Moore’s team.
That’s what race fans do, isn’t it?
In 1982, after the departure of Benny Parsons, Bud Moore brought on a new driver, a driver I had kept my eye on for several years. Because he never drove the “right” make of car I just couldn’t get on board, but I had made a promise to myself that if he ever got behind the wheel of a Ford I would be all in. In 1982, it finally happened.
Bud Moore’s new driver brought what would become an iconic sponsor to the Ford team. Gone was Bud Moore’s “trademark” white with blue lettering that Bobby, Benny, Buddy and others had carried over the years. Now, yellow and blue adorned the #15 Thunderbird,
As quickly as Moore’s paint scheme changed, so did my wardrobe. My Levi’s were put away, now replaced with the “proper” brand. My parents questioned my decision as they saw no reason for me to spend money replacing perfectly good jeans with another brand, but I had made a promise and I was set on keeping it.
That’s what race fans do, isn’t it?
I arrived at my next race, Talladega, decked out in my new jeans. The first thing I did when I arrived at the track was hunt out the “proper” souvenir trailer and plunk down my hard earned cash to get my second racing cap. Promise fulfilled. I was ready for the race.
For two short seasons, Dale Earnhardt drove for Bud Moore. Together they had 3 wins-Dale’s 7th, 8th and 9th of his young career. These included Dale’s last of two wins at Nashville, this one snapping Darrell Waltrip’s four race win streak there, his first of nine wins at Darlington and his first of ten wins at Talladega. At the end of the 1983 season, Dale Earnhardt left Bud Moore to return to Richard Childress Racing and drive Chevrolets. Dale would go on to 67 more wins and 6 more Cup Championships. As they say, the rest is history.
1984 found Dale now driving the #3 RCR Chevy and Ricky Rudd driving Bud Moore’s #15 Ford, but in a somewhat unusual move (which site contributor Dave Fulton can explain in full), Wrangler Jeans decided to sponsor both teams. That created a bit of a dilemma for me. So just to make sure there was no confusion that I might now be pulling for a Chevy team, I put my hat and Wrangler jeans up and brought my old Levi’s out of storage and went to find another Ford driver to pull for.
That’s what race fans do isn’t it?
Bud Moore was a hero. He was my hero. No matter who he had behind the wheel, I always had a pulling interest for the #15, even though my current infatuation my have been with some other Ford driver or team. Each Sunday I’d check the newspaper to see where the #15 would start and Monday to see where the #15 finished.
The last half of the 1990’s was very difficult as multiple seasons with diminishing financial support resulted in a sight we have seen all too often-declining performance, reduced races attempted and finally shuttering the operations, be it through shop closure or if fortunate, the purchase by a new owner. The latter was the fate of Bud Moore Engineering as in 1999 the team was purchased by Robert Fenley. I was glad to hear Bud Moore and his son Greg would be retained as consultants, but was heart-broken when they announced the new team would campaign the next season with the number 62, instead of the #15. I could not imagine not seeing the #15 on the track again.
But something changed and one of Bud Moore’s former drivers, one who was now also a race team owner, announced in late 2000 that he would be expanding his race team to a three car operation. The new car would be driven by the unlikeliest of drivers-the winless Michael Waltrip. The number of this new team… #15.
For me, it was bittersweet-I was thankful Dale Earnhardt selected Bud Moore’s car number for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated’s new team and happy that the #15 would be back on the track with sufficient financial support from NAPA to competitively run a full season. Having the #15 on a Chevy was a bit confusing for me though almost as much as the driver selected.
Daytona 2001 would be the new team’s first race. We all know the story and unfortunately we know how it ends. As the field roared down the back stretch on that final lap, the race had Bud Moore all over it.
The leader was the #15. The #15 had been Bud Moore’s car number from 1972, when he returned to Cup after a three season stint in the SCCA Trans-Am Series and one season in the NASCAR Grand American Series (which netted him a Championship in each series) until the 2000 spring Talladega race when Ted Musgrave made the final start in the now Fenley-Moore Motorsports entry. Today the #15 was driven by Michael Waltrip, the brother of Bud Moore’s 1973 substitute driver, Darrell Waltrip.
Running second was the #8. Most remember that the #8 was the number of Ralph Earnhardt, grandfather of the current driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. That was the reason Junior’s DEI ride had the number. But a few remember that the #8 was also the number Joe Weatherly raced under when he joined Bud Moore in 1961. It was in the #8 that Bud Moore and Joe Weatherly, in their very first race together won the Daytona qualifier for their first of twenty wins together. It was in the #8 they would win back to back Championships in 1962 and 1963. It was in the #8 In 1963, Bud Moore would make the switch to Ford products. It was in the #8, in 1964, Joe Weatherly would lose his life at Riverside.
And in third was Bud Moore’s driver from 1982 and 1983 season, seven-time Champion Dale Earnhardt… the owner of the #8… the man who brought the #15 back to Cup… the man who made this all possible.
Together, they hurtled into turn three and four for the final time, the #15, #8 and #3…
And as they say, sadly, the rest is history.
November 27, 2017, Bud Moore joined Dale Earnhardt, Joe Weatherly, Billy Wade, Tiny Lund and some of his other drivers in the eternal Victory Lane. Gone was a hero. Gone was one of my heroes.
Bud Moore was a hero to many and each have their own reasons-decorated war hero, NASCAR pioneer, Championship car owner and crew chief, innovative mechanic, Hall of Fame member and more. He was my hero as well but my reason was a little different.
It was something that Bud Moore did off the track that secured hero status with me. You see, shortly after Bud Moore returned to Cup in 1972, my favorite local driver was struggling. His Ford Fairlane just wasn’t getting the power it needed to get to the front where he normally ran. Nothing tried was working so this young kid decided he was going to do something about it. I gathered all the information I could about what the power plant was (and wasn’t) doing. It was all third-hand from the car owner/engine builder through my Dad who worked with him at the steel mill. I then took it and compiled it all as best I could.
Additionally, I was concerned for my local driver’s safety. In that day window nets were unheard of at the local tracks. I explained my concerns for safety and asked where window nets could be found.
So I penned a letter asking for help from the one person I knew who could help-Bud Moore.
When my Dad found out what I doing, he didn’t discourage my efforts but prepared me for the possibilities.
“You know son, Bud’s really busy right now. They are in the middle of their season. He has so much to do. It may be a while before you hear back.”
“Bud is good but sometimes it’s really hard to solve a problem like this unless you have the engine right there to look at and test. They can’t afford to send that motor to Bud for him to check it out.”
“Son, Bud’s a big time car owner and crew chief in NASCAR. We’re dirt tracking on short tracks. He may not even fool with that kind of racing anymore.”
Undaunted, I dropped my letter in the mail… and waited… and waited.
About six or so weeks later, I came home from school. Mom said, “You’ve got mail” and handed me an envelope. There in the top left corner… Bud Moore Engineering.
I carefully opened the envelope and inside was a letter that opened by saying he had received my letter and was sorry we were having problems. He then offered to help as best he could and proceeded to make several suggestions of things we should look at, look for and try. He also gave me the address for window nets.
It was signed, “Bud Moore”
Satisfied that I had done my job, I closed the letter and gave it to my Dad to pass along to the engine builder so he could do his. I don’t know if it helped as I never heard what, if anything was ever done. However, soon after, the Fairlane did find its way back up front again.
Bud Moore has always been a hero. That day, Bud Moore became my hero… forever.
You know, Bud Moore didn’t have to help. He didn’t know me. He didn’t know our team. We weren’t customers… just some Ford racers needing help.
But he did.
Bud Moore didn’t have to write back. He didn’t have the time and I’m sure that my third-hand, non-mechanical background descriptions of our problems were humorous to such an elite mechanic as Bud Moore. Looking back now I can imagine him reading it, shaking his head and uttering in his South Carolina drawl, “Bless his heart.”
I have no idea why he wrote back. Maybe he did want to help a struggling Ford team no matter where they were or on what level they competed. Maybe he felt sorry for a kid who out of desperation would pick up a pen and write. Maybe he wanted to see window nets, one of the many safety devices he developed, on a race car so as to prevent a tragedy like the one that took the life of his driver, Joe Weatherly. His reasons are unimportant. As pitiful as my efforts were, Bud Moore did write back. He offered help and did so with respect and sincerity. To read his response you would think mine was the most important request that had ever been made of him.
In my world, I guess it was.
The thing I’ll remember is Bud Moore did write back… and as they say, the rest is history.
Thunder On… and Stay Safe!