|MARSHALL SUTTON AT HMS|
(PHOTO BY NICK AND SHERRI STEARNS)
(NOTE: This feature appeared in the Hickory Daily Record in 2012.)
Sutton’s career is 44 years and still counting
By Tom Gillispie
A lot of crankcase oil has flowed through his motors since Marshall Sutton started racing.
Sutton, 60, says his dad used to race big-timers like Bobby Allison, Richard Petty Red Farmer and others when they lived in Florida.
Sutton took up racing when he was 16.
“My first car was a '49 Chrysler,” said Sutton, who has raced at Hickory Motor Speedway since 1986. “It was like Street Stock, but they called it the Cyclone division. The first night out I finished second; the second night out, I crashed.”
Sutton’s dad told him to find a ’57 Chevy, and he says he drove it to the 1970 Florida state title in the Cyclone division.
“I ran it for five years. It got so beat up they told me not to bring it back,” Sutton said with a laugh.
He ran a few Limited Late Model races in Florida, although it was called something else. Sutton doesn’t remember what.
Sutton’s dad was a truck driver, moving produce, and he drove through the Burnsville area north of Asheville, liked it and decided to stay.
Sutton says that they looked liked something out of the old TV show Sanford and Son as they drove up from Florida in various trailers.
“He bought 28 acres with an old farmhouse, and I still live in one of the houses. It must be over 200 years old by now,” Sutton said.
After the family moved to Burnsville, Sutton first tried Asheville Speedway. In the last race of the season, he bought a NASCAR license, started 26th with no practice and “won the darned thing.”
He says he was protested, but track officials saw a legal car. The protestor had to pay up.
Sutton says he lucked out in meeting Bob Pressley, who steered him to Harris Speedway, a dirt track near Greer, S.C.
He says he won four of six races that year, then ran Greenville-Pickens Speedway the next year in a ’57 Chevy. He recalls winning 26 of 28 Super Stock starts at Greenville-Pickens one year.
He started at Hickory in ’86.
“I won the championship in Super Stock at Hickory and Tri-County (Motor Speedway) in '95 and '96,” he said, “but the division died out eight to 10 years ago. Now there’s Street Stock; that’s about all I can afford.”
Naturally, Sutton has had ups and downs in 44 years of racing.
“I had surgery year before last, and a foot and a half of my colon was removed,” Sutton said. “I went to the (HMS) banquet two weeks after. I’d lost to 160 pounds (from 5-9, 180), and I was pretty puny. I looked like dead man walking.”
His newest problem isn’t his health. Sutton was third in the division before last week’s race. He blew a motor on the white-flag lap and still had enough momentum to finish third. He was moved to second when Mike Newton was dropped from that spot.
He asked around, but $4,500 for a new engine was out of the question. So now he doesn’t have a motor for Hickory.
He says that division leader and friend Kevin Eby has offered him a motor, but he’s leery to use it.
“I’d hate to borrow it and tear up the engine,” Sutton said. “I’d just be in further debt.”
Eby, Sutton’s close friend, has told him not to worry about that, but Sutton worries anyway.
“I’ve got my old motor from last year he could use,” Eby said. “We’re pretty tight. We pit together and help each other. I told him he could use it if he wanted to; we only have six or seven races left. But he said that if something happens to it, if it blows up, he doesn’t have the money to replace it. I told him I’d give him the motor.”
Eby, 42, and Sutton, 18 years older, have changed. Both men admit they were rivals when they started racing each other in the 1990s.
“When we started,” Eby said, “we were not the best of friends. We’d talk around the track, but for four or five years we were rival enemies. I’d do anything in my power to beat him on the track. I’d knock out way if I needed to. At times we said words to each other.
“But one year it all changed, and we became best friends. We go eat supper together, go fishing together. He’s helped me when we’re racing, and I’ve helped him. We do things with our families together, cookouts and other things.”
Sutton says he might go to Hickory Saturday night to give his friends help and encouragement.
But he can still race. He has a big motor that he can’t run at Hickory, and he said he’d put it in his Camaro and race Friday at Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway.
He says he enjoys racing Street Stocks. Still…
“I miss running Late Models or Limiteds,” he said, “but you’ve got to run where you’re comfortable and you know you can afford it. The top divisions are tough. They (the drivers) have got money they don't care about.”
Sutton says Morgan Shepherd, the 70-year-old former Winston Cup driver, reminds Sutton of Sutton. Long after he started, he’s still racing what he can afford.
And, in his own way, he’s winning.
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