Dicy McCullough column: Taylor Stricklin following in dad’s tracks
Hut Stricklin is a name NASCAR fans are familiar with because at one time he was a top driver on that circuit. Starting out on short tracks in Alabama as a teenager, he began his career with NASCAR in 1978.
Some people think life as a race car driver is fun and glamorous. While that may be true, there’s more to the story, as Hut shared one afternoon at his auto salvage dealership in Cleveland.
Growing up in Alabama, Hut saw his dad, Waymond Stricklin, run a used car parts store during the week, only to race cars and trucks at short tracks on the weekends. When Hut was 17, realizing his son had talent, Waymond began investing money in his racing efforts instead. This lasted for about five years until one day Waymond explained he couldn’t sponsor racing anymore because of finances.
Thinking it was the worst thing that ever happened, Hut later saw it was the best thing. Needing sponsors, he began making contacts, touching base with anyone who possibly could help. Going back and forth between Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi and Virginia to race or hang out at races, Hut often stopped in Mooresville to talk to Roland Wlodyka, team manager for Rod Osterland. This visibility eventually led to his signing with Osterland’s team. Dale Earnhardt had become rookie of the year when he signed with the same team 10 years prior. Hut became runner-up for rookie of the year after signing.
Racing just one year with the Osterland team, as luck would have it, in the right place at the right time, Hut got a ride with Bobby Allison’s team, only to become the last member of what was considered the Alabama Gang. Robert Yates summed up Hut’s career best by saying, “It seemed he was always signing with a team on their way out instead of on their way in.” Other teams this held true for were Junior Johnson’s Smokin’ Joe’s and McDonald’s teams, Hill’s Brothers’ Coffee and Kenny Bernstein’s Quaker State team.
Even though Hut’s ride with each team lasted for only a year or two, he managed to stay in NASCAR for more than 20 years, with wins and championships along the way. Some of his special moments were winning NASCAR’s Dash Series Championship in 1987, finishing fourth at Daytona in the Sprint Cup Series and being a stunt driver for Days of Thunder starring Tom Cruise. One of his most amazing feats was finishing 14th in Junie Donlavey’s No. 90 car at the 2000 Brickyard in Indianapolis. What made this so amazing was Hut didn’t have a crew chief and not only had to drive, but also make decisions usually given to the crew chief, such as when to pit stop.
Although Hut found racing to be fun for many years, providing him with opportunities he wouldn’t have experienced otherwise, he knew it was time to quit when he didn’t enjoy going to the track anymore. In 2002, after talking things over with his wife, Pam, Hut made the bold decision to quit racing and opened a salvage auto parts dealership, just like his dad.
The decision to leave racing was a little scary for Pam because NASCAR had been a way of life for her since she was a little girl. Donnie Allison was her dad and her uncle was Bobby Allison. To add to that family legacy, she was introduced to her future husband by her cousin, Davey Allison. Although apprehensive about the decision to leave racing, Pam wanted Hut to be happy and was willing to support his new adventure.
After buying property in Cleveland, it didn’t take long for construction to begin. When Stricklin’s Auto and Truck Parts opened in 2004, the goal was to buy and sell used car and truck parts, but over the years the business gradually expanded to include other lines such as service work and buying scrap metal and junk cars by the pound.
While I was talking with Hut at his shop several weeks ago, Taylor Stricklin, his son, walked in and joined the conversation. Knowing Taylor also loves racing, I asked how things were going. He said things were going good and that he was working hard to get his car ready for the first race of the season in March. Like his dad, he too started on the short track.
Wondering if Hut was helping with expenses, I asked the question, to which Taylor quickly replied, “No. I work for all of my money. In this economy, Dad can’t afford to help me.”
Hut then added, “It takes about $2,000 for Taylor to get on the track each week. It only took about half that much when I started.”
The conversation then turned to what has changed the most about the industry. Taylor, with definite views about this topic said, “Years ago, there was more of a level playing field. When Dad started most drivers worked on their own cars, and if you showed up with a truck and trailer you were pretty much OK. Now when you go to the short tracks, most of the drivers have million-dollar trailers sitting in the infield. Although I have the talent and the Stricklin name, I don’t have that kind of money. That’s why I’m looking for sponsors.”
Hopefully, it won’t be long until Taylor finds sponsorship to continue the legacy both of his grandfathers started years ago in Alabama.
Rowan County and specifically Cleveland are lucky to have a celebrity and businessman like Hut Stricklin willing to invest money in the community. It’s our turn now to show appreciation.
Dicy McCullough’s books are available at local bookstores, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Call her at 704-278-4377.