Life Stories

One of the truths of life, it so happens, is the fact that at some point, it ends.

In recent weeks, several in the NASCAR community have experienced this, and for two in particular, the loss hits as hard as anything ever can.

The weekend of Watkins Glen, Sterling Marlin lost his father, Clifton “Coo Coo” Marlin, to the ravages of cancer. On Sept. 1, Ricky Rudd’s father Al succumbed to the same disease.

When anyone loses a parent, it is a devastating blow. After all, parents bring you into the world, love you, wipe your tears and your nose, fix your bloody knees and otherwise prepare you for your own life, teaching, testing and above all hoping that what they tell and show you sticks with you so that your life turns out a little bit better than their own.

As a parent, you know that your whole life is wrapped up in these little bundles of joy and every waking moment—and some when you’re sleeping—is occupied with thoughts of them. Even when they leave and are out on their own, the worrying and wondering never ceases.

What, then, must it be like for Marlin and Rudd, both fathers who happen to make their livings driving race cars, to lose the men who got them there in the first place?

Coo Coo Marlin was a pretty tough racer in his day, earning the respect of the champions like Richard Petty, the Allisons, David Pearson and the like despite the fact that he spent most of his career as a talented privateer in a world of factory-backed racers.

As a kid, my own father took me to Michigan to watch the NASCAR races, and I can remember being intrigued by this strangely named man with the red No. 14 and the lazy southern drawl. When drivers he raced against commented on the elder Marlin, they did so with respect, and that wasn’t just a product of their generation, either.

He steered Sterling to the driver’s seat, at Nashville and other tracks close to Columbia, Tenn., and when the younger Marlin’s career took off, Coo Coo was there to lend a hand.

As for Al Rudd, it was he who backed his son’s early racing efforts, from go-karts and enduros to what was then Winston Cup racing. Ricky Rudd made news first because of his age, which was 18 or so, and then because he happened to be pretty darn good at what he did.

It’s not often these days that children follow in their father’s footsteps. It happens in racing quite a lot, given the nature of the sport, and for that we can be thankful. Rudd and Marlin, as well as the Wallace boys, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, the Labontes and Waltrips, Robby Gordon, Casey Mears, Kyle Petty, Ted Musgrave and many others, are second- and third-generation racers.

I’m a second-generation racer, too, after a fashion. At least I’m the second generation that has grown up writing about it, and that’s close enough for layman’s work. Perhaps that’s why the sad news has had such an effect.

For the families, please accept heartfelt condolences and sorrow for your loss.

For Coo Coo Marlin and Al Rudd, Godspeed and farewell.

And for all the sons and daughters out there, whether you’re in racing or not, take the time to hug your parents at least once a day. Some day, you won’t be able to and you’ll wish you did.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2005

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