Robbins among local racing greats honored at fairgrounds

Sunday, July 12, 2009 at 11:58pm

Marty Robbins used to race at the Fairgrounds, then rush downtown to the Ryman in time to take the stage — sometimes still bearing the sweat and grime of the track – for the final set on the Grand Ole Opry.

“The only thing my dad loved more than his music and his family was his racing,” said Ronny Robbins who was on hand Saturday night for his father’s induction into the Fairgrounds Speedway Hall of Fame. “He didn’t like it when somebody said he raced as a ‘hobby.’ He considered himself a serious race driver.”

Marty Robbins, a country music legend who died in 1982 at age 57, was one of five new Hall of Fame inductees. He was joined by drivers Joe Buford, Chad Chaffin and Sterling Marlin, along with long-time announcer Joe Williams.

“These people helped make this the greatest weekly race track in the country over the past 50 years,” said track operator Danny Denson.

Buford, 42, holds the track record for wins (66).

Chaffin, 40, is a two-time track champion who went on to race in mid-level NASCAR divisions.

Marlin, 52, won three Fairgrounds championships before launching a spectacular NASCAR career highlighted by two Daytona 500 victories.

“This is a great old track with a lot of great memories,” said Marlin who still runs an occasional NASCAR race and competes in some Late Model events at the Fairgrounds.

“I literally grew up at this place,” said Marlin, who was two months old when his mother first took him to the track where his father, Coo Coo, raced.

The elder Marlin won four track championships and was one of the Hall of Fame’s first inductees, along with fellow drivers Bob Reuther, Darrell Waltrip and track founder Bill Donoho.

Bobby Hamilton will be induced later this summer as part of a special Hamilton memorial race weekend.

“No other track has produced as many great drivers as Nashville’s,” said Denson who is campaigning to keep the track operating amid debate about the best use for the Metro-owned property. “It’s part of the city’s heritage and history.”