Speed happy to be  back behind wheel

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   Five years after injuries forced him to retire from Winston Cup, Lake Speed is enjoying a second life in auto racing, thanks to the recent Vintage Car trend.
   Speed was the guest speaker Wednesday night for the Emmanuel Baptist Church Outreach Ministry at the Elizabethton Boys and Girls Club. His appearance was part of the I-40 program, which is based on the biblical book of Isaiah 40, verses 30-31.
   Now retired and living in Kannapolis, N.C., where he operates a real estate business, Speed, 55, talked of returning to the sport he loves to compete in road races for older Winston Cup cars.
   "Last year, I was introduced into something that I wasn't aware of," said Speed, a native of Mississippi. "They have what they call Historic Stock Car Racing. It's a bunch of guys that have bought '94 and older model Winston Cup cars. They race them on road courses like Road Atlanta, Sebring, a brand new road course in Birmingham, Alabama, Virginia International Raceway, and Road America.
   "We even run Daytona in November and we play with that. I had a couple of old cars I kept from the last time I owned my own team. I'm running the No. 83 Purex car that I ran back in 1993. I'm doing that and having fun with that, no pressure and no stress."
   Starting in go-karts, Speed won six national times and eventually reached World Champion status in that discipline. Among those he beat was Aryton Senna, considered by many the greatest Formula One driver, ever to strap on a helmet.
   Once he got to NASCAR, Speed competed his entire Winston Cup career against Dale Earnhardt, whom some have called the greatest stock car driver of all-time. Speed made some comparisons between the two all-time greats.
   "They were a lot alike," remarked Speed, whose best NASCAR points finish was 10th in 1985. "Both of them raced with a lot of passion was the big thing. Senna at the time was a young guy who hadn't established himself. I remember he crashed trying to pass me for the lead, if that gives you an idea of the way he drove.
   "Dale and I raced against each other for 19 seasons. There were times we had conflicts on and off the track. You get to know how competitive these guys are when you spend that much time with them."
   Speed's greatest Winston Cup moment came in 1988, when he drove his No. 83 Oldsmobile to victory in the TranSouth 500 at Darlington.
   "That was a great day," said Speed, a veteran of 402 Winston Cup starts. "To me, that win at Darlington was like finally I won one. We had led so many of them. I had the whole field about a lap down one year before and the engine broke. We had several near misses. To finally put one away, it was a big relief for us."
   Also memorable is his second place finish in the No. 75 Rahmoc car to Bill Elliott in the 1985 Daytona 500. An emotional Speed emerged from his car while being interviewed the CBS pit reporter, but it was more than the great run behind his tears of joy.
   "That was a pretty awesome situation," recalled Speed. "There was a lot going on behind the scenes where God had been working on me for many months, telling me to trust him. We were at Daytona with no sponsor. It looked like we were going to run one race and have to close the team down and be out of business. Nationwise Auto Parts came to us the night before the race and told us they would do a one-race deal.
   "There still was no hope. Then to run like we did, I came into the gas pumps and the first person to get to the car was the CEO of Nationwise Auto Parts. He stuck his head in the window and said that, 'Whatever we do, we're not taking our name off that car. We will get the money whatever it takes to run this car all year.
   "In the interview the CBS guy stuck the microphone in there and asked, 'What does this mean to you?' A little small voice in the back of my mind said I told you I would take care of this. That was the end of it then. It just tore me up."
   Over his career, Speed drove for some of the sport's top car owners including Robert Yates, Bud Moore, Cale Yarborough, Harry Melling and the Abingdon-based Morgan-McClure team. From an outside perspective, the most striking odd couple appeared the teaming of the clean-cut Speed with Moore, a grizzled war veteran, noted for colorful adjectives.
   "There were a lot of differences no question," admitted Speed. "With my strong convictions, that wasn't Bud's lifestyle that much. Bud Moore was a real man's man. Bud's a solid hard-working man that honored his word. He's a solid person and those were qualities that I really admired. I did feel like there were a lot of things about Bud and myself that were very parallel. We were different, but we had a lot in common when it came to work ethic and desire. We didn't butt heads in those terms at all."
   With stats that include seven top three finishes, 74 top tens and over $5 million in prize money earned, Speed is satisfied with what he accomplished and says he is now enjoying the good life.
   "I'm trying to raise a family," said Speed. "I have a 16 year-old daughter, a 14 year-old daughter and a 12 year-old son. I'm trying to catch up on time where I was gone all the time and spend more time with the family.
   "God's been good to us. I started racing when I was 12 years old and raced all my life until 1998. All of a sudden I wasn't doing anything and it about drove me nuts. I'm glad I finally got the outlet to get back in a race car. To be able to get out there and drive something is doing me good right now."
   Race Notes: For the upcoming Channelock 250 Bristol race weekend, it was revealed that four-time Nashville Speedway track champion Joe Buford will be driving the No. 53 Tennessee Mountain Boys car based out of Blountville.
   Team owner Butch Jarvis, who normally handles driving duties, decided to turn over the reigns for Saturday's race to Buford, who last season passed Darrell Waltrip as the all-time winningest driver in Nashville Speedway history. The team will sport orange and white colors with several local sponsors helping to support the cause.