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Six months later Robbins had resumed his singing career and he wanted to get back with the stockers. Another physical, and this time the doctor said: "Not only can't you race, but if you want to live you've got to go under the knife—now." Two of the three main arteries to Robbins' heart were totally blocked; the third was partially blocked. "You might live six months without an operation," said the doctor. "Even with it, there's no guarantee."
After the operation, a lengthy recuperation and a series of arguments with all sorts of doctors, not to mention his wife Marizona and various appalled business associates, Robbins resumed his interrupted Grand National career. It was late 1970, and again the site was the National 500 in Charlotte. He bought a car from James Hylton, started 33rd, blew an engine and finished 32nd.
The next year he bought another car, this time from Bobby Allison, ran in five events and was named rookie of the race at the Southern 500 in Darlington, S.C., the most devious track in NASCAR. And then last year, still racing an Allison Enterprises Dodge, Marty Robbins was caught up in that traditional old NASCAR practice—cheating.
Robbins has always portrayed himself as a friendly sort out there on the track, one who races just for the fun of it, and when the hot dogs—the Pettys and Allisons and Bakers and Pearsons—come busting through, he'll get out of the way nice and easy and let 'em by. Which is true, to a degree. Says Bobby Allison's brother Eddie, one of the more astute NASCAR mechanics around, "Now Marty, he don't put anybody in trouble. Some of these guys, you pass 'em for the 11th time and they want to race. Not Marty. He'll move over."
Nice words, and Robbins does get uniformly high marks from all the drivers, hot dogs and back markers alike, regarding racing etiquette. But Marty Robbins also has changed in the past couple of years. His racing-for-fun routine Still holds, but it has been tempered recently by a fine new competitiveness that makes him want to do the awful, the unmentionable. He wants to win a Grand National. He has grown fond of the idea of the laurel wreath and the champagne and all the rest. Which explains a lot about what happened.
At Talladega, Ala. in May of 1972 Robbins qualified ninth for the Winston 500 with an average speed of 174.789 mph. By the end of the race he was running almost 190 mph, and if he had looked around he would have seen some rather shocked faces on the drivers he passed. Said Buddy Baker, "I don't know what was going on since I was fighting for the lead then. All I know is/didn't pass him." And Buddy Baker is a sure-enough hot dog.
Robbins was voted rookie of the race again—even before it was over. After some lengthy pit stops he finished 14th, all set to collect a good bunch of prize money. In the garage area after the race everybody was unwinding and preparing to go home when Bill Gazaway, the chief technical inspector for NASCAR, called over a NASCAR public-relations type and moaned: " Robbins just turned himself in."
The story is complicated, but in brief, the carburetor-restrictor sleeve on Robbins' car (designed as a sort of governor to reduce speeds and engine wear) had been tampered with so that when his immaculate maroon-and-yellow racer fired up on the starting line, a little ring of metal dropped down into the intake manifold and allowed a whole lot more fuel and air to reach the pistons than NASCAR rules permitted.
But now, by turning himself in, Robbins had violated a code of oldtime racing ethics, NASCAR style. First, he set a horrendous precedent. (Not one, however, that is likely to be followed too closely.) There is no postrace inspection in NASCAR, and the assumption has long been that whatever you can get to the starting line with is yours, legal or not. This little game between NASCAR inspectors and top wrenches has been played for years, but no one, no one, ever turned himself in, for heaven's sake.