Print and Go Back ESPN.com: RPM [Print without images]

Wednesday, May 22, 2002
Simmons has over 1,000 wins

Associated Press

CARNESVILLE, Ga. -- Relaxing on the back of a golf cart a few feet from his race car, Buck Simmons hardly had a moment to himself.

One by one, well-wishers stopped by to spend a little time with the veteran short-track driver before practice at Highway 106 Speedway in northeast Georgia. The 55-year-old Simmons signed autographs, shook hands and greeted everyone warmly.

"They call me a 'Living Legend' up here, I've got a lot of fans,'' he said with a smile. "It makes a man feel good to be appreciated.''

Why shouldn't he be appreciated? Nearing the end of his 41-year career, Simmons recently won his 1,000th feature, joining just a handful of drivers believed to have to reach that figure. No official records are kept.

"It's certainly impressive,'' racing historian Greg Fielden said. "I think Dick Trickle may have close to 1,000 wins, but there's not many others that have it. It's quite a feat.''

Stuck on 999 since last season, Simmons finally got the sought-after victory at Lavonia Speedway on May 11.

"I'm glad it's over with,'' Simmons said. "I never thought it was that big a deal, then everybody started talking about it, and I started to think maybe it was a big deal, after all.''

His mother kept a record of Simmons' results for years, traveling all over the South to watch her son race. In failing health for about a year, she hasn't been able to see his past few victories.

"If I ever sat down and looked through her book, I could tell you how many times I finished second, how many times I finished in the top five, how many times I fell out,'' Simmons said. "I think I'll do that one of these days when I quit.''

It won't be anytime soon. Provided top-notch equipment by car owner Gerald Voyles, Simmons doesn't have plans to retire. He just picked up a new car last week, and legendary NASCAR engine builder Ernie Elliott agreed to supply the motor.

Besides, what else is he going to do?

"I don't know how to do nothing else,'' Simmons said.

Like most short-track drivers in Georgia, he longed to run Winston Cup earlier in his career, and in 1979, he won a match race that gave him a ride with car owner Kennie Childers. Simmons finished 13th in his debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but after just six starts the next season, Childers replaced him with Donnie Allison.

"In Winston Cup, you've got to have everybody do all they can,'' Simmons said. "I don't know if I wasn't doing my job or they weren't doing their job, but it just didn't work out.''

Still, Simmons wasn't sure he was right for NASCAR's top series.

"I don't think I could have ever got Daytona and Talladega down to where I could even race with them,'' he said. "The draft plays tricks on your mind, and I just didn't run it enough.

"It's just a different breed of people that does that.''

He's been running short tracks around his home in Baldwin, Ga., ever since, except for a three-year hiatus when he thought he was retired.

"My wife and boy wanted me to start back, so I went out and found myself a ride, and it wasn't too long both of them quit going,'' he said, joking.

Voyles offered Simmons a ride five or six years ago, and they've won about 25 races since then.

"I've known Buck for years,'' said Voyles, who owns a John Deere dealership in Carnesville. "In the past, he was one of the hot dogs, and I guess I couldn't afford him. He was getting toward the end of his career, and I just wanted to help him get to 1,000 wins.''

The team has one full-time worker, crew chief Bruce Taylor, and relies on about five volunteers to race twice a week. Taylor met Simmons in 1996, and Taylor still competes in several races a year.

"He's got a lot of ability, it was born in him,'' Taylor said. "I see it driving against him. He can do things in a car I wish I could make mine do.''

Simmons has made a few concessions to age. The glasses he wears under his helmet have gotten a little thicker, and the seat may be a little wider to accommodate the 10 or 15 pounds he's gained since his prime. But on the track, it's impossible to tell he's several years older than the other drivers.

"There's something to be said for youth, but there's something to be said for experience, too,'' Voyles said. "He's still got it. If a race car is right, I'll put him against anybody.''

On this night, Simmons easily got victory No. 1,001. He sat on the pole and led all 30 laps, beating Randy Hemphill to the checkered flag by about 15 car lengths. A day later, he won again at Lavonia for 1,002.

"Once I got to 1,000, there's really no goals now,'' Simmons said. "We're just going to try to win every time we race.''