Commentary

Jerry Glanville tells tales of Big E

Updated: July 6, 2012, 4:32 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

Jerry Glanville is a fascinating character.

As a child, I loved the black garb, the Big E shades, the quick-witted, country-boy charm and the direct approach. I didn't like the Atlanta Falcons, but Coach Glanville made me want to.

Reminding referees that they weren't in college anymore made me laugh. Reminding them in the wake of suspect calls that "NFL means Not For Long" made me laugh harder.

Glanville was different than other authority figures. He was free-wheeling and flippant. He was a gunslinger.

[+] EnlargeJerry Glanville
Jimmy Cribb/Getty ImagesWhen Jerry Glanville traded his coaching headset for a steering wheel, he learned how to race from one of the best: Dale Earnhardt.

My old man loved gunslingers, so I do too.

I was chatting with a buddy of mine this week who knew the former NFL head coach-turned-NASCAR racer, and he was telling tales so outrageous they left me howlin' at the devil. I figured I'd call Glanville and hear a few for myself.

When he answered, I introduced myself, and he said, "Welllllll now ... how about this."

I knew I was in. I'd been warned to be careful, that ol' Jerry's tales grew taller than Jack's beanstalk. But I figure everybody's game for some embellishment from a big character like him.

I asked him all manner of things, such as his favorite memories in the garage and the best lesson NASCAR taught him. He didn't breathe for 30 minutes, maybe 40. It was one long run-on sentence. And it was awesome.

He told me Dale Earnhardt was his professor. Then he told me he'd never told a soul that before.

"Dale was my coach. He'd take me to Richmond, and I'd only race [Turns] 1 and 2 from breakfast all the way to lunch," Glanville said. "Then he'd make us lunch, and we'd eat. He'd make the lunch, Dale Earnhardt. And after lunch, he'd teach me [Turns] 3 and 4. And I'd ask him, 'What about my lap speed?' And he say, 'Lap speed is all motor and gears! I'm not interested in either. I'm interested in you being dynamite in [Turn] 3 and 4. That's where you win races.'

"We weren't warm and fuzzy, but I think he respected me from football, as a coach. And he'd tell me when he was coaching me, 'Hell! Come on! Get in there harder!' He'd get after me. 'Run that damn thing in there!' And I'd complain that it wouldn't turn, and he'd yell, 'Turn the sumb---- with the brake!' It was amazing."

Glanville has a few tales about Big E, such as the time Earnhardt wanted to partner on a Cup team. Earnhardt wanted to buy an existing team and put Glanville in the seat, he said.

"He said, 'The way you drive? We'll go straight to the front!'" Glanville said. "Then he wrecked me at Rockingham and said, 'I didn't teach you that, did I?' And he'd just laugh."

Glanville laughs a lot. He tells tale upon tale about his passion for racing and giggles like the Joker.

"Dale wrecked me at Rockingham. Then Junior wrecked me somewhere -- at the Monster Mile, I think," Glanville said with a chuckle. "So now I'm racing Charlotte, and Kerry wrecks me on Lap 6. We qualified 11th and ran to like third on Lap 6. And Kerry wrecks me. So TV comes by [and] says, 'Coach, that was awful.' I said, 'Somebody go get Earnhardt's daughter! She's the only one in the family that hasn't wrecked me!'"

We laughed some more.

He told me that famed engine builder Ernie Elliott -- Awesome Bill's brother -- once said Glanville "had the longest straightaways in the sport." I asked what that meant, and Glanville said, "First one in the gas and the last one off it."

He told me he once drove Kyle Petty's Mello Yello No. 42 Pontiac. He said crew chief Robin Pemberton, now NASCAR's vice president of competition, set up the car for him at a test. Bill, testing that same day, couldn't catch him, he said. Pemberton vaguely remembers it.

Glanville spoke about running back-to-back races on the track then zooming cross-country in his team rig, racing all comers down the interstate. He'd drive the first leg of every trip, 12 hours a pop. He loved that rig. He said Dale always wanted to buy it for hunting because it slept five or six people.

One time, he was pulling the rig out of Rockingham and the security guard stopped him.

"'Is that you driving that Western Star, Coach?' the guard asked. 'You're the second driver I've ever seen that leaves here driving the team rig,'" Glanville said. "I said, 'Who's the other?' He said, 'AJ Foyt.' That's pretty good company, right there."

He told me about the time a young kid walked up to him at the track and said, "Mr. Glanville, my dad says that whatever Coach Glanville is driving, he's getting everything that car has to offer."

That kid was Brad Keselowski. If any racer knows about doing a lot with a little, it's Keselowski's father, Bob.

"I think he meant we never just rode around," Glanville said. "He don't know me from a jar of Vick's. But we never rode."

Keselowski said that sounds exactly like something he'd have said to Glanville.

Glanville jokes that he was a rookie the same year as Jeff Gordon. Gordon was 17. Glanville was 54.

"My last few races I paid my entry fee with my social security check," Glanville howled.

The thing that struck me during this conversation was a sense of missed opportunity. It was palpable that Glanville felt he'd missed a chance to legitimately compete. I badgered him to expound.

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"I didn't realize at the time how honored I should have been that Dale Earnhardt wanted me to drive his Chevrolet," Glanville said.

He wasn't laughing now. The tone shifted. He was quite serious.

"I was driving a Buick, and Dale wanted me to drive his Busch car," he said. "I sat up on the wheel, but he laid back so far I could barely see over the bottom of the window sill.

"Knowing what happened afterward ..."

He paused.

"I doubt Dale Earnhardt ever took anybody else to the track and coached them," Glanville said. "To this day, Ernie Elliott says I drove just like Earnhardt. To this day, I've never told anybody who was my teacher.

"He'd have two telephone poles between Turn 1 and 2, and he'd time me between these poles. And we'd do it all morning long. And then he'd coach me. He once brought Richard Childress to a test I ran. And about Lap 3 I was showing off and wadded it up. Just wadded that car up. And Childress said, 'Well, I didn't get to see much.'

"I still think about that. You never know when you got your chance."

He left me with that.

There's nothing tall about that lesson.

Marty,

What's Jeff Burton's future in the 31? They've struggled so bad, and everyone's saying Kurt Busch will be in that car. Give me some answers, man! Burton's my driver!

-- Jimmy Hypes, Danville, Va.

I spoke with Burton about this, Jimmy, because you're right, the rumors are swirling regarding the No. 31 team's direction and future.

He didn't hesitate. "Not only do I expect to be there -- I will be there," he said. "We're the worst team in the company right now. Our performance sucks. Our 1.5-mile program is miserable, awful. We ain't getting it done. None of us are, but we're the worst. We must get better. Nobody is happy with it."

We discussed the inevitable dynamic that when performance is down, everyone wants to determine the fix, immediately. Burton said the entire Richard Childress Racing organization is working to remedy the problems that plague his team.

He then made an interesting point. "I always say that pressure isn't running for a championship," he said. "Pressure is not running for a championship."

Marty,

Your thoughts on the 3 in Sprint Cup Series? I'd love to see it and think Austin Dillon would be a good person to drive it. I don't believe [Dale Earnhardt] Jr. needs to drive it. He's compared to his father enough already.

-- Keo Hill, from Facebook

I don't mind Dillon running the No. 3. He is a good kid and a good racer. He deserves to run his favorite number. He is respectful and talented and will be in the Sprint Cup Series soon.

It's the font and the color scheme that gets me. I can't help but feel that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the only driver who should run No. 3 on a black Cup car. That's not fair to Dillon. I know that. Junior doesn't want to run it anyway, but I can't help but feel that way.

Addressing this, Dillon says he'd love to race the No. 3 in the Cup Series, but "with that number comes pressure."

I wondered how that pressure manifests itself for Dillon. He said it's outside pressure, the aura of the number. He says he loves it. As for his family, they don't pressure him. His grandfather doesn't. He did say, though, that ol' Pop-Pop is never satisfied.

"He always tells us that we could win one day and be working a fast-food joint the next," Dillon said. "Dale Earnhardt never thought he'd made it. Same thing with Jimmie Johnson. Never quit because you never know what you'll be doing tomorrow."

Marty,

Denny Hamlin/Carl Edwards, bad year after a great one. Why??

-- Curt Davis, Lancaster, Ky.

Running for championships is an exhausting prospect. It is deceivingly taxing emotionally. Athletes can tell you it's not -- that they can forget failure and move along with no hangover. And they may actually believe that in the moment.

But the impact cuts deep. To get so close and fail makes you harder, toughens you up. The fact is you may never get back there again.

I asked Hamlin about it, and he noted it's extremely difficult to stay focused for that long. When you fail to win, you aren't as devoted to going to the shop and aren't apt to communicate with the team and crew chief as often.

I asked Larry McReynolds about it too. He harkened back to 1992.

"I've been a part of that happening. We made damnedest run in '92 with Davey and lost it," he said. "And we came back the next year, and we won Richmond, but we looked like we didn't even know what made a car roll. It was unexplainable. Then finger-pointing starts."

Marty,

Does a lame-duck season kill Matt Kenseth's Cup title chances?

-- Aaron Jones, Stewartville, Minn.

It could affect his championship hopes dramatically if Roush Fenway disallows his participation in team functions, such as competition meetings and whatnot. It was readily obvious at Kentucky that Jack Roush wasn't thrilled. He even said Kenseth's decision wouldn't affect his personal opinion of the man but would dull his devotion to a racer headed "to the dark side."

I think they'll be fine emotionally. It would affect most teams and drivers, but Kenseth is so poised and his team doesn't seem fazed in the least. There's just a different feeling about this situation versus other lame-duck scenarios. Maybe that's naive.

That's my time, Team. Thanks for yours and for being in The Six. I appreciate it more than you know.

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