Shady Bowl’s marketing team contacted Marlin to see if he’d be interested in taking on the ‘Bowl. Marlin agreed. He’ll haul his late model up from Columbia, Tenn., to battle the likes of Shady Bowl points leader Josh Smith and top contenders Don Mahaffey Jr., Mike Ward and Jim Lewis Jr.
Marlin, 60, competes regularly at The Fairgrounds in Nashville, a 5/8th-mile track that boasts to have produced more NASCAR drivers than any track. The Fairgrounds is also the oldest running short track in the country.
“We thought we’d go up there and try it out,” Marlin said. “We don’t know a whole lot about it. We’ve raced in Pensacola, Nashville, Missouri, Michigan. We should be in pretty good shape.”
Marlin and his late model team accept about 10 invitations from tracks and Shady Bowl was one of them this season. Shady Bowl promoter Rick Young said the track will host an autograph session with Marlin.
“It’s (a thrill) to see people still come out and support me,” Marlin said. “They get die cast car signed, T-shirts, jackets, hats.”
And sometimes more unique things, too. Among the most unusual items Marlin has autographed? A baby diaper.
“Unused. Unused,” Marlin stressed.
In 2012, Marlin was diagnosed with Parkinsonism, a degenerative nerve disorder similar to Parkinson’s. Marlin’s right hand shakes involuntarily and he has a slight limp in his right leg. But Marlin, who said he can still wheel the late model around the track mostly with his left hand, plans to keep going as long as he can.
“I love what I’m doing. I still enjoy it and I still can do it,” Marlin said. “I used to say until the wheels come off the car. I don’t know.”
Marlin won 10 races — including a pair of Daytona 500 victories — during a NASCAR Cup career that lasted 33 years starting in 1974. His Daytona 500 wins in 1994 and 1995 put him in an exclusive club with Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty as the only drivers to win consecutive 500s.
On Saturday he’s out to add another track to his win list.
“I don’t want to run 10th. The goal is to win. We’ll give it a shot,” Marlin said. “We want to see all the fans come out. Get a win for them. That’s what we’re going to try and do.”
Marlin gets a warm reception from the fans off the track. On the track, well, locals aren’t afraid to trade a little paint with Marlin to protect their home turf.
“Some do (race me hard). Some do since we’re the new guy in town,” Marlin said. “We’ll try to run as good as we can.”
Marlin said he’ll try to figure out Shady Bowl’s tricky oval during hot laps. Young has some advice for him.
“Our track is pretty unique. You go up a hill at one end and down the hill at the other,” Young said. “Bring some motor and have that car prepared good. … The drivers are really excited about it. They’re some stiff competition and they say he better bring his A game.”