Clifton Marlin, father of Sterling, dies of lung cancer

Updated: August 14, 2005, 5:49 PM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Tenn. -- Clifton "Coo Coo" Marlin, one of NASCAR's early stars and father of current Nextel Cup driver Sterling Marlin, died Sunday after a battle with lung cancer. He was 73.

Marlin died in his hometown of Columbia, Tenn., said officials from Chip Ganassi Racing, which fields cars for Sterling Marlin.

"Members of Chip Ganassi Racing will begin racing festivities this morning at Watkins Glen International with heavy hearts as Sterling mourns the passing of his father," the team said in a statement.

NASCAR president Mike Helton informed the Cup drivers of Marlin's death at their pre-race meeting at the track.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to Sterling and his family," Helton said. "It wasn't just Sterling's father. He was a pioneer [in the sport]."

Sterling Marlin had returned home from this week's race in Watkins Glen, N.Y., to be with his father. Scott Pruett was scheduled to replace him in Sunday's event.

Although he never won a NASCAR points race, Marlin was one of the sport's earliest stars. A hard-nosed racer who made his name racing around the short tracks in Tennessee and Alabama. He became a regular at the Tennessee Fairgrounds, running against the likes of Bobby and Donny Allison and Red Farmer.

"We ran a whole lot with him," said Richard Petty, NASCAR's all-time leader with 200 victories. "I don't remember him ever causing any trouble, running over anybody or beating on anybody's head as far as Cup racing. I guess they'll remember him as a happy-go-lucky guy. That was my perspective of him."

Marlin won his first title at the Fairgrounds in 1959. He added titles in 1962, then again in 1966 and 1967 and his four titles are a record at the now-defunct race track.

Marlin moved onto NASCAR, where he made 165 Cup starts from 1966 to 1980. He had no wins, but earned nine top-fives and 51 top-10 finishes. His series best points finish was 20th in the 1975 season.

"He was a great competitor," said Richard Childress, who raced against Marlin before becoming a NASCAR team owner. "He was a lot of fun. I'll tell you, he lived life every day having a ball."

Recognized as a driver, Marlin also was well-known for a blue collar work ethic that kept him maintaining the land on his Tennessee farm until his death. He passed that work ethic on to his son, Sterling, who despite being a two-time Daytona 500 winner still spends his weekdays working on the farm.

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Coo Coo's name to the American Lung Association.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press