Mike Duvall interview with LuvRacin.com By LarrE
On a hot South Carolina afternoon we stopped by Mike Duvall’s shop in Cowpens. A big floor fan was trying to keep them cool, as Mike and his son Jonathan worked on the boy’s new dirt car. He had just destroyed his old one. As they cut, formed and welded the sweat and stories began flowing. It was a rambling road through the life of a man who’s a charter member of the Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame.
We just had vacation bible school for the kids and I didn’t get home till 9:30 or 10. Then I’d work every night “till 1, building up a motor so I could run at Carolina Speedway in Gastonia, North Carolina. We finished third. I ran second until the last caution then I gave out and let ‘em get away from me.
Driving a race car you have to learn to drive with your foot. The more gas you give it the more it wants to turn. You control that and when it gets on the straightaway and all four wheels are on the ground then you aim it and mash it. Now a four bar car you have to be a little more patient with. The reason Dale Earnhardt Sr was so good, he was so smooth. And he could run sideways and it didn’t bother him. You’ve got a couple of drivers out there now that are like that… Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. You need a good ego too.
I drove a race car for the first time when I was 15. Then after high school I went off to Gardner-Webb College on a football scholarship. Then I played semi-pro for two years. I finally came back to racin’.
Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, South Carolina has always been our home track. It’s been the fastest ½ mile in the country. People would spend their life savings just to win at Gaffney. It’s also the track that nearly killed me. A few years back I crashed over the turn one wall and hurt my heart real bad. Moved it around inside my chest and bruised the bottom of it pretty bad.
Now this year when I started I didn’t know I was out of breath until the first race. Then it got worse and worse. I was in the hospital for 5 days this last June. They all say it’s my heart, but the doctors can’t find anything wrong…except it’s all beat up from racin’. They gave me seven different tests and couldn’t find anything wrong with the heart. I said, “Look I told ya’ before I came here it wasn’t my heart. It’s my throat”. So they ran that light down me and still couldn’t find anything. Then another doctor came in and checked my lungs. Well, he found two little abscesses in my throat and thought it might be acid reflux. We’re workin’ on fixin’ that and it seems to be getting a little better. The last few races I was good in the heats but still started choking and fell back in the features.
This may be my last year…I don’t know. That’s the reason I started racing the red and gold #5… like I had years ago. I always said before I quit driving I’d run that color again in memory of my father. So if this is my last year, well I’ve done it. And If I don’t feel any better this will be my last year. I can’t make but about 8 laps then I start choking. It don’t bother me as much when I’m racing but when a caution comes out I can’t get no air.
We’ve won a lot of races. A thousand and sixteen I believe. Even won the NDRA championship. But because of the prestige, the biggest race was the World 100 at Eldora, Ohio. That was in 1982 when I was 38 years old. And I ran second two or three times and had some poles. Since the drivers come from all over, when you win up there you were the top dog. When I was 26 years old I was all ready making good money. And when I was 34 or 36 I had won about 120 races.
I missed my chance when I was about 26 years old. Humpy Wheeler offered me a Grand National ride (now Nextel Cup) for a year if I’d run at Hickory for Ned Jarrett. We were standing on the main straightaway at Charlotte Speedway (now Lowe’s) when he said it.. But I was winning everything on dirt. I could make 4 or 5 thousand dollars a week. I would only make about four hundred dollars a week at Hickory. I wouldn’t do it. So he gave it to Earnhardt. Humpy said “Boy, you don’t know what you’re givin’ up!” So you never know how it might have turned out for me. I don’t care who you are’ you’ll get a chance to do it right at least once. Don’t screw it up like I did. But I did pretty good at what I did. We won $240,000 in a week at Volusia, Florida. For years I wanted to buy that track. We came real close once when a partner backed out and I said I’d go back and get the money to cover his part. But they said the deal had to be signed at that meeting or the time limit would be up.
Up until 1997 I was a real sinner. Wasn’t even worth killin’. There were two divorces and my first kid didn’t even know he had a daddy. When I started dating Pam I didn’t think I’d ever get married again. Her and her family started dragging me to church. I started feelin’ better and actin’ better. In November of 1997 I was saved and my life has been better then ever before. I couldn’t believe the change in my feelings. It was like a light had been switched on.
We started racin’ the Flintstone Flyer colors in 1980. I did it for the kids. They love it. I had a chance to get a big sponsorship from a beer company but I turned it down. It wouldn’t be right with all my young fans. We turned down a second beer sponsorship too.
My plan now is to make a museum for all of my stuff. I have 4 or 5 cars that can be rebuilt and a lot of other stuff that the fans would like to see. With that and my Flintstone Flyer chassis business, and the driving school, I’ll keep busy.
For more information check out Mike's website at www.mikeduvall.com