On this day in 1991, 51-year-old race car driver Harry Gant racks up his 12th National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) Winston Cup career victory in the Winston 500 in Talladega, Alabama. In doing so, Gant bettered his own record as the oldest man ever to win a NASCAR event.
A native of Taylorsville, North Carolina, Gant quit the family carpentry business in 1978 and raced his first full Winston Cup season in 1979, at the relatively advanced age of 39. He was a candidate for Rookie of the Year, but lost to Dale Earnhardt. In 1981, Gant joined the Mach I/Skoal Bandit Racing Team and competed in the team’s No. 33 Pontiac, owned by the movie producer Hal Needham and the actor Burt Reynolds and sponsored by the U.S. Tobacco Company. He got his first win in his 107th start, on April 25, 1982, in the Virginia National Bank 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Known as “Handsome Harry,” Gant had by far his best NASCAR season in 1991. That May 6, he scored his record-breaking victory on the circuit’s fastest track, the Alabama Superspeedway in Talladega. In a race marred by crashes, Gant traveled the last 56 laps without a fuel stop. That September, he won four consecutive events, beginning with a victory in the Heinz Southern 500 on the tight oval speedway at Darlington, South Carolina on September 1. By the end of the month, Gant had triumphed in Richmond, Virginia; Dover, Delaware; and Martinsville, Virginia. The string of wins tied the NASCAR record for most wins in a one-month period, and the press dubbed Gant “Mr. September.” Gant finished fourth place in the Winston Cup Series points race that year, and was named the National Motorsports Press Association’s Driver of the Year.
Gant hardly slowed down in 1992, breaking his own record as the oldest NASCAR winner (at 52 years and 219 days) for a final time when he won the Champion 400 on August 16 at the Michigan International Speedway. The previous May 31, he had become the oldest driver to win a 500-mile race of any kind with a victory at the Budweiser 500 in Dover. Gant retired as a driver at the end of the 1994 season and was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in April 2006.
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