Buddy Arrington, independent Mopar racer (updated)

Buddy Arrington has died at the age of 84. He had run 25 years in NASCAR’s toughest division, posting 15 top five finishes; he achieved first place runs in 1965 (Nashville) and 1979 (Talladega), impressive for an independent operator without factory backing. At Talladega, he ran in first place for two laps, but his crew had left a gas can attached to the car, forcing him to pit again. He still finished a lap ahead of Richard Petty, though he was driving one of Petty’s old Magnums (Petty himself had switched to General Motors).

Buddy Arrington

He finished in the top ten in NASCAR points in 1978 (ninth) and 1982 (seventh)—even though he usually ran his own cars, rather than company cars; these were often used. He reskinned old Petty Magnums into Dodge Miradas and Chrysler Imperials for 1981. His pit crew were, according to Wikipedia, often unpaid volunteers.

In Allpar, Gary S. remembered, “When the supply of original Mopar race engine blocks became almost impossible to find, [his son] Joey asked those of us in his fan club to scour our local wrecking yards for 340 blocks he could use to build race engines. Several times during the season they would auction off things like worn tires, torn-up sheet metal, old fire suits, helmets, and blown engine parts. Sometimes, when there was nothing to auction, they would pass the hat to raise enough money to buy one set of new tires, since most of his tires were worn donations from other teams. Buddy would always apologize for having to take it easy to save equipment, even when he had a car that could run with the big boys. Despite seldom having enough tires or money to rebuild his good engines, he often managed to finish ‘teenth among the million-dollar teams. Those were the good days!”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted that he was “One of the sport’s true independents. Buddy was always fun to watch. Like all the independents of his era, you had to admire the effort and resourcefulness it took to compete.”

Buddy Arrington, the last of the NASCAR Winston Cup drivers to stick with Dodge, drove a Magnum in his best year as an independent. He may have been the first to officially run an Imperial at NASCAR—the 1981-83 series—because it had a more aerodynamic body than the Mirada.

Buddy Arrington with wing car

Brock Beard called him one of “NASCAR’s most famous independents—both for his unique style and his commitment to running Mopar products.” He ran with Chrysler cars and parts during years when Chrysler itself was not committed to NASCAR. At one point, he told Al Pearce that he had begun to race as a Chrysler dealer mechanic; he quickly accumulated so much Chrysler gear that he stuck with them even when they didn’t run well.

He only left Chrysler when his 1983 Imperial was ineligible to run at NASCAR in 1985, running a mix of Chevrolets and Fords until 1988. His Imperials were the last Chrysler products to run in NASCAR’s Winston Cup series in the 20th century; one is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

His son, Joey Arrington, used to serve on his pit crew and built his engines; he now runs Arrington Manufacturing in Martinsville, Virginia, which made racing engines for the Craftsman Truck series and test engines for the Nextel Cup series. Ed Poplawski recalled that, at one time, Joey Arrington was the official supplier of NASCAR engines for Dodge, which did most of its engine development at his large, modern facility in Martinsville. Dodge and Arrington Manufacturing kept their relationship going after Dodge left NASCAR.

Buddy Rogers Arrington died yesterday, August 2, in Martinsville, Virginia, survived by his wife, son, stepson, and grandchildren. Visitation is being held tomorrow with a funeral on Friday. The cause of his death has not been reported.

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