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Tom Higgins: Feudin', fussin' and fightin'

Editor's note: With "feuds" and NASCAR's "have at it, boys" all the current rage, we've dug out a little bit of perspective. contributor Tom Higgins, a member of the National Motorsports Press Association's hall of fame, filed the following in September 2008, when drivers Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch were getting attention for their differences.

Sept. 5, 2008:

The budding brouhaha between Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch in NASCAR's Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series has promise of being a bang-up rivalry, or feud. Not only have the two bashed each other on the track, but verbally as well.

I love it when drivers do the latter, especially if the exchanges are witty.

After their latest run-in a week ago at Bristol Motor Speedway, Busch called Edwards "Mr. Ed," obviously referring to Edwards' toothy smile and the horse of that name from the long-ago hit comedy series on television.

I've been waiting for Edwards to retaliate by calling Busch something, say, like "Geico," the lizard in TV commercials, but so far nothing has been forthcoming. It probably will be this weekend when the teams gather at California Speedway for a 500-miler on Sunday and Edwards has had time to think about it.

However, as antagonists, Busch and Edwards have a long way to go to match the pyrotechnics of their predecessors in NASCAR's good ol' days.

Colorful competitors like Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Ned Jarrett, Geoff Bodine, Fred Lorenzen and the departed drivers Dale Earnhardt, Lee Petty, Curtis Turner, Tiny Lund and Buck Baker all engaged in feuds that kept the fans interested, laughing, talking -- and anxiously awaiting the next race.

Following, in no certain order, are a few of the fiercest feuds I recall most fondly during 50 years of covering NASCAR:

JUNIOR JOHNSON AND THE PETTYS: "Lee was a tough driver and always had good equipment, but he thought the track belonged only to him, so we'd had problems for quite some time.

"We were racin' at the old Charlotte Fairgrounds speedway on North Tryon Street back in the 1950s and Lee was driving a Plymouth with a big ol' front bumper," remembers Johnson.

"He kept putting that bumper in my left-rear tire. I knew what he was trying to do. He was trying to jerk the valve stem out of the tire. Finally, he did, and I crashed and tore my car all to hell.

"I got to the pits and told my crew boys, 'Fix it.' They said, 'Junior. there ain't no way.' I said you're going to fix it to where I can run four or five laps and put Lee Petty through that board fence. They did, and I did. And I put Richard out for good measure.

"After the race the Petty crowd came down to my pit wanting to fight. I told 'em, we'll be glad to fight you, and you're going to lose that, too. I told them, 'Mess with me ever again, and I'll put both of you out of the race every time.

"I never had no more trouble with them."

JUNIOR JOHNSON AND NED JARRETT: Tough as it might be for fans who have found stock car racing only in the last quarter century to believe, during the late 1950s and early '60s Jarrett was a fiery, give-no-quarter competitor.

Yes, the same man who has a popular analyst on television motorsports broadcasts became known as "Gentleman Ned."

"Junior and I just didn't get along," recalls Jarrett. "I don't know whether it was a personality conflict or what.

"It got so bad between us in 1961 that he entered two cars for a race at Hickory Motor Speedway. Word got around that his second car -- I forget who was driving it -- was there expressly to put me out of the race. It never got the chance. I wrecked first.

"Our car owners got together and called Big Bill France Sr., the founder and president of NASCAR, to join them in trying to call a truce. France flew from Daytona Beach to the next race, which was at Richmond, to try and talk us out of feuding anymore. He tried to get us to shake hands. We didn't.

"In 1965, a race at Hickory was billed as the ultimate Jarrett-Johnson showdown. The track had its biggest crowd ever. We ran 1-2 most of the race and wore out two brand-new Fords. On the last lap I blew a tire while leading and Junior went around and won. He'd worn my tire out by rubbing my fender and bending the sheet metal in.

"Both of us retired as drivers not long afterward, and as time has gone by I'm happy to say we've become very good friends."

THE PETTYS AND TINY LUND: This one got very physical, and NOT just with cars bumping after a checkered flag, as Edwards and Busch did last week at Bristol. Fisticuffs flared, and more.

Lund had driven five races for the Petty team in 1957 and the association ended bitterly.

Prior to a race in Greensboro, a flatbed from a trailer truck was being used as a stage for driver introductions. So happened that Petty and Lund were starting in fairly close proximity, so they passed on the stage.

An obviously disparaging remark was made and knuckles started flying.

"The deal was, Tiny and Daddy had a falling out," said Richard Petty. "To spite Daddy, Tiny was telling the other teams about some special, secret things we did to our cars. Daddy confronted him about it, and they went to it, right there In front of everybody. I think Daddy took the first swing."

"Tiny" was a joke of a nickname for Lund. He stood 6-5 and weighed between 250 and 275 pounds.

Lee Petty stood 6-3 and weighed about 175.

"Daddy and Tiny scuffled onto the deck of that flatbed and he was whipping Daddy pretty bad. Me and my brother Maurice, both still teen-agers, jumped in to try and help Daddy. Well, Tiny was whupping all three of us.

"This is when my mother got involved. She came on that stage and started pummeling Tiny in the head with her purse. She was raising pump knots on poor ol' Tiny.

"The reason is, she had a .38 caliber pistol in that purse!"

Please, Carl and Kyle, however hot your rivalry becomes, NO FIREARMS!

I could go on and on, especially writing about the Yarborough-Waltrip feud and the unpleasantries -- to put it kindly -- between Dale Earnhardt and Geoff Bodine.

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