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Aumann: Lund remains bigger than life figure in NASCAR

May 17, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

Tiny Lund scored four of his five career wins driving the No. 55, including one at Columbia (S.C.) Speedway in 1965. (Getty)

Tiny Lund's life was a series of contradictions.

At 6-foot-6 and weighing more than 300 pounds, Lund raced midgets. He made his NASCAR debut in a car sponsored by a seat belt company, but broke his arm and suffered multiple bruises when his car flipped and the seat belt broke. He was a fierce competitor on the track, but a prankster off it.

Tiny Lund, circa 1972 (Getty)

"DeWayne Louis Lund may still be the biggest thing ever to hit NASCAR."

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Marvin Panch is alive today, partly because Lund rescued him from inside a burning car at Daytona International Speedway in 1963. Lund was involved in another fiery accident 12 years later at Talladega Superspeedway, but while safety crews were able to save one driver, Lund died before he could be rushed to the hospital.

DeWayne Louis Lund may still be the biggest thing ever to hit NASCAR. Born in 1929 in Harlan, Iowa -- about an hour northeast of Omaha, Neb. -- Lund was big enough to play any sport he liked. But he preferred speed, and began racing motorcycles at age 15. He tried open-wheeled cars, but had a hard time fitting in them. So he moved on to stock cars, racing on the modified circuit.

After serving time in the Air Force, Lund returned to racing in 1955. That fall, with sponsorship from the Ruppert Safety Belt Co., Lund decided to enter the NASCAR event at the 1.5-mile high-banked dirt oval at Lehi, Ark. Lund lost control on Lap 65 and his car began to flip, the seat belt broke, leaving him injured.

During the next six seasons, Lund drove in more than 100 races as the very definition of journeyman driver. He finished second twice in 1959, but rarely had a competitive ride. And by the 1963 Daytona 500, Lund had no ride at all.

Still, he made the trip to the speedway -- and happened to be coming through the infield tunnel at the exact moment when Panch's sports car flipped upside and caught fire during practice for the 24-hour race. Lund and several others came to Panch's rescue, with Lund pulling Panch from the burning car.

With Panch in the hospital, the Wood Brothers needed a replacement driver for their No. 21 Ford. Panch suggested Lund, who not only accepted the ride but went on to win the 500 in storybook fashion -- running out of gas just as the car crossed the start/finish line. Lund completed the 500 miles on one set of tires, a feat that's unlikely to ever be matched.

For his quick thinking in the face of danger, Lund was later awarded the Carnegie Medal of Heroism.

The race track wasn't the only place where Lund excelled. He owned a fish camp in Cross, S.C., on Lake Moultrie -- and in 1963, set a world record when he landed a 55-pound striped freshwater bass. From that point on, his own cars carried No. 55.

Lund won four more races in NASCAR's Grand National/Cup series -- and was a three-time champion in NASCAR's Grand American division for pony cars. But Lund may be remembered more for some of the best practical jokes involving nakedness ever pulled in the sport's history.

Buddy Baker was the butt of one involving Charlotte Motor Speedway's cheetah mascot.

"For some reason, Tiny thought it would be clever to put this cat in my bedroom and leave it," Baker said during a TNN driver's reunion special in 1999. "So I come home after being out with the racing group and I got in kind of late. I didn't even worry about turning the lights on, got my clothes off and pulled the sheet up to my head ... and I heard this purr.

"I flipped the light on and this cat was directly in my face. With that, I went through the hallway on my hands and knees -- I never even stood up -- and slammed head-on into the door. I finally got it open and ran out. Everybody was running because I was running, and I thought they were running because the cat was after me. And there's Tiny with that cat, laughing himself to death -- and me in my birthday suit."

Cale Yarborough remembered rooming with Lund at a motel in Atlanta. Lund had repeatedly dunked Yarborough under the water in the motel's pool, so Yarborough thought of a way to get him back.

"Tiny was taking a shower," Yarborough said during that same TV show. "So I went and got me a trash can and filled it up with water and ice. Got it good and cold. So I sneaked in there and got up on top of the tub to where I could really get the thing over on Tiny and poured that ice water on him. It just about scared him to death.

"Anyway, he came running after me. I went out the door and he came out the door -- in his birthday suit -- and right through the parking lot we went. I ran and locked myself in the car and there was this tiny 80-year-old woman. Then he came around the car, saw her and said, 'Pardon me, ma'am,' and turned around and went back into the room, like nothing happened."

Richard Petty's mother got the best of Lund during a fracas at Greensboro, N.C., in 1957. While the drivers were being introduced before the race, Lund became enraged with Lee Petty over the issue of payment and the argument soon turned physical. Richard and his brother, Maurice -- both teenagers at the time -- tried to intervene but Lund was too huge to handle.

Enter Elizabeth Petty, who swung her purse and connected with Lund's head. He collapsed in a heap, knocked cuckoo in part by the handgun Mrs. Petty had hidden inside her bag.

By 1975, Lund was spending more time on the water than behind the wheel. However, after winning $1,600 at a local track in South Carolina, Lund was asked to drive A.J. King's Dodge at Talladega that August. On the sixth lap, he touched fenders with J.D. McDuffie, sending both cars spinning. Terry Link, blinded by the tire smoke, plowed full-speed into the driver's door of Lund's car.

Link's car caught fire, but he was dragged safely out of harm's way. However, when rescuers got to Lund, they realized he was bleeding internally -- and he died 10 minutes after being brought to the infield care center.

Baker won the race, but wasn't informed of his friend's death until he was asked about it during the post-race interview. Baker, Yarborough and NASCAR founder Bill France were among those who attended Lund's funeral.