Colorful character 'Hoss' Ellington remembered
June 03, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Charles Everett "Hoss" Ellington passed away May 31, and another small part of NASCAR's colorful history has been silenced.
Ellington, a native of Wilmington, North Carolina, was 79.
"He was a unique team owner," said Donnie Allison, who scored four of his 10 NASCAR premier series victories while driving for Ellington. "He was very, very serious about his racing, but he never acted that serious around us. He was always cutting up. … He pretty well left us alone with the race car -- (engine builder) Runt Pittman, myself and (crewman) Jackie Rogers, we pretty well took care of everything.
"I couldn't have asked for a better team owner. He gave us all the means to win with, and it showed. The car ran good every time we raced it."
Ellington, inducted into the Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, won just five times as an owner -- four with Allison and a fifth and final time with NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson. His teams earned 52 top-five finishes, including 10 runner-up finishes, in 264 starts.
"He was very, very serious about his racing, but he never acted that serious around us. He was always cutting up."
-- Donnie Allison on Hoss Ellington
His organization never ran the entire schedule, instead competing in a limited number of races with a variety of drivers.
"He never ran for the points," said Allison. "When he was there, he wanted to win. He didn't care about points."
At a time when "creative engineering" of the race car was commonplace, Ellington did his best to keep pace.
"Hoss was best known in racing for his imaginative engineering," longtime Charlotte Observer motorsports writer Tom Higgins said. "Charlie Glotzbach was driving his car at Charlotte in 1973 and they just ran away with the pole. They just blistered the field.
"Well, NASCAR knew something was wrong so they started going over that car and they found an illegal carburetor on it. … It had a sliding device in it that would open up the carburetor and make it much bigger. It was connected to the cockpit with piano wire. It was genius.
"But (NASCAR) found it, took the pole away from Glotzbach and I think they fined Hoss $5,000, which was a lot of money then. I nicknamed it 'Glotzbach's gizmo.' It was something else."
Higgins said Ellington changed drivers so often -- more than 20 drove his car at least once -- that the owner once told him "he was going to … buy one of those things they put on the front of a bus that changes and shows what city they're going to next," Higgins said. "He said he was going to put it on his car and just put the drivers' names on the thing, then roll it from one to the other when he changed drivers. He was just a colorful, colorful character."
The Charlotte incident wasn't the only time Ellington's team ran afoul of NASCAR. The 1976 Daytona 500 is remembered for the slam-bang finish between eventual winner Pearson and Richard Petty. A week before the race, Ellington's car, with A.J. Foyt driving, had won the pole for the race. Until officials discovered a steel nitrous oxide bottle on the car. Foyt's time was quickly tossed out.
As were the times of Darrell Waltrip, the No. 2 qualifier, and Dave Marcis, who had posted the third fastest lap.
Waltrip's DiGard entry also carried an empty bottle that was judged to have contained nitrous oxide; Marcis' transgression was an unapproved aluminum flap placed over the radiator that improved front-end aerodynamics.
"I don't know how much creativity Hoss had; he had a lot of creative people around him, I'll say that," Waltrip said. "He was good friends with (chassis builder) Banjo Matthews at the time. And Banjo built our cars. Hoss had great equipment and Runt build great engines. They played hard but they worked and raced hard too. They were serious about what they were doing. They took their racing very seriously."
The following year, Waltrip won the Talladega 500 while driving in a relief role for Allison and Ellington.
Having fallen out of the race early, Waltrip had already changed clothes and was getting ready to leave the track when members of Ellington's crew approached him.
"They said 'man we need you; you're the only guy out of the race that can do it. Donnie's sick and he's got to get out of the car; we don't want to park it. We can win this race,'" Waltrip said.
"So I ran back and put my uniform on and got in the car. The car was a mess. Donnie had gotten sick in the car. …
"I ended up in a battle with Skip Manning. Skip had a fast car that day. I got in Donnie's car and they said 'Oh you'll win the race easy.' Here I am, I've got cars all around me and I've got my hands full. I said 'I thought you said this would be easy?' "
Waltrip did end up winning, with credit for the win going to Allison.
Waltrip's payoff for the relief role?
"(Hoss) turned around and handed me a bottle of Gatorade, because that's who I drove for," Waltrip said. "And that was my payoff."
Ellington tried his hand at driving before focusing solely on ownership. He made 21 starts from 1968-70, posting four top-10s. He finished a career-best seventh twice in 1969 -- in the World 600 at Charlotte and the American 500 at North Carolina Motor Speedway.
His first hired driver was Lorenzen in 1972. The 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee made seven starts in the Lemon Tree Inn-sponsored No. 28 Ford, finishing as high as fourth at Talladega and Darlington.
Four different drivers won at least one pole while driving for the Ellington team. Foyt was the first, qualifying No. 1 for the July 4 Firecracker 400 at Daytona in 1976. Donnie Allison (4), Pearson (1) and Buddy Baker (1) also won poles.
Pearson, a winner of 105 Cup races, won for the final time in 1980 while driving for Ellington. The CRC Chemicals Rebel 500 was also the last victory for the car owner.
Allison said his first win with Ellington in the 1976 National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was his most memorable. And his most satisfying.
"Not only for it being his car, but I had been fired by DiGard the previous July and told I couldn't drive anymore," Allison said. "I was told I wasn't able, that I didn't have any more skill left or whatever. (DiGard owner) Bill Gardner said that."
After the win, Allison said, "I walked over and punched him in the chest and said, 'I'm just the SOB that couldn't drive, remember?' It was pretty satisfying to me."
The big one that got away is easy enough to recall. The 1979 Daytona 500, the first nationally televised 500 and the one that ended with Donnie, brother Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough scrapping in the infield.
In plain view of the camera throughout the fight is the red No. 1 Chevrolet owned by Ellington.
"That's the one race that stands out in everybody's mind," Donnie Allison said. "Which we definitely should have won."
The Allisons and Yarborough might have been at odds, but Ellington apparently held no grudges.
"To give you an example of what kind of guy Hoss was," Allison said, "he gave Cale a ride home after that race. Everything was snowed in and Cale couldn't fly his plane. So Hoss gave him a ride home.
"I didn't know that until a few days later, but I gave him hell when I found out. I said if I'd given Cale a ride home, it would have been on top of the van.
"But that's just the kind of guy he was."