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Cup Series winner Charlie Glotzbach passes away at 82

Chargin’ Charlie Glotzbach, who earned his nickname with dazzling qualifying speed during the height of NASCAR’s speedway boom and aero wars, died Friday. He was 82.

WAVE, a Louisville-based NBC affiliate, first reported the news, citing Glotzbach family sources.

Glotzbach won four races in what is now called the NASCAR Cup Series, driving for a who’s who of Hall of Famers in his career — Junior Johnson and Cotton Owens among them. He was twice a runner-up in the Daytona 500, and also claimed 12 pole positions, establishing a majority of those qualifying marks at stock-car racing’s largest, fastest tracks.

“That’s how he got his name. He stood on the gas,” A.J. Foyt once said of Glotzbach, who claimed to have lapped the Chelsea (Mich.) Proving Grounds at 243 mph in the late 1960s.

Glotzbach broke into NASCAR with a handful of starts as a 22-year-old rookie in the 1960-61 seasons. After achieving limited success, he went back into ARCA, USAC and other local competition near his Edwardsville, Indiana, home.

The sport was not as welcoming to drivers from outside its Southern origins back then, and Glotzbach said he was viewed as something of an outsider. One characteristic that helped him fit in was a country drawl. “I’m from Southern Indiana,” he told reporters with a laugh in 1969. “You go on upstate, about 200 miles north of me, they talk a lot different.”

His return to NASCAR came by chance in 1967. While working for car owner Nord Krauskopf, Glotzbach was given the opportunity to make several starts in Bobby Isaac’s backup car. The car broke in four of his nine appearances that year, but each of his five remaining starts netted top-10 finishes.

Those efforts drew the eye of Owens, who hired Glotzbach to drive his No. 6 Dodge the following year after the departure of David Pearson to the Ford camp at Holman-Moody. Glotzbach scored his first win with Owens that fall at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but pole positions at Daytona, Darlington and Charlotte earned him his “Chargin’ Charlie” nickname.

Glotzbach’s 1969 season was among his most eventful. He lost the Daytona 500 by a car-length, passed on the final lap by LeeRoy Yarbrough. Months later, Glotzbach set a world qualifying record for the opening race at Talladega Superspeedway at 199.466 mph on Sept. 10.

“It was the biggest thrill of my career. It almost takes your breath away,” Glotzbach told the press after exiting his Ray Nichels-owned Dodge. A day later, he posted an unofficial lap of 199.827 mph in practice, but a group of drivers boycotted after the tires failed to hold up under the high-speed conditions and Glotzbach was among those who withdrew.

He returned for the 1970 season, but only after recovering from two gunshot wounds suffered the previous November after a disagreement with a former employee. He won twice and secured four poles as the manufacturers’ arms race for horsepower and aerodynamic advantages reached its peak as track sizes grew.

Glotzbach’s final Cup Series victory in 1971 set a record that still stands. Glotzbach exited his No. 3 Chevrolet on a searing July day at Bristol Motor Speedway on the 351st lap, and relief driver Friday Hassler handled it the rest of way in a rare caution-free event. The 101.074 mph average speed is still a 500-lap benchmark for the .533-mile Tennessee track.

Though the bulk of his driving career was complete by the mid-1970s, Glotzbach continued racing — even with gaps of several years in his Cup Series tenure. Most notably, he returned for a seven-race Cup stint with car owner Junie Donlavey, the last of those appearances coming at age 54. Two years later, he was among the 43 drivers who failed to qualify for the first Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.

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Glotzbach won four ARCA Menards Series races after turning 50. One of his last driving appearances came back at Bristol in 2010 in an exhibition race for racing legends, but ended in multiple injuries after a crash that also seriously hurt Larry Pearson. He later made a full recovery.

Glotzbach never ran more than half the races in a given NASCAR season, but his career record of 50 top-10 finishes in 124 starts was admirable, especially in an era when attrition ran high.

“I’m proud to have run in NASCAR,” Glotzbach told the (Jeffersonville, Ind.) News and Tribune in 2011. “I was proud just to do it, but I’m also proud of the races I won. Plus I had a good percentage of finishing in the top five or top 10 of the races I ran.”