July 24, 2012 | By Jan Shaffer
Brickyard Pioneers: Where are They Now? Harry Gant
Note: This is the sixth of a series about drivers who competed in the early years of the Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com who no longer compete regularly in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
He had many nicknames in his career. High Groove Harry. Handsome Harry.
After Reggie Jackson was nicknamed “Mr. October” in Major League Baseball for his World Series heroics, Harry Gant won four Cup races and two sportsman races in September 1991 and got the title “Mr. September.” He was 54 years old at the time.
But his main, lasting handle came from a popular movie. Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds got together with U.S. Tobacco people at Charlotte one year shortly after they had filmed “Smokey and the Bandit.”
“Humpy (Wheeler, the president of Charlotte Motor Speedway) asked Hal to be the grand marshal, and Hal wanted to do something spectacular, him being a stuntman and all,” Gant said. “So he brought the flag down standing on the rail of a helicopter. He watched the race from Humpy’s suite and said, ‘I want to have a car.’ Humpy told him he had to have a sponsor, and by the time everybody got done talking, Skoal was sponsoring a car for me.
And, with a little Skoal logo graphic of a black cowboy hat and a red bandanna, Harry Gant became known as “The Bandit.”
Gant competed in the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 and led one lap before bowing out with transmission trouble early in the event. He retired after that season.
“It was a thrill to run that first race,” said Gant, 72, from his office in Taylorsville, N.C. “If I could’ve run the whole race, I’d been a whole lot better. It felt good to have to shift.
“It (the Speedway) was a heck of a place. You’ve got that backstretch ... like at Daytona, you can still tell where the start-finish line is, but that backstretch is way back there.”
Today, he’s still hard at work. Gant lives in the same house he’s lived in since he was 24 years old, 4 miles from where he was raised, and has 300 acres and 250 Angus beef cattle, which take up 50-60 hours a week. He gets to ride his motorcycle across the country twice a year on Kyle Petty’s charity trip and another trip. He still does appearances.
“I ran GM cars all my life so I pull for Jimmie Johnson and those guys,” Gant said. “I watch them on TV, sometimes the end of them. Occasionally I catch the Busch (Nationwide) races. I don’t go to the races.”
But The Bandit is still part of the colorful lore of NASCAR.
Super Weekend tickets: Tickets are on sale now for the Kroger Super Weekend at the Brickyard on July 26-29 at IMS.
All ticket orders can be made at www.imstix.com and through the IMS Ticket Office at the IMS Administration Building at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday. For more information, call the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700, or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area.
Children 12 and under will receive free general admission when accompanied by an adult with a Kroger Super Weekend ticket or general admission ticket.
Tickets for groups of 20 or more also are on sale. Contact the IMS Group Sales Department at (866) 221-8775 for more information.
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