LOS ANGELES – Hal Needham, best known in the racing world as the co-owner of the No. 33 Skoal Bandit car once driven by Harry Gant and director of the film Stroker Ace, died Friday after a brief bout with cancer. He was 82.
Needham worked for years in the movie industry as a stunt double, working on movies such as How the West Was Won, Little Big Man, Blazing Saddles and Chinatown. He eventually moved on to filmmaking, writing and directing Smokey and the Bandit staring his friend Burt Reynolds.
That was just the tip of the iceberg for Needham, who went on to direct several other famous films, including Hooper, Cannonball Run, Stroker Ace and several others.
He got involved in NASCAR in 1981, forming a race team alongside Reynolds. Stan Barrett, also a Hollywood stuntman, was the team’s first driver. Later in the season they hired Gant, who would go on to win nine races for the team from 1982 to 1985 and finish second in the championship standings in 1984 to Terry Labonte.
Needham’s team made 250 starts in what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, with Gant’s nine victories the only triumphs for the team. The team was eventually sold to Leo Jackson.