WALTZ: Mike Curb & A Great Racing Story

Mike Curb
Long before Dale Earnhardt drove the black and white No. 3, he drove a blue and yellow No. 2 to his first NASCAR championship thanks in large part to Mike Curb. (NASCAR Photo)
Keith Waltz
Keith Waltz

HARRISBURG, N.C. — The longtime partnership between racing aficionados Mike Curb and Cary Agajanian led to many great stories. But a few years before the two joined forces, Curb was part of Dale Earnhardt’s first NASCAR championship.

And the entire program was orchestrated by NASCAR’s Bill France Jr., who was determined to make sure one of his future stars had the financial backing that would enable him to run the full series schedule.

We’ll let Curb explain what took place 37 years ago this month:

“A lot of the things I’ve gotten involved in over the years are things that happened sort of by accident or because I was associated with good people. Speaking of getting involved with good people; Ronald Reagan, I got to know him by accident at a Junior Achievement event,” Curb recalled. “He asked me to run for lieutenant governor and then he decided to run for president. I ended up getting elected lieutenant governor and later on Reagan became president, so I became acting governor of California.

“That was 1980 and they used to run the first NASCAR Winston Cup race of the year at Riverside Int’l Raceway. Les Richter (a former NFL star and the Riverside general manager at the time) had helped me get elected lieutenant governor. By then I was acting governor and Les called and said, ‘Bill France wants you to be the grand marshal at Riverside.’ I said, ‘Why would he want me to do that?’ Les said, ‘Because you’ve always been interested in racing and he wants to talk to you.’
“So my wife and I were the grand marshals in 1980 at Riverside, which was run in January. Bill France invites me to dinner and Les Richter is there. Bill France said, ‘We have a situation.’ In 1979, Dale Earnhardt had run a partial schedule and he wanted Dale Earnhardt to run a full schedule in 1980. But there was an incredible real estate crisis in California and the person who actually owned the car was Rod Osterlund. Appar­ently, Bill France thought Rod was only going to run a partial schedule in 1980.

“He saw Dale Earnhardt as one of the future stars of the sport. So he asked me if I was interested in being the car owner or having my record company on the car. I said, ‘Bill, I can’t do it because my record company is in a trust because I’m the acting governor of the largest state.’ He said, ‘Well, why don’t you put Mike Curb on the car?’ I said, ‘What good would that do?’ He said, ‘A lot of good; all politicians in the South put their name on a car when it’s election time.’

“There was nothing I could say or do except listen because Bill France didn’t give you a lot of options,” Curb continued. “Finally, by the end of the night I said, ‘Bill, what would you like me to do?’ He said, ‘I’m going to change the name of the car to the Mike Curb car and, watch, it’s going to make you more successful in politics, it’s going to be good for your music group, it’s even going to be good for your record company.’

“To make a long story short, I agreed to do it and you saw what happened that year – we won the championship. If you look at all of the history books it doesn’t say Curb Records, it says Mike Curb on the car. A lot of people wondered why I did that because ever since then it’s always been Curb Records.

“What a fantastic thing Bill France did. For me to take credit for winning the championship with a Mike Curb car, I was in government at the time. It was Bill France Jr. who had the idea to do it; all I did was pay for it and come to the races. Having said that, it was a wonderful experience to get a championship trophy when I was least expecting it. But that was Bill France Jr.”