Rex White, the 1960 NASCAR Cup Series champion, stands 5 feet 4 inches tall and tips the scale at 135 pounds. Even though small in stature, he ranks among NASCAR’s greatest drivers.
Between 1956 and 1964, White made 233 starts in NASCAR’s premier series, winning 28 races and claiming 36 poles.
In 2015, he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and is a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, National Motorsports Press Ass’n Hall of Fame and the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.
Born on Aug. 17, 1929, in Taylorsville, N.C., White was given the chance to drive a neighbor’s truck in the farm fields around his family home when he was 6 years old. Two years later, he was turning wrenches and taking care of the family’s Ford Model T.
As a teen, White left school and moved to the Washington D.C., area where he found work as a cook and later at a service station. That’s where his life took its biggest turn.
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“A guy came by and put a poster in the window of the gas station I was working in advertising races at West Lanham (Md.) Speedway,” White said. “I looked at that poster for quite some time and didn’t have the money to go. I finally scraped up enough to get a ticket.
“The first race car that I ever saw got to going pretty fast. I said to myself, ‘That’s what I’d like to do,’” White recalled. “The number on that car was 4f. Later on, I found out the guy that owned it, got turned down to go into the Army so he decided to use the same number they gave him. That was in 1951.”
White couldn’t shake the bug to go racing. He found a unique way to get close to the action, even though it was a bit risky.
“I wanted to get around the pits and get around the race cars,” White said. “They had boards on the fence that ran straight up and down. I took a board loose in that fence and got in the pits That’s where I met (1952 NASCAR modified champion) Frankie Schneider. I liked the color and number of his car. He was a top driver that was winning a lot of races.”
Schneider offered White a pit crew job for little more than meals on the road. Needing money to survive, White reluctantly left Schneider to pursue his own racing career, picking up a ride here and there.
“I met a guy in 1954 that owned jukeboxes and pinball machines and things like that,” White said. “He had a race car and his brother-in-law drove it. They hadn’t won anything and hadn’t even run it much. I became friends with him and started driving it. I ended up rolling it but before that, I actually won a heat race for him. That was my first checkered flag.”
That same year, White returned to the track in a 1937 Ford he purchased for $600. It was lettered only with an X that he put there with masking tape. After several weeks of engine problems, he went to Latham Speedway and won the feature against the track’s best drivers.
It was the first of three victories in as many nights and winning became routine.
In a bold move, White set out on a 900-mile trip to the sands of Daytona Beach, Fla., for his NASCAR debut on Feb. 26, 1956. He finished 22nd in the 80-car field in Max Welborn’s Chevrolet and went on to enter 23 more NASCAR races that season.