Feb. 18, 1982, was identified as “Black Thursday” in the pages of National Speed Sport News as five prominent members of the South Florida auto-racing community, including NASCAR Winston Cup driver Gary Balough, were indicted on drug-trafficking charges.
The five were among 66 people charged in what FBI agents described as a multi-million dollar drug ring stretching from Florida to North Carolina. The indictments followed a long probe of alleged drug smuggling and other illegal activities among the Bahamas, several foreign countries and the Carolinas.
Other racing figures charged were Billie Harvey, Bruce “Pee Wee” Griffin, Herbert Tillman and Pete Pistone.
The FBI opened its investigation of Griffin in 1980 and agents identified Harvey and Griffin as the kingpins of the operation. FBI Agent Joe Corless said the drug ring had been making $300 million a year in profits since 1976.
The FBI confiscated approximately $6.5 million in property, including a 400-acre ranch in Florida’s Broward County and a marina in Dania, Fla. Marijuana, rifles, pistols and shotguns were also seized.
FBI Special Agent Welton Merry said the ring consisted of four groups that imported and distributed at least a million pounds of marijuana a year. “These people are the beginning of the octopus,” Merry said.
According to the FBI, evidence showed that some of the suspects used their race cars to transport narcotics to other states.
Balough was released from a Miami jail on $100,000 bond and drove the No. 75 Rahmoc Racing Buick in that weekend’s Winston Cup race in Richmond, Va. Ironically; he was involved in an early accident and finished last in the 32-car field.
“I’d like to say a few things, but my lawyer says not to,” Balough told reporters at the track. “Maybe when it’s all over, I’ll make some comments.”
Others in the garage area said the publicity surrounding the arrests gave racing a “black eye.”
Chris Economaki’s column in the Feb. 24 issue of NSSN included: “The unfortunate headlines of last week concerning a few racing insiders caught up in a drug investigation is another slap in the face for our sport. Unlike the ‘moonshiners’ of the ’30s and ’40s who broke an unpopular law, drugs, particularly the hard ones, are a cancer on the American scene. Papers that wouldn’t carry a race result if the mayor of their city won at Indy, bannered the racing connection of the drug story.”