LW Wright was the pseudonym of a con artist whose real identity is still unclear to this day. In the spring of 1982 he cheated himself in the USA for almost $ 40,000 as well as a start in an automobile race in the highest national motorsport class and immediately disappeared without a trace.
Legend and identity
The figure of LW Wright only appeared publicly for a brief period in April and May 1982; it was probably no more than two weeks. After Wright took part in a car race on May 2, 1982, he went into hiding without leaving a trace.
Some data on LW Wright were circulated in the regional press in April 1982, based solely on the information provided by the person bearing this name and their alleged manager. After that, Wright was 33 years old and a seasoned racing veteran . He has already contested 43 Grand National races in his career . The address he gave was an address in Hendersonville , Tennessee, which was actually true for a short time in April 1982.
Who LW Wright actually was is still unclear. Some of his business partners, who had suffered economic damage as a result, had detectives searched for him without success. A June 1982 newspaper note incoherently reported that Wright's mother lived in Richlands , Virginia .
LW Wright's fraud in motorsport
In April 1982 Wright registered after the regular registration period for the Winston 500 , the 9th run of the US NASCAR Winston Cup 1982 , which was scheduled for May 2, 1982 in Alabama . He called his team Music City Racing . The registration designation referred to the city of Nashville , Tennessee , in which country music plays a prominent role and which is therefore known as Music City .
In late April 1982 a person named William Dunaway, posing as Wright's manager, contacted the Nashville newspaper The Tennessean "in search of publicity ." Dunaway announced Wright's upcoming win with the Winston 500 . Wright is financially supported in this race by the internationally known country singers Merle Haggard and TG Sheppard . The Tennessean then conducted a telephone interview with Wright. On April 25, 1982 - exactly one week before the scheduled race - the newspaper ran a 15-line note about Wright's upcoming race, at which Merle Haggard would be present.
At that time - whether before or after the press release, it is not conclusively proven - Wright persuaded businessman BW Terrell, who ran the Space Age Marketing marketing agency in Nashville and who, by his own admission, neither knew Wright nor had any experience in motorsport, with him with funds for the Equip racing use with the Winston 500 . Terrell gave Wright $ 37,500 (January 2021 equivalent of about $ 100,500), including $ 30,000 for the purchase of a racing car and an additional $ 7,500 for other expenses; in addition, he provided Wright with a towing vehicle. Wright then bought a car from racing driver Sterling Marlin for US $ 20,700 and spent another US $ 3500 on Goodyear tires, spare parts and other accessories. Wright paid for most of the positions by check; he only paid for the car in cash. Sterling Marlin eventually took on the role of team manager at Music City Racing .
In the week leading up to the race, doubts about Wright's story arose. Immediately after the publication of the Tennessean , the singer TG Sheppard denied Wright's support and denied knowing Wright at all. Wright then stated that the sponsorship relationship with Sheppard was prematurely given to the media; but he would work to get other Nashville country singers as sponsors. There were also doubts about Wright's racing experience. No driver in this series could confirm his claim to have already contested 43 Grand National races; no one could remember ever racing Wright. Wright changed his story on appropriate reproaches; he has now declared that he has driven private club races on routes that also include the Grand National Series.
Regardless of these doubts, the organizers of the Winston 500 accepted Wright's report because he had paid the entry fee and reported a compliant emergency vehicle.
The race: Winston 500 1982
The 1982 Winston 500 race was held on May 2, 1982 at Alabama International Motor Speedway , in Talladega , Alabama . The track is located in central Alabama and is the largest circuit on NASCAR's racing calendar. It is located about 400 km south of Nashville.
Wright was classified as a rookie in that race . His Music City Racing team included about five mechanics, one of whom was William Dunaway, who had been Wright's manager two weeks earlier. Team manager was Sterling Marlin. Music City Racing reported a 1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that Marlin had tuned. The black painted car was given the number 34. During the race weekend, Marlin got the impression that Wright "didn't understand much" about "what goes on in a race". He asked a lot of questions about things that are normally known to a racing driver.
In qualifying, Wright drove a top speed of 187.379 mph (301 km / h), which qualified him for the 36th of a total of 40 starting places. Benny Parsons , who came into pole position, was 22 km / h faster. During qualifying, Wright's Chevrolet went off the track and hit a wall. The car was only slightly damaged; it could be repaired by the start of the race.
Wright completed 13 of the 188 laps in the race. Only eight of them were driven free; five laps took place under bail conditions after an accident . Wright's race was over after 13 laps. There are contradicting statements about the reasons for his resignation. According to some sources, Wright's car suffered an engine failure, while other sources claim Wright was disqualified for driving too slowly.
Wright was ranked 39th and penultimate in the overall standings. He did not receive championship points because his report was late.
After the race
Immediately after Wright parked his car, he picked up the $ 1,545 prize money from race management. He then disappeared from the circuit and was no longer seen. He left his team, car and other equipment behind.
In the week after the race, all the checks Wright had written the days before were busted. This made it clear to those involved that they had been caught by a fraudster. Sterling Marlin, Wright's team manager, said in retrospect that he had suspected that “something strange was going on” and “more or less expected” a fraud. NASCAR management later admitted that they had not carefully checked LW Wright before the license was granted: Wright had appeared so eloquently that it was completely unchecked.
It is not entirely unusual for racing drivers not to compete under their real names. Some drivers report under a pseudonym for their racing activities out of consideration for their family or their full-time professional environment. Examples of this were the German entrepreneur Louis Krages (“John Winter”), Romano Perdomi (“Tiger”) or the Sicilian notary Francesco Attaguile (“Mr. Arriva”). The case of LW Wright was different: Here a wrong name was chosen to enable fraud or to prevent its persecution.
The NASCAR organizers found themselves " fooled " by Wright and placed in an embarrassing situation. LW Wright was dubbed the Mystery Driver in the contemporary press for several weeks . Comments on his deception varied. One newspaper writer compared Wright to marathon runner Rosie Ruiz , who first crossed the finish line in the 1980 Boston Marathon after allegedly taking part of the route on the subway :
(Wright) did to auto racing what Rosie Ruiz did to marathoning.
"Wright did to motorsport what Rosie Ruiz did to the marathon."
The equation was wrong insofar as Ruiz allegedly cheated himself during the competition, but Wright did not. Other journalists, however, showed cautious sympathy:
If LW Wright - whoever and wherever he may be - accomplishes nothing else in his lifetime, he will have added a chapter to auto racing's folkore.
"If LW Wright - whoever and wherever he may be - has achieved nothing else in his life, then he has at least added another chapter to the folklore of motorsport."
- Race stats from LW Wright
- Illustration of the number 34 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Wright (black car in the background)
- Larry Woody: Mystery Driver 'Stings' Another One. The Tennessean, June 25, 1982 ( www.newspaper.com , accessed January 23, 2021),
- N.N .: $ 40,000 Swindle Charged to The 'Mystery Driver'. The Town Talk, June 26, 1982, p. 11 ( www.newspapers.com , accessed January 23, 2021).
- Rocky Entriken: NASCAR Fell For Bogus On Driver's Con. The Salina Journal of June 23, 1982 ( www.newspapers.com , accessed January 23, 2021).
- Larry Woody: Officials Searching For 'Mystery Driver'. The Tennessean, June 22, 1982, p. 6 ( www.newspapers.com , accessed January 23, 2021).
- Larry Woody: Marlin Wins Raceway Feature. The Tennessean, April 25, 1982, p. 41 ( www.newspapers.com , accessed January 23, 2021).
- Inflation calculator on fxtop.com (accessed January 25, 2021).
- N.N .: If he could have driven as fast as he ... upi.com, June 23, 1982, accessed on January 22, 2021 (English).
- Illustration of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Wright with the starting number 34 (black car in the background) (accessed on January 23, 2021).
- Statistics of the Winston500 1982 on www.racing-reference.info (accessed on January 24, 2021).
- The Biggest Marathon Cheaters (accessed January 24, 2021).