Martin David Robinson was country music's renaissance man. He was a successful recording artist, stage performer, actor, author, songwriter, and stock car racer.
Born Martin David Robinson in Glendale, Arizona in 1925, Marty was one of nine children raised in relative poverty. He had a strong love for the music and stories of the Old West. When he was a child, his grandfather “Texas Bob” Heckle told him stories of the Old West, and Robbins’s most influential hero was Gene Autry. He dropped out of high school and joined the Navy in 1943 serving in the South Pacific where he developed an interest in songwriting and learned to play the guitar.
After returning home he joined a local band and in 1947 was hired to sing at a radio station in Mesa, Arizona. He soon moved on to KPHO Radio in Phoenix where he was awarded and hour-long show called, “Chuck Wagon Time”. KPHO Radio soon ventured into the new world of television and for fifteen minutes, four times a week, Marty entertained on “Country Caravan”. The in 1951 he was signed by CBS Records.
Within five years, his voice dominated the charts with songs like “Singing The Blues”, “A White Sport Coat” and “El Paso”, which became his signature song.
However Marty Robbins was more than a singer. He was also a songwriter, an actor, a businessman who owned several publishing companies, an author, having written a western novel titled "The Small Man", a television star, having had three national series, "The Drifter", "The Marty Robbins Show" and "Marty Robbins Spotlight" and he was a racing driver.
His involvement in racing began, as with so many others, on the dirt tracks and in the 1950s Robbins was racing micromidgets. By the 1960s he was racing modified stock cars at the Nashville Speedway, and in 1966 he entered his first NASCAR Grand National stock car race.
In 1968 he competed at Daytona, completing three forgettable laps before being sidelined by a blown fuse. At Bristol the same year, he blew an engine, but finally finished the National 500 at Charlotte in 12th place.
In the 1972 "Winston 500" at Talladega, his Dodge Charger ran extremely well. He was running with the leaders and regularly passing cars that he normally would not have. Late in the race, he was clocked at 188 MPH, about 14 MPH faster than he had qualified. After the race, Marty went up to one of the NASCAR officials and told him that something had to be wrong. Robbins suggested that the official check his carburetor. When the carburetor was checked, The restrictor plate was found to be missing and Marty's car was disqualified.
Always a sportsman, at Charlotte in 1974, in an attempt to avoid hitting another car broadside, he turned into the wall at 160 mph. In addition to 37 stitches to his face, he suffered a broken tailbone, several broken ribs and two black eyes. Richard Childress is quoted as saying, “If Marty hadn’t turned into the wall, it’s highly likely I might not be here today.” He should know as he was driving the car that Marty avoided.
In addition to the limited NASCAR schedule that Marty ran, he also often raced at the Nashville Speedway, only to then race to the Grand Ole Opry to perform from 11:30pm to midnight.
In 35 Grand National starts, he finished in the top ten six times with his best finish coming in 1974 at Michigan where he finished fifth.
Robbins had a history of heart trouble, starting with a massive heart attack in 1969. In 1970 he became one of the first persons to undergo a then-experimental triple bypass operation, which added several years to his life. In 1981 he suffered a minor attack and, after being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in October 1982 and racing in the Atlanta Journal 500 in November, on December 2, 1982, after returning home from his last concert of the year, he had a massive attack and immediately underwent quadruple bypass surgery. For six days he struggled to live, but the damage had been too great and after his kidneys and liver had failed, Marty passed away on December 8.