Clifton "Coo Coo" Marlin was one of NASCAR's early stars and father of current Nextel Cup driver Sterling Marlin. Although he never won a NASCAR points race, Marlin was one of the sport's earliest stars who made his name racing around the short tracks in Tennessee and Alabama.
Born Clifton Burton Marlin, as a toddler he was unable to pronounce Clifton and it kept coming out as "Coo Coo". So that became the name he was known as to friends across Tennessee and to millions of racing fans around the country
Marlin, famous for his wide-open racing style, earned a name for himself at the short tracks in Tennessee and Alabama running against Red Farmer and Bobby and Donnie Allison.
He ran his first race as a teenager at a dirt track in Hohenwald. His brother Jack was a prominent local racer and Coo Coo 'borrowed' his car which he then returned in a rather crumpled state. Jack forgave him and helped him with his racing.
In an incident that reflected Marlin's toughness, he was badly burned in a fiery crash at the Tennessee Fairgrounds Speedway that destroyed his car. But he showed up the following weekend, heavily bandaged and driving a backup car.
Marlin won his first title at the Fairgrounds in 1959. He added titles in 1962, then again in 1966 and 1967 and his four titles are a record at the now-defunct race track.
Coo Coo was a popular driver in his fire-engine red 1964 Chevy Impala. and was always available for photos and autographs in the pits after a race. His brother, Jack Marlin, was also a crowd favorite.
In 1966 Marlin moved up to the Grand National (now Nextel Cup) Series and becoming the first local racer to achieve national prominence. He even appeared in a 1960s racing movie, Track of Thunder.
Marlin competed in NASCAR's top division for 14 years, running 165 races. He never won a points race but had three third-place finishes, nine top-fives, 51 top-10s and won a Daytona 500 qualifying race.
Marlin was an independent, fielding his own cars without major sponsorship against well financed, big name drivers like Richard Petty and David Pearson.
After his retirement, Marlin frequently attended races to watch his son compete. He joined Sterling in Victory Circle when he won his first race at Daytona in 1994.
Marlin was also well-known for a blue collar work ethic that kept him maintaining the land on his Tennessee farm until his death. He passed that work ethic on to his son who, despite being a two-time Daytona 500 winner, still spends his weekdays working on the farm.
He died in his hometown of Columbia, Tennessee on August 14, 2005 of lung cancer at the age of 73.
Shortly after his death, Sterling was in negotiations with MB2 Motorsports to join the team's second car for 2006. When the team was unable to retain the number 10 (which was to be used by Evernham Motorsports for 2006), MB2 was looking for a number. Sterling found the number 14 available and had MB2 request it. This request was granted and is being used in honor of his father.