The NASCAR world lost a pair of 1970s independent drivers in the past three days as Buddy Arrington and Neil Castles respectively passed away on Tuesday and Thursday at the ages of 84 and 87.
Arrington began racing in the Grand National Series (now Cup Series) in 1964, recording 560 total starts with 103 top tens and a best points finish of seventh in 1982. However, owing to his status as an independent owner/driver with volunteer crews and lesser equipment, he holds the second most starts without a race win. During the final years of his Cup career, Arrington fielded the last vehicles for Chrysler as a manufacturer with non-factory Imperials. He retired after the 1988 season, with his final start being a twenty-eighth at the Daytona July race. He is survived by his son Joey, who ran nine Cup races in the 1970s and currently oversees NASCAR engine builder Race Engines Plus. REP recently collaborated with APP Racing Engines to build a Toyota motor for Daniil Kvyat’s maiden NASCAR race at Indianapolis last Sunday.
“Buddy Arrington was the epitome of a successful car owner and driver during his era in NASCAR,” began a statement from Martinsville Speedway president Clay Campbell. “As an owner, he knew how to use his resources to compete with the top teams. As a driver, Buddy had all the talent to get the job done, so it was never a surprise to see his red and blue #67 Dodge trading paint with some of the best in the sport.
“From a personal perspective, I will always remember him as the first person to give me a ride around Martinsville Speedway when I was a teenager. To this day, it remains one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever done. I will never forget his kindness sharing that experience with me. I think he may have enjoyed it as much as I did and I’m pretty sure he was wearing his signature sunglasses when he did it! That was Buddy. He made an impact on the sport that will never be forgotten. My condolences go out to his family during this time.”
Nicknamed “Soapy”, Castles recorded 498 Cup starts from 1957 to 1976 with 178 top tens. He was unable to win a Cup race like Arrington, but has a pair of top-five points finishes with a best of fourth in 1969. In 1972, he scored the inaugural Grand National East (no relation to the present-day ARCA Menards Series East) championship.
Much like many drivers of the Grand National era, he had his own legends. He was also among a handful of drivers who competed in at the start of the 1970s with Chrysler’s winged Dodge Daytonas and Plymouth Superbirds, a contingent dubbed the Winged Warriors.
In the 1993 book American Zoom: Stock Car Racing – From the Dirt Tracks to Daytona by Peter Golenbock, tells of Castles lapping the great Curtis Turner during a particularly strong race, but the flagman mistakenly believed he was simply getting in the way and ordered him to yield; Castles explained he was so miffed that “the starter kept doing this, and I was getting real mad, so I just picked up my gun and when I come by the stand the next time I took aim and shot that flag out of his hand.” Brian Donovan’s 2008 memoir Hard Driving: The Wendell Scott Story recalls Castles frequently carrying pistols to races, especially in the north with “sissy Yankee drivers in sissy cars.”
Other stories are discussed in 2019’s Neil “Soapy” Castles: Memoir of a Life in NASCAR and the Movies, such as a 1972 physical confrontation with reporter Russ DeVault regarding traffic violations by Castles and his peers (supposedly for a piece about racing drivers being a hindrance when driving on the road) that resulted in his suspension until he claimed an apology was forced out of him by Bill France Sr. On the opposite end, Donovan’s book mentions Castles frequently clashing with Wendell Scott, the first black Cup race winner, with a veneer of racial tension like the use of slurs, though Castles mentions in his memoir they were good friends.
After ending his racing career, Castles worked as a stuntman and automotive director for many films including Greased Lightning, Six Pack, and even The Hunger Games. His son Neil Jr. currently works in the film industry in the same positions, and his filmography features involvement in One Tree Hill, The Patriot, and Iron Man 3.