Harley longs to be back in the Race
By GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
CHERRY HILL, NJ -- When baseball's Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing
home run records, every announcer talked about the history -- namely that
they were following Roger Maris and Babe Ruth.
Wrestling rarely gives their predecessors the same respect.
And yet talking to seven-time NWA World Champion Harley Race demands
"I don't see a celebration too much in any sport of any older people," said
Race at the NWA 50th Anniversary convention, where he sold T-shirts with
wife B.J. and was honoured at the banquet. "Once that TV flashes off on your
career, and you're not on there on a day to day basis, it doesn't take too
long for people to forget who you are."
Judging from the fans at the convention, Race hasn't exactly been forgotten
but he isn't top dog anymore either.
Race took the time to talk to SLAM! Wrestling as he signed about three
hundred photos from a collector. For each signature, the collector paid $10
"If you get tired doing interviews and signing autographs, then you should
never have gotten involved in the business to start with," sighed Race in
his matter-of-fact, quiet drawl of a voice. It's a voice that you lean into,
wanting to absorb the wisdom.
"I was one of the most fortunate people on Earth to do exactly what I loved
to do all my life," he said. "I started in this business when I was 15 years
old and 39 years later I had an automobile accident that took me out of it."
If it wasn't for that accident in 1995, Race is "fairly sure" that he would
"be in the ring at least part of the time" and that he would "definitely still be involved
It wasn't the only major accident of Race's career either. Shortly after he
started wrestling in 1959, under the tutelage of Gus Karras, he was in a
serious car accident. Doctors told him that he wouldn't wrestle again, but,
as the history books show, he proved them wrong.
He first won the NWA World Championship on May 23, 1973 from Dory Funk Jr.
Race held the title for four months before Jack Brisco took it away. On
February 2, 1977 in Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, he climbed on top again,
this time defeating Terry Funk for the world title. Five or six more reigns
followed, depending on if you count a 1984 title switch between Ric Flair
and Race in New Zealand, that continues to be unrecognized by the National
Race doesn't believe that a genuine world title with credibility and a
touring champ will ever exist again.
"I would like to see that but the chance of it doing that are Slim and None
and Slim's already left town."
Harley Race and wife B.J. at the NWA 50th Anniversary convention. Photo by Greg Oliver, CANOE.
Besides the world singles titles, Race held the AWA World Tag Team Titles
with Larry 'The Ax' Hennig (Curt's dad) for almost two years, off and on in
the sixties. He was also a champion of Central States, Missouri, Georgia and
countless other regions. Managed by Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan, Handsome
Harley Race spent his final few in-ring years in the WWF, including a reign
as King of the Ring and a feud with Hulk Hogan.
Having learned from Heenan, Race was a manager for a time in WCW, and
helped Lex Luger and Big Van Vader to world title reigns.
In-ring, Race was methodical, never flashy. But almost always victorious.
He was legitimately tough in and out of the ring and everyone knew it. The
figure-four was his feared finisher.
But what really stands out as a career highlight for Race?
"Well, I think you'd be a little bit less than honest I think if you
wouldn't say, in this business, the first time you become world's
heavyweight champion," he explained in his humble way.
As for the opponents that stand out, he makes an effort to explain rather
than just outright picking.
Harley Race at the Calgary Stampede in the 1970s. Courtesy ICW
"I always answer this with a two-phase answer. As far as far just pure
wrestling ability, it would be someone like a Dory Funk Jr. or Jack Brisco.
The rough-house would be Dick The Bruiser, Bruiser Brody, someone of that
The Central States territory was his favorite because "it was home" and
near to where he was born in Quitman, Missouri. Other than that, I'd say it
would be a flip of a coin between Australia and Japan."
Harley Race ventured up to Calgary on more than one occasion to wrestle for
Stu Hart, and brought that up when he learned the reporter was from Canada.
"I really enjoyed going to Calgary," he said. "Two reasons. I loved to
wrestle out there. The other is the Hart Family. I've known Bret, I've known
every one of the Harts since they were just little kids. That time of the
year, when you go out there for the Stampede, the weather couldn't be nicer.
It's when you go out there in the dead of winter it becomes unbearable."
Race even plans to head up there again soon, as he holds a driver's license
that needs renewing.
Harley Race story archive
More on the NWA 50th Anniversary show