I always enjoyed reading Tom Higgins’ stories about NASCAR.
Particularly when it involved a race that I had also covered for another paper; I made sure I read what Tom had written afterward.
A lot of times his story would include something colorful, something interesting, maybe something overlooked by others.
More often though, it would just be a better overall story. It would be told better.
I knew that would be the case before I ever turned the page.
Part of that was because Tom had been around. He didn’t just cover Richard Petty (and eventually Kyle Petty), he covered Lee Petty, founder and patriarch of the Petty racing clan.
He covered Dale Earnhardt but that came after he covered Earnhardt’s father, Ralph, who dominated short tracks around the Carolinas.
He covered Buck Baker long before he wrote about Baker’s talented son Buddy.
The Jarretts, the Pearsons, the Wood brothers, Tom knew ‘em all and covered ‘em all and he told their stories like no one else ever did or likely ever will.
His longevity was only a small, small part of the reason he was so good at his craft. Tom was a natural storyteller. He simply had that gift.
His stories were not just about the stars. Tom could hold your attention talking about the sport’s legends, the near legends and just as easily the folks you probably had never heard of or read about.
Higgins was the first full-time NASCAR beat writer. In 1980, he attended every NASCAR Cup race for the Charlotte Observer, his paper of record for 33 years where he covered not only NASCAR but handled the outdoor beat as well.
On many occasions, he combined the two – NASCAR competitors were often avid outdoorsmen – and those stories were just as entertaining and enjoyable as the ones that made up his race coverage.
There were 31 races in 1980, by the way, and the season began in early January at Riverside, Calif., and ended 10 months later, again on the west coast, at Ontario, Calif.
That came nearly two and a half decades AFTER he covered his first NASCAR race, in 1956.
In 2015 Tom received the Squier-Hall Award of Excellence, an honor presented to members of the media for contributions to NASCAR. In my opinion, no one has been more deserving.
Tom passed away earlier today and a huge part of NASCAR is gone. He was 80 and a proud father and grandfather and great-grandfather.
To many of us who worked alongside him in the NASCAR garage, he was a tremendous friend.
And one hell of a storyteller.