Bastogne, Belgium, 1944. In foxholes, in the snowy Ardennes forest, among trees blasted by shell-fire, men talked of what they would do when they returned home. Not if, but when. Despite the loss of friends, the fierce resistance of the German army, the casualties, and the cold, when was the hope they all held onto.
Sergeant Moore, a rangy Southerner over six feet tall and not yet 20 years old, hoisted his .30-caliber machine gun onto his shoulder. We don’t know if he was actually asked the question. But maybe, judging from the two Bronze Stars and five Purple Hearts he would earn in World War II, we can guess what Walter Maynard “Bud” Moore, Jr, future NASCAR legend, might have said.
“Same as now. Go whip somebody’s butt,” seems about right.
A half-century of high-speed heroism later, the American motorsports icon died on November 27, 2017. He was 92.
A decorated WWII hero, Moore stormed the beaches on D-Day, captured a German regimental headquarters, and generally tore up the place. He was the kind of soldier that his commander, General Patton, would have been proud of. But Bud was also a South Carolina boy, born and raised. After the war, he returned to his native Spartanburg and began selling cars. Joining his long-time friend Joe Eubanks, the two began fixing up and selling cars. Soon enough, Moore’s expertise with a wrench began attracting the attention of a different kind of driver.
“We done a lot of work on what the bootleggers called ‘moonshine cars,’” he told Super Ford magazine in a 1994 interview. “All I did was work on them. I don’t even know who drove ’em. All I know is we never had one of them stopped.”
A trunk-full of white lightning and a hopped-up V-8 engine breathing fire and flame—the early days of the ’shine runners is the stuff of legend. Bootlegger turns, backroads speed, blacked-out cars slithering along dirt roads at breakneck pace; it was heady stuff, as potent as the clear nectar sloshing around in those Mason jars.
Moore kept himself at arm’s length, satisfied to turn a wrench and keep head clear. But one day, a customer came in looking at a 1939 Ford, and offering a race car in trade. Moore and Eubanks struck a deal with him, and they were soon hammering around the local dirt tracks.
Eubanks drove, Moore was crew chief. Moore’s role was just the right fit for the former non-commissioned officer; he was used to fixing things in the field to keep his team motivated. Soon enough, the two were competing in the fledgling NASCAR series.
In 1950, a massive field of 75 cars took to the track at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina for the Southern 500, a NASCAR Grand National event. Eubanks finished a respectable 19th, and the hook was set. Moore would spend the next four decades as a crew chief, winning 49 races.
Bud Moore Engineering was founded in 1961 and notched a win right out of the gate. Driver Joe Weatherly piloted the #8 Pontiac to victory on its debut and won eight races that season. The next year, the team would take the Grand National championship. They’d repeat the achievement in 1963.
Stories from this age are numerous, but there is one that stands out. Along with Petty Enterprises, Junior Johnson and Associates, and Wood Brothers Racing, Bud Moore’s team was considered one of the founding pillars of NASCAR. As an elder statesman of the sport, he had some craft to impart: while waiting for the rain to clear at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Moore showed Len and Eddie Wood how to use a slide rule to calculate horsepower.
In the late 1960s, Bud Moore Engineering had moved to using Ford power, and this caught the attention of higher-ups at the Blue Oval. Specifically, Ford wanted Moore to apply his racing expertise to its Trans-Am effort. Penske’s Camaros were carving up the field, and while Ford also had Shelby American in its corner, it wanted Bud’s know-how. Moore set his NASCAR efforts aside and leapt into development of the Boss 302, building cars for Parnelli Jones and George Follmer. In the first season, Moore’s cars did well, but the championship went to Mark Donahue and his Penske Camaro.
The next year, Shelby was out and it was up to Moore to shoulder the effort alone. He rose to the task, as the iconic yellow Mustang of Parnelli Jones swept to victory, winning the first four races outright. Everyone knew the name of the Boss 302, and everyone knew that Bud Moore was the boss.
Over his career, Moore would ring up 63 wins as a crew chief and owner, over a career that spanned more than 50 years. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011. In his induction speech, Moore said his daughter once asked him how he’d like to be remembered.
“The answer is simple. One who made many contributions to the sport. One who’s firm handshake was as good as any contract. One who always gave a straight answer. Most of all, to be remembered as a man who loved his family, his country, and the sport of racing.”
More than that, Bud Moore should be remembered as the boy who came home after serving his country and built a life for himself. He should be remembered as an example of what made the “Greatest Generation” truly great.