COLUMBIA, Tenn. (AP) – Clifton “Coo Coo” Marlin, one of NASCAR’s early stars and father of current Nextel Cup driver Sterling Marlin, died early Sunday after a battle with lung cancer. He was 73.

Marlin died in his hometown of Columbia, Tenn., said officials from Chip Ganassi Racing, which fields cars for Sterling Marlin.

“Obviously, our thoughts are with his family now and with Sterling,” Chip Ganassi said. “Coo Coo was a husband, a father and a mentor in many ways. I saw a lot of Sterling in Coo Coo. He was certainly a vanishing breed, but certainly not a breed you’ll ever forget.”

Sterling Marlin had returned home from this week’s race in Watkins Glen, N.Y., to be with his father. Scott Pruett was scheduled to replace him in Sunday’s event.

Although he never won a NASCAR points race, Coo Coo Marlin was one of the sport’s earliest stars. A hard-nosed racer who made his name racing around the short tracks in Tennessee and Alabama, he became a regular at the Tennessee Fairgrounds, running against the likes of Bobby and Donnie Allison and Red Farmer.

“We ran a whole lot with him,” said Richard Petty, NASCAR’s all-time leader with 200 victories. “I don’t remember him ever causing any trouble, running over anybody or beating on anybody’s head as far as Cup racing. I guess they’ll remember him as a happy-go-lucky guy. That was my perspective of him.”

Marlin won his first title at the Fairgrounds in 1959. He added titles in 1962, then again in 1966 and 1967. His four titles were a record at the now-defunct race track.

Marlin moved on to NASCAR, where he made 165 Cup starts from 1966 to 1980. He had no wins, but earned nine top-fives and 51 top-10 finishes.

His series best points finish was 20th in 1975.

“He was a great competitor,” said Richard Childress, who raced against Marlin before becoming a NASCAR team owner. “He was a lot of fun. I’ll tell you, he lived life every day having a ball.”

Recognized as a driver, Marlin also was well-known for a work ethic that kept him maintaining the land on his Tennessee farm until his death. He passed that work ethic on to his son, Sterling, who despite being a two-time Daytona 500 winner still spends his weekdays working on the farm.

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Coo Coo’s name to the American Lung Association.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.