Larry Wright, better known in NASCAR folklore as the infamous L.W. Wright, surely knew how to mess with my anniversary.
Wright went on the run from the law on January 27, 2023, 27 years to the day after my wife Jeanie and I were married. He was arrested and jailed a little more than two weeks later.
He’d been imprisoned ever since. Shortly before midnight began the day of our twenty-EIGHTH anniversary, Larry died.
He was 76.
Call it crass or uncaring if you want, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. Larry would’ve thought it was funny.
I can hear him in that mountain drawl of his.
Awwwww, Rick … glad I could help make things excitin’ for ya.
I might as well smile at the thought of such silliness, because I’m saddened to the very core of my being.
My heart aches for Larry, who’d told me over and over again that his greatest fear was dying in jail. Yet to be brutally transparent, L.W., the sinister side of Larry’s nature, deserved confinement.
Larry was a friend. L.W.? That’s a different story.
L.W. was in one kind of trouble or another most of his life, some incidents more serious than others. He was an adrenaline junkie and couldn’t help but push the envelope just a little bit more, to see what exactly he could get away with.
The envelope sealed itself shut last year. He’d hoped to be up for parole within just a few weeks, but instead took his last breaths inside the Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility in Nashville, Tennessee.
Diagnosed with colon cancer weeks before, he was alone, away from those who still cared for him when he died. God Almighty … I can’t even imagine.
I hurt for Melissa Owens, Larry’s girlfriend. She routinely patched me through to him for the first jailhouse conversations of my life.
I mourn for Chris Wright, Larry’s son who finally put me together with his father after nearly a year of trying.
L.W. was never going to win any father-of-the-year awards and Chris paid the price.
I’m sorry for the people wronged by L.W. over the years, and there were a gracious plenty of those.
There are those who prefer to believe the mythology that surrounded L.W.’s 1982 Talladega exploits. That’s perfectly fine with me. Ignorance is bliss.
After two-and-a-half years of living with this story, here’s what I believe.
L.W. probably owed someone some money, and when his previous short-track experience collided with the wild hair up his rear end, he figured he had a way out.
Heck … just head on down to Talladega, win enough money to pay what he owed and if Winston Cup stardom followed, even better.
Glory and riches failed to fall out of the sky at Talladega or in a subsequent attempt at Nashville. At that point, L.W.’s paranoia took over and he hit the road, family in tow.
A little more than forty years later, he’s finished running. I pray that he’s at peace.