On Jan.14, 2023 Oakley “Red” Sharp became the first Jackson County citizen to be inducted into the Alabama Auto Racing Pioneers’ Hall of Fame one of eight men recognized in the 2022 group. The information below was in the hall of fame program and was used to introduce Red Sharp and highlight his role in Alabama auto racing.
In the early 1950s, Red Sharp owned a dirt track in the Scottsboro area. His stint as a driver included competing at his track and such places as Huntsville , Winchester, Tennessee, Rome, Georgia and other northwest Georgia tracks.
He was injured while testing a race car on a county road near Scottsboro. He received serious burns and wore log sleeve shirts for the rest of his life after the fire. After he stopped driving, he built and maintained the familiar #39 Campbell Oil Company cars frequently driven by Chattanooga’s Friday Hassler. Another well-remembered car was Sharp’s white #310 coupe driven by Joe Lee Johnson and Nero Steptoe on several tracks throughout the southeast.
In the spring of 1960, Joe Lee Johnson, a mainstay on the roster of Sharp’s drivers, drove a Paul McDuffy-prepared Chevrolet Grand National to victory in the first “World 600” at Charlotte Motor Speedway. After this win, Joe Lee elected to cut back on his short track racing in order to pursue a factory ride in NASCAR’s premier division, and Sharp lost the services of an important member of his team of drivers. Steptoe continued as driver for Sharp, splitting his time between the Jim Penn-owned Ford coupe and the Sharp car.
In 1961, Sharp built a very competitive Pontiac-powered #39 Modified Special sedan. This sedan was a consistent front runner. The Sharp/Steptoe duo won several races with this car over the next two seasons running, at tracks such as the Birmingham Fairgrounds; Rome, Georgia; and Boyd’s Speedway near Chattanooga. This sedan, along with the Campbell Oil cars and the white #310 mentioned above, are likely the most remembered Red Sharp cars.
In 1964, a NASCAR rules change went into effect at most Alabama and Tennessee asphalt tracks mandating the use of 1955 or later year model cars to replace the old coupes and sedans. Sharp built a competitive 60s model Pontiac; however, racing the late model did not find favor with Red Sharp or his driver Nero Steptoe, both preferring to race the sedan. Soon, Friday Hassler was named to drive the late model. Although Hassler was competitive in the car and won several events, Sharp’s lack of interest in the late model configuration continued. He soon withdrew from active participation in late model racing and returned to his roots, racing the old-style coupes and sedans. During this period, Friday Hassler had his most successful years at Birmingham, winning 25 feature races in the Red Sharp car.
Sharp was a colorful man who left his mark in a community that marveled at his home spun intellect. He established Red Sharp Sand and Gravel and owned a concrete company, a rock quarry, and a river landing. When the Jackson County Board of Education planned a new stadium, Red estimated the amount of dirt needed to fill the area to within 5 or 6 truck loads by looking at the area as he bent over and looked at the area between his legs.
He was known for his love of exotic animals. He owned a zebra that he trained to pull a wagon alongside his mules. He was once contracted to haul an elephant to Texas. The elephant broke out into the streets of Scottsboro before it was recaptured.
Sharp was contracted to round up feral cattle on Belafonte Island before the TVA construction there, earning $35 per head. It was a common sight to see Red on a wagon pulled by a team of mules through the streets of the town. He owned and rode one of the finest cutting horses in the county, but he had trouble staying in the saddle. He had a seat belt attached to his saddle and took a lot of good-natured ribbing from his fellow ropers.
Accepting the award for the Sharp family was Grady Thornton. The plaque and medallion will become part of the Jackson County Sports Hall of Fame in Talladega.
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