NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Family, friends remember Bill Mullins

21 Apr 2023
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Barbara Waltz, partner

“My life took a sudden unexpected twist on June 28, 2010. I was just driving to work as usual. Traffic was heavy as I approached Birmingham's Malfunction Junction, where I-65 feeds into I-20/59, but I was in the lane I needed to be in, and wasn't concerned. Then something bumped my car, hard. I had been sideswiped. I carefully moved over to the shoulder, and another car pulled over in front of me. 

“A pleasant-looking man got out and walked toward me. We checked the damage on the passenger side of my car: scraped paint and a good size dent. He said his car was fine. We swapped insurance information. He told me he needed to get to the airport quickly, where he was to meet his daughter Sandra to fly to Las Vegas, so did I mind handling the accident report by myself. That was fine. He told me he owned a garage in Woodlawn and would be happy to take care of the damage. Now, that I needed to think about. My Prius was only six months old, and I wasn't going to let just anybody work on it. I gave a noncommittal answer, and we parted amicably. Little did I know that William Denton Mullins who had just dropped into my life, was about to take it over.

“Later, I decided I would trust Bill to fix the damage to my car. He offered to loan me a car while he had mine. The day I took my car in, to Mullins Car Service, Bill handed me the keys to the old red Cadillac he had been driving when he sideswiped me. I got into that car and promptly backed it smack into one of those concrete posts at the garage. I was so embarrassed, and there was some damage to the rear of the car. 

“Sheepishly, I walked back to Bill's office to confess the stupid thing that I had done. He was standing there, all tan and fit, talking on his cell phone, looking like a movie star. When I told him what I had done, he waved his hand, shrugged, and said, 'No matter', and went back to his phone conversation. He seemed so laid back, so generous, so comfortable in his skin. That was when I really started to like him.

“Bill kept my car a couple of weeks. He did fix the damage -- impeccably. You couldn't tell there has been any damage. On top of that, he had vacuumed the car, so that it looked better than when I brought it in. I was very impressed. When Bill called a couple weeks later and asked me out to dinner, I was happy to say Yes.

“I had been happily divorced for over 20 years. I was definitely not looking for a man to add to my life. But, unbeknownst to me at that time, I had found one. Or he had found me.”

Cindy Lindell, daughter

“Daddy was always very competitive. He told me a story about when he went to school at Auburn. He was lifting weights with the football players one day. One of the guys said he could out-bench press Daddy. Daddy says, ’What’s the bet?’ He always needed extra money for his motorcycles or dragsters. The bet was $100. A few of the guys wanted to go against Daddy as well. He came away with $400.. As he was leaving another guy asked to arm wrestle for $50. Daddy also won that bet.

Daddy always kept us four girls competitive. He would say, ‘Who can keep their legs up three inches from the floor and hold them the longest? Who could do the most one-legged squats? Who could do the most squat jumps, or who could jump rope the longest? Who could do the most sit ups”? One day he said, ‘Who can pull his fingers back?” Whoever won his challenges would get $50. I knew I would win that challenge because I waited until he fell asleep! Miss and love you.”

“On a few Sunday mornings, my mom would have my sisters and myself dressed in our Sunday best for Daddy to drive us around to nearby apartment complexes to sell donuts in order to help raise money for whatever car part Daddy needed for the race car. After selling all of the donuts, we would go to church. He always said his beautiful girls could sell Holy Water to the Pope. The worst part for us girls is that Daddy, being a health nut, he would not let us eat the donuts!”

David Mullins, son

“My father was a great man, who gave his family a life full of stories. He was a man of dedication and hard work, but he always managed to make time for those he cared for. I am thankful for all the trips with mom and him to the races as a child. Going to work with him on Saturdays to help with odd jobs and watch Saturday morning cartoons in the office once I was done. On Sunday, we would always find ourselves outdoors, hiking at Oak Mountain or riding our bikes. Dad taught us how important it was to commit yourself to the life you wanted to live. He showed us the value of a hard day at work, but also the importance of surrounding yourself with the people you loved and cared for. He taught me what it means to be an honorable person, and to find success in life. For that I am thankful to be his son. I’ll miss you, Dad. Thank you for the experience of being your son.”

Kyle MULLINS, son

Tales of Bill Mullins

  • Around 9-10 years old, all the neighborhood kids would gather to play. Nearby was a bridge covering train tracks, too tempting of mischievous fun. Most days the gang of hoodlums would try to ring the coal-burning train’s smokestack. After some time of this, with ever larger boulders heaved off the bridge railings, the train conductors eventually were assisted by armed guards. The only assumption the train company knew in those times was a potential robbery going wrong! Needless to say, when another large boulder was pushed over the railing, almost finding its intended target, the train came to a stop and armed guards chased the hoodlum children off into the woods. No idea if parents ever found out their escapades, but the children were too scared to try that one again!
  • For his 12th birthday, and his little brother Bob’s 10th, their father gave them shotguns and a box of shells each to play with in the woods. They immediately set off into the woods armed with the finest bird and squirrel-killing machines ever created! Surprisingly, neither one of them tried shooting each other!
  • During his childhood, his mother hosted all the church ladies over after Sunday services. With all the ladies in their Sunday best outfits inside, the children were set afoot outside to play. In a ferocious game of ‘Cowboys and Indians’ (with real, homemade arrows and slingshots), Bill peeked around the corner of a tree at the exact wrong time. He took an arrow straight into his eye, cutting him just below his iris. He rushed into the house, shouting in terror as blood was running from his eye. His mother was petrified that her oldest had just lost an eye. Thankfully after cleaning some blood and a quick doctor’s visit, his eye was fine, and a prescription for no more arrows.
  • Being a smaller kid than his peers, he became a bit of a scrappy fighter. In school, he was routinely tied to a tree due to fights in class or fighting on the playground. When he was older his little brother Bob and him got into a fight while staying with his half-brother who was stationed in Florida with the Navy. Bill hit Bob on the hip, breaking a knuckle on his hand. Upon reporting it to his family, they took him to see the doctor who immediately knew that type of break only happened from fighting, but Bill swore up and down that "It came from a Coke bottle that fell on it."
  • At 14 years old he read about Joe Weider and his fitness routines to get stronger. This started Bill’s obsession with healthy living, and he started saving up to buy a workout band to start his training. In a few years, he moved on to homemade weights and classical powerlifting movements to build his strength and size. By the time he graduated high school in January at only 17, he was voted best looking of his class I bet in part to his physique.
  • Due to a faulty gas furnace in the household, his father passed away from severe carbon monoxide poisoning and sent the rest of the family to the hospital when Bill was just 16 years old. Bill started working and never stopped until his final days. Most people would have thought Bill would have passed away from working or one of his crazy schemes in racing.

"In his late teens-early 20s, he and his brother Bob convinced their mom to buy a sedan with the best motor around. Almost immediately the two set off to build up the motor with all the “go-fast bits” they could afford. Eventually, with enough time and money, they built up a terror to local back roads, all while their mom drove the car occasionally for groceries and errands. The biggest purchase for the car was from a local dirt track engine builder. They saved up for a fully built engine from the local shop and really started to dominate the local area. 

"After one fateful night of racing, the car was wrecked and the next speed fix was sought after. Bill found out that motorcycles could go faster due to their great power-to-weight ratios. As it would happen, a local resident was selling a Triumph T110, and a deal was struck. Scrapping everything off the bike that didn’t make it ‘Go’ he was eventually left with a lean bike only able to run a quarter-mile before running out of gas from the lawn-mower tank. Eventually, the bike couldn’t get any faster, so Bill thought if 1 engine could get me this fast, then two would be even better “cause it wouldn’t have to haul another fat ass and frame around too!” So Bill set off to learn welding to extend the frame and add a second engine in parallel. 

"To his surprise the bike ran amazing with the second engine, just awkward to turn but that didn’t matter to him. After some testing, he learned his fitment and welding skills weren’t up to factory standards. The chain link from the two engines and rear hub wasn’t perfectly aligned and would occasionally cause the chain to break and fly off, generally into his ribs or leg at the top end of the quarter mile. 

"Despite the pain inflicted, he decided not to change the set-up because it was too expensive, a trend of thrifty racing decisions. In his final iterations of the twin-engine Triumph bike, it ran on methanol, cut down the front tire, the widest tire he could find manufactured, and Bill in a helmet and jeans through to the 9’s. 

  • While traveling the South with his bike, he read about this new invention ‘the dragster’ from California that was running even faster. In an all-in attempt to go faster, he sold off the bike and started building his first dragster. Still emboldened by his welding skills, he attempted to build it himself to save money for the engine. Towing it out of his garage to get painted, it all fell apart in the street. He scooped up the pieces and thankfully tried it again. He eventually got his first frame altogether and to a race. After miraculously passing inspection, he made a pass where the frame broke apart while stopping from all the flexing. This is where he finally put down the welder and paid someone to complete his frames from then on. His focus was the engine and making everything as lite as possible.
  • One of his dragster frames was purposely built with a much thinner than required frame, except right at the required inspection port. There he used a ball peen hammer to dent in the frame just enough, then fill with a lead filler to appear to be the right thickness.
  • He usually only used one parachute, with the other stuffed full of newspaper and the pilot chute to save weight.
  • He figured he never went fast enough to use both brakes, so he had a dummy brake and caliper on one side, but only one was actually functional. Both rotors were drilled into the appearance of Swiss chess though. 
  • His rides were so light that he had a helmet with lead weights inside he would put on the driver’s seat for weigh-ins, along with a 40-pound weight vest under his racing suit.
  • During one fateful race in Florida, the scales were calibrated after a heavy rain that saturated the scales. As the race weekend ensued, the scales kept getting lighter and lighter, all while Bill’s dragster flirted dangerously close to being underweight. He added a couple of extra 10-pound weights to his helmet, which was nothing for him to pick up due to his strength. Unfortunately for Bill, one of the inspectors needed to move the helmet and realized something was amiss when it barely budged. When they rolled over the helmet and weights tumbled out, Bill was DQ’d from the race despite making it into the semifinals.
  • For a couple of seasons he used a fuel tank filled with lead weights on each half, and just a small center section filled with fuel for inspections and weigh-ins.
  • He got his brother Bob to send him a couple of personnel parachutes to help him slow down and not burn up brakes so bad. He figured if it would slow a person down from up to 140 mph, then it would work for his dragster too. Unfortunately, he didn’t figure out until too late that people don’t weigh close to over 1,500 pounds. At the staging lanes for an exhibition run, they hooked the parachute up the roll bars right behind his head. He had a successful run, but when he opened the two chutes, he said it stopped all forward movement in less than the length of one light pole, ripping the car apart in the process. Thankfully it was still the days of front-engine cars, because the engine kept going, rolling down the track for a ways. The promotor loved the show so much that he offered Bill an additional $200 to come back and do it the next month. Bill not so politely declined due to his ride being in pieces that would take months to fix.
  • When I was in 7th and 8th grade (’98-’99) Bill used a box truck to buy a pallet of Powerade from the Buffalo Rock bottling company in town, and a literal truckload of watermelons from the farmer’s market. He brought them up to my football practice to give out on a random day, just because it was hot and he felt like it.
  • While Whitney and I lived in Wichita, Kan., for the Air Force, Dad got tired of not seeing us, and made it very clear he wanted to see me before another deployment. He bought airline tickets, but issues arose and the airline canceled the flights last minute. Not to be deterred, he got some general directions written down on a notepad, and off he drove with nothing but one pair of underwear, a couple of mismatched socks, and a toothbrush in his pocket. 

"By the next day, most of the family knew he was ‘somewhere’ on the road, but never made it to us in Kansas: a 13-hour drive. With some back-and-forth calls, we eventually tracked him down to a small town an hour east of Tulsa, and late in the afternoon off Whitney and I set to rescue him. We later found out he slept in his Honda Accord, wandered around the town to find a diner, and befriended the local constable. Lucky for us, as they were the ones to help us figure out where he was and take care of him while we made our way there. Dad was pretty beat from the long couple days of travel when we found him, but I loaded him up and we drove both cars back to our house. We all took a lazy day the next morning, but Dad still had to go on his walk and do some pullups at the neighborhood playground monkey bars. 

"After a few days of fun and laughter about the drive, we decided it was best he flew back, and a month or so later Whitney would drive his car back. We packed up his clothes and got him to TSA in the airport, said our goodbyes and watched him go through. We thought the end of this crazy experience was over, but the best was saved for last. Going through the TSA metal detector, it set off, and the worker asked Dad to go back and check his pockets. 

"Dad emptied his handfuls of change into a cup and started back through. Just before the scanner, the worker asked if Dad had anything else in his pockets, to which he responded, “Well, just my toothbrush!” As he wistfully held up a mangled toothbrush. The TSA worker busted out in laughter and walked him through the scanner. Thankfully the kindhearted workers assured us they would make sure he made his flight and notify the layover airport he needed additional assistance. He made it back to Birmingham without further delays, but a great story to tell!

Sandra Tidmore, daughter

“A memory when I was much younger: My father and I went to Las Vegas, as we did many times. I gambled till 4 a.m. Dad and I would meet at the door, I coming in and he going out. Later that morning I got sick, bad sick. I called downstairs to see where the closest hospital was. They got me a taxi and I went to the hospital. After I got admitted. I called dad he said, ‘Where are you? I’ve been looking for you everywhere.’ I told him I was in the hospital, so he got a taxi and came to the hospital. 

“When he got there he said, ‘Let’s go home.’ I said, ‘Dad, I can’t go, I’m sick.” I was bleeding both ends (way too much information). I told him to go home and I would come home when I could. So he went home and, oooh boy, everybody was mad: sister, husband, and mother. I was in my 40s.  I was in there for four days. After that my mother came to bring me home; of course, we stayed an extra day to gamble. My father loved to work and race.

“One of my memories of my childhood with my father was we were in Gadsden, Ala., at the races. They were giving a pony away. I told my daddy that I wanted to win that pony. He said, ‘OK but there’s gonna be a lot of other kids wanting to win the pony.’ He put the ticket in his pocket. As he was going down the track they announced that I was the winner. We went to get the pony the next weekend but the pony was acting up, so we had to call the vet. The vet said he would give me $500 for the pony and I said, ‘No I want my pony,’ so the vet gave him a shot we took it to a friend’s farm. His name was Lucky.”

Andrew Beck, great grandson

“I remember Pa as an amazing, great grandfather. He has always supported me in whatever I did. The time that really stuck out to me that I will never forget is when me and Pa would have tea parties in my front yard. I would make these weird concoctions of water, wild onions, sticks, and acorns, and Pa, in support of me and my imagination, would actually drink what I had made, even though he was allergic to acorns. I am really going to miss you and I hope to see you one day again. I love you Pa.”

April Loggins, granddaughter

“Andrew told me a good story about Pa. He brought us his rectangle trampoline when the boys were young and Pa helped us put it back together and told the boys they were going to have the best time on this, learning how to jump high and do all kinds of tricks and everything.”

Tricia Whitworth, granddaughter

"My grandfather has been my hero for as long as I can remember. When I was 2, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would say, " A mechanic at Mullins Car Service, a bodybuilder, and a race car driver, just like Pa!" I even had a helmet that I wore whenever I rode with him on his motorcycle with ‘Little Bill II’ on it. 

"I LOVED going to the races to watch him. I got to go to many. He even took my cousin and me to Texas for two races when we were 8. He was always my favorite dragster driver even though Shirley Muldowney's car was pink. 

"If you asked me about my family when I was a little older, you can bet you would get stories mostly about Pa! He was the most loving grandfather a girl could ask for and the best great-grandfather that you could imagine. He will forever be my hero and he will be so very missed. 

“Pa took me on my first flight when I was 2. When he would tell the story, he's say that as we took off I asked, very loudly, ‘What happens if the plane falls, Pa?’ People groaned around us as he explained that it would not fall so not to worry. We experienced a fair amount of turbulence on that flight and at some point, I yelled that the wing was breaking off! Pa said that people were losing it at that point and it was all he could do to convince me that it was not, that we were fine, and to stop yelling before they kicked us off the plane or we wouldn't get to see Disney World. In the last year of Pa's life, every time we chatted he would reminisce about that trip with chuckles and some tears.”

Hannah, great-granddaughter

"I remember Pa as an amazing great-grandfather. He has always supported me in whatever I did. The time that really stuck out to me that I will never forget is when me and Pa would have tea parties in my front yard. I would make these weird concoctions of water, wild onions, sticks, and acorns. And Pa would, in support of me and my imagination, actually drink what I had made, even though he was allergic to acorns. I am really going to miss you and I hope to see you one day again. I love you, Pa."

Mark Ward, nephew

The Day I Drove Uncle Bill’s Dragste

“Bill Mullins is known for a lot of things in his life! The achievements were so many. Such a strong man, driven to excellence, wins and great experiences in racing all over the USA. He was also so kind, loving, and caring (as his family members well know). 

“To think that Uncle Bill was REALLY asking ME (around age 8 at the time) if I wanted to drive HIS racing car was AMAZING!!!

“You can only imagine the thoughts that raced (pun intended) through my mind. How were we gonna get that long dragster out of the driveway and into the street where he lived? Where would I turn around at the end of the block (since the car was extremely long)! I don’t know if I can do this; but I want to! WHAT IF I WRECK HIS CAR??? Ugggggh

“Well, I was about to ask him a zillion questions when Uncle Bill said, “Let’s all go out in the driveway and Mark can drive the car up into the trailer!” Arrrrrgh! Even worse! 

“I seemed to remember that there was a parachute on this car. So what if I run the car into the front of the trailer and don’t stop in time?

“All the kids and adults visiting that day, along with Aunt Ellie Ann, went outside to help. I was very nervous in excited anticipation of an experience of a lifetime, for sure!

“I was sooo happy when Uncle Bill lifted me up and put me in the car and said, “Here is what we are going to do; you just listen to me and steer and we are all going to push the car up in the trailer and you just turn the wheel slightly to the right or left, as I tell you, and it will be fine?”

“But my feet don’t reach the brake pedal, I’m too short!!!” I said. 

“Calmly, and with a HUGE smile, Uncle Bill said, “Don’t you worry. I’ll make sure we stop the car right where it needs to be. OK? Are you ready?”

“Yes sir!” I replied. And everything went just like he said it would! What a thrill and a relief!!!

“And, that’s the day a lifetime memory was made for an 8-year-old nephew of Bill Mullins in Birmingham Alabama that day!”

The Day A Star High School Basketball Player (Almost) Got To Work Out With Bill Mullins

“It’s always a good thing when a girl has an older brother (or brothers older AND younger in this case) to look out for their sister while growing up. 

Bill and his brothers Bob and Jim were blessed with “Mildred” (named after their mother) and all love her dearly. 

“While at Ramsey High school, Millie dated a basketball and track star, “Dicky” Ward. Bill, taking an opportunity to get to know this guy who was seeing his sister, invited him over to work out on the bench press one afternoon. 

“Bill started out with 175 pounds on the bar (as a warmup) and then asked Dad if he would lift. Dad said, “I’ll wait.” He was expecting Bill to take weights OFF and get lighter…but NO, Bill was adding weight and not intending or needing to go lighter!!!

“Dad, in relaying the story to me, said he never lifted the bar once that day! 

“I asked what he did. 

“He replied, “I watched your Uncle Bill work out with weights that day! That’s what I did “

Stan Mullins, nephew

“Uncle Bill. Brother and best friend to my Dad. Uncle Bill was always in my life. He simply was.

“Dad and Bill experienced life together, stories of their childhood, coming of age, flight and speed are things of legend, yet to us who grew up with their guidance they were comfortable and close.

“Some legends are distant and lofty, far away and seemingly unattainable, not so with these two. A phone call later in life, and early on, just go see them.

“Uncle Bill for me will always be ‘at work.’ The passion to do and create, to live and experience; these are living acting legends: With speed.

“Immersed in life; Uncle Bill was always in the process of making; covered in Alabama sweat, a bit of grime always under his fingernails. He embodies the spirit of ingenuity, innovation, and motivation. He made things happen at speed.

“From ‘the shop,” we grew up with the lessons of life and hard work, the dark ‘office’ one degree cooler than the asphalt; the Coke machine, somehow always unattainable; pick up two more bags of cigarette butts; to the drag racing roar of engines and the crowd, not only did we survive as children, we thrived.

“I remember Uncle Bill’s hand on my head affectionately, as he is telling my Dad how much speed his dragster will gain. ‘If you let me teach Stanley how to drive this thing, he’ll win every time.’ Then looking me in the eye, ‘Now don’t get any bigger, you're just the perfect height and weight to make this thing fly.’

“Well, I never raced his dragster, but I have always appreciated and loved his inspiration and motivation. Suggesting that a 5-year-old pilot a 300-mph beast down a quarter of a mile track is quite impressionable.

“The innovations that Uncle Bill and Dad came up with are still being recorded in museums of speed; the parachute escapade stands out: from 260 mph to zero takes a massive toll on welds of the metal framed dragster, the human bone, tendon and ligaments. It's the starting and stopping that seem to getcha…

Then the water skiing, Uncle Bill, never afraid or hesitant to ‘dive in.’ That is how he lived life: Total immersion.

Around the same time he wanted to put me in the cockpit of his mighty dragster, the boat on the lake became our favorite place. Of course the engine was massive -- smoke on the water

Slalom skiing became our obsession. Grace on a rope, jumping the wake, ‘I’ve got an idea, Bob…’ Again, his hand on top of my head, ‘Let me put Stanley on my shoulders and slalom with him around my neck.’

This we did.

“Dumping all of you out of the boat, still not sure how we did survive, siblings and cousins floating with 1970s life preservers or ski belts, pretty sure y'all inhaled quite a bit of lake water. Well, I did too, but faster than you!

“So to paint the picture: eyes bobbing just above water level, trying to breathe in on the top side of the waves, I see Uncle Bill's strong hand gripping the tow rope, flash a thumbs up, then “hold on!” Into the lake we go deeper, deeper, then up we pop; the O’Brian green slalom rises like the sword of King Arthur from the lake. We are up!

“Dad driving the boat, we walk on water. The wind, the speed, the exhilaration, wow! Uncle Bill is telling me something, I can only hear his voice and feel him speaking through my hands, turns out he was saying ‘Let go of my ears!’ I did.

“Then I hear, ‘Let’s Go!’ so this was only the beginning. Now to cross the wake. Have any of you waterskied lately? Imagine the torque on the body, now add 50 pounds to your head!

“Uncle Bill leans out and away we go, adding more speed and G’s to our trajectory. Airborne. How in the world did we do it? Then maxing out the line, we get set to race back across. Airborne indeed!!! A massive wipe out…Have you ever skidded across the water at Mach speed? I have.

“To this day I can recall seeing my hands outstretched as I glided across that Alabama lake, the sun glistening on the back sides of my wrists fingers out over smooth surface water, then something catches and into it, rather than on it, I go…then panic as I try to breathe. Big life lessons here, in his shop, in the lake, and on the racetrack. Then Dad circles back with the boat to hoist me out of the water … one-handed, a prize catch!

“I have heard this from y’alls perspective over the years, Brother Bob always had the best way to tell it…more sadness in thinking of who and what we have lost…

Oh Lord, thank you for an amazing life. Uncle Bill, Cindy, Sandra, and Nancy, David, and Kyle, we love you. Godspeed Uncle Bill. 

Bill May, friend

“My memories of Bill Mullins have always seemed more like legends of Bill Mullins. In 1973, I was a 16-year-old kid when I first drove into Mullins Car Service in Birmingham, Ala. I was trying to find out what was wrong with the transmission in my Triumph TR 4. Bill fixed my transmission, and when I came back to pick up the car, his assistant, Leon, asked if I wanted to arm wrestle the owner for double or nothing against what I owed for the repair.

“I declined the bet because I didn't gamble and I didn't have the money to lose, but Leon talked me into arm wrestling who he referred to as "the old guy," just for fun. I lifted weights regularly at the time and probably outweighed Bill by 25 pounds. I felt I had a good chance of beating him. Bill almost broke my arm. He looked up at me with that grin of his and we both laughed. He asked me if I wanted to work for him that summer. It turned out to be the best summer of my life and he was a mentor and friend for the next 50 years.

“Bill taught me what I know about mechanics by learning on the job. He'd send me out on the lot to drop a transmission and let me stumble around for a while, then he'd come out, take out the remaining bolts and lower the transmission to his chest and then kick out from under the car on the creeper with the transmission still on his chest. I never thought of trying that maneuver. Bill taught me more than car repair. He taught me how to eat right and how to exercise. He taught me the importance of self-discipline and the power of maintaining a positive attitude. He helped that kid become a man.

“I'll conclude with a racing story. Bill let me go with him to several races. He was both driver and mechanic and I usually just handed him tools and stayed out of his way. At one race, I forget which, he blew an engine at the end of a qualifying run. He didn't hesitate before telling me that we would swap out the engine between rounds. We were driving a pickup with a camper topper and Bill had removed the dining table, loaded a long block where the table was, and put a piece of plywood on top of the engine to serve as a place to eat. Other than having no legroom, it worked. 

“Bill had put the block into the camper at the shop using a hoist, but the two of us had to get the engine out of the camper and into the dragster by hand. Don't ask me how we did it, but we did, and I'm sure Bill did most of the heavy lifting. I don't remember if Bill won the race, but I'll never forget that adventure. I had many adventures with Bill through the years and they always taught me something about drag racing and life. In my book, he will forever be a winner and a legend.

Mark Catsban, friend

“One of those special times I got to meet up with Bill Mullins and his family of crew members and help out. It was the early 1980s at the Cajun Nationals. I was told to pack the parachute and would be using the starter to fire it up. I had done this job a few times before. 

“As usual, Bill leaves hard and quick on the green light. He's looking good going down the track. The win light on his side lights up. Great run! OK, where the hell is the parachute? Dang, he's out in the sand trap. Nobody knows how I’m feeling seeing this. I have to get in the truck with the crew and head down the track. Nobody is saying a word. I'm feeling real sick! Well, nothing left to do but man up and get to him. 

“Bill is already out of his dragster and digging down in the framework by the motor. So I’m walking up to him on his right side and he never looks my way. I then hear him say, ‘Mark it's not your fault.’ Wow, I can breathe again. Back in those days, you couldn't get anything shipped overnight and the cable was in bad shape so Bill went to a marine shop and got two gear shifting cables for a boat and rigged them up for the ‘chute cable. 

He always did what he had to do to get to the track. The cables failed but the win light was on our side and that's what mattered. Bill Mullins was the most driven man i ever knew in my life and I’m 67 years old. I got to thank him and tell him I loved him near the end. When I addressed him as Mr. Mullins he said, ‘Yes Sir.’ That's all I needed. 

Ashley, granddaughter

“Pa, there are so many pictures of all of us together and I literally don’t remember even a fraction of them. My fondest memories of my grandfather were when he’d show up and say “I’ll bet you can’t do a one-legged squat!”

“None of us could, of course. Not well anyway. But he was still encouraging. For years and years, he did this EVERYTIME I saw him. Now I don’t know about the other grandkids, but you bet your ass I can still do a one-legged squat! 

“He loved our littles, his great-grandchildren. He was always so excited to know who was expecting. He’d call and let us know who was coming up next in the family!

“When I had my daughter, we lived in Columbiana, Alabama at the time. Very quaint. He’d show up, strap her in her stroller and give me a much-needed break for never less than an hour. He’d just walk and walk around the neighborhood. It was spectacular! I appreciated that so much. 

“When I first got into gymnastics, he bought me a balance beam and an Olympic gym floor mat. I guess it was 1992. My daughter used it some when she was younger and now it has become a permanent (and necessary) “rug” in my son’s room. He’s almost 2. I’ve always tried my hardest to take good care of it because I remember how proud he was of me when he gave it to me.”

Robert Malcolm, grandson

“Weightlifting: As the first grandson of the legendary Bill Mullins, I wasn’t around for most of the great stories and events that made him the Bill Mullins most of his fans and followers came to know.

“For me, he was the guy who took me to my first movie, ET, when I was 4 or 5 years old. He bought me my first weightlifting set at the age of 11. Not only did he supply me with all the weights, the bench, gloves, etc., he also showed me the proper and safe ways to use the weights. And, just so I wouldn’t forget, he cut out pictures from a weightlifting magazine with pictures of each move. I can still see the picture of the ripped guy doing shrugs, looking like his head was about to explode. I still think of that every time I lift weights-be it much less often than he did.

“When I graduated high school and worked close to his home, he let me use his workout room over the garage at his home. Having a similar direct and smart-aleck personality of my grandfather, I might still have never had a date if it weren’t for those weight lifting access and guidance. Lol.

“As any teenager, I thought of him as an old man, and myself as being the superior weightlifter. Being cocky at his house with my cousins, showing off the six-pack his guidance helped me build, he challenged me, that his was stronger than mine. Of course, I didn’t believe him, and thought it was the old man, just trying to feel good about himself. 

“I was letting my cousins punch me in the stomach, so he challenged me to punch him in the stomach. I laughed it off and offered to let him punch me instead. He laughed at me and offered up a cash reward if I could move him or make him wince in any way. He was always quick to throw out money for a good challenge. I obliged and gave him about a 50% punch, said wow, yeah, Pa, you still have it. He knew it wasn’t my best shot and raised the stakes by talking trash in front of the very cousins I was trying to impress. I asked if he was sure he wanted the best I had and he smiled and said 'Yeah, let’s see what you got'; of course with some smart-ass trash-talking to go with it.

“After the first blow at 50%, I realized I wouldn’t hurt him too bad if I gave him the full brunt of the strength I had built over the years from his help. So, I let ‘er rip, right there in front of all my cousins.

“After delivering a blow that I expected would find him bent over gasping for air, I felt like I had hit a wooden or metal pan. He was known for taking a scrupulous angle to win a bet or get a good laugh, so I knew that was what happened. I had just been had. I immediately tried to shake the pain out of my right hand that laid the blow, said, ‘Not fair,’ thinking I had been had. I lifted his shirt with my left hand, fully expecting to see a wood or metal pan, like in the old Clint Eastwood movie. It wasn’t the case. Just a hairy stomach, that itself was made of steel from decades of crunches.
At that point, I realized my grandpa was the badass everyone said he was. At my peak strength, I couldn’t shake him. He just knew he could win and did. He got me. I’ll never forget it.
Craps: “Before my 21st birthday I had plans to go to Lake Tahoe to ski and try my hand in the casino. Of course, all my friends knew blackjack and that was about it. Everyone can count to 21, right? 

“At our family Christmas party, I told Pa and asked him for some advice. His advice was to play craps. He got out a piece of paper and drew a craps table. We found some dice and he proceeded to explain the game to me. If you have never played craps, it’s a pretty complicated and involved game 

(Side note, a racing song from Days of Thunder just came on that I haven’t heard in years. It’s not a part of the algorithm of my YouTube feed. I think is Pa giving his blessing on sharing these stories.)

“When I went to Lake Tahoe and walked up to the craps table, I was like a seasoned vet. I was explaining the game to adults who admitted they were too intimidated by the complexity of craps, but saw me at 21 and figured they could try it out. It was a blast. When I got back to college, I bought a craps felt, built a table and would host craps night with some friends. It was about 100 times more exciting than blackjack. And like my grandpa, I was able to hustle a little money out of it. 

“I don’t frequent the casinos as much as he did, but when I do, I go to the craps table and incorporate the lessons my grandpa taught me years ago. And remember him pulling out a piece of paper, drawing out the craps table, and telling me the secrets he learned over a lifetime, just like with the weightlifting set he had given me a decade earlier.

“A year or two later, at another Christmas event, everyone was talking about the plans he had with another cousin of mine to take them to Vegas to gamble for their 21st birthday. He immediately came to me and apologized that he didn’t take me. I was taken aback. Here’s my grandpa, with over a dozen grandkids, and six children, apologizing that he didn’t take me on a lavish trip. That’s the kind of grandpa he was. I told him, ‘You taught me to play craps, and you supplied me with my own weightlifting equipment and access to your weight room. You took me to Stone Mountain, and countless movies with all my cousins. You’ve done plenty and you have nothing to feel bad about.” I was and am forever grateful for all my grandfather did for me…even if he didn’t take me to Vegas.”