Son Remembers the Tragic Death of NASCAR Great Butch Lindley

·4 min read
Photo credit: RacingOne - Getty Images
Photo credit: RacingOne - Getty Images
  • Butch Lindley suffered a head injury in a racing crash at Bradenton, Fla., and remained in a coma for five years and two months before dying of pneumonia June 6, 1990.

  • Lindley was a two-time NASCAR Late Models champion.

  • Son Mardy has gone on to become a fine racer and top-flight NASCAR crew chief.

Mardy Lindley was 12 years old when he answered the telephone in his Greenville, S.C. home late in the evening April 13, 1985.

A long-time Lindley family friend was calling from Bradenton, Fla., where Mardy’s dad, Butch, had competed in a late model race that night. He asked Mardy to put his grandmother on the line.

The news, as the rest of the Lindley family would discover soon, was bad. Butch Lindley, a a NASCAR Late Models champion in both 1977 and 1978, and widely considered one of the best short-track stock car racers in the country, had been seriously hurt in a single-car accident at DeSoto Speedway.

Photo credit: RacingOne - Getty Images
Photo credit: RacingOne - Getty Images

Mardy, his mother Joan and several other family members flew on a private plane to the Bradenton area later that night. Butch, 37, had suffered a head injury when his car sailed into the outside wall. Doctors hinted that he might not live through the night.

Butch Lindley would never race again. He remained in a coma for five years and two months after the accident, dying of pneumonia June 6, 1990.

Obviously, the Lindley family was shattered. Joan, Mardy and others had been by Butch’s bedside through much of the struggle. There was occasional hope that a medical breakthrough would provide a way out, but the years went by and Lindley remained in a coma.

“It was terrible,” Mardy said. “I remember our last time together before he went to Bradenton. You always kind of hope and hope it will work out. They sent him to a facility in Richmond to do an experimental drug. They said he woke up with that, but I don’t think he really did. He couldn’t overcome it. I felt bad. Now that I’m older, I wish he’d never had to deal with any of it, that it had ended that night in Bradenton.”

Mardy was about to step into his teenage years when his father was hurt. Despite the loss of what undoubtedly would have been expert guidance from Butch, Mardy started racing competitively in go-karts.

Like so many other sons of racers, he had the wild gene.

And he still does.

Photo credit: Mike Hembree
Photo credit: Mike Hembree

Mardy, now 50, is the crew chief for driver Corey Heim and the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports team in the Camping World Truck Series. Lindley has had an adventurous career in auto racing, crossing paths along the way with Dale Earnhardt Sr., Richard Childress, Jack Roush, Kyle Busch and other key names as he moved from following his father into the driver’s seat to calling shots on pit road for others.

He drove for the first time in a stock car race April 13, 1990, exactly five years after his father’s accident and two months before Butch’s death.

Mardy had short-track success, following his father as track champion at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway, their hometown track, and later scoring 11 wins in the 2000s on the generally tough Pro Cup late model tour.

The good will that Butch Lindley had built up over years of racing with—and often beating —those who were best at the short-track game paid dividends for his son.

“I would pick up the phone and call people my dad leaned on,” Lindley said. “Dale Earnhardt Sr. took an interest in me. He really made a big effort to help me when I was getting started. He helped me financially, especially at Greenville-Pickens. I would go up to his shop and talk, and he was nice enough to help me. He always gave me cash.”

Lindley’s success led to what amounted to a tryout in a Richard Childress Racing Xfinity (then Busch) Series car at Indianapolis Raceway Park Aug. 2, 2003. Lindley qualified in mid-pack and was lapped, but a pair of pit stops resulted in a faster car, and he raced with the lead group the rest of the way, although a lap down. He finished 16th.

That ride eventually went to Clint Bowyer, who had a successful Xfinity and Cup career.

Photo credit: RacingOne - Getty Images
Photo credit: RacingOne - Getty Images

Lindley ran a few more years in short-track series but finally tired of spinning his wheels while trying to move up.

“My son was growing up,” Lindley said. “You race all those years and try and try. Eventually you’ve got to make a living. My kid was getting older. I needed to support him.”

Thus began a long journey in the shops of various racing teams as Lindley built a new career as a mechanic and, eventually, a crew chief. He has gained a reputation as a crew chief who works well with young drivers, including Harrison Burton, Zane Smith, Sam Mayer and now Heim.

“I don’t have any regrets,” Lindley said. “I enjoy this as much as I did driving. I think back about Dad and how much fun it would be for him to be around now. But I’ll see him again one day.”