Zack Albert | NASCAR.com
Tom Higgins, who told the stories of stock-car racing for decades as a reporter and author, has died. He was 80.
Among his many accolades, Higgins was the 2015 recipient of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence. He had been in declining health since suffering a stroke last year.
Higgins is credited as the first writer to cover every race on the NASCAR schedule. He joined the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer as a reporter on outdoor recreation and transitioned into the motorsports beat full-time. He was a mainstay at the Observer until his retirement in 1997.
“For more than five decades, Tom Higgins was an ever-present figure in the NASCAR garage,” said NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France. “Within the industry, he built a reputation as a trusted and fair voice who delivered our sport to the fans. To those fans, he was a must-read journalist whose reporting was rightly taken as gospel. Simply put, he defined what it meant to be a NASCAR beat reporter.
“As such, his outstanding career earned him NASCAR’s top honor for journalists, the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence, in 2015. On behalf of the France Family and all of NASCAR, I extend my deepest condolences to the friends and family of Tom Higgins, a true NASCAR media giant.”
Higgins was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 2011. He also was recognized with the Henry T. McLemore Award for lifetime achievement in motorsports journalism from the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1980.
“He was very well-respected with the racing crowd, from the Allison (family) all the way to Jeff Gordon,” Richard Petty told the Observer years ago. “He probably covered more racing than any one individual.”
Drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon were among several in the NASCAR community to offer condolences to the Higgins family on social media.
Higgins was raised in the mountain community of Burnsville, North Carolina, and became a two-sport standout in baseball and basketball. His connection to the outdoors spurred him to take on his first writing jobs in the Blue Ridge towns of Canton and Asheville.
“Once I got to Asheville and heard the clacking of those teletype machines and was part of putting out a daily newspaper, I was hooked,” Higgins told the Asheville Citizen-Times in 2014.
Higgins was also won over by stock-car racing, covering his first NASCAR event on July 1, 1956, at the former Asheville-Weaverville Speedway. Hall of Famer Lee Petty was the winner. Higgins said he initially balked at the assignment, but became enamored by the sounds, smells and the personalities.
“I thought it was the wildest thing I had ever seen,” Higgins told the Asheville paper. “Those people were crazy.” But his bonds with the sport’s earliest stars only grew through the years. “When I started, the drivers and I were the same age, and they had the same background as me,” he said. “Small towns, just regular fellas, and we hit it off.”
From the sport’s pioneers to the most recent generation of drivers and mechanics, Higgins covered them all with a homespun style. He chronicled the life of original NASCAR hero Junior Johnson in a book he co-authored with Steve Waid, the 2019 Squier-Hall honoree.
After his retirement from the Observer, Higgins remained active as a writer on a freelance basis and in his personal blog. He said later that his philosophy for covering the sport and cultivating relationships was borrowed from his mountain upbringing, a code among the community to treat people fairly and with respect.
“I really, really enjoyed the people,” Higgins told the Citizen-Times. “I’m tickled to say I got invited to a lot of (drivers’) parties and poker games, and not many people in the press were afforded that opportunity. They trusted me, and they did throughout my career, and I’m proud of that.”