Harley Race Shoot Interview
By Brandon Truitt
Sep 22, 2003, 20:00
For those of you who've e-mailed me and haven't gotten a response, it's not because I'm putting on airs but, rather, because TSM's mail server has been the victim of many of the worms recently. As a result, the TSM domain has been put on spammer lists for several mailservers, including the ones for AOL.
Next week's column will be a repost of The Honkytonk Man's shoot. The next new columns will probably be shoots with Steve Corino, Terry Funk, and Hacksaw Jim Duggan.
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Harley Race shoot interview (2000)
We open with a Race promo about the upcoming tag match he and Stan Hansen have with the Road Warriors, challenging them for the tag titles.
How did he get started? He started in the 1950s in Missouri on the carnival circuit. He broke into the pros from there. He was travelling buddies with a 700+ pound wrestler named Happy Humphrey until a car wreck which left Race with a sizable steel plate in his left forearm.
Who trained him? Ray Gordon trained him. Gordon was a friend of Pat O’Connor and was from New Zealand.
His early matches- They were held at a hotel where the spectators were dressed to the nines and ate a fancy dinner while the matches went on. (If you need a visual example of this, watch the scene in The Boxer where Daniel Day Lewis has a boxing match at a fancy dinner club in the UK) Around that time, Dick the Bruiser started working the territory and, once they started brawling through the crowd and people started going through tables, the fine dining was removed from ringside.
Who were some of his early opponents? They included Dick the Bruiser, Cowboy Bob Ellis, Sonny Meiers, and Johnny Valentine. (Valentine is most famous these days for his career ending due to injuries from a 1970s plane crash while working for Jim Crockett Promotions. Other people in the plane included the original Mr. Wrestling as well as Valentine’s young protégé, Nature Boy Ric Flair, who broke his back.)
Holding the tag titles with Larry Hennig in the AWA- Race went to the AWA in 1963, went to Amarillo, then came back to the AWA. They held the titles several times. The only reason he left the territory was that a referee fell on Hennig’s knee and tore every ligament in it.
How was Verne Gagne as a promoter? “The same as he is now.” Verne’s a nice guy but was “the absolute shits” in the ring.
Leaving the AWA- Around the time Hennig’s knee blew out, The Destroyer (Dick Beyer, Dr. X) was talking to him about how good it was in Los Angeles so Race decided to go there. Unfortunately, Destroyer was only talking up LA so that Race would leave the territory and he could slide into Race's spot. Race went to Japan and then Los Angeles, where he only stayed five weeks because he absolutely couldn’t stand it.
Japan- He worked for Rikidozan’s promotion. This was right after Rikidozan had died and guys like Giant Baba owned small pieces of the territory.
The style in Japan- He didn’t adapt to their style, he changed their style. The other Americans were PISSED about it because they would just beat the living piss out of the Japanese and not sell for them while Race took crazy bums and made them look great. Race’s line of thinking was that he wanted to make a living out of Japan and the best way to do that was to make the Japanese wrestlers look good.
Who were the other Americans there at the time? He took Dick Murdoch there with him on his first tour. Dick the Brusier came in on another tour. They wanted to limit themselves to mid-level guys because it would cost big money to fly a huge star overseas for matches.
Danny Hodge- He wrestled him a few times when he would come through the AWA, but only in tag matches.
Bill Watts as a wrestler- Big, clumsy, and awkward individual “and he’s never changed to this day”, but he used to be really over at one point. When Watts took over Mid-South, “he became another Verne Gagne.”
Winning the title from Dory Funk Jr.- Dory had held it for four years. Harley lost it to Jack Brisco two months later.
Matches with Dory and Jack- “Every one of them was right at an hour.” He says “the belt destroyed Jack” because he was in the position of having to play heel to the hometown face in all the territories. Dory didn’t have that problem because he’d watched his father, Dory Funk Sr., wrestle for years as both a face and a heel and knew how to pull it off.
Terry Funk- “He thought he was going to be the first buffoon champion.” Terry had won the belt from Jack Brisco then Harley won it from Terry in Toronto. He met Terry when Terry was still in high school.
Memories of tagging with Larry Hennig against Crusher Blackwell and The Destroyer- He and Hennig carried them because they were so big that they couldn’t really do much in the ring.
Working for the IWA in Australia- He went there with Hennig in the sixties while Jim Barnett was running the territory. Hennig wished he’d just stayed home after the 20+ hour flight out there.
The US style vs. the Japanese style back then- It was very similar, with a little bit of promo time. He muses that the longest promo used to be three minutes but, these days, the shortest one is ten minutes.
Leaving the AWA for the NWA- If Larry Hennig had come with him, they probably would have tagged for the rest of their careers and Harley would never have accomplished what he did. It didn’t happen because Hennig hated travelling too far from home and wouldn’t have been able to stand being away for an extended amount of time.
Was it hard adjusting to being a singles wrestler? No, because he’d started out as a singles wrestler.
How did he wind up in the NWA- The NWA had its headquarters in St. Louis so, when he returned to Missouri, the territory around him was an NWA stronghold. He stayed in the NWA from then until the late 80s, when he jumped to the WWF.
Guys he loved working with in the 70s- Dory Jr. and Terry Funk, Jack Brisco, Bob Backlund, Pat O’Connor, Sonny Meyer, Rufus R. Jones, etc.
Bruiser Brody- “Frank was his own worst enemy.” He started in Texas or Oklahoma and, if he knew he could bully you, you were in trouble. If you could stand up to him, you were fine and he respected you for it. Race says that he told Brody before he left for Puerto Rico that if he went down there with his usual attitude, he wouldn’t make it off of the island, and he ended up getting killed.
The match where he won the belt from Dory Jr- There’s no better feeling if that’s what you’ve set out to do, although that match probably wasn’t one of the better ones in their series.
Matches with Giant Baba- Baba was a very nice man and, for some reason, they had a lot of chemistry in the ring. “I made him world champion two different times.”
The changeover to the new NWA title belt- Sam Mushnik brought it to the arena the night Harley was scheduled to lose the title to Jack Brisco. The belt Harley wore had been around since the 30s and he was the last person to hold it because, when Brisco won the match, Mushnik gave him the new belt.
Memphis- He worked with Jerry Lawler a lot. He liked the territory and says he was probably one of the only people to ever like working there.
Lawler- He tells a story about how Lou Thesz said that, on a scale of zero to ten, Hulk Hogan is somewhere between a zero and a one. Harley feels that Lawler should be somewhere between Hogan’s ranking and the zero. Lawler and Jerry Jarrett controlled the territory and manipulated it so that the fans believed that Lawler could beat anyone. One night, Lawler and Jarrett were in the locker room when Harley kicked his suitcase across the room at them and said “I heard you put together a film where you beat both the Funks, Jack Brisco, myself, and Andre the Giant. Let’s see how you do tonight.” He then picked up the suitcase, walked out of the room, and didn’t say another word to Lawler until the match. When the bell rang for the match to start, Lawler refused to get in the ring. Lawler only got in the ring after Race set a message through the referee that he wasn’t going to shoot on him.
Fritz Von Erich as a promoter- He didn’t go there until he was champion, so Fritz treated him great. He never had a problem with Fritz and, when Harley was running out of challengers to fight him on St. Louis TV, he convinced Fritz and David Von Erich up to face him in a handicap match. David beat him on TV, which established the whole Von Erich family in the territory. After that, Kerry Von Erich started making appearances in St. Louis. Kevin Von Erich never really came up much because he was the one Von Erich that didn’t care much about wrestling.
Who was the best Von Erich- David, without a doubt. “He looked just like a young Fritz and the others looked like chiseled Greek gods.”
Does he blame Fritz for what happened with the kids? No, because he feels that, at some point, everyone probably stands up and decides that they’re going to do something no matter what anyone else says.
Matches with Dusty Rhodes- For a big guy, let alone an out of shape guy, Dusty was able to do as well as anyone else in the business. He and Dusty actually had some hour broadways “even though you wouldn’t think so considering how he looked.” They didn’t agree on styles but Dusty could work in the ring and was very charismatic. He also had a large ego and “it was a big ego trip between him and Ric Flair back then.”
What other territories did he work? Virtually all of them. He booked Florida for a few months, booked Georgia, assisted Dory Sr. as booker in Amarillo, etc.
Memories of the first Starrcade, where he wrestled Ric Flair- He told Jim Crockett what he wanted up front because he didn’t trust the total gate count between the arena where the event was being held and the other arenas that were showing it on closed circuit TV. The match was good despite “clumsy, awkward asshole” Gene Kininski, the special referee, getting in their way several times.
Politics behind Tommy Rich winning the title for six days- Jim Barnett was booking the NWA title and was involved in a power struggle in Georgia at the time. He put the belt on Rich to ensure that he’d win the power struggle. Race dropped the belt under the agreement that Rich wouldn’t hold the belt for any significant amount of time.
Was it true that Ted Dibiase was supposed to win the belt but that the plans were changed? He wasn’t ready to drop the belt at that time and he felt Dibiase wasn’t ready for it either. Dick Murdoch was also being groomed at that time and was a good talent at that time but he screwed up that night and didn’t work in St. Louis for a long time afterwards. Apparently, he decided to do his impression of Redd Foxx’s heart attack schtick from Sanford and Son where he’d point at the sky and talk to his dead wife. (No, I’m not making this up… he apparently DID get blackballed over it.)
Would it be hard these days to refuse to lose the world title? He feels there is no world title anymore.
Memories of his title vs. title matches with Bob Backlund- He did Vince McMahon Sr. a favor by working the matches. He used to call Backlund “Howdy Doody” and thinks that he may have started that chant by accident.
The double switch with the title in Singapore and New Zealand- At that time, he could do whatever he wanted with the title.
The Road Warriors- They were a great team back then and they sold out building everywhere.
Stan Hansen- His style was great for Japan. He never really made it as big as he could have in the US because his style wasn’t really accepted here. If he was allowed to be himself in the ring, he could have gotten over just fine.
Tagging with Nick Bockwinkel against Hansen and Bruiser Brody- Nick started out one match against them and got the absolute dogpiss beaten out of them. Harley tagged in to face Brody, sidestepped a kick, twisted Brody’s ankle, then put his foot near Brody’s nose and told him that if he wanted to get serious, he was up for it. Brody tagged out to Hansen, who was uncooperative with Harley in a suplex spot and just sat down. Harley just dragged Hansen to the ropes and Hansen got up because he figured that the referee would call for a rope break. As soon as he stood up, Harley suplexed him.
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat- He was one of the best in the world during the mid-80s and had a great look as well. People liked working with him because of the quality of their matches, but only as long as they could keep up with him in the ring and a lot of people couldn’t.
Jumbo Tsuruta- He and the Funks trained Jumbo in Texas. He became a great wrestler.
His favorite territory- New Zealand because he loves the area. Florida and the Carolinas were great because of the talent. Oklahoma was horrible because there were few big cities and they were very far apart.
Working for Bob Geigel- He worked for him for a year before he became his partner in the territory.
Stu Hart- He loved Calgary. One of the worst trips, though, was the 500 mile one from Regina to Calgary. It didn’t help that there would be strikes at the beer plants and that they would have to bootleg alcohol back from Saskatoon. They had to avoid the liquor checkpoints because “the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were like the Gestapo" because they didn’t need a reason to stop them. The Mounties always stopped them because they knew they could confiscate a tremendous amount of beer from the ten carloads of wrestlers coming their way. As for the Hart family, he says they’re some of the nicest people he’s ever known.
Owen Hart- When he was wrestling in Calgary, Owen was a little kid. He didn’t get to know Owen until Owen started wrestling much later, when Harley’s career was about to end. He remembers Owen pouring insanity peppers into the chili at one of his barbecues, which got Mick Foley to nearly choke to death. The next night, Harley went up behind a naked Owen at the building, inserted a 250,000 volt stun gun up his ass, and pulled the trigger to send the shock.
His barbecues- “There’s two things I can do in life… wrestle and cook.” He’s not sure which he’s better at.
Best ribs he’s ever seen- He pulled one on Gorgeous George once that was pretty good. George and someone else used to call people’s houses and generally get them in trouble with their wives. On the way back from a trip in Texas, he found a rattlesnake on the road, caught it, sewed its mouth suck, threw it in George’s car, then called George up to say he needed to see him right away (Harley was booking in Amarillo at the time). When George opened up the car door, Harley saw him keel over and thought “Oh, shit, he’s had a heart attack.” It turns out that the snake struck him but, since the mouth was sewed shut, it didn’t actually bite him.
The WWF- He knew his career was winding down. He walked away from a $750,000 investment in the Kansas City territory because the NWA was losing big time to the WWF and he wanted a chance to recoup some of that money by getting some decent paydays against guys like Hogan. He says that Vince McMahon Jr. was very good at using anti-trust laws in reverse by trying to put 29 other promoters out of business. The biggest mistake of his run there was going through a table during a match with Hulk Hogan on Saturday Night’s Main Event because table spots were rare at that time and, because of a problem with the spot, he got seriously injured. The problem was that there was a steel band covering the edge of the table and that steel hit him in the lower abdomen after he broke through the wooden part of the table. He didn’t realize he was hurt until a month later at Wrestlemania 4. The next day, he flew home to his doctor for treatment and ended up having seven abdominal surgeries. He knew he was completely done then.
Impressions of Vince- Vince would keep his word if he gave it to you but, if you didn’t have any commitment from him, don’t count on getting anything. He was a little pissed that he was given all different kinds of gimmicks considering how long he’d been a name in the business but didn’t mind being paired with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan after he won the King of the Ring tournament in 1986. Heenan used to manage him and Hennig back in the 1960s and he liked him a lot, although Heenan did have a high opinion of himself.
Did it bother him the way Vince was changing the business? He got pissed when Vince broke kayfabe and publicly said that he’s the boss and that he tells guys like Hogan what to do. He figured it was the beginning of the end for the business, although they were still doing well at the time.
Jerry Lawler suing him and the WWF over the “King” gimmick- “At some point, you just have to be a man but Lawler hasn’t figured that out yet.”
Was he not programmed against Hogan for a year because Vince didn’t trust him? He’s not sure if it was Vince or Hogan. This goes back to when Race was still running shows Missouri and the WWF ran a show against him in Kansas City. He walked into the locker room and slapped Hogan in the ribs. Hogan had gotten pissed for a second until he realized who it was, at which point he fell back into a chair. Gorilla Monsoon and others broke it up at that point.
Matches with Randy Savage- Savage was always good but he feels that he was only programmed against him in order to elevate him. They did the same thing with him and Ultimate Warrior.
Ultimate Warrior- “He doesn’t know a wristlock from a wrist watch.” He used to tie Warrior to the ropes with his nylon streamers. “You’d think you’d figure that one out after a time or two…”
Him and Jackie Gleason- Gleason came to a show in Miami Beach and said he wanted to do a publicity stunt. Race was wrestling Rocky Johnson that night. They ended up running an angle where Gleason shook Johnson’s hand but slapped Race’s hand away and socked him in the jaw. Race didn’t bat an eye after the hit. Gleason told the story in the paper a year later exactly as it happened and Race gave him credit for admitting Race took his best shot without blinking.
The Slammy Awards where he brawled with Hacksaw Jim Duggan- “Oh lord… that went on for forty-five minutes.”
Wrestlemania 3- There were three advertised main events that night, which were Hogan vs. Andre the Giant, himself vs. the Junkyard Dog, and Savage vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. The show was great but the funniest thing was that Hogan came to the building in a limo with a hot tub. When the limo went down the ramp into the Pontiac Silverdome, all the water sloshed out of the tub into the rest of the limo. They then filled up the tub again and, on the way out, they did it again. He talks about how Hogan gets credit for slamming Andre but that he has a picture at his wrestling school of when he had Andre completely over his head for a slam, not a scoop slam like Hogan did.
Andre the Giant- He was a shy guy when he first came to the US because he didn’t know English. He became one of the nicest guys in the business once he came out of his shell. They used to go drinking whenever they were in town together. Once Andre’s back started going out on him, he was still nice to the people he liked but would beat the crap out of everyone else.
Winding up in WCW- He was getting over his surgeries when Dusty called him at home to try and bring him in to bring Lex Luger up to the next level. Jim Herd, who was the boss in WCW at the time, had argued with Race a lot in St. Louis when he was managing one of the TV stations there. He was there with Luger until Luger jumped to the WWF. Luger was a straight-forward guy in his book. Dusty took over after Herd was fired and then paired Harley with Vader. “No one really wanted to be around Vader” so they put him with him. “For some reason, I could control Vader.” He says that Vader was very hard to get along with for most people.
The WCW mini-movies – The company was trying to catch up with the WWF but wasn’t doing it well. It didn’t help that Vader and Sid were in the same car whenever they did something like that, as both were notoriously hard to get along with.
The Cactus Jack matches with Vader- “Cactus probably, at the best, has twenty more years of walking upright.” He could also absorb a lot of damage as he says that Vader would have quit if he’d been hit once as hard as Cactus had been hit. “He’s a freak of nature.” He then talks about all the hardware in his body including screws, plates, and an artificial hip and says that if Cactus doesn’t end up with any of that, he’s the most fortunate person he can think of.
Did anyone try to stop Cactus from doing that? Yes, including himself, but he did it anyway. He feels that if Cactus didn’t do that, he wouldn’t have stood out like he did.
Bill Watts as booker in WCW- He says that Watts’ mentor was Verne Gagne and that he tried to do a lot of the same things. Few people had anything good to say about Verne and even fewer did for Watts. Race got along with Watts fine as a person but not as a boss, as the pay sucked. The morale of the locker room went into the toilet the second he got hired. Watts would bully people that he knew he could get away with it.
Dynamite Kid- He met him in Stampede and he “was a goofy little guy” at the time. Dynamite was like a son to him. He was one of the most talented wrestlers of his era but he was also his own worst enemy, as he destroyed his body with his wrestling style.
The Sid-Arn Anderson incident in the UK- Thankfully, he wasn’t there when they got into their brawl on a UK tour. He’d been injured in a car wreck by then but his job, while he was there, was “to keep that kind of crap from happening.” He says that Arn is a needler and that Sid doesn’t take ribs well, so he could see something happening but never thought it would be that serious.
His wrestling camp- It’s $50 to try out and anyone can do it if they’re 16 or older. The actual course lasts six months and he estimates that only 10% of the people who start the course will make it through. He feels it’s one of the best training experiences out there now. He has information available at World League Wrestling’s website, which can be reached through www.harleyrace.com. They run Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois and are based in Eldon, MO. The phone number is (573)392-4100.
The wrestling expo on NBC- He got a little heat from personal friends about being on the show. He felt he was mislead before he came to the show but, once he was there, he said “What the hell?” and went through with it. They wanted him to wear a mask but he insisted on showing his face on camera. Most of the people there didn’t show their face on camera. They only used about 30 seconds of his footage. He says that the business was completely exposed before that so it’s not anything big now.
WCW- They’re only repeating things that have already been done instead of taking a step in a new direction.
If he wasn’t in wrestling, what would he be doing? He only wanted to be a wrestler so he has no clue.
ECW- He watches it occasionally. It used to be a pain to watch it because you could only get it if you had TCI’s cable service. Now he can get it on TNN. What disappoints him is that both WCW and the WWF spend way too much time on interviews instead of wrestling.
Going to a Japanese show with Abdullah the Butcher recently- He didn’t know Abby was going to be there until he got to the arena. Both he and Abby almost got permanently thrown out of Japan because of the brawl they had after a match, which spilled out of the arena into the street and resulted in several cars being damaged. The settlement made between All Japan and the Japanese government was that Race and Abby could never be booked against each other again or they WOULD get permanently thrown out of the country.
Why did he never work for New Japan? He was so close to Giant Baba that he wouldn’t work for his competition. He has absolutely no problems with Antonio Inoki, though, as Inoki used to work against him in Kansas City before he became a huge star in Japan.
His biggest rival of all time- It was Dusty in Florida, Flair in the Carolinas, etc.
His best match of all time- There’s too many to count, as he feels he has the most hour broadways of anyone in wrestling history.
Who is the best promoter? There were a bunch of good ones, as Don Owen paid the best but the buildings didn’t draw as many people as in Florida or some other territories. Paul Boesch was also an honest promoter in that he’d show you the true figures of what the building drew that night before calculating the draw. The promoters he didn’t like working for as much were Verne Gagne and Bill Watts because you had to do a lot more for less money than in other promoters.
Roddy Piper- He met him in Los Angeles when Piper was with Adrian Adonis. He’s always been a funny, hyper guy. Adrian completely changed over the years, though, as he used to be a great-looking guy but became a huge fat slob when he saw him in the WWF in the mid-80s.
Is there anything he’d like to say to the fans? He thanks them for being out there because, without them, there would be no wrestling.
Harley Race vs. Dusty Rhodes- Dusty hits a high cross body on Race to win his first NWA World Title. A small riot ensues at The Omni.
Harley Race vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat- This is from Japan and appears to be the same match from the Steamboat shoot. Steamboat counters a suplex into a rollup, but Race turns the tables and rolls up Steamboat for the win.
Harley Race vs. Ric Flair in a cage match- This is the main event of Starrcade 83. Former NWA champ Gene Kininski is your special referee. Flair wins his second “official” NWA title when he hits a high cross body on Race for the pin. (Flair had several unannounced title changes in places like Puerto Rico that weren’t counted as title reigns until MUCH later.)
Interview- This is a bio piece on Race which covers Harley getting into the business and several other topics.
Harley Race vs. Terry Funk- JIP Race defeats Funk with an Indian Deathlock to win his second NWA title.
Harley Race vs. Ric Flair- This goes to a double countout as both brawl around ringside.
Harley Race vs. Tony Atlas- This goes to a double countout. Race attacks both Atlas and the referee after the match.
Harley Race vs. Tommy Rich- Rich counters a suplex then hits Race with a body block for the NWA title.
Tommy Rich and Ted Dibiase vs. The Angel and Harley Race- Rich hits the Lou Thesz Press on Race for the win.
Harley Race vs. Giant Baba- Baba hits Race with a clothesline for the NWA title.
Harley Race vs. Terry Gibbs- Race wins with a brainbuster.
Harley Race vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat- This footage is of poor quality, especially the sound. Dusty finish as Race has his leg on the rope when Steamboat pins him but the referee in the ring doesn’t see it. The match is restarted but Race put his leg on the ropes whenever Steamboat pins him and the match goes to a time limit draw.
Six man tag from Japan- The only two people I can positively identify are Race and One Man Gang. I think one of the others may be Giant Haystacks because he’s so damn big. This one becomes a huge schmoz.
Harley Race vs. Curt Hennig- Hennig gets the win by DQ after Race rams Hennig’s head into a ringpost.
Thoughts: Harley is a living legend and has a lot of information on the NWA title situation in addition to being very honest about his feelings on people. I’d say his comments on Jerry Lawler are classic and some of the other stories are good as well. Highly recommended.
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