Harold Phil Gant (born January 10, 1940), better known as "Handsome Harry", is a retired American racecar driver best known for driving the No. 33 Skoal Bandit car on the NASCAR Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup Series) circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.
|Born||January 10, 1940 (age 76)
Taylorsville, North Carolina, U.S.
|Achievements||1985 IROC Champion
1984, 1991 Southern 500 Winner
1991 Winston 500 Winner
|Awards||NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers
National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame inductee
International Motorsports Hall of Fame Inductee
1991 NMPA Driver of the Year
|NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career|
|474 races run over 22 years|
|Best finish||2nd (1984)|
|First race||1973 National 500 (Charlotte)|
|Last race||1994 Hooters 500 (Atlanta)|
|First win||1982 Virginia National Bank 500(Martinsville)|
|Last win||1992 Champion Spark Plug 400(Michigan)|
|NASCAR Xfinity Series career|
|128 races run over 11 years|
|Best finish||19th (1988, 1992)|
|First race||1982 Goody's 300 (Daytona)|
|Last race||1994 AC Delco 200 (Rockingham)|
|First win||1982 Mello Yello 300 (Charlotte)|
|Last win||1994 Busch Light 300 (Atlanta)|
|NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career|
|11 races run over 1 year|
|Best finish||24th (1996)|
|First race||1996 Coca-Cola 200 (Bristol)|
|Last race||1996 Carquest 420K (Las Vegas)|
|Statistics current as of December 18, 2012.|
He was known as "Handsome Harry Gant" due to his Hollywood-style good looks, the "Bandit" after his longtime sponsor Skoal Bandit, "Mr. September" after winning four consecutive Winston Cup races and two Busch Series races in September 1991, and "High Groove Harry" after the high line he often took through the corner. A humble man, Gant often stated that he was a good race car driver, but a great carpenter.
Career prior to Winston Cup
The North Carolina native began his racing career at the old dirt track in Hickory. He built a hobby class car with his friends, and took turns behind the wheel. Gant became the full-time driver and won the track championship. Hickory Speedway was paved in 1967 after Ned Jarrett became the promoter. Gant excelled on the asphalt, and won his first race in the sportsman division.
He won over 300 races with the car builder and crew chief Kenneth H. Sigmon, in the NASCAR Sportsman on his way to winning three national championships, in 1972, 1973, and 1974. He finished second three times in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman (now Nationwide Series) in 1969, 1976, and 1977. He finished in the top 10 of the final points standing in several other years.
He sold half of his construction business in 1979 upon deciding to race full-time in the Winston Cup Series.
Winston Cup career
Gant made his first Cup start in 1973 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, finishing eleventh in the No. 90 Truxmore Industries Ford. He made six starts over the next four years and had two top-ten finishes. His first full season in Winston Cup was in 1979. He competed for the rookie of the year honors against Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte. He finished fourth in the overall rookie battle in the No. 47 Race Hill Farm car for Jack Beebe. He split the next season between the No. 47 and the No. 75 RahMoc Enterprises entry, finishing 21st in points.
After starting out the 1981 season driving for various teams, he moved to the No. 33 Skoal Bandit Pontiac, which was owned by Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds, and Leo Jackson after 1988. Gant debuted with the team by placing second at Darlington Raceway, followed by five more second-place finishes and three poles, ending the season third in points standings. He stayed with the team for the rest of his career.
Gant finished second 10 times before winning his first Winston Cup race, at Martinsville April 25, 1982, in the Virginia National Bank 500. He then went on to become runner up to Winston Cup season champion Terry Labonte in 1984.
Gant won the International Race of Champions (IROC) championship in 1985. He tied on points with Darrell Waltrip but was awarded the title on tiebreak by finishing higher in the final race: a photo-finish win over Labonte at Michigan International Speedway.
Harry drove the No. 33 in the 1985 Talladega NASCAR race with the first telemetry data system ever installed on a race car. The data from the car was sent to the CBS television network and broadcast during the TV coverage of the race.
Gant earned the nickname "Mr. September" in 1991 after winning all four September Cup races (Darlington, Richmond, Dover and Martinsville) and two Busch races (Richmond and Dover) at age 51. His crew chief was Andy Petree. The four consecutive cup victories tied the modern era record set in 1972. Dominating at the next race, Harry might have won his fifth straight if his brakes had not faded with nine laps left to go at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Had the modern "Chase" point system been in place during his career Gant would have won Winston Cup championships in '84 and '91. Gant got his last Cup victory on August 16, 1992, at the Champion Spark Plug 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
He holds the record as the oldest driver ever to win a Cup Series race (52 years, 219 days) and as the oldest driver ever to collect his first career Cup victory (42 years and 105 days). He is the second oldest driver to win in NASCAR's second-level circuit, now known as the Xfinity Series, after Dick Trickle In his career he has collected 18 Cup wins and one runner-up finish in 1984 and third in 1981 and 1985, 21 Busch Series wins, and three runner-up finishes in the Busch Series championship (69, 76, and 77). In 1985 won the IROC title. He won four races in a row in 1991 tying a "new era" (1972–present) record and came in second in the fifth race. His five Winston Cup and five Busch Grand National wins in 1991 made him the only driver, at that time, to post the most wins in both series in the same year, although he tied with Davey Allison with five Cup wins (Allison also scored a victory in the non-points All-Star Race).
Gant retired from Winston Cup and Busch Series racing at the end of the 1994 season, and later ran a partial season in the Craftsman Truck Series in 1996, driving his own No. 33 Westview Capital Chevrolet C/K. Gant also substituted for the injured Bill Elliott in the 1996 Winston Select, driving Elliott's No. 94 McDonald's Ford Thunderbird.
He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame on April 27, 2006.
He appeared in the 1983 Burt Reynolds movie Stroker Ace. He also gave a short interview in the film Days of Thunder and was mentioned for spinning out in the Daytona 500 at the end of the movie (although it was actually the No. 26 of Brett Bodine). He also appeared as a mob henchman in the 1984 movie Cannonball Run II. His line in the film was "Better not let the boss hear you say that."
Motorsports career results
|1979||Kennie Childers Racing||Oldsmobile||14||33|
|1980||Race Hill Farm Team||Oldsmobile||10||42|
|1982||Mach 1 Racing||Buick||2||7|
|1989||Jackson Bros. Motorsports||Oldsmobile||12||12|
|1990||Leo Jackson Motorsports||5||18|