The racing career of Dr. Don Tarr was much shorter than his more than 60 years in the medical field. But he was incredibly impressive in both.
Mountain City’s longtime doctor passed away on Friday. He was 92.
There are countless stories of his kindness and helping youth in the Johnson County community. Many of those sentiments are reflected in the racing community, where he achieved nine top-10 finishes in 48 NASCAR Cup Series races.
He was the first driver to broadcast from a car radio on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” at the 1970 Firecracker 400 in Daytona and later served as a pit reporter on a broadcast of the Nashville 420.
“He had a very full and interesting life. He moved to Mountain City to help that community, and was often the primary care physician for Johnson County, but he loved his race time,” said David McGee, historian for Bristol Motor Speedway. “He really enjoyed being the first driver to talk on television and have in-car interviews during the race. That was groundbreaking. He was a wonderful and upright man.”
Tarr’s early life was incredibly colorful, born in California and raised in Africa. He returned to the United States to become a doctor and settled in Miami. There he started a racing career at the famous Hialeah Speedway, where he befriended the Allison brothers.
He made his NASCAR Cup Series debut driving a Tom Raley Ford, in Atlanta in 1967. After three races that year, he drove twelve races in 1968 in his own Chevrolet No. 0.
He rode well in his own gear, teaming up with legendary car owner Ray Fox in the No. 37 Dodge in 1969. He took a career best finish of sixth in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, leading six laps at the first Series Cup race in Talladega before stopping with engine trouble.
Tarr had a qualifying speed of 187.912 mph leading the first official lap at the Alabama superspeedway. He was given a Dodge Daytona road car for his efforts.
He had five top-10 finishes in 17 races in the 1970 season, driving the famous Dodge winged car.
Tarr, who moved to Mountain City to practice rural medicine, ran four races in 1971 with a best finish of seventh at Talladega. He finished 16th in his only Bristol start at the 1971 Volunteer 500.
His last Cup Series start came in the 1971 Texas 500. He finished 43rd out of 49 drivers and had to retire with a wheel problem. He made an ARCA Series start in 1982 at age 53 and retired after 12 laps with a blown engine.
Still, he loved his NASCAR career and his friends, often attending Racers Reunion meetings in later years. There, he shared stories with old racing friends like Johnson City’s Brad Teague. Tarr was especially happy when a group of them showed up to celebrate his 90th birthday.
“He was a good man, as nice as he could be with anyone,” Teague said. “I loved his stories and the things he told about racing. I didn’t race with him much, but I enjoyed racing with him. He was such a nice person to deal with.”