Bob "Hardcore" Holly: Part WWF Superstar, Part Hot-Shot Stock Car Driver

Bob Holly 6 photos
Photo: WWE
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Working for Vincent K. McMahon under the WWF (now WWE) corporate umbrella is one of the craziest careers you could possibly set out upon. You can expect one hectic environment working for the largest "sports entertainment" company in the world. But sometimes, they get to sponsor your endeavors in other areas.
Such was the case with Robert William Howard Jr. But please, don't call him by his birth name to his face, lest he gives you an Alabama Slam through the nearest wooden table. Don't say we didn't warn you.

You know him better as Bob Holly, Hardcore Holly, Thurman "Sparky" Plugg, or Bombastic Bob, his many professional wrestling personas. Boy, the WWF sure took its liberty with names back in the day. Some argue they still do.

Bob Holly, as we'll call him from now on, didn't call professional wrestling in the WWF/E his only money-making hobby. He's a true to form, red-blooded American gearhead as well. A very skilled one at that, to boot.

In fact, Holly worked as a technician at a Meineke car service depot in Mobile, Alabama, during the early days of his wrestling career. Before taking a developmental job with the WWF's main competitor, World Championship Wrestling, in 1991.

Bob Holly
Photo: Bob Holly
By the time he was ready for his big break in the World Wrestling Federation, Chairman Vince McMahon had caught word of Holly's exploits in stock car tuning and racing competition.

As much as McMahon would hate to admit it, the billionaire wrestling tycoon from New York spent his childhood and formative years growing up in rural North Carolina, a place where NASCAR and stock-car racing was second only to the holy gospel. Something about Holly's exploits on the race track must have struck a chord with McMahon's southern roots.

Because after winning the 1993 amateur season at the Mobile International Speedway, McMahon rewarded Holly with a blank check to run with a WWF Sponsored stock car for the 1995 season.

By 1995, gone was the 1974 Chevy Malibu that Holly had used to dominate the sub-professional circuit of the time. In its place was a super late model in the All-Pro Series. Because Vince McMahon had taken such great care of Holly both in the ring and on the track, Holly had no trouble portraying his in-ring gimmick out on the track.

Bob Holly
Photo: WWE
This extended to post-race interviews as well, in which Holly wouldn't talk to reporters so much as cut a wrestling-style promo every time there was a microphone in his face. Holly estimates that Vince McMahon spent as much as $500,000 procuring the car, spare parts, equipment, racing personnel, and pit crew up and operational.

WWF was in the midst of its worst viewership numbers in history during the mid-90s. The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin had yet to light the sport on fire once more at this juncture. So McMahon hoped dearly that success on the race track would translate to more tickets at his WWF T.V. and house show events.

If that was McMahon's goal, Holly and his crew might have come up just a bit short. Holly was every bit as skilled of a racing driver as he was a pro-wrestler. But sometimes, that isn't enough to make a profit. As WWF withdrew their sponsorship, Holly was worried he wouldn't remotely be able to pay back for all the stuff McMahon had invested in the whole deal.

Happily, Vince McMahon wasn't so high up in his ivory tower to see what a great service Holly had performed for his company. As a measure of thanks for all of his work in the ring and at the track, McMahon sold back that season's stock car to Holly for a measly $100. Holly would go on to have a relatively successful wrestling career spanning three calendar decades in the WWF/E.

Bob Holly
Photo: WWE
In 2012, the now semi-retired wrestler returned to the race track in a competitive fashion once again. Telling local press at the time that all this wrestling business may have been fun, but auto racing is always where his heart was beating the strongest.
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