Harley Race got his break in professional wrestling as a teenager, working as the chauffeur for the 800lb “world’s largest wrestler” Happy Humphrey. Within two decades he would be regarded as the best worker and arguable the biggest draw in the industry, defending the NWA World Heavyweight title across the globe and drawing in every major territory.
A recognised shooter, Race got his first NWA title run as insurance against Dory Funk Jr. trying to double-cross local promoters. His matches with the likes of Antonio Inoki, the Funk brothers, Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair filled arenas and he was Vince McMahon’s original choice to face Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania I. However, Race refused to double-cross the NWA and instead didn’t come to New York until the dying years of his career, when he put over Hogan in a series of largely disappointing matches.
Effectively retired by 1988, he worked sporadically for regional promotions thereafter and had a run as Vader’s manager during his WCW rookie years. He came out of retirement in 1993 for a nostalgia run against Ric Flair that drew big in the Florida territories, and for some reason appeared on Exposed! Pro-Wrestling’s Greatest Secrets in the late 90s in an attempt to make himself the grappling version of the Masked Magician.
A major influence on the likes of Triple H (who has cosplayed on Race on numerous occasion, right down to stealing his “bounty” gimmick), Race impact on the business can be seen still today, with the likes of NXT wrestlers Tomasso Ciampa and Bobby Fish both students of “The King”.
Race’s ill-health had been a widely known secret in wrestling circles, and recently this year his old rival Ric Flair let slip that he didn’t have long left. Now, somebody, please, TAKE THE DAMN MONEY.