Sadly, little attention has been paid to Clifton "Coo-Coo" Marlin, one of the sport's stars from the 1960s and 1970s when major sponsors and national media exposure was nearly nonexistent. Coo-Coo started racing in 1953 at Nashville Speedway and competed in NASCAR Grand National stock cars, which is now the Busch Series, and competed in 165 Cup races where he won $307,142. His last race was at Talladega Super Speedway in 1980. According to Sterling Marlin, his father finished third three times and nearly won the 1974 and 1975 Daytona 500.
Nashville is where Coo-Coo won four championships (1959, '63, '65, '66) and ranks fourth with 39 career victories. Coo Coo ran his last race at Talladega in 1980. In 1987 he, along with driver “Bullet” Bob Reuther and promoter Bill Donoho, became the first three inductees in the Tennessee Motor Sports Hall of Fame. It was a proud day for all the Marlins.
For a low buck operation, he made a good showing. He won a Daytona 125 in 1973 and had several Top-5 finishes in the Daytona 500. Daytona and Talladega were his two favorite tracks.Though it would be some 18 years before he would enter the major leagues of stock car racing on a fairly regular basis, Coo Coo remembers the first big-time race he entered, an event held around 1950.“I drove up to Nashville and got me a Hudson Hornet,” he says. “We put straight exhausts on it and a seatbelt in it. Then I drove it south to Decatur, Alabama, taped up the headlights and raced it. I think I got third there. After the race, we untaped the lights and drove to a curb service place for something to eat, then drove it on home.” In 1959 Coo Coo won his first driving title at the fairgrounds, driving a ’34 Ford Flathead for Carl Wood. He repeated the accomplishment in 1962 and then again in ’66 and ’67. That record of four track championships will stand forever as the Nashville Fairgrounds track finishes its last year of operation.
Back in 1974, Coo Coo was dominating the Daytona 500 in a '73 Chevy that he and Sterling spent tireless hours preparing. However in the waning laps, NASCAR officials black-flagged Coo Coo because they thought they saw a loose lug nut on his car. Unfortunately, the pit stop inspection revealed no loose lug nut and ultimately allowed Richard Petty to win the race instead of Coo Coo, who had to settle for a fourth-place finish.
Coo Coo made 165 Winston Cup starts, in a racing career that spanned from 1947 to 1980.