Harley Race

After an automobile accident in the early stages of his career, he was told by doctors that he might never walk again. Instead he set his sights on great success in the ring. He responded by becoming a multiple time World Champion and renowned the world over.

Harley Race
Real Name: Harley Race
Stats: 6′ 1″ 245 lbs.
Born: April 11, 1943
By Steve Slagle

Harley Race has been credited by numerous wrestlers as having been the toughest man in wrestling during his career, both inside and outside of the ring. Surely he is one of the most successful and respected grapplers ever to enter the squared circle. His association with the sport spanned over 30 years, and if ever someone was deserving of being in the Hall of Fame, it’s 8-time N.W.A. World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race.

This hero of the “blue-collar fan” started wrestling at the age of 16 under the tutelage of Gus Karras. Early in his career, tragedy struck and he was involved in a major car accident. His injuries were so bad that doctors told him he may never walk and would definitely never wrestle again. The determined young Race refused to let his dream die, and not only did he fully recover, but he also returned to the ring…proving all doubters wrong.

Once he was back in the ring, Race showed that he had the skills to be a champion. He held several regional titles — the Central States title, Missouri Heavyweight title, Georgia Heavyweight title, W.W.A. Heavyweight title, and many other championships — during the early years of his career.

But his first real national success came when he teamed with Larry “The Ax” Hennig (pictured, right) in the American Wrestling Association (A.W.A.). The rugged duo won the A.W.A. World Tag Team titles on four separate occasions, and held the belts for nearly two years all total. They were one of the AWA’s toughest, most successful teams of the 1960’s.
However, Race’s greatest fame came when he defeated N.W.A. World Heavyweight champion Dory Funk, Jr. on May 23, 1973. To his dismay, Race would only hold the World Title for 4 months before losing it to Jack Brisco in Houston. The resilient Race bounced back, though, winning regional titles on his way back to the NWA title. Finally, on February 2, 1977 he again won the N.W.A. World Title by defeating another Funk…this time it was Dory’s brother Terry.

Race went on to become a dominant and respected NWA World Champion, and truly took on all comers, fighting 5 to 6 nights a week. He even took part in the first-ever NWA vs. WWWF match, wrestling WWWF champion “Superstar” Billy Graham to a bloody 1-hour draw. In following years, Race would tangle with WWF champion (and Graham’s successor) Bob Backlund in several highly publicized “NWA vs. WWF” matches. The rugged champion held the N.W.A. World Title for nearly 3 years before finally being knocked off by “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes on August 8,1979. Harley regained the belt a week later and held it until he was beaten by Baba the Giant in Tokyo. Baba, like Rhodes, would only hold the title for a few weeks before Race regained the N.W.A. title. Race held the belt for yet another year, defending it 5 nights a week against the best in the world of wrestling, before losing again to Baba in Japan…and again regaining it from the Asian giant within days.
“Wildfire” Tommy Rich was another hot NWA prospect who briefly knocked Race off his championship throne, only to lose the NWA belt back to Race less than a week later. Clearly, Race had a strong hold on the World Title, both in the ring in front of the fans, and also in the (then) St. Louis-based offices of the NWA. But on June 6, 1981 in Atlanta, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes again defeated Race to win the coveted N.W.A. World championship for the second time. Unlike his previous title victory over Race, Rhodes did not lose the belt back to Race immediately — although Race received numerous rematches against Rhodes in arenas throughout the NWA’s many territories. Both in front of and behind the camera, Race was forced to be patient while others carried the “thirteen pounds of gold,” and would not regain his N.W.A. title for another 2 years…

On June 10, 1983 in St. Louis, Harley Race defeated reigning champ “Nature Boy” Ric Flair for the NWA World Title, and in the process broke Lou Thesz’s record for most NWA championships won by a single wrestler. Thesz had 6 and now Race had 7. Of course, Flair would later regain the NWA belt, though, at the first Starrcade in Greensboro, N.C. on November 24, 1983. This date marked the “official” end of Race and the N.W.A. World Title. However, Race did, in fact, win the NWA title one more time…

On March 21, 1984 in Wellington, New Zealand, Race defeated Ric Flair to win the N.W.A. title, making him an 8-time champion. He then lost the title back to Flair 2 days later in Kallang, Singapore. However, this title switch was never reported in the U.S., it was not recognized as an N.W.A. title change, and Race was officially regarded as a 7-time N.W.A. World champion until the “new” NWA officially began recognizing the phantom title switch some 15 years after it took place.

After his N.W.A. career was over, Race headed north to the World Wrestling Federation in the mid-1980’s. The somewhat plain and “down to earth” Race never really fit in during his stay in the WWF, although he was very successful there. He tried to assimilate himself into the federation by dying his hair blond and using his old “Handsome” nickname, and later by using a “King” persona when he won the inaugural King of the ring tournament. Despite having Bobby “The Brain” Heenan as his manager and feuding with JYD, Jim Duggan, and even Hulk Hogan among others, it didn’t really work out for Race in the WWF and he left after only a few years with Titan Sports.
After he left the WWF, Race returned “home” to WCW. It was then that he started a very successful managerial career…handling the Kolossal Kongs, The Super Invader, Yoshi Kwan, Vinnie Vegas, Mr. Hughes, and his main protégé, Big Van Vader. Race managed Vader to 3 WCW World Heavyweight championships and was a major part of many exciting WCW storylines and matches during the early 1990’s.

With the creation of his own promotion, World League Wrestling (WLW), Harley Race returned to professional wrestling after a few years of retirement. The regional group promotes in the same states that used to encompass Central States Wrestling (which Race also co-owned and operated for many years), and the fledgling indy has slowly built a following through its live events and TV program. The Kansas City native and 8-time NWA World Champion was inducted into the WCW Hall of Fame on May 22, 1994 after an incredibly successful career. Not bad for a man who was told he’d never walk again! The Ring Chronicle is proud to induct the legendary, record-setting champion Harley Race into T.R.C.’s Hall of Fame…

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