I recently spoke with the legendary Harley Race. During the interview, we discussed his career, his time in the WWF, starting World League Wrestling and this week's WLW training camp. After this week's WLW training camp, special guest Ric Flair and Harley will be appearing at "WWL Night Of Champions" this Saturday at the Troy Buchanan High School Gymnasium in Troy, Missouri. You can get more information about the show at HarleyRace.com. Below is my full interview with Race.
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How old were you when you started watching wrestling?
"I suppose about 13 or 15. I got into the business at 15. I started watching it virtually the same time. I told my parents and brothers and sisters that this was what I was going to do. I contacted Gust Karras and I've been involved in it ever since."
How hard was it to get involved in the business back then?
"Not really all that hard if you were sincerely devoted to it. Once you started to train, they could really punish you and would if you did anything they didn't like. You learned fairly quickly."
When you won the NWA for the first time, beating Dory Funk Jr., What was that like? How far ahead did you know you'd be winning the title? It was a pretty big shock when you won it.
"I was headed towards it once I got started in wrestling. I saw him and Lou Thesz, and said that's what I was going to be. In the meantime he got beat, and I beat the guy who beat him."
Obviously you worked with Andre the Giant, and did a spot where you bodyslammed him. Were you close with him? I've always heard that he would only let people that he admired and respected do something like that.
"As far as I know, I'm the only one to body slam him completely on my own. There were a couple of times where there were two people involved in doing it. I was the one who got him up there, and actually have a picture of me with him up in the air."
What was his reaction to that?
"Kind of on the unbelievable side. Not only him, me too."
You would have the big match with Ric Flair at Starrcade '83. Is it true that Vince McMahon was trying to get you signed and not show up at the event?
"He was asking me about coming up there, and trying to avoid that part of it. I had been involved in wrestling for a long time and the NWA World Title was what I had my heart and mind set on doing since day one. I wasn't going to get involved with Vince until I was through with the NWA side. That's what I wanted to do, and that's what I did."
There have always been stories about you confronting Hulk Hogan at a WWF live event in 1984. What exactly happened there?
"You run into people that invent that they can do a 'better than you' type of thing. I knew that if I really put my mind to it, I could beat Hulk Hogan."
What ultimately ended up causing you to leave the NWA for the WWF?
"Once Sam Mushnick was out of it. He was losing his capabilities to be who he was and do what he was doing. Without him being the head of the NWA, I think everyone knew it wasn't going to be long before it was over. I started looking for the opportunity to go in with Vince, and when it arrived I took it and ran with it."
Was the King gimmick Vince's idea?
"Pretty much. Being a King was the next step past being the champion that I was. They just ordered that being the King would override being the 8-time world champion."
When they presented the King gimmick to you, what was your reaction?
"Once I got there and realized that he had a hell of an organization, I was going to their worldwide thing, that I'd made the right decision."
"The only nerve wracking thing about it to me were the 93,000 people out there watching it. It was humongous."
Did you enjoy doing the WWF style of wrestling? It was way different than the NWA style you had worked, but you still had memorable matches with people like Jim Duggan and Hulk Hogan.
"I didn't work a whole heck of a lot different. When you get down to it, wrestling is wrestling, and when you get in the ring and start performing it's up to you and the guy you're in there with to do it and perform it."
What led to you leaving the WWF?
"Time, and stuff was starting to catch up with me. I started wrestling when I was 15 years old, and back when I was world champion, I was wrestling 7 nights a week. I would have a complete week off every four weeks. With Vince, there was no time period off, just every day."
How would you describe working for Vince back then?
"Back then it was pretty tough, because he was in the process of trying to take wrestling over on a worldwide basis. The only place he wasn't was Japan or China, because he had nobody who spoke those languages, and you had to have somebody who did to be able to get in there and to that to help take it over. "
I wanted to ask you about Owen Hart. You said that you'd talked to him the day of his accident. What was it like interacting with Owen that day?
"Well no one had any clue what would happen that day. I've known the Hart family for a long time. And he was in the middle of the age group, and the whole family was a nice one. There were a few of the boys a little on the wild and goofy side, but who wasn't at that age?"
You started WLW in the late 1990's, correct?
"I can't tell you right offhand. It was a lot of catch-as-catch-can to start. I wasn't going to be an 8-time world champion and leave it without any credibility about where it was going or what it was going to be."
I spoke to Leland earlier, and he said you kind of sheltered him from the business. What was your reaction when he decided he wanted to get into it?
"Well when he finally made up his mind that this is what he was going to do, I kind of slid in behind him. I didn't tell him I was going to be supportive until I saw that is what he wanted to do. Of course, he's proved that it is exactly what he wants to do, so I got behind him to see how far he wanted to go."
I'd heard his ring name, Jason Jones, on the indy circuit [years ago], but had no idea he was your son.
"That's what Jason Jones was all about. Not showing favoritism or using the name 'Race.'"
Ric Flair will also be at [Saturday's WLW show in Troy], and he inducted you into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004. What was that like?
"Anytime you do anything with Ric Flair, it's kind of a strange and different atmosphere until you know know that's what he's going to do, and it couldn't be any better. Besides myself, he was probably the next in line as it pertains to credibility in the wrestling world."
What was your reaction when you found out about Dusty Rhodes passing away?
"Someday it's going to happen to us all. Dusty was the type of guy who devoted his entire life, like myself, to be involved in wrestling. His loss is something you didn't want to see happen."
Also, Roddy Piper recently passed. You guys were in NWA and WWF together for a while, but did you have any matches with Piper?
"I wrestled Roddy quite a few times when he was first coming up in the business. I would go to Canada and wrestle up in that area, and you would be involved with him too. Piper's a good guy."
What are your thoughts on the pro wrestling business today and where it's gone?
"It's went from wrestling to entertaining to whatever the heck it takes and whatever you gotta do that it is now."
Do you have any favorite matches you were involved with?
"Any one of the seven times. The eighth one was just kind of a slide through thing. All of the guys that were involved in wrestling at the time I was there at the young age to when I was through, I think were the best there was and the best there will be."