Sunday, April 26, 2015

April 26, 1958 - Welborn Wins Hickory

Two-time defending NASCAR convertible division champion Bob Welborn continued his 1958 hot streak in tact on April 26, 1956. The Denton, NC driver won his fifth consecutive race with car owner Julian Petty.

Twenty-three ragtops showed up for a 150-lap, 60-mile race at Hickory Speedway's dirt track. Jimmy Massey snagged the pole position in a Petty Engineering 1957 Oldsmobile, and Welborn timed second in Julian's Chevrolet.

NASCAR Hall of Famer and co-founder of the legendary Wood Brothers Racing team, Glen Wood, parked his Ford after only one lap with a blown engine. Fellow NASCAR Hall of Fame member, Buck Baker - making only his second convertible start of 1958 - exited the race three laps later when of all things his seat broke loose. Joe Weatherly, making his first convertible start since his win at Richmond a month earlier, suffered the same fate as Wood and Baker. Unlike the two of them, however, Little Joe made it to the half-way point of the race. But he then lost the steering on his Holman Moody Ford and was done for the day.

With some of his toughest competition sidelined early, Welborn set sail as he'd done over his past few races. He took the checkers with only one other car on the lead lap with him. Ken Rush was the runner-up in in a second Julian Petty-owned #44 Chevy. Julian's third entry driven by Possum Jones wasn't as fortunate. The throttle in Possum's #48 Chevy played dead on him, and Jones finished 19th after completing only 33 laps.

Pole-winner Massey finished third in Lee Petty's Oldsmobile, one lap down in his only convertible start for Petty Engineering. (Lee likely didn't attend the race as he was probably on his way back home to North Carolina after having raced in Manassas, VA on April 25th.) Though I don't have absolute proof, it stands to reason the Olds raced by Massey was the same car Richard Petty raced in his racing debut at Columbia Speedway on July 12, 1958. Two years later, Massey was behind the wheel of a Wood Brothers Ford and was chasing Richard Petty's Plymouth for the win at Martinsville. I blogged about Massey's Run back in 2012.

Welborn and Julian seemingly could not be stopped in the spring of 1958. The Hickory win was their fifth consecutive NASCAR win in a series of Grand National and convertible races entered. (Julian didn't field a car in a few GN races during that streak.)

The streak ended with the Hickory win. Welborn continued, however, with quality top 10s in the next three races before returning to victory lane twice more to complete his month of May.

04/05/58   Fayetteville (GN) - win
04/07/58   Winston-Salem (CV) - win
04/13/58   Weaverville (CV) - win
04/20/58   Martinsville (GN) - win
04/26/58   Hickory (CV) - win
05/02/58   Columbia (CV) - 3rd
05/04/58   Wilson (CV) - 2nd
05/10/58   Darlington (CV) - 6th
05/11/58   Greensboro (GN) - win
05/24/58   Winston-Salem (GN) - win


Monday, April 20, 2015

April 20, 1958 - Welborn Wins Martinsville

Driver Bob Welborn and owner Julian Petty won their fourth consecutive race together on April 20, 1958 in the Virginia 500 Grand National race at Martinsville Speedway.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
NASCAR Hall of Famer and two-time defending race winner Buck Baker let the field know early he planned to extend his win streak to three. He won the pole in his #87 Chevrolet and was joined on the front row by another future NASCAR Hall of Fame member, Glen Wood. Welborn's Chevy was not quite right during qualifying, and he had to settle for a 20th place starting spot in the 47-car field.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Baker's top starting spot didn't yield him much of an advantage. He did lead the first lap once the green was dropped, but he soon gave way to Wood. The #21 Ford driven by Wood led the next 138 laps before giving way to Julian Petty's older brother, Lee. Papa Lee piled up 58 laps out front as Welborn continued working his way through traffic.

Welborn went to the point for the first time around lap 200. Baker had developed an issue with his car's wiring several laps earlier and was done for the day. After his stint out front, Lee Petty no longer challenged for the lead, When the day was done, he had to accept his 11th place finish. Wood got back by Welborn around the 300-lap mark  to lead for another 30 laps or so. But as with Petty, Wood's car began going away, and he cruised the final 200 laps to finish 9th.

With Welborn's top competition out of the race or sliding back through the field a bit, he settled into his rhythm and clicked off one lap after another. In time, he built a 5-lap lead over the second place car and seemed to be on his way to an easy win.

With about 30 days to go, however, Welborn's Chevy cut a tire. Fortunately for him, he was able to nurse his car back to the pits and have the tire changed. He gave back a couple of his laps he'd built on second place Rex White, but the remaining ones he'd accumulated seemed to be an insurance policy for a victory.

As the checkers fell, Welborn was indeed fortunate to win the race. White and third place finisher Jim Reed managed to get back on the lead lap with Welborn, but they couldn't get past him for the win.

After joining Julian Petty's team a month earlier, Welborn could seemingly do wrong. Their 1958 win streak stood at four following Martinsville:
  • April 5 GN win at Champion Speedway in Fayetteville NC
  • April 7 convertible win at Bowman Gray Stadium
  • April 13 convertible win at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway
  • April 20 GN win at Martinsville
Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Following the race, Welborn was congratulated by the top two party drivers on the circuit - Curtis Turner and NASCAR Hall of Famer Joe Weatherly. My guess is one of two things happened - well maybe both:
  • The two may have gotten Welborn likkered up that night as part of a long celebration, and/or
  • They may have taken Bob up in Turner's plane and barnstormed it enough to scare Welborn into giving up his trophy - with them laughing the whole time.


Monday, April 13, 2015

April 13, 1958 - Welborn Wins Weaverville

The location was different, but the result was the same. For the third consecutive race since joining owner Julian Petty's racing venture, Bob Welborn claimed the checkers. After winning the Grand National race at Champion Speedway in Fayetteville, NC and the convertible race at Bowman Gray Stadium, the team headed for another convertible division race on April 13, 1958, at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway.

Welborn left little doubt his car was the one to beat. He set a track record in qualifying to claim the pole in his #49 Chevrolet. Banjo Matthews - a rare entrant to convertible races - timed second. Matthews had been hired by Lee Petty to drive his #42 Oldsmobile. I'm unsure how the arrangement came to be. The promoter may have paid Matthews show money and arranged for Lee to provide the car. Lee may have arranged the deal himself since he had just raced in a Grand National race in Spartanburg, SC the previous night.

Whatever arrangements were made, they didn't matter. Julian again got the better of his brother. Welborn led flag-to-flag to win the 200-lap race. Matthews finished second in Lee's Olds. Julian's second team car driven by Ken Rush finished fourth. The car was re-numbered #44 as a change from #38 that had been used by Gwyn Staley before his death a few weeks earlier.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
After carrying on after Staley's death at Richmond, drivers again had to race with heavy hearts at Asheville-Weaverville. Fellow competitor Billy Myers died of a heart attack during a sportsman race at Bowman Gray Stadium the night before the convertible race. Myers was leading the race with only 4 laps to go when he passed away at the wheel. He was a two-time convertible division winner with Lee Petty Engineering.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

April 7, 1958 - Welborn Wins Winston-Salem

Two days after racing in the Grand National race at Champion Speedway in Fayetteville, NC, Bob Welborn continued his successful new alliance with car owner Julian Petty. The duo dominated the NASCAR convertible series race at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC on "Easter Monday", April 7, 1958.

After two years as the champion of the convertible series, Welborn sold his equipment to Petty and hired-on as his driver. The two won their first Grand National race together and followed up with a win in their first convertible race together.

The race was promoted as the season opener for the track by co-promoters Bill France Sr. and Alvin Hawkins. Yep, Big Bill controlled the sanctioning body as well as a handful of races on his schedules.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Welborn claimed the pole in qualifying in his #49 Chevrolet now owned by Julian. He then led all of the race's 150 laps and claimed the win. Possum Jones (one of racing's greatest names) finished second, and Julian's brother, Lee Petty, brought home his Oldsmobile fourth. Ken Rush finished fifth in a second #38 Chevrolet fielded by Julian. The car had been previously driven by Gwyn Staley who was killed two weeks earlier in the previous convertible race at Richmond.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive

Sunday, April 5, 2015

April 5, 1958 - Welborn Wins Fayetteville

The 1958 NASCAR Grand National season began in November 1957 with a race at the 1/3 mile Champion Speedway in Fayetteville, NC. Interestingly, two of the next six races were also scheduled at the track.

Gwyn Staley - whose brother Enoch owned and operated North Wilkesboro Speedway - ran his final career Grand National race at Champion on March 15, 1958 - the second of the three races. Eight days later on March 23, he entered a NASCAR convertible division race at Richmond. He flipped on the first lap and was tragically killed. His car owner for both races was Julian Petty.

Two-time NASCAR convertible division champion Bob Welborn finished 8th in the March Fayetteville race in a second #49 Chevrolet for Julian. Following Staley's death, he became the sole driver. On April 5, 1958, Welborn raced Julian's #38 Chevrolet - likely the same car Staley had driven to a 2nd place finish at Fayetteville a month earlier.

Julian's brother got the initial upper hand. Lee Petty qualified quickest in his Oldsmobile to win the pole. Welborn had to settle for second and on the front row with Lee.

At the drop of the green, Lee set sail and led the first 24 laps of the 150-lap race. Eleventh-place starter Buck Baker was effective in moving towards the front, and he went after Lee for the lead. The two NASCAR Hall of Famers banged fenders as each wanted the lead. Lee got the roughest of the duel as he broke an axle. He dropped from the lead on lap 25 and then out of the race two laps later.

Baker showed the way for the next 52 laps. As the race reached half-way, however, Baker couldn't hold the lead. Welborn passed Baker, and the #38 Chevy led the rest of the way. Perry Allen Wood recapped the race in his book Silent Speedways of the Carolinas:
This third visit of the young season to Champion saw 29 speed demons take the green with Bob Welborn...climbing into Julian Petty's Chevy... As if weird things do not happen often enough, in this, the first race since Staley's death, Welborn won in Staley's old car. And guess who was flailing away at his back bumper? Frankie Schneider, the man that punched Staley's ticket to the hereafter at Richmond a fortnight earlier! ~ p. 191
Source: Greensboro Daily News

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Uncle Julie

As Richard Petty began his career and long before he became known as The King, he was generally recognized simply as "Lee Petty's son". In the late 1950s, Lee's name and reputation was right up there with Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner, Tim Flock and Junior Johnson.

Lee had eight siblings - most of whom from what I've gathered weren't involved in racing. One older brother, however, Julius Hilton (Julian) Petty was a NASCAR regular.

Born April 1, 1916, Julian (also known to some as J.H. or Uncle Julie) drove a few Grand National races in the early 1950s without much success. As a car owner, however, he notched 23 wins with a handful of drivers behind the wheel in NASCAR's Grand National and short-lived convertible divisions.

In addition to the three starts he made as a driver, he fielded a car for NASCAR pioneer Jimmie Lewallen in the early 1950s. The garage he owned and operated also sponsored Lewallen for a couple of races in 1953 when Jimmie ran the car number later made famous by Julian's nephew.

Julian's best year as an owner was 1958. Though others won races for him before and after, Bob Welborn rang up thirteen victories in cars fielded by Julian in NASCAR's Grand National and Convertible divisions. Welborn also won in Julian's Chevy in NASCAR's short-lived Short Track Series division. Records for the division are poor; consequently, I'm unsure how many additional trophies the duo may have claimed.

Near the end of 1958, Julian interestingly sold all his equipment to Roy Tyner. It's interesting to me because (1) Julian's pairing with Welborn was BANK in 1958 - a trend likely to have have continued into 1959 and (2) Julian married Roy's mother - Grace Tyner - in 1959 after her first husband passed away in 1958.

Source: Wilmington News via Google News Archive
Perhaps the sale to his step-son was a strategic or family play - or perhaps Julian was just done with racing. Either way, he didn't step away from NASCAR permanently. He returned in the early 1960s and enjoyed a bit more success with driver Jim Paschal.

Julian's son and Richard's cousin - Gene Petty - was involved in racing as well. Gene was instrumental in helping Mike Skinner get his start in NASCAR.

Lee was two years older than Julian. Lee passed away in 2000 - just a few weeks after his 86th birthday. Julian died in 2003 - just a few weeks before his 87th - and was laid to rest without a grave marker next to his parents in a Greensboro, NC cemetery.

Over the next few months, I plan to blog about as many of Julian's wins as I can. Each will be posted on the anniversary date of the race. Articles, photos and stories from those 1950s races are pretty hard to come by. Please email me at toomuchcountry(at)gmail(dot)com if you have something from that era to share, and I'll be happy to include the info in my posts with full attribution.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

March 28, 1971: Rivals Battle At Bristol

After more than two decades as the Grand National division, NASCAR's top series was re-branded as the Winston Cup Grand National Series in 1971. The importance of R.J. Reynolds' infusion of financial support and marketing cannot be overstated.

With the exception of Chrysler Corporation's backing of Petty Enterprises' two-car Plymouth and Dodge effort, all other teams were on their own to find the needed level of sponsorship dollars to compete. Even Holman Moody, the long-supported Ford Motor Company team, was on its own - and on its last legs.

The ninth race of the inaugural "Winston Cup" season was the Southeastern 500 at Bristol International Raceway. David Pearson won the pole with his now-independent Holman Moody team. Rival Richard Petty timed second in his pre-STP, all-Petty blue Plymouth. Petty arrived at Bristol on a hot streak of 3 consecutive wins at Richmond, Rockingham and Hickory.

From 1967 through 1970, Pearson's team was backed almost exclusively by Ford. The quarter-panels would occasionally sport the name of a local car dealer; otherwise, factory-backing toted the note. With the loss of factory dollars, Holman Moody (or perhaps Pearson) secured the support of Purolator Oil Filters. Purolator also sponsored the part-time effort of the Wood Brothers Mercury driven in 1971 by Donnie Allison. (Side note: how did that ever come to be?) Allison's car was painted in the traditional Wood Brothers white and candy apple red colors - which complimented Purolator's logo. Pearson's #17 Ford was distinctly different with a red roof, white hood and blue sides (and red wheels in a few races).

At the drop of the green, Pearson set sail from his top starting spot. He then proceeded to lead about the first 10% of the race. After 48 laps, third place starter Bobby Allison went to the point in his self-owned, Coca-Cola sponsored Dodge Charger. Allison then set the pace for 78 of the next 79 laps.

After Allison's time out front, true independent and 1966 GN Rookie of the Year, James Hylton, took the lead and spent several dozen laps out front. Pearson stayed near him and finally decided to make a move to re-take the lead. Rather than smoothly glide by Hylton's Ford, Pearson squirrelled as he attempted the pass. He hooked Hylton's #48, and both spun. Hylton got the worst end of the incident and was done for the day at only lap 180.

Source: National Speed Sport News
With Hylton parked, Allison's set-up fading, and Pearson recovering from his self-induced spin, The King seized control of the race. Over his career, Bristol wasn't one of Petty's better tracks as compared to other shorties such as Richmond, Martinsville, Nashville and North Wilkesboro. On that day, however, he took off and led almost half the race - 233 of the next 238 laps - to build a pretty comfortable, quarter-to-half lap lead on Pearson. Until.

Source: The Times-News via Google News Archive
The fickle finger of fate can touch anyone, anywhere and at anytime during a race. With solid command of the race and about 80 laps to go, Petty suddenly felt a vibration through turns 1 and 2 and realized he had a problem with one of his front wheels. He was carrying too much speed, however, and was unable to duck down the backstretch pit road to his stall (back when Bristol had two separate pit entrances). Sure enough, as he sailed through turns 3 and 4, the center hub broke loose from his right front wheel. The steel doughnut took off with a mind of its own, and the King limped down the front stretch with a not-so-graceful tricycle approach. The second time around, he had slowed sufficiently to hit pit road to replace the wheel.

Though the 43 soon had new shoes, his lead was gone. He went back on the track and set sail in pursuit of Pearson. But the Silver Fox would have none of it. He began to end the race just as he had started it - out front. Petty continued his chase of the 17, but could draw no closer than 3 to 4 seconds of the Purolator Ford as it took the checkers.

Source: Bristol Motor Speedway by David McGee & Sonya Haskins
Had it not been for a broken wheel, Petty could possibly have 201 Grand National / Cup wins in the record books. But he doesn't. Instead, Pearson notched his 60th career victory - and his final win with Holman Moody.

Source: The Times-News via Google News Archive
Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
After the mid-race incident with Hylton, Pearson re-grouped, instinctively thought fuhgetaboutit, and raced for the win. Hylton, however, didn't get over it quite as easily. Once he parked his wrecked Ford, he made his presence known in the Pearson pits. Co-owner Ralph Moody went on record as saying he - and Pearson - would cover the costs of Hylton's repairs. I'd be interested to know if those checks were ever written.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Pearson won two championships and a boocoodle of races in Holman Moody's #17 Ford from 1967-1970. By 1971, however, the in-fighting between John Holman and Ralph Moody combined with the cessation of Ford's monetary support resulted in a tenuous situation for Pearson. His tenure with the team lasted only five more races following Bristol. He raced a handful of times the rest of the season with Ray Nichels with very little success. In 1972, he replaced Donnie Allison as the driver of the Wood Brothers' Mercury - a move Petty fans eventually exclaimed you've GOT to be kidding me!

After his 1971 Bristol win, Pearson didn't race at the track again for seven more years. He returned to run a final time in 1979 in a substitute role in the Rod Osterlund #2 Chevy as rookie Dale Earnhardt recovered from injuries suffered at Pocono.