Sunday, May 24, 2015

May 24, 1958 - Welborn Wins Winston-Salem

Greetings from the tailgating grounds of Charlotte Motor Speedway. TMC is here once again enjoying the weekend festivities leading up to tonight's Coca-Cola 600.

After driver Bob Welborn joined forces early in 1958 with owner Julian Petty, the duo was almost unstoppable in the spring races of NASCAR's convertible and Grand National divisions.  Welborn won five races in a row followed by Top 5s and a sixth in the next three convertible races with another GN win by Welborn at Greensboro (though he wasn't driving for Julian in that one).

On May 24, 1958, the Grand National drivers traveled to Winston-Salem, NC to race at Bowman Gray Stadium. The track opened in 1949, but the May 1958 race was the first GN event at the Stadium.

The race was officially sanctioned as a Grand National event; however, many convertible division regulars joined the field. They didn't need a separate car - just a top. The drivers brought their regular ragtop cars and simply bolted on a roof piece to race in the GN event.

Source: Greensboro Daily News
Rex White won the the pole. Lee Petty started 3rd, and Welborn timed 10th in Julian's #49 Chevy. Ken Rush started seventh in #44A in a second Julian Petty entry. White raced #44, and some records indicate he also raced for Julian Petty - though White insists he never drove for him.

White leveraged his top starting spot to lead the first two-thirds of the 150-lap race. Welborn then got by Rex and led the remaining 49 laps to match his car number. His victory was his 4th consecutive Grand National win in a series of four races entered.

Although Welborn won the race in a full-bodied sedan, he was not awarded GN points. Why? Despite having a roof over his head, Welborn's Chevy did not have rear glass in place. It's hard to see how the absence of the glass would have provided an aero advantage on the quarter-mile, Winston-Salem bull ring. But that was the ruling. As a GN part-timer, the trophy likely meant more to Welborn than "a good points day" anyway.

Source: Greensboro Daily News
Remarkably, with the momentum Welborn and Julian had built, Welborn wouldn't win another GN race until late August - his fifth and final win of the 1958 season.

Though Welborn and many of the other drivers had the day off Sunday after Saturday night's race at Bowman Gray, others had no time to sit still. Trenton Speedway was to host its first Grand National race on Memorial Day, May 30th. Qualifying began a week earlier on Sunday May 25 meaning several had to hustle to travel overnight from Winston-Salem, NC to Trenton, NJ.

Source: Reading Eagle via Google News Archive
Drivers who raced at Bowman Gray and then trekked to Trenton for qualifying were Buck Baker, Cotton Owens, Eddie Pagan, Lee Petty, Jack Smith, Jim Reed, and 1958 rookie of the year candidate Shorty Rollins. With Lee's participation in both races, I'm curious if 19 year-old Richard was tasked to drive the car home from Bowman Gray - or take a car to Trenton. Hmm.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

May 19, 1974 - Three laps short in Dover

Generally speaking, there is such a thing as an "insurmountable lead" in football, basketball, hockey and baseball. I've been to events where folks head for the exits well before a game is officially over.

I've also seen folks leave races early with the belief that the winner is a foregone conclusion because of his dominance. I'm pretty sure I've only left one race before it was declared official - and that was because of rain. We rolled the dice the rain would continue, but it didn't. I want to see the official end of a race because too many times things have happened with the checkers in sight.

One such day - before my era as a race fan - was May 19, 1974 at Dover Downs International Raceway.

Future NASCAR Hall of Famers claimed the top 4 starting spots for the Mason-Dixon 500. David Pearson won the pole with Richard Petty alongside him in second. Cale Yarborough laid down the third quickest lap, and Bobby Allison timed fourth.

As an on-going goodwill gesture by NASCAR to acknowledge the country's energy crisis, 10 percent of the race was cut. The first 50 "laps" were not scored, and the 500-lap race (now 450) officially began on lap 51.

Pearson leveraged his top starting spot to lead the first 18 laps. Cale then asserted his dominance in the race by leading the next 179 laps. The next 100 laps was a back-and-forth effort between Cale and the King.

As the race hit about the two-thirds mark; however, the #43 STP Dodge Charger seized control. Petty re-took the lead on lap 341 and found his groove. Corner by corner, lap after lap, the King hit his marks and let everyone know the win was soon to be his. I have to believe many non-Petty fans headed for the parking lot to get headstart on the traffic.

But then...

With less than four laps to go and a comfortable lead, the Maurice Petty-built engine in Richard's Dodge went POOF. Cale slipped by to take the lead, and Pearson also passed the 43 to move into second. In a flash, it was Yarborough's #11 Junior Johnson Chevy claiming the trophy vs. Petty's Dodge that finished third despite not completing the final two laps.

Cale in victory lane...

Source: NBC Sports
Even Stock Car Racing magazine knew Cale inherited the win. Yet as is frequently the case in racing, the adage "It's better to be lucky than good" prevailed.

Source: Observer-Reporter via Google News Archive

Monday, May 11, 2015

May 11, 1958 - Bob Welborn Wins Greensboro

Greensboro Speedway in North Carolina hosted only three Grand National races. Paul Goldsmith and Buck Baker won the first two in 1957. The final one was run on May 11, 1958.

Source: Greensboro Daily News
A year earlier, the track was the site of an epic yet apparently (mostly) true story involving driver Tiny Lund and the full Petty family. Many times legendary motorsports beat writer Tom Higgins has told and written about the turn of events that took place before the start of the April 1957 race including in this column he wrote for the Charlotte Observer.
Lund had driven five races for the Petty team in 1957, and the association ended bitterly.

Prior to a race in Greensboro, a flatbed from a trailer truck was being used as a stage for driver introductions. So happened that [Lee] Petty and Lund were starting in fairly close proximity, so they passed on the stage.

An obviously disparaging remark was made, and knuckles started flying.

"The deal was, Tiny and Daddy had a falling out," said Richard Petty. "To spite Daddy, Tiny was telling the other teams about some special, secret things we did to our cars. Daddy confronted him about it, and they went to it right there in front of everybody. I think Daddy took the first swing."

"Tiny" was a joke of a nickname for Lund. He stood 6'5" and weighed between 250 and 275 pounds.

Lee Petty stood 6'3" and weighed about 175.

"Daddy and Tiny scuffled onto the deck of that flatbed, and he was whipping Daddy pretty bad. Me and my brother Maurice, both still teenagers, jumped in to try and help Daddy. Well, Tiny was whupping all three of us.

"This is when my mother got involved. She came on that stage and started pummeling Tiny in the head with her purse. She was raising pump knots on poor ol' Tiny.

"The reason is, she had a .38 caliber pistol in that purse!"
Back to 1958's edition - where I'm sure some fans arrived earlier than usual just in case a fracas erupted again.

Greensboro's local feller, Bob Welborn, qualified in the top spot in a #44 1957 Chevrolet. Sources I've checked suggest Julian Petty was Welborn's car owner of record; however, I'm not entirely convinced of that stat.

Throughout 1958 (and for much of the rest of his career), Welborn raced car #49. Recent NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Rex White made 16 GN starts in car #44 in 1958. Some records indicate White made most of those starts in Julian Petty's cars. In speaking with White in October 2014, however, he insisted he never raced for Petty. Max Welborn, Bob's brother, fielded GN cars in that era - some numbered #44.

Bob Welborn raced full-time in 1958 with Julian in the convertible division, but they raced only part-time in the GN series. The day before the Greensboro race, Welborn finished 6th in the Rebel 300 convertible race at Darlington. With Greensboro being only one day later and a "hometown" track for Welborn, I'm thinking Bob may have hitched a ride in his brother's car as Julian took the ragtop home to tweak it for its next event.

Regarding the race itself, Perry Allen Wood noted in Silent Speedways of the Carolinas:
They dropped the curtain on the little dirt track on Sunday afternoon, May 11, 1958. A gorgeous day saw 19 entries take the spring green for a quick 150-lap, 50-mile war. Hometowner Welborn, at the peak of his career, went wire-to-wire winning handily over [Lee] Petty, [Junior] Johnson, [Speedy] Thompson and Doug Cox. The event took just over 65 minutes, then Greensboro's speedway slipped into the misty memory of how it was. ~ p. 239
Source: Greensboro Daily News

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