Sunday, February 13, 2011

Searching for Bobby Fisher

If you clicked to this blog entry because you thought it would be about an eccentric, reclusive chess player, fuhgetaboutit. This entry is a sequel to my post earlier this year about Woody Fisher.

February 13, the date of this posting, is the anniversary of Fisher's win in the 1977 ARCA 200 at Daytona driving a Dodge Charger built by Petty Enterprises.

Photo courtesy of Brian Norton from RacersReunion.com

When I posted my entry about Woody Fisher last month, I did so with a couple of gaps.
  • I had only one high-quality photo of Woody Fisher provided to me by Russ Thompson.
  • I knew little about Woody's brother, Bobby Fisher, who took over the Petty-built Charger once Woody was finished with it.
Within a day of my sharing the blog link at Racers Reunion, Brian Norton kindly shared about a half-dozen new and high-quality photos of Woody. Totally unexpected and truly appreciated.

Regarding the second gap, I decided to take a shot and see if I could make something happen. I learned about Bobby from researching Woody's racing career. Also, Don Smyle from Checkered Past Collectibles sent me two photos of Bobby.

Building on the little bit of info I had, I started plowing through Google searches. I learned Bobby was in the beer distribution business as was his brother. More accurately, he is in the business. He is the president of his own self-named business, Bobby Fisher Distributing.

In the 2010 Wholesale Beer and Wine Association of Ohio annual report, I discovered this excerpt:
Robert W. Fisher, Sr., founded Fisher Beverage Co. in Springfield, Ohio in 1947. Mr. Fisher came to Springfield from Youngstown, where he had worked for the Coca-Cola Co. During his lifetime he also owned beer distributing companies in Cincinnati and in Jacksonville and Melbourne, FL.

His eldest son, Woodrow (TMC: Woody), owned and operated beer companies in Cincinnati, Wilmington, NC and Daytona Beach, FL. His youngest son, James, worked with his father in the beverage companies.

In 1976, Robert W. Fisher, Sr. sold his Stroh’s and Schlitz franchises to his son, Robert Fisher, Jr. (TMC: Bobby), and Bobby Fisher Distributing was officially founded. Bobby Fisher Distributing later added the Stroh’s franchise in Charlotte, NC and the Pabst franchise in Vero Beach, FL .

Robert Fisher, Jr. remains President and CEO. His daughter, Maria Fisher-Coleman, joined the company in 1988 as vice president of operations.
A couple of phone calls placed to the company went unreturned. Rather than give up, I tried once more with an old-school communication technique: I wrote him a letter. I included a link to my entry about Woody, a photo of Bobby in the Petty-built Charger, and my contact info. Within a matter of days, a new message appeared in my Gmail inbox from Bobby Fisher Jr.

We've had a nice back-and-forth dialog the past couple of weeks. I've enjoyed having the opportunity to ask a few questions and swapping some racing stories with him (and I may have slipped in a few Schaefer stories). In return, Fisher has been really kind by answering my questions and providing a couple of photos of his own. He also told me about his purchase of another Petty-built Dodge - a custom Dodge Challenger built by Petty's Garage similar to the one pictured here.

As for his racing career, Bobby had a limited one. He raced the Petty-built Dodge three times after taking it over from his brother.
  • He finished 11th in the 1977 World Service Life 300 late model sportsman race at Charlotte. The above picture of Bobby in the #74 is from that race.
  • He raced the big Charger to a 2nd place finish in the November 1977 late model sportsman race at Ontario Motor Speedway (where his brother ran the car as an ARCA entry in the spring Ontario race).
  • A week later, Bobby finished 9th in the Winston West race at Phoenix International Raceway. (Cale Yarborough won the race driving a Dodge for J.D. Stacy. A true rarity - this was the third and final NASCAR start in Cale's career that he drove a Dodge. But I digress...)
For Winston Cup racing, Dodge rolled out a new model, the soon-to-be-doomed Dodge Magnum, for the 1978 season. The Charger may still have been eligible for other series such as late model sportsman, ARCA, or Winston West, but the the use of the Charger ended for the Fishers following the 1977 season. I'd like to say I learned the retired Charger is on display in someone's car collection, in a business's showroom, etc. Sadly, however, Bobby told me he's unsure of what happened to the car.

Bobby made three Winston Cup starts from 1978-1979.
  • In July 1978, he finished 29th in a self-owned #71 Chevrolet in the Nashville 420. TMC's first Cup race to attend was the 1978 Music City 420 at Nashville one month earlier, but I didn't get to return for the July race. I am scouring multiple sources with ties to Nashville Speedway to locate a photo of his car.
  • He finished 40th in a #71 Stroh's beer-sponsored Chevy in the 1978 National 500.
  • His final official Cup start was in the 1979 World 600 at Charlotte where he finished 31st in a Pabst Blue Ribbon-sponsored Buick. I searched many times over and crawled multiple message boards and image sites looking for a photo of the car. None could be found...until.
As I mentioned earlier, Bobby sent me a couple of pictures. Sure enough, one of them was of his PBR car. Sing it with me! Whadda ya have? Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Source: Bobby Fisher

Bobby attempted an additional Cup race. He raced a #40 Buick owned by D.K. Ulrich in the first qualifying twin for the 1979 Daytona 500. (Coincidentally, Woody Fisher was entered in the same twin.) I found this photo on-line of Bobby's racing a driver named Paul Fess in the #82 Olds.

Bobby crashed in his twin and finished 27th out of 29 cars in his twin. However, the car still made the Daytona 500 presumably based on prior year's owners points. After wrecking in the ARCA race a few days earlier and wrecking again in the twin, Bobby gave up his seat for the 500. Owner Ulrich suited up instead of Bobby and raced the Buick to a 13th place finish. Bobby told me it had been a tough week and he simply didn't get the seat time he needed. So D.K. raced his own car. As a reminder, Kyle Petty won the 1979 ARCA race in his professional racing debut, and King Richard won the Daytona 500 ending a long losing streak. So while it was the best of times for the Pettys, it was certainly the opposite feeling for Bobby. Yet a connection - though a loose one admittedly - continued between the Pettys and Fishers for the 1979 Speedweeks.

With information about my search included and a recap of Bobby's racing career documented, I can't help but return to a common theme here: Beer. Notice the beer names associated with the Fishers? Schlitz, Stroh's, PBR.

Think this through a moment. Work with me. Woody Fisher was a beer distributor, and Bobby is still one today. Its pretty obvious Stroh's and Schlitz are among the brands they distributed. Stroh's acquired Schlitz in the mid-1970s about the time they acquired another popular brewery: F&M Schaefer Brewing Company. And now Pabst owns Stroh's, Schlitz, and Schaefer in addition to its own flagship PBR.

So if my steps are correct, I've narrowed the connection between Petty Enterprises and Schaefer to 2 degrees of separation.
  • Petty Enterprises to the Fishers
  • The Fisher to Stroh's beer
  • Stroh's to Schaefer
As an additional trivia connection, D.K. Ulrich who fielded the Buick for Bobby at Daytona in 1979 also owned the Schaefer-sponsored Buick raced by Al Loquasto at Pocono in 1981.

So is it possible there is a photo out there of a Schaefer-sponsored late model raced by Woody or Bobby? Who knows - but questions remain and the search continues. Until then, we'll have to settle for the next best thing - the Schaefer-sponsored Indy car driven by Josele Garza. He is shown here standing alongside Bobby. This is another photo sent to be by Fisher who took the generous extra step of having it signed for me by Garza.


TMC

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