Friday, April 5, 2013

April 5, 1959 - Lee Petty Wins Wilkesboro

1959 - Starting fourth, Lee Petty leads the final 53 laps and wins the Gwyn Staley 160 at North Wilkesboro Speedway - a 160-lap, 100-mile event. Originally scheduled for March 15th, the race was rained out and rescheduled for April 5th.

Petty's victory was his first since narrowly beating Johnny Beauchamp in the inaugural Daytona 500 two months earlier. He won in a #43 Oldsmobile. It was Lee's only win in #43, his only win in a car numbered other than 42, and the first NASCAR Grand National win for number 43.

Why Lee raced 43 vs. his usual 42 is a mystery. The Pettys often prepared cars for multiple drivers with Lee - and later Richard - getting the best one for the race. It's possible Lee believed the 43 car gave him a better shot at the win. Also, the series raced the day before at the notoriously tough Columbia Speedway where Lee finished third. The car may not have been in the best of shape, and the Petty crew may have pulled the 43 off the truck instead.

Regardless of the reason why, the number was available as Richard was not entered in the Wilkesboro race. Instead, he raced his own #43 Oldsmobile on the same day in a convertible race in Marlboro, Maryland.

The race's name memorialized the late driver, Gwyn Staley. (The race was previously known as the Wilkes County 160). Brother of Wilkesboro track owner Enoch Staley, Gwyn Staley was a veteran driver with many starts, solid finishes, and a few wins in NASCAR's Grand National and Convertible series. In the last couple of years of his career, he made the majority of his starts in cars fielded by Julian Petty - Lee's brother and Richard's uncle. Staley was killed in a convertible race at Richmond in 1958.

Perry Allen Wood write in his book, Silent Speedways of the Carolinas: drivers entered as Speedy Thompson won his 19th and last pole with Glen Wood alongside. In row two were '58 Rookie of the Year Shorty Rollins and '58 Grand National Champion Lee Petty. Two of the all-time great throttle thumpers, Junior Johnson and Curtis Turner, sat in the third row... At the green Thompson sped away, pacing the field for the opening half of the the race plus eight laps until a wheel bearing fried and Turner took over. Curtis was also done after 19 more laps and quit when lengthy repairs cost him too much time to continue. T-Bird team driver Tom Pistone soldiered on in relief. It was Old Man Petty back on top in his two-year-old Olds, and he won by less than a lap over [Jack] Smith, who won the night before in Columbia. ~ p. 257
Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive


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