Wednesday, May 29, 2013

May 29, 1955 - Indy's loss overshadows Petty's win

May 29, 1955: Driving a year-old Chrysler, Lee Petty leads 33 laps and wins a 200-lap, 100-mile race on the half-mile dirt track at Forsyth County Fairgrounds in Winston-Salem, NC.

From the late 1950s through 1971, most folks think of Bowman Gray Stadium when they hear the phrases NASCAR Grand National racing history and Winston-Salem. But three years before the GN cars made their debut at Bowman Gray, the Forsyth County Fairgrounds promoted the series. The track hosted only two NASCAR Grand National events. Both of them were in 1955, and Lee swept them.

Future Petty Enterprises driver, Jim Paschal, finished second - the only other car on the lead lap. Bob Welborn finished seventh in a Chevrolet fielded by Julian Petty, Lee's brother. Buck Baker - inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in February 2013 - started second and led 126 of the 200 laps. He broke an axle, however, and finished 12th in the 23-car field, 27 laps down.

Perry Allen Wood summarized the race in Silent Speedways of the Carolinas:
May 29, 1955, was a spring Sunday and 23 Grand Nationals lined up for the first of two scheduled there for the season... The mighty Kiekhaefer Chrysler 300 of Fonty Flock took the pole and brother Tim timed sixth. There was an outbreak of yellow fever that day as the slowdown silk flew eight times. Fonty fell out early. Smokey [Yunick]'s Hudson had Herb [Thomas]'s brother Donald in the saddle, but crashed on lap 142. Junior Johnson started up front but succumbed to mechanical woes. Tim fell out in the other Kiekhaefer, Buck's axle broke, [Gwyn] Staley lost his rear, and Volney Schulze's 69 had the coolest name and number in the house. Just under two hours after the start, Petty beat the only other driver to complete 200 laps, Jim Paschal. ~ pp. 176-177
On the same day the NASCAR guys were banging around a half-mile dirt track, the sports media was focused on the nation's premier motorsports event: the Indianapolis 500. Bill Vukovich was going for an unprecedented hat trick - three consecutive wins in the 500. He took the lead quickly in the 1955 race and lapped most of the field by lap 50. But on lap 57 with a huge lead on second, he ran upon lapped traffic. A wreck happened in front of him. Vukovich's car was hooked and leapt the short fence on the backstretch. The car hurtled violently multiple times and caught fire. The two-time defending champ burned to death while trapped upside down. His horrific death was understandably the top motorsports story, and it certainly trumped anything Lee accomplished in Winston-Salem.


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