Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 31, 1959 - Petty Picks Greenville-Pickens' Green

July 31, 1959: Lee Petty wins his second and final career NASCAR Convertible Series race in a 200 lap, 100 mile race at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina. Son Richard Petty struggled mightily in the race and finished 19th in the 22-car field.

Lee's win in his familiar #42 Plymouth came in his 28th and final start in the Convertible Series over a three-year period. (NASCAR ended the series after 1959 though it sanctioned a few convertible or blended races of sedans and ragtops through 1962.)

Greg Fielden succintly recapped the race in his book, Rumblin' Ragtops: The History of NASCAR's Fabulous Convertible Division:
The 45 year-old veteran, a part-time competitor on the popular ragtop circuit, finished over a lap ahead of runner-up Joe Lee Johnson. Roy Tyner came in third with the father-son team of Buck and Buddy Baker in fourth and fifth.

[Lee] Petty started fourth and moved into contention when pole sitter Joe Weatherly went out early with steering failure. ~ pp. 123-124
Less than a year later, Joe Lee Johnson of Cleveland, Tennessee won the inaugural World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway - easily the biggest win of his driving career. After a career that included two Grand National wins and two Convertible Series victories, Joe Lee took over ownership and promotion at Cleveland Speedway in Tennessee. Before his passing, he turned the track into a premier dirt track of the southeast.

In the rear view mirror of today's perspective, the race was chocked full of future NASCAR Hall of Famers - though many of them didn't have a HOF-caliber finish in that particular event.
  • Lee Petty - winner
  • Buck Baker - 4th
  • Bud Moore (car owner of Jack Smith) - 12th
  • Glen Wood - 13th
  • Ned Jarrett - 18th
  • Richard Petty - 19th
  • Joe Weatherly (NHOF nominee) - 20th
Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal via Google News Archive (p.4)
Greenville-Pickens Speedway (web, Twitter) continues to operate today with a full slate of late model hot shoes.

Also, despite conventional wisdom that CBS' airing of the 1979 Daytona 500 was the first "flag to flag" coverage of a NASCAR Cup race, it was actually ABC's 1971 Greenville 200 that has the distinction - 12 years after Lee Petty's ragtop win.


TMC
Edited July 31, 2014

July 31, 1951 - Lee Petty Rolls In Rochester

July 31, 1951: Driving a #42 Plymouth, Lee Petty wins a 200-lap, 100-mile race on the half-mile dirt track at Monroe County Fairgrounds in Rochester, NY. While the finishing order is documented, its unknown what Petty's margin of victory was over the rest of the field.

The race was originally scheduled for Friday, July 27. From Monday through Thursday of race week, promoter Ed Otto announced various drivers' names who planned to participate. In turn, the news was reported in the Rochester Democrat Chronicle.
 
Credit: Rochester Democrat Chronicle - July 23-26. 1951
Its unknown if the drivers truly did submit their entry forms in the last few days such that Otto had "news" for each day. The greater likelihood is that Otto did his job as a promoter by hoping to catch a potential ticket buyer's eye with the continual flow of "news" leading up to the race.

Ed Otto had a key role with NASCAR. He helped Bill France expand the fledgling Grand National series by promoting many races in northern states such as New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This article on speedtv.com notes:
Otto was a true pioneer of auto racing, bringing some of the greatest innovations the sport has ever known. The dapper promoter, whose hallmark greeting was “Hello, Sucker”, was the first to utilize television to broadcast races, the first to incorporate airplanes to transport race cars from one event to another and he encouraged the use of shoulder harnesses in race cars. However, it is possible that his greatest mark was left on NASCAR. As one of the few “outsiders” to be invited into NASCAR’s inner-circle, Otto joined the stock car racing organization’s original owners group as a silent partner with a 20 percent stake in 1949. In 1954 that share grew to 40 percent making him an equal partner with Bill France, Sr. Otto held that role until leaving NASCAR in 1963.

Among his many accomplishments with NASCAR, Otto was the first to take the organization “national”, out of its traditional Southern roots. He was the first to promote a NASCAR race out of the country (July 1, 1952 at Stamford Park, Niagara Falls, Canada) and the first to promote a NASCAR race with foreign cars (Langhorne (PA) Speedway, July 21, 1953). Otto promoted NASCAR’s first road racing event which was held on a temporary course laid out at the Linden (N.J.) Airport (June 13, 1954) and its longest race, a 12 hour endurance event also on the Linden course (August 22, 1954). He promoted “The King” Richard Petty’s first Cup race in 1958 and NASCAR’s first visit to Watkins Glen. The underappreciated legend also sat side-by-side with “Big Bill” France ... when a neck-to-neck finish demanded the two partners determine the first winner of the Daytona 500 in 1959.
Its suggested in this article previewing the race that a "field of nearly 50 is expected to race". Interestingly though, the paper only lists 39 names. Rounded to the nearest 50, I suppose there was an element of truth. For those interested in going, the prices seemed a bargain - $2.50 for a ticket plus free parking.

Credit: Rochester Democrat Chronicle - July 27. 1951
Unfortunately, Mother Nature overruled Ed Otto's promotional skills for the evening. After 58 of the 200 laps were completed, the rains began to fall ending the night for the twenty-three starters. Rather than resume the race at the point it was postponed, Otto announced the full race would be run on July 31st - and without qualifying.

Credit: Rochester Democrat Chronicle - July 28. 1951
For the last few decades, NASCAR has resumed rained-out races at the point the original one ended. And more recently, NASCAR has adopted a "next clear day" policy to return to a track as many days in a row as necessary to finish a rained-out or rained-postponed race.

In 1951, however, NASCAR wasn't quite so structured with its policies - or with its schedule and traveling logistics. The next race scheduled after Rochester's July 27th date was two days later at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway in North Carolina. So after driving an average of about 700 miles from the Carolinas to Rochester, the southern teams drove the same distance back home to race in Weaverville. Then following the race at A-W, they trekked back the 700 miles for the make-up date in Rochester - and of course had to drive home again when it was done.

 
Rather than qualify the cars a second time, a decision was made to have the drivers restart the race in the order in which they were running when the rains fell. Anyone who didn't return forfeited their spot, and the next driver moved up one.

Credit: Rochester Democrat Chronicle - July 30. 1951
Credit: Rochester Democrat Chronicle - July 31. 1951
Credit: Rochester Democrat Chronicle - July 31. 1951
As the leader of the race on July 27th, Fonty Flock started from the pole when it began anew on July 31st. He led the first half of the race before being sidelined with a broken sway bar and a wall slap. Lee led the remaining laps after Flock fell out of the event. 

The rest of the starting line-up including Lee's position is unknown. Based on the above article noting how the drivers were running when the red flag was shown, I believe the top five starters for the rescheduled event looked like this:
  1. Fonty Flock
  2. Frank Mundy
  3. Herb Thomas
  4. Frank Sprague
  5. Ronnie Kohler
George Siebekorn was running fifth when the race was called. He did not return for the make-up date, and he was never credited with a single Grand National start. Jack White was running sixth in the original race, but he too did not return on the 31st. Bill Rennoe and George Moffett were running 8th and 9th, respectively. But like Siebekorn, neither returned - and neither raced officially in any Grand National race.

Greg Fielden recapped the race in his book, Forty Years of Stock Car Racing - Vol. 1.
The Randleman NC Plymouth ace took the lead in the 102nd lap when leader Fonty Flock went behind the wall with a broken sway bar.

Jim Delaney crossed the finish line in second place but his Bob Osiecki-prepared Mercury was disqualified for being equipped with a non-stock cam shaft. Charles Gattalia was elevated to runner-up honors. Ronnie Kohler was credited with third, Don Bailey was fourth, and Pappy Hough took fifth. ~ p. 57
The 1951 season was only NASCAR's third for the Grand National series. Many of the drivers who eventually became the legends of the sport had not yet emerged on the scene - or chose not to make the trip to upstate New York. Many drivers such as Speedy Thompson, Gober Sosebee, Tim Flock, Billy and Bobby Myers, Joe Eubanks, Marshall Teague, and Jim Paschal raced at Asheville-Weaverville two days earlier. But only Petty, Fonty Flock, Herb Thomas, Frank Mundy and Lloyd Moore made the long haul from the south back to Rochester.

Credit: Rochester Democrat Chronicle - August 1. 1951
Petty earned $1,000 for his win. Second paid $700, and eighth place finisher Ted Chamberlain earned $100. Most of the remaining finishers took home $25. Many of the drivers and their limited crews drove about 3,000 miles over a seven-day period to begin and later finish the 100-mile Rochester race. And the only thing most had to show for their efforts was two Jacksons and a Lincoln. Hopefully Otto paid many of the drivers "show money" for making the haul not just once but twice.

France - with Otto's help - was beginning to grow his new sanctioning body. NASCAR modified ran all over the place, and a few stars were beginning to develop in NASCAR's Grand National series. Apparently the open wheel circuit didn't take too kindly to any of its drivers dabbling in stock cars. (The feelings were mutual as France wanted absolute loyalty from his drivers.) A couple of days after the race, the Democrat Chronicle previewed another upcoming race at the track. One of the featured drivers expected to race was Bill Holland. In a three-year run from 1947-1949, Holland won the Indy 500 once and finished second twice. But because he dared to also race in a few NASCAR Grand National events, AAA (the forerunner of USAC) kicked him out of its open wheel ranks.

Credit: Rochester Democrat Chronicle - August 2. 1951
In the end, however, the two parties apparently reconciled a bit. Holland returned to the Brickyard in 1953 for one final 500, and he raced a few more times in the Indy car series through 1953.

TMC 

Monday, July 29, 2013

July 29, 1973 - Petty Poaches Pocono

Throughout 2013, I've focused on blogging about Petty Enterprises wins by drivers other than Richard Petty. I figured I'd already given The King his due with my blog series about his 200 wins. But Richard also competed in a few races not sanctioned by NASCAR, and he won one of them back in 1973. Because the win isn't part of his 200-win GN/Cup tally, I didn't blog about it back then. So now - bonus edition time! A Petty Enterprises win - with Richard as the driver - but in a series other than NASCAR.

July 29, 1973: After qualifying second, Richard Petty wins the Acme SuperSaver 500 USAC stock car series race at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.

NASCAR's Winston Cup series had a couple of open weekends between its July 22nd race in Atlanta and August 12th at Talladega. So Petty took the opportunity to head north to race in the Poconos - perhaps even to enjoy a brief respite from the summer southern heat and humidity.

Other NASCAR regulars who made the trek with the Petty Enterprises included long-time Petty rival Bobby Allison and independent drivers Dick May, Bruce Jacobi, D.K.Ulrich, Frank Warren and H.B. Bailey. The race also featured several USAC drivers who occasionally dabbled in Cup racing including Super Tex himself - A.J. Foyt, Ramo Stott, Gordon Johncock, and Jim Hurtubise.

Bob Whitlow, former center for the NFL's Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons, started the race as well. Following the end of his football career, Whitlow built a #51 Dodge Charger and raced in about 20 USAC and NASCAR stock car events from 1973 through 1976.

In his book Pocono: NASCAR's Northern Invasion, author Joe Miegoc writes:
Petty took control in the Acme 500 in 1973, beating [Butch] Hartman in a close finish that saw Petty lead 124 of the 200 laps, yet earn $10,730, or about two-thirds of what Hartman received for winning the Pennsylvania 500 in 1971.

Hartman led 39 laps and [Roger] McCluskey, who finished third, led 24. Foyt, back after skipping the 1972 race, led the other 13 laps and finished seventh after starting from the pole. Ron Keselowsi, who came out of nowhere to win in 1974 in USAC's last stock-car gasp at Pocono, was 17th, with Bobby Allison, who would be the only NASCAR driver to also run an Indy car race at Pocono, finishing 25th. Gordon Johncock who would beat Rick Mears in 1982 in the closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history, ran this stock car race for Hoss Ellington and finished 34th, losing his brakes after just 34 laps.

Petty was the big draw, but among USAC officials, the welcome mat was not exactly out for the King.

Under the organization's rules, a driver or team had to be a USAC member and run the entire series to get a garage spot at any race. Without points in the series, you were an outsider.

And that included even Richard Petty.

"We weren't exactly welcome, not really," Petty said with a laugh in 2009. "When we got there, they had some garage area, and there were some of them that were still empty, but we didn't get one. They made us park out in a tent in the gravel area, work on the car behind the garage area."

Then [track owner Joe] Mattioli, who insists he didn't pay Petty any appearance money to run at Pocono before NASCAR officially ran a race there, put his foot down.

"I told them (USAC officials) if Richard Petty didn't run that race, there would be no race," said Mattioli, who also once faced down an ABC Sports official by telling him there would be no Schaefer 500 on Wide World of Sports if the Schaefer name couldn't be used. The ABC guys, while trying to avoid giving sponsors free advertising, buckled then too.

"The gentleman that owned the track (Mattioli) decided us out in the gravel wasn't going to work,' Petty said. "He told them guys that if Richard Petty did not get in the garage area, he was going to run them all out. So that pretty much took care of all of it. Once we got there and started talking to all the guys and such, we realized that, 'hey, it wasn't the drivers, the guys we were competing against. It was the officials.' But I think everybody got on their fanny and by the time it was time to race, everybody had come around.

"We came back the second year and we were welcomed with open arms."

And true to his heritage, Petty ruled that Acme race.

Oddly, it was held as a prelude to the Pennsylvania State Fair, which among others, featured Bob Hope and the Jackson 5, with a youngster named Michael singing lead.

The King and the later King of Pop at Pocono in one weekend. Strange indeed. ~ pp. 109-110
The King and Super Tex go at it during the race.

USAC regulars Hartman and McCluskey were left to battle it out for second. Hartman tried to hang tough with Petty near the end of the race, but it wasn't to be.

Photo courtesy of Russ Thompson
The starting line-up ... and the finishing order.

So once again in his career, The King got the opportunity to snuggle up to Miss Hurst Shifter, Linda Vaughn, in victory lane.

As was so often the case, The King was the class of the field. His NASCAR rival Allison was a non-factor. Foyt - the larger-than-life personality of various open-wheel racing series over the decades - couldn't beat Ol' Blue. And the cast of USAC regulars and NASCAR independents were no match for the 43. So like the old Loony Tunes cartoons, the Coyotes couldn't catch the Road Runner (or the Dodge Charger) even with an assist from Acme.

Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
The race was also featured in the November 1973 issue of Stock Car Racing magazine. Writer Richard Benyo was complimentary of the NASCAR and USAC drivers and the show put on for the fans. But he was very biting in his criticism of the USAC sanctioning body and the Pocono track management for the underwhelming way the race was promoted.

A year later - plus a few days - Petty returned to Pocono for its inaugural Winston Cup race. The King picked up where he left off in 1973 by winning the 1974 Purolator 500.

Edited 2013-08-19: Petty raced the same Charger three years later at Pocono and won the 1976 Purolator 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race.
✮   ✮   ✮   ✮   ✮

July 29, 1973 is also memorable for another racing event - but for a painful, gut-wrenching memory. As Petty raced in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania for a second time in his STP Dodge, fellow STP driver Roger Williamson of Great Britain suited up and belted in for his second career Formula 1 race. On the eighth lap of the Dutch Grand Prix in the Netherlands, Williamson's red March-Ford wrecked with David Purley, flipped, skidded a long distance, and caught fire - with Williamson trapped inside the car but not terribly injured.

As the flames began to engulf Williamson's car, Purley ran to help his friend and fellow driver. Track officials were pathetically inept and ill-prepared. A couple of Keystone Kop type characters jogged over to the car but really had no idea what to do or have any equipment to use even if they had been able to figure out what to do. Minutes passed before any sort of rescue truck arrived. Purley tried in vain to flip the car right side up by himself but got no assistance from the course workers. Williamson died while still trapped in his car - though interestingly not from the fire. Instead, he suffocated and must have endured an agonizing death on the track.

TMC

July 29, 1962 - Jim Paschal Banks Bristol

July 29, 1962: Driving a Petty Engineering #42 Plymouth, Jim Paschal wins the second annual Southeastern 500 at Bristol International Speedway. Teammates Richard Petty (43) and Bunkie Blackburn (41) finish third and eighth, respectively.

Source: NASCARTicketStubs.com
The race was very competitive. The top four finishers led their share of laps led. Junior Johnson, however, was the exception. Starting second, he led the most laps - 166 - but wrecked and finished 29th.

Despite Petty Plymouths finishing first, third, and eighth, the future for the team at Bristol would not turn out to be so bright. Paschal's win was a rare one for Petty Engineering at Bristol. Richard Petty won the 1967 Volunteer 500 and swept the 1975 races - the Southeastern 500 and Volunteer 500. Those three wins are all Petty Enterprises ever earned in about four decades of racing at Bristol.

Paschal's victory was the first by a Petty Engineering / Enterprises driver NOT named Petty. He'd go on to win eight more times and notch an additional 24 top five finishes in 65 starts for Petty Enterprises. With Lee's career coming to an end with his vicious wreck at Daytona in February 1961, Paschal was a great hire for the company to keep the wins, finishes, and money flowing until Richard truly established himself as a winning driver.

Greg Fielden notes in Forty Years of Stock Car Racing - Vol. 2:
Junior Johnson slugged his way to the front and led on two occasions for a total of 166 laps. However, his Pontiac popped a tire and he crammed head first into the retaining wall on lap 283, putting him out of the action.

Petty and Lorenzen fought for the lead after Johnson's departure and trackside witnesses said Lorenzen leaved heavily on Petty' s rear bumper. On lap 321, the Elmhust, IL Ford driver eased into the side of the Petty Plymouth and cut the left rear tire. The rub down sent Richard to the pits and he was unable to make a run for the lead for the remainder of the race.

Lorenzen led for a 91 lap stretch, but Paschal ran him down in the final 100 laps. After an exchange of pit stops, Lorenzen held a three second advantage which Paschal erased in a matter of eight laps. On lap 475, Paschal whipped his car in a four wheel drift coming off the fourth turn and spurted ahead of Lorenzen for the final pass of the race.

Joe Weatherly's sixth place finish left him 1,786 points ahead of Petty in the point standings. Little Joe almost did not start the race. Qualifying 13th, he refused to line his Pontiac up on the starting grid because of an ingrained superstition about the number 13. The promoter graciously allowed him to use the starting position designated as "12a" instead of 13. ~ p. 170
Driving a third Petty Plymouth, Bunkie Blackburn tangled with other cars and backed his car into the guardrail near pit road. After getting an assist from the wrecker, the Petty crew repaired the car. Blackburn returned to the race and still eked out a top 10 finish, nine laps down to the winner.


Photo and NSSN headline courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Source: Hendersonville, NC's The Times-News via Google News Archive
 The start of the race was delayed about a half-hour because of localized showers. This delay reminded me of my first trip to Bristol in the spring of 1986 for the Valleydale 500. Morning rains on race day also delayed the start of the 1986 event. The race got underway after a delayed start, and I was there to see Rusty Wallace win his first Winston Cup race.



TMC

Thursday, July 18, 2013

July 18, 1958 - Petty Scores In Canada Eh

July 18, 1958: Starting 3rd in his #42 Oldsmobile, Lee Petty wins the Jim Mideon 500 at the Canadian National Exposition in Toronto, Ontario Canada. The race was a dizzying 100 laps on the 1/3-mile track. The 33 miles took only 46 minutes to run.

Source: CanadianRacer.com
To date, the 1958 Toronto race remains one of only two NASCAR Grand National / Cup races held outside the United States. NASCAR's convertible series also ran a single event at C.N.E. - a 150-lap event in 1956.

Source: Toronto Public Library

I'm not really convinced the name of the race was the Jim Mideon 500. Though I've found a source or two to indicate that was the name, records of the race are pretty sketchy. Plus, the name doesn't make much sense. 100 laps - 33 miles - where is the relevance of 500? Besides, who the heck is Jim Mideon?

Rex White started from the pole in Julian Petty's Chevrolet with Jim Reed qualifying alongside. Lee and Cotton Owens comprised row 2. Shorty Rollins and Johnny Mackison timed 5th and 6th. And Richard Petty in his first NASCAR Grand National race qualified a respectable 7th in the 19-car field in a #142 Oldsmobile.

CNE 1950s - Source: TaylorOnHistory.com

In August 2012, Mark Aumann wrote an article about the race for NASCAR.com, a portion of which is excerpted below:
In 1952, Buddy Shuman won a 200-lapper on a half-time dirt track in Niagara Falls, Ontario, just across the United States border. That remained the only time NASCAR's Cup division had ventured outside of the contiguous 48, until promoters in Toronto decided to invite America's best stock-car drivers to headline the Jim Mideon 500 on July 18, 1958.

Because the record books don't show that specific race title, it's unclear who Jim Mideon was or what the 500 stood for, but according to newspaper reports, nearly 10,000 fans packed the grandstands that evening. After three heat races -- won by Shorty Rollins, Lee Petty and Cotton Owens -- and several shorter races involving local drivers, the feature race was a 100-lap event on a track White described as being nearly a carbon copy of Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"It was a track around a football field that was as flat as it could be, in a big stadium with a huge crowd," White said. "They were very enthusiastic fans. It was quite interesting to go there and race, I thought. It was almost identical to Bowman Gray, only it was a little bigger. But it was about the same width. It was very narrow and passing was a hard thing to do." What complicated matters was a heavy rain that occurred between qualifying and the race. Without the benefit of jet dryers, NASCAR officials had to dry the track as best they could -- and eventually decided to go ahead and start the race even though it was still very damp.The record book shows that White led the first 71 laps, but he believes it was Owens who was the class of the field early.

In a race which took all of 46 minutes to run, Petty led the final 28 laps and took home the first-place purse of $575. And the whole thing might have been relegated to the dust bin of history if not for one interesting fact: it was Richard Petty's Cup debut.

Having just turned 21 that summer, Richard had driven in a Convertible race the week before. So Lee loaded up a well-worn Oldsmobile backup car, put a "1" in the front of the No. 42 and towed both cars to Canada.

"Richard was just barely old enough to go racing," White said. "I don't remember exactly too much but Richard done pretty good for his first time out. For as long as Richard had been around the sport, all he had to do is get in the car and turn the steering wheel. He already had the training for years, watching his dad. It made it a lot easier for him starting out than a normal young kid."

Well, "pretty good" might be stretching the truth just a bit. The future King's first race was definitely memorable, but not necessarily in a good way. His father, in a hurry to catch the leader, became impatient with the driver of the slower No. 142 Olds and eventually knocked him into the wall and out of the race after 55 laps.
A year ago as my 200 Wins blog series was in the home stretch, I blogged about theToronto race. Aumann's article was posted about a month after mine. I wish the dates had been reversed so I could have had additional reference material!

Track and grandstands 1956 - source: TaylorOnHistory.com

The race didn't merit a lot of reporting back in the deep south - or even in Toronto itself apparently. A 33-mile race - north of the border? Fuhgetaboutit. However, I did manage to find one quip about the race appended to a brief column about Jim Reed's victory in Buffalo the day after.

Source: Spartanburg Herald Journal via Google News Archive
Though not a Petty win, the Buffalo race does include a Petty-related trivia nugget. Twice in NASCAR's history has the pole speed been slower than the average race speed. The first time was in 1955 at Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, NY when Lee Petty's race speed was about 4 MPH greater than his pole-winning speed. The second time was in the 1958 Buffalo race. Reed's 48 MPH average race speed was 10 MPH faster than Rex White's pole speed of 38 MPH - apparently the slowest pole speed for a NASCAR GN / Cup race. As he did the night before in Toronto, White raced a Chevrolet fielded by ... Lee's brother, Julian Petty.

NASCAR's top series didn't return to Toronto, but racing continued at CNE. The local guys ran regularly at least through the mid-60s as best I can tell. Racing eventually faded away, but the CNE stadium continued to host events such as concerts and an Evel Knievel jump over 13 Mack trucks in 1974.

Source: The Telegraph
In the mid 70s, the stadium was re-purposed into an awkwardly constructed, multi-sport facility. The covered grandstand became sideline seats for Canadian football as well as the outfield seats for Major League Baseball's expansion team, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays played here a bit before moving to the Skydome.

TMC

Monday, July 15, 2013

July 15: A Jersey Girl Birthday & Morristown Memories

July 15th and its the birthday of ... Schaefer Hall of Famer Kuzzin Kari!

July 15th also has a nice racing legacy including...
  • The 1969 Maryland 300 in Beltsville, MD won by Richard Petty
  • The 1971 Islip 250 near Long Island, NY also won by Richard Petty
  • The 1978 Nashville 420 that was flat dominated by Cale Yarborough to sweep the two Nashville races that season. Also, Petty raced his ill-fated Dodge Magnum. After Nashville, The King raced the Dodge only six more times before switching over to Chevrolet.

Photo courtesy of Russ Thompson
Photo courtesy of Russ Thompson

But with Kuzzin Kari being an original Jersey girl, I thought I'd focus on July 15th as the anniversary of the final NASCAR Grand National race run at Morristown Speedway in New Jersey. The big cars were scheduled to race 200-laps, 100-miles on the track's half-mile, dirt surface. Georgia's Tim Flock won the pole and the race in his #300 Carl Kiekaefer Chrysler.

In his book, Forty Years of Stock Car Racing, Greg Fielden summarizes the storylines of the race:
Tim Flock, the lanky Atlanta star, proved its just as profitable to be lucky as it is to be good as he rode a wave of good fortune to win the 100-mile race at Morristown Speedway.

Flock led the first 150 laps, but made a pit stop to correct a badly worn right front tire and lost two and half laps in the process. Junior Johnson picked up first place and led for 40 laps. The Atlanta flash, however, was charging hard to make up the deficit, but it appeared that he was too late. Then the lucky break ... misfortune struck the Johnson Olds as a tire blew with the checkered flag in sight. Tim flew by as Johnson headed for the pits. Johnson wound up fourth, four laps behind the winner.

Lee Petty finished second to Flock, two laps back. [Dave] Terrel was third, with [Bobby] Johns and Jim Reed rounding out the top five.

A crowd of 9,000 jammed the grandstands to watch Flock average 58.092 mph on the half-mile dirt track. ~ pp. 188-189
Nine thousand people? By executive order, I declare a new Schaefer Hall of Fame goal - to have 9,000 Schaefer HOF and Ring of Honor members. We already have nine Schaefer HOFers. So we're umm, err, well, we're .10 percent there - but going in the right direction!

Tim Flock and Lee Petty pretty much had Morristown figured out. The Grand National series ran 5 races at the half-mile track from 1951 through 1955. Look at these finishes:
  • 1951 - Tim Flock wins pole and race, Lee Petty 2nd in the race
  • 1952 - Lee starts 3rd and wins the race, Flock qualifies and finishes 2nd
  • 1953 - Lee 3rd, Flock not entered
  • 1954 - Lee 6th, Flock not entered
  • 1955 - Tim Flock wins pole and race, Lee Petty 2nd in the race
Adding in another Petty trivia nugget for the 1955 race, as I try to do as often as possible, Bob Welborn started third and finished eighth in a Chevrolet fielded by Julian Petty.

So while reflecting on a couple of The King's 200 wins, the ending of his relationship with Dodge, Cale' blistering of the competition at Nashville, and NASCAR's legendary Tim Flock's win in the Garden State, the Schaefer Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor wish fellow Schaefer HOFer Kuzzin Kari ...

Happy Birthday! SCHA-LOOT!!

Schaefer HOF entrant #9 - Kuzzin Kari
TMC

Thursday, July 11, 2013

July 11, 1954 - Lee Petty Grabs Grand Rapids

July 11, 1954: Lee Petty wins his fifteenth career race in a 200-lap, 100-mile race on the half-mile, dirt Grand River Speedrome in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Herb Thomas apparently started on the pole; however, the rest of the starting line-up and lap leaders are unknown.

The Speedrome hosted two NASCAR Grand National races. The first in 1951 was won by Marshall Teague, and Papa Lee pocketed the second and last one three years later.

Credit: Retro Rockets
I Googled the dickens out of the interwebs for information about the race and speedway. I knew next to nothing about the racing history of Grand Rapids other than it is the home of former NASCAR driver, Johnny Benson, Jr.
Source: Wikipedia
After searching high and low, the only photo from the race I was able to find was this one of Walt Flinchum. Yep, that Walt Flinchum (/sarcasm). His eighth place finish at the Speedrome was the tops of his single-season, eight-race GN career.


While I found little to nothing about the 1954 race, I did land upon the site for the Speedrome Historical Society that features a nice write-up of the history of the track. One of the trivia nuggets I gleaned was that the track's announcer for many years was Bud Lindemann. Bud later became the host of a syndicated 'magazine' show called Car & Track that ran from the late 1960s through the mid 1970s. A few years ago, the show gained a new set of fans when Dale Earnhardt Jr. repackaged some of the old content into his Speed Channel series, Back In The Day.

Also, I found this video clip with highlights from the 1951 race. Although the coverage isn't from Lee's winning effort in 1954, the clip does provide great context for the track and the cars and racing conditions of the era.


TMC

July 11, 1952 - Lee Petty Mops Up Morristown

July 11, 1952: Starting third, Lee Petty wins a 200-lap, 100-mile race on the half-mile, dirt Morristown Speedway in New Jersey. Petty's win was his first in almost a year - with the previous one coming in Rochester, NY on July 31, 1951.

Morristown hosted five NASCAR Grand National races. Tim Flock won the first one in 1951 and the last one in 1955. Lee, Dick Rathman, and Buck Baker won the other three.


The race was the last of 11 career Grand National starts for trailblazing woman driver Louise Smith. She started and finished 30th in the 32-car field. In the book Girls Go Racing, author Dani Ben-Ari writes:
Known as the "First Lady of Racing", Louise Smith had a relatively short career, racing from 1949-1952. Yet during that time she managed to win 38 races in numerous events including late models, NASCAR modified (which accounted for 28 of those victories), midgets and sportsman.

Born on July 31, 1916 in Barnesville, GA, Louise became a racecar driver only because she became bored while watching her first event at the Daytona Beach and Road Course in 1949. It was then she decided to participate instead of remaining a spectator. She drove her family's brand new Ford coupe, which she promptly wrecked. But it was enough to get her into the record books as part of the first female trio to compete together in a NASCAR event, along with Ethel Mobley and Sara Christian whom she also raced with at Langley Speedway that same year. Her last race was held at Morristown Speedway.

Although Louise stopped racing in 1952, she returned to the sport nineteen years later as the owner for several drivers, including Ronnie Thomas in 1978... She passed away at the age of 90 on March 4, 2006. ~ pp. 13-14
Regarding the race, Greg Fielden writes in Forty Years of Stock Car Racing - Vol. 1:
Petty scampered past Tim Flock in the 125th lap and led the rest of the way. As he pushed his Plymouth past Flock's Hudson, he waved "bye bye" to his rival and sped uncontested to the $1,000 top prize.

Flock finished second and Neil Cole third. Ralph Liguori ran a strong race to finish fourth, Ronnie Kohler came in fifth.

Herb Thomas led the first 49 laps after winning the pole position. After losing the lead to Flock, he was forced into the wall by a slow car. Thomas lost a lap in the incident, but came on like gangbusters. He made up the lost lap and was closing in on the leader when a wheel bearing burned out after 123 laps. As Thomas limped to the pit area, Petty zipped past Flock and set sail. ~ pp. 91-92
Driver Duke Keller started only one GN race - the 1952 one at Morristown. But he certainly had a memorable race, and he proved he deserved his "Duke" nickname. Fielden writes:
Duke Keller flipped his Henry J in the fourth lap. The roof was mashed onto the steering wheel, but Keller was able to climb out unhurt. He beat and banged on the roof, raised it enough distance to get back in the car and drove for two more laps. A badly bent chassis forced him out after six laps. ~ p. 92
Until reading Fielden's recap of the race, I'd never heard of the short-lived Henry J. I suppose Keller's car resembled this street version.


TMC

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July 10 - Uncle Dave and Winning Red

July 10th and its the birthday of ... Schaefer Hall of Famer Uncle Dave!

July 10th is also the anniversary of the second ever NASCAR Strictly Stock race in 1949. (A year later, the series was renamed the NASCAR Grand National series.) The race was the first "premier series" event sanctioned by the newly-founded National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing on Daytona Beach's famed beach and road course.

Gober Sosebee from the moonshining epicenter of Dawson County, Georgia won the pole for the 28-car field. He dominated the race by leading 34 of the 40 laps on the 4+ mile course along the Atlantic Ocean and State Highway A1A.
In golf, the old saying is drive for show but putt for dough. In racing, a similar adage is it only matters who leads the last lap not the first. Although Sosebee led the majority of laps, he lost a tire and couldn't close the sale. Red Byron took the lead with six to go and led the rest of the way.

Credit: Sorrentolens Blog
Like Uncle Dave, Byron was an army vet. Unlike Uncle Dave, Byron is credited for suggesting the NASCAR name and was its first Strictly Stock champion. Last fall, Ryan McGee wrote a terrific piece about Red Byron for ESPN.com that covered his military service, involvement with the formation of NASCAR and his racing career.

Source: ESPN.com
As a Petty fan, I found it interesting Lee Petty didn't enter the event. Lee raced (and wrecked) a borrowed Buick in the series' inaugural race at Charlotte about a month earlier. And he raced his own #42 Plymouth in the series third race in Hillsboro, NC about a month later. But for whatever reason (probably financial), Lee and his fledgling team stayed in Level Cross rather than make the trip to the beach.

From the time this blog was started about 4 years ago, I've included a sidebar link to a recommended book, Driving With The Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR, by Neal Thompson. The book covers the convergence of southern moonshining and the invention of the automobile. Eventually, the two found their way to countless racing bullrings around the country. Thompson writes about the 1949 Daytona Beach race:
On the afternoon of July 9, 1949, Vogt had the Olds 88 ready and waiting for Byron to tow to Daytona Beach for the next day's race, the 166-milers that would be the second of NASCAR's eight strictly stock races that year.

Byron first squeezed in a Saturday night midget race at Atlanta's Peach Bowl, which he won. He then drove all night and reach Daytona a few hours before race time.

Despite some vocal complaints form others drivers, France allowed three women to race: Sara Christian, Ethel Flock Mobley, and Louise Smith. France hoped the prospect of three women battling crusty moonshiner/racers on the beach, not to mention four Flock siblings on the same track, would draw a record crowd. But rainy weather caused a sparse showing of five thousand.
UDR: Never a fan of rain at the races
Dawsonsville's Gober Sosebee led the early laps, with Tim Flock and Red Byron stalking from behind. Louise Smith flipped her Ford in the chopped-up and rutted north turn, landing upside down and dangling from her seat belt. A dozen fans ran to her aid, but Smith insisted she wasn't hurt and asked if they'd help roll her back over so she could go back in the race. Smith stayed put in the driver's seat while the men flipped her car back onto its wheels, and she took off. Sosebee held the lead until losing a tire with six laps to go. It gave Byron the perfect opening to jump into the lead.

Byron was now a master of the complicated beach course. He knew how to drive at the surf's edge, so seawater could mist up and cool his brakes, but not too close. He knew, when his windshield became gauzy and opaque with salt spray, to eyeball the telephone poles of highway A1A to help him stay on the road. He knew how to shoulder his car into the turns, to broadslide thorough the knotting, slurried arcs, trusting [Red] Vogt's reinforced wheels to withstand the pressure. With no bucket seats in his strictly stock car, he had to hold tight to the steering wheel to keep from sliding into the passenger seat.

He and his Olds 88 kept a steady pace for the final twenty-five miles, and Byron comfortably crossed the finish line nearly two miles ahead of Tim Flock for his fourth Daytona victory, more than any other driver in the stock car racing's brief history.

Ethel Flock Mobley, driving with her AM radio blasting throughout the race, finished an impressive eleventh - ahead of brothers Bob and Fonty. Sara Christian finished eighteenth, and Louise Smith, after her flip, came in second to last.

Byron's win was a first for a General Motors car in a NASCAR race. In fact, the top four finishers were all Oldsmobiles. A Ford didn't even finish among the top ten, lost in a crowd of Chryslers, Mercurys, Hudsons, Cadillacs, and Buicks. ~ pp. 298-301
Credit: Sorrentolens Blog
Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal
L to R: SROH member 200WINZ, NASCAR HOF crew chief Dale Inman, Uncle Dave
So while thinking of watching Gober slide his car through the sandy turns as Red waited patiently behind him, the Schaefer Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor wish fellow Schaefer brutha Uncle Dave...

Happy Birthday! SCHA-LOOT!!

SHOF entrant number 5: Uncle Dave

TMC