Thursday, July 11, 2013

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.


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