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

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