Thursday, July 4, 2013

July 4, 1953 - Lee Petty hits Piedmont Payday

July 4, 1953: Lee Petty wins the inaugural NASCAR Grand National race at Piedmont Interstate Fairground track in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

After finishing 3rd at Monroe County Fairgrounds in Rochester, NY on July 3rd, Lee DROVE approximately 860 miles overnight from New York to Spartanburg. (Rochester's winner Herb Thomas,  second place Dick Rathman, and Tim Flock also made the trek - though not necessarily by the same mode of transportation.)

Lee likely drove U.S. highway 220 as interstates weren't established yet in 1953.

In his book, Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay and Big Bill France, Daniel Pierce writes (emphasis is mine):
While many fans envied the life of the racer, barnstorming could a be a grueling, and even dangerous, experience. Many of the top drivers arrived at races a few days early in order to help promote the event in exchange for room and board and $100 to $200. As Tim Flock remembered, "You would do anything for a promoter." There seemed to be little planning of the NASCAR Grand National schedule, and races a few days apart could be separated by hundreds of miles, forcing drives to haul their cars overnight, make repairs and prepare the car, catch a nap, and then race. After a July 3, 1953, race at the Monroe County Fairgrounds in Rochester, New York, Herb Thomas and Tim Flock towed their Hudsons through the night so that they could drive in a July 4 race at the Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds in Spartanburg, South Carolina.  Arriving at the track in the early afternoon, the two lay down in the shade of their cars in the infield to get some sleep before the 8 PM race. A man hired by Champion Spark Plugs to post signs along the fence failed to notice the two sleeping drivers and backed his truck onto Flock's head. The driver panicked and left the truck sitting there, and Thomas and six highway patrolmen had to lift the truck off Flock. Flock was rushed to the hospital and amazingly suffered no long-term damage. The accident did keep him out of the next six races and possibly cost him that year's title. ~ pp. 151-152
Perry Allen Wood recaps the particulars of the race in his book, Silent Speedways of the Carolinas:
Fun with Flocks was not over. No doubt bolstered by his brother's calamity and who knows what else, Fonty Flock went out and qualified second in the field of 19. Then NASCAR said he and pole-sitter Buck Baker made their runs too late and both had to start at the rear of the field. Baker retreated and strapped himself in while Fonty had a conniption, maybe two. Probably he had been at Spartanburg General watching over Timothy, who had a major headache. Whatever the reason, Font was going home before going to the rear. He demanded second spot. Fonty stood out on the track in front of the grid and made them drive around him. No doubt, all 18 had something to say as they rolled past. However, Truman Fontello Flock, one of the real showmen in all of racing history, decided to give the crowd what they came to see. He fired up the Frank Christian-owned, Red Vogt-wrenched, 1953 Hudson 14 and decided to show 'em what the Flock Boys were all about. When Fonty picked up shotgun on the field, Official Start Alvin Hawkins waved the green and the Fairgrounds' 2,200 miles of Grand National history was underway. Poleman by default Curtis Turner put his Olds out front and stayed until he had to make two long stops just before halfway and Herb Thomas' Smokey Yunick Hudson led. Thomas won the night before in Rochester. On lap 174, Herb pitted for fuel and Buck took over first, even after being penalized to the rear. Five laps later, he had to gas up, too, and Lee Petty in a '53 Dodge led the final 21 circuits for his 11th career win. ~ p. 6
Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal via Google News Archive
TMC

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