Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Racing on Christmas Day

A couple of years ago, a friend asked if I knew of any races on Christmas Day. To the best of my knowledge NASCAR has never run a Strictly Stock, Grand National or Cup race on December 25th. Nor have I found anything to suggest other divisions such as NASCAR's sportsman/beer/insurance/cable TV series, trucks, or modifieds; ARCA; or USAC/CART/Indy Car opted to race on Christmas Day. But I finally found some information about a track bold enough to host racing on that day. 

A handful of racing facilities are held in reverence by fans. Indianapolis, Daytona, Darlington, Syracuse, Ascot Park. The first three still hold races. The latter two do not. The famed dirt Ascot Park Speedway opened in the 1950s, and the track lasted 30+ years until closing in 1990.

But J.C. Agajanian's legendary dirt track wasn't the first LA area race track known as Ascot Park. From what I can tell, the original Ascot Park raceway opened as a horse racing facility. Its debut races were held on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1903.

Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 24, 1903
The track was sold in 1908 with plans to convert it immediately to an auto racing facility. Though the track isn't the same Ascot Park in Gardena, the original track did host racing in the early 1900s - including more than one event on Christmas Day. The new owners initally planned to create the first Dover or Bristol by replacing the dirt surface with concrete. From what I can tell, however, this did not happen.

Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 2, 1908
Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 2, 1908
The new promoters wasted no time getting ready for the new direction of the track. A two-day race program was scheduled for the two days after Christmas, December 26-27, 1908. That then set the stage for a few Christmas Day races over the next few years.

A two-day race program was set for Saturday-Sunday, December 25-26, 1909. Famed speedster, Barney Oldfield, arrived in LA via train with his car having been shipped to port for him to race. Oldfield was a genuine racer who barnstormed around the country racing wherever and whoever. He was fast - and he was extremely confident. Think Kyle Busch confident.

Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 25, 1909
As expected, Oldfield won the Christmas Day event.

Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 26, 1909
Three years later, Oldfield returned to Ascot Park to race on December 26, 2014. Before doing so, however, he participated in a match race on Christmas Day at Santa Ana Race Track - against an airplane!

The race between Oldfield's Fiat Cyclone and Mickey McGuire in an airplane was one of several match races in which Oldfield participated that year from coast to coast. From what I can gather, Ol' Barn got a lot of show money to put butts in the seats.

Source: Santa Ana Register - December 17, 1914 
Source: Santa Ana Register - December 24, 1914 
Source: Santa Ana Register - December 26, 1914 
Though this photo from Wikipedia and short video clip aren't from the Santa Ana "race", they provide a good idea of the excitement that the match race surely delivered to the fans.

Wikipedia / Library of Congress
Between the Christmas Day races in 1909 and 1914, Oldfield also returned to the sands of Daytona Beach where he made a record speed run in his Lightning Benz in March 2010.

For years, the section coming out of turn 4 at Daytona International Speedway was known as Oldfield. With the new stands installed as part of the Daytona Rising project, I'm not sure sure if the section names will remain. But for ages, folks in Oldfield got the first look at the field as they rumbled out of turn 4 and down the front straightaway.

Ascot Park again hosted racing on Christmas Day 1916 - albeit without Oldfield. Though the superstar wasn't in the field - and no airplanes raced - the fans still got their thrills.

Earl Cooper, Wilbur D'Alene, and Eddie Pullen were slated to race in a 50-lap match race. Cooper won the race, and D'Alene went for a crazy ride on lap 2. Fortunately, he wasn't seriously injured. D'Alene was even able to pen an article for the LA Herald about his accident - and could even laugh about how lucky he was. However, he did decline to run #13 in the future. Hmm, a precedent to be set for almost all future racers?

From what little I've learned, D'Alene was a wild and crazy guy. Perhaps he could have held himself well against the likes of drivers such as Curtis Turner, Tiny Lund, Eddie Sachs or Jabe Thomas.

Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 23, 1916
Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 26, 1916
Source: Los Angeles Herald - December 26, 1916
Know about additional Christmas Day races? If so, leave a comment below, and I'll do what I can about learning more about them.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Why I Wonder -or- I Wonder Why

With Friday night's awards banquet in Las Vegas completed, another NASCAR season has now officially come and gone. On the Cup side of things, Kyle Busch is the undisputed champion. Many have lined up on both sides of the debate. Some have articulated their positions directly, passionately and with limited bias. Some have defended their positions with as much tact as a rabid, inbred dog frothing at the mouth.

I'm not going to use this post to explain why I think Kyle is a deserving champion. But with the season now concluded, I am going to use it to ask WHY? about so many other things I continually see on social media.

Race tracks of days gone by

Why do folks constantly ask for a return of NASCAR to North Wilkesboro and Rockingham? Both tracks hosted a ton of memorable races over the decades, and I understand the romanticized relationship with those tracks from the past. Many were disappointed at the time the dates were pulled from the tracks - and remain hurt or even angry today (even those who never attended or watched a live race at either track).

But Wilkesboro has been gone since 1996 and The Rock since 2004. Both tracks are in extremely poor condition. The practicality for a return to either track at this point simply isn't there.
  • The current owners of Wilkesboro aren't interested in renovating the facility.
  • The current owner of Rockingham has far too many financial issues to reasonably expect any additional racing there.
  • The costs for either track to finance an ownership change plus restoration and modernization efforts are just about too exorbitant. 
  • NASCAR and its sponsors would not get many marketing benefits by returning to those two markets at this time. 
So as folks continue to propose a return to either of these tracks as a way of restoring NASCAR to its glory days, I have to ask WHY? 

To a lesser degree, many clamor for the return of NASCAR to Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway. As someone who grew up at the place, I have a real fondness for the track. Multiple financial issues and short-sighted visions by city leaders resulted in the track's inability to keep up.

Could NASCAR return to Nashville at some point? The place has been like a cat and has burned through a few of its nine lives. So a return by NASCAR is possible. If NASCAR did return, however, the racing would likely be limited to K&N East, trucks or at best a stand-alone Xfinity race. Cup though? Never again. So when folks say a Cup return to Nashville should happen, I ask WHY?

Why is it They will always fund the solution?

Many reference a simple minded approach to improving racing by suggesting ill-defined pronouns or generic references to corporate NASCAR bankroll various initiatives or exert inappropriate influence over rules.
  • They should go back to Wilkesboro.
  • They should rotate the All Star Race to different tracks.
  • NASCAR should bring back ....
  • NASCAR just wants "X" to win (or lose) - Dale Jr., Toyota, Danica, etc.
I have to ask - who is they? My hunch is the use of the pronoun simply covers for the lack of a well thought idea and to pitch the spending of someone else's money. Many have no comprehension of basic financing, investing or operating needs to operate a business - much less one in the volatile world of motorsports. And for whatever reason, many simply assume they can afford to lose money. After all, they just write it off.

Television Contracts

"TV is stupid for putting races on FS1 and NBC Sports Network. I don't get either of them." Some variety of those statements appear frequently in my timeline. Here's a hint: Perhaps if you don't have those channels on your cable tier, you'll call your cable provider to request them. Lots of calls may lead your cable provider to add them as choices. Or perhaps you'll be motivated enough to pony up extra dollars per month to move to the higher end cable package.

If either play works, the cable companies, FOX and NBC increase their viewers. With an increase in viewers, the stations can then increase their rates sold to advertising sponsors. If the plays don't work, then the extra revenue isn't earned. Bottom line...

Engagement with the media

I shake my head in awe as I read tweets from folk to various members of the media. Stating a position or asking a fair question - OK. But WHY must so many tweet such lunacy as the following to folks such as Ryan McGee, Tom Jensen, Jeff Gluck, Bob Pockrass, Jenna Fryar, etc.:
  • What time does race begin?
  • Will they complete the race before the rain arrives?
  • Who is taking over the X car next year?
Please, please, please. Take advantage of the various search engines made available to you free of charge. I don't endorse any particular one. It's safe to say, however, most will return the info you need - or at least keep you occupied long enough to stay off my timeline.

Why should you be entitled to engagement?

For reasons I simply cannot explain, many folks feel compelled to tweet drivers and others in racing asking for a re-tweet or shout-out simply because they're having a birthday, anniversary or other event deemed significant to them. The pattern has become an epidemic. WHY should a driver care - or any of the rest of us for that matter?

I try to adhere to three basic principles when using Twitter: have fun, be relevant and don't troll. To their credit, these folks aren't trolling the drivers - at least in an ugly way. I suppose they consider their request as fun. But they dang sure aren't being relevant. I just don't understand.

Hold Your S & X 

Rick Hendrick entered NASCAR as a car owner in 1984 - more than thirty years ago.

Yet I still see folks spell and say his last name as Hendricks or even Hendrix. WHY? The last name is singular - not plural. And "Mr. H" (another WHY?) has nothing in common with Jimi - except Hendrix played guitar and Hendrick collects them.

I especially like the last one.
Not only is "Hendricks" misspelled - but so is "Gordan" - twice.
My own personal and random rants
  • Why does Sprint and Coors Light insist on having their trophy girls in firesuits in victory lane and particularly away from the track? I get it. They want maximum viewable signage for their logos. But it seems the marketing folks could do so with screen printed apparel rather than a firesuit. I realize the hot pants and white boot days of Miss Winston and Linda "Miss Hurst Shifter" Vaughn are gone, but the forcing of Miss Sprint Cup into a firesuit seems pretty silly - particularly in settings when the risk of fire is zero percent.
  • Why does yelling "Shotgun!" entitle you to a ride in the front seat next to the driver - yet in racing "shotgun on the field" means a driver starts all the way at the back?
  • Why do people type "should of" rather than "should've"?
Look, it's OK to criticize NASCAR. It's OK to be frustrated with the current state of racing. But if you truly have enjoyed it in the past and would like to continue to do so in the future, be constructive with your suggestions and ideas. Take the Jim Rome approach: have a take and don't suck.

See you in 2016.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

November 21, 1971 - Wilkes 400

The next-to-last race of the 1971 season for NASCAR's Grand National drivers was the Wilkes 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway on November 21. The race was originally scheduled for September 19th.

As the end of 1971 season drew near, the drivers were competing in the first season under the branding of the Winston Cup Grand National Series.

To help fill the field at Wilkesboro, NASCAR allowed cars from its Grand American division to participate in the Cup race. This decision meant the full-size Cup cars would race alongside Camaros, Firebirds and Mustangs from the GA series.

The Grand American cars were lighter and smaller, and many believed they had an advantage on the short tracks. As an offset, the GA teams were required to use narrower tires and only allowed three crew members over the wall on a pit stop.

Source: Danville Register
Chargin' Charlie Glotzbach won the pole in qualifying driving a full-size, Richard Howard-owned Chevrolet. Rain arrived on race day, however, forcing a postponement until Halloween, October 31.

As NASCAR and track officials scrambled to find a replacement date, questions remained about what do about the qualifying order that was already set.

Once the new date was set and communicated, the decision was made to scrap the September qualifying and hold a "do over" session. When the cars returned in late October, Glotzbach picked up where he'd left off in September. He again snagged the pole in the Howard-owned, Junior Johnson-prepared Chevy.

Remarkably after Glotzbach's second top qualifying run at the track in six weeks, rains arrived yet again. The star-crossed race was postponed a second time until November 21.

Finally, the weather cooperated on the third attempt. Fortunately the rains stayed away, and qualifying and the race were completed in their entirety.

The qualifying times were tossed after the first attempt at the race in September. After the October postponement, drivers and teams were given an option in November: stand on the October time or qualify a third time.

Initially, Glotzbach and Junior Johnson weren't on the same page. Eventually they agreed to qualify a third time rather than risk losing the pole to a quicker lap. And once again, the #3 Chevy (a white one - not a black one) won the pole meaning he ran the quickest lap in three different sessions in three different months to finally start the race P1.

The second place starter was Richard Petty in his full-size Plymouth with third going to Bobby Allison in a full-size Ford. Richard Brown and Dave Marcis rounded out the top five starters - both in GN cars. The highest qualifying Grand American entrant was Tiny Lund who started sixth in his a Ronnie Hopkins-owned Camaro.

Source: Sumter Daily Item via Google News Archive
Though the rains did not return, early winter temps did. It would be a cold, windy, fall day when the drivers finally took the green. Glotzbach led the first 41 laps before yielding to Bobby Allison for six laps. Then Petty went to the point where he remained until lap 74.

The next few laps saw a tussle between Allison and Tiny Lund with each taking a brief turn out front. On lap 79, however, Ol' Blue returned to the front. Petty put his Plymouth out front again and began to pull away as he frequently did at Wilkesboro.

Credit to Don Hunter, courtesy of
With only 50 laps to go, however, Petty's Hemi inexplicably broke a valve spring while holding a two-lap lead. He was able to continue, but his lap times slowed dramatically. And the field was in hot pursuit.

On lap 360, Glotzbach caught Petty's ailing Plymouth to take over the top spot after having unlapped himself. But while looking out his windshield, he also had to keep an eye on his mirror. Tiny Lund, who at one point had fallen back by four laps to the leader, had made up his laps and was pushing his Camaro towards the front.

With five laps to go, Tiny shoved his #55 Pepsi Camaro by Glotzbach and took the checkered flag after building a six second advantage.

Credit to Don Hunter, courtesy of
Tiny reveled in the victory and quickly brushed off the criticism by some who claimed the smaller Camaro had a distinct advantage. Junior Johnson noted after the race a piece of Glotzbach's rear-end suspension broke with 10 to go. If another few laps had been needed, Charlie would probably have lost the right rear wheel. Instead, he was fortunate to end up with his second place finish. The King salvaged a third place finish even after the disappointment of losing what seemed to be a book-it win.

The victory was Tiny's last of five career Grand National wins. NASCAR's record books reflect Lund's Wilkesboro win in his Grand American Camaro as a GN / Cup victory. Interestingly, however, Bobby Allison's win at Bowman Gray in a Grand American Mustang in July 1971 is not credited as a GN / Cup win.

Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Three weeks later, the 1971 season concluded at the short-lived Texas World Speedway. With the first ever Winston Cup title secured at Richmond the week before Wilkesboro, the 43 Plymouth did at Texas what it often did so well most everywhere else: win.


Friday, November 20, 2015

November 20, 1977 - LA Times 500

From 1974 through 1980, NASCAR ended its Winston Cup Series schedule at the 2-1/2 mile Ontario Motor Speedway. The southern California speedway was built as a twin of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Indy had been - and it remains - a racing institution. Ontario was a west coast track ahead of its time. The track faced steep challenges with relatively low attendance and troubled finances, and it was perched on real estate that became much more valuable as re-developed commercial property than as a race track.

Before its demise in 1981, however, OMS hosted some solid races. One of those events was the 1977 Los Angeles Times 500, the season-ender for the Cup series.

The King - Richard Petty - nabbed the pole in his famed #43 STP Dodge Charger. Though no one could have predicted it at the time, Petty's top starting spot was the next-to-last of his career. His earned his final career top qualifying spot in August 1979 at Bristol's second ever night race.

Other than his Petty Blue Plymouths of 1966-67, the 1974 body style Charger was perhaps Petty's best race car. When Petty drove onto Ontario's surface, it would be the next to last time the Charger raced. The Level Cross bunch prep'd the car just one more time for a Cup ride in the 1978 season-opener at Riverside International Raceway road course.

Neil Bonnett plunked a second Dodge Charger alongside Petty on the front row. He was racing the #5 Jim Stacy Charger. For many years, the team was owned by insurance businessman Nord Krauskopf; was sponsored by K&K Insurance; won races with drivers such as Bobby Isaac, Buddy Baker and Dave Marcis; and sported #71.

Stacy bought the team in the off season between the end of 1976 and beginning of 1977. Marcis was not re-signed, and Bonnett was given the opportunity to race the car. Stacy continued to use #71 in the early part of the season. At mid-season, he changed to number 5. Bonnett notched a few poles and got his first Cup win at Richmond, but the team was otherwise inconsistent on a week-to-week basis.

Source: Ocala Star Banner via Google News Archive
Two racing legends - A.J. Foyt and David Pearson - made up the second row, and NASCAR Hall of Famer and 3-time Cup champion Cale Yarborough rounded out the top 5 starters.

Scott Baker of captured the start of the race as the field barreled down the half-mile long front straightaway.

Interestingly, neither Petty nor Bonnett led lap 1. Pearson in the Wood Brothers #21 Purolator Mercury got by both of them and Foyt to lead lap 1. Bonnett hammered down to pass Pearson and led the next five laps. The back and forth in those first few laps set the tone for the rest of the day in terms of lap leaders.

Eleven different drivers had their time out front. Many of them led on multiple occasions, and many led for only single-digit segments. Lap leaders included the expected such as: Petty, Pearson, Bonnett, and Cale Yarborough. Others had their day in the shade as well including James Hylton, rookie Ricky Rudd, James Hylton and even Janet Guthrie.

It's amazing to reflect back to the day when two (eventual) seven-time champions - The King in Cup and Super Tex in USAC - were in the same race.

Today's Hendrick Motorsports can trace it's lineage to the days of Stacy and Bonnett's Dodge. The legendary crew chief Harry Hyde turned the wrenches, a young Randy Dorton built the engines, and the Charger sported #5. When Rick Hendrick started his fledgling Cup program with Geoff Bodine as the driver, Hyde led the team, Dorton built the engines, and the All Star Racing Chevy had #5 on it's sides.
As the race entered its final 25 laps, Bonnett found himself in front with Petty's 43 in hot pursuit. With six laps to go, Petty made his move. The 43 Dodge eased in front of the 5 Dodge. As the twosome rounded the monstrous track, however, Bonnett found more horses in Dorton's engine and motored back around Petty as they got the signal of five to go.

Neil would not be passed again. He led the remaining five laps and claimed his first career superspeedway win. Petty who had last won at Daytona on July 4, 1977, extended his wait to another day to win his next one. What the King obviously couldn't have anticipated was that he'd have to wait a full season and then some before notching win number 193 in the legendary 1979 Daytona 500.

Source: Richard Guido

Though the win was a huge boost to Bonnett's career and a near-miss for Petty, the larger story perhaps was Cale Yarborough's claim to his second consecutive Winston Cup title. His nine wins and 25 top 5's in 30 races remains among the top seasons of all time. Though Cale had accumulated enough points to clinch the title over Petty as the runner-up, Yarborough's title became official when he crossed the line in third place at Ontario.

Source: Reading Eagle via Google News Archive
Thanks to Scott Baker of who attended this race and provided several of the great photos for this post.


Monday, November 9, 2015

November 9, 1958 - Welborn is Champion's champ

The 1959 NASCAR Grand National season began on November 9, 1958. The 1/3-mile, paved Champion Speedway in Fayetteville, North Carolina hosted a 150-lap, 50-mile race to open the '59 season.

Source: The Robesonian via Google News Archive
February 1959 brought fans the first Daytona 500 with Lee Petty declared the winner after a multi-day dispute (and promotion). To get to Daytona, however, the GN regulars first had to begin the season a in Fayetteville on November 2nd.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Mother Nature decided she'd control the opening of the 1959 season rather than Big Bill France. The race was rained out and rescheduled for a week later on November 9th.

When the cars returned the following Sunday, Bob Welborn won the pole in Julian Petty's Chevrolet. Rex White in another Chevy started second. Roy Tyner (whose mother later married Julian) timed third. NASCAR Hall of Famers Glen Wood and Buck Baker rounded out the top five starters.

Lee Petty started sixth in his customary #42 Oldsmobile, but his young son sported a number most commonly associated these days with Jeff Gordon. Richard Petty reversed his dad's number, qualified 13th, and raced #24 for the first and only time in his career.

Welborn led the first nine laps before Rex White muscled his Chevy out front. Welborn followed in the tire tracks of the leader, but he seemed content to follow Rex. Rex lost the lead on lap 42 when his Chevy began to overheat. White's problem allowed Welborn to re-take the lead which he held until the checkered flag.

The future King held the middle for the duration of the race. He qualified 13th for the 25-car field, led no laps, and finished right where he started - 13th.

After four Grand National races in the span of a 12-month period, the series did not return to the track. Champion also hosted four NASCAR convertible races - three before the first GN race and one after the final GN event. Coincidentally, Welborn won the first convertible race in 1956 to go along with his victory in the final GN race.

Though records indicate Welborn raced for Julian Petty, I'm not convinced. Julian sold his equipment to his son-in-law Roy Tyner after the 1958 season. I'm not sure if the transaction was made after the season ended or the year, but it may well have been right before the 1959 season officially began at Champion. Tyner raced a self-owned #49 Chevrolet at Fayetteville - Welborn's number throughout 1958 and for many of his previous seasons. Welborn won with #46 on the door of his Chevrolet. Julian may have held a car back to field for Welborn and simply inverted the 9 to a 6. If Julian indeed owned the car, Welborn's victory was his last with Julian as the owner.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Thanks to fellow Petty fan Tim Leeming for info about Champion Speedway in Fayetteville and the 1958 GN race.