Saturday, May 30, 2015

May 30, 1964 - Tiring Night at Greenville-Pickens

Six days after a tough race at Charlotte where Fireball Roberts was critically burned in an early race accident and on the same day Dave MacDonald and Eddie Sachs died from injuries suffered in a second lap accident in the Indianapolis 500, NASCAR's Grand National drivers did what they always do following a tragedy. They raced the next event.

The drivers rolled into Greenville-Pickens Speedway for the 200-lap, 100-mile Pickens 200 on a South Carolina Saturday night.

Marvin Panch won the pole in the Wood Brothers #21 Ford. David Pearson - who'd become the driver of the Woods' 21 less than a decade later - timed second. Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty made up the second row, and Buck Baker rounded out the top 5.

Panch led 55 laps as he got the jump on the field from his top starting spot. Then the second place starter Pearson took over. He led the next 129 laps and had the checkers in sight ... until he lost an engine in his Cotton Owens' Dodge.

Lee Roy Yarbrough inherited the lead with 16 laps to go and a one-lap lead over second place Petty. But then...

Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal via Google News Archive
King's memory was close but apparently not quite spot-on. Yarbrough was the first to blow a tire. He did so with about 10 laps to go and made the call to go the distance. He rolled slowly around the track as Petty hustled to make up his lap and another to take the lead and win the race. Instead, as King remembered, the 43 also blew a tire.

As the two cars battled one another to the line with blown tires, the flagman waved the checkered flag instead of the white one as the two drivers completed lap 199 - one lap early. Nonetheless, Lee Roy Yarbrough in a year-old, independent Plymouth was declared the winner with Petty finishing second - two car lengths behind.

Instead of Petty pocketing what would have been his 31st (and ultimately 201st) victory, Yarbrough banked his second career GN win.

Edited May 31, 2015

Sunday, May 24, 2015

May 24, 1958 - Welborn Wins Winston-Salem

Greetings from the tailgating grounds of Charlotte Motor Speedway. TMC is here once again enjoying the weekend festivities leading up to tonight's Coca-Cola 600.

After driver Bob Welborn joined forces early in 1958 with owner Julian Petty, the duo was almost unstoppable in the spring races of NASCAR's convertible and Grand National divisions.  Welborn won five races in a row followed by Top 5s and a sixth in the next three convertible races with another GN win by Welborn at Greensboro (though he wasn't driving for Julian in that one).

On May 24, 1958, the Grand National drivers traveled to Winston-Salem, NC to race at Bowman Gray Stadium. The track opened in 1949, but the May 1958 race was the first GN event at the Stadium.

The race was officially sanctioned as a Grand National event; however, many convertible division regulars joined the field. They didn't need a separate car - just a top. The drivers brought their regular ragtop cars and simply bolted on a roof piece to race in the GN event.

Source: Greensboro Daily News
Rex White won the the pole. Lee Petty started 3rd, and Welborn timed 10th in Julian's #49 Chevy. Ken Rush started seventh in #44A in a second Julian Petty entry. White raced #44, and some records indicate he also raced for Julian Petty - though White insists he never drove for him.

White leveraged his top starting spot to lead the first two-thirds of the 150-lap race. Welborn then got by Rex and led the remaining 49 laps to match his car number. His victory was his 4th consecutive Grand National win in a series of four races entered.

Although Welborn won the race in a full-bodied sedan, he was not awarded GN points. Why? Despite having a roof over his head, Welborn's Chevy did not have rear glass in place. It's hard to see how the absence of the glass would have provided an aero advantage on the quarter-mile, Winston-Salem bull ring. But that was the ruling. As a GN part-timer, the trophy likely meant more to Welborn than "a good points day" anyway.

Source: Greensboro Daily News
Remarkably, with the momentum Welborn and Julian had built, Welborn wouldn't win another GN race until late August - his fifth and final win of the 1958 season.

Though Welborn and many of the other drivers had the day off Sunday after Saturday night's race at Bowman Gray, others had no time to sit still. Trenton Speedway was to host its first Grand National race on Memorial Day, May 30th. Qualifying began a week earlier on Sunday May 25 meaning several had to hustle to travel overnight from Winston-Salem, NC to Trenton, NJ.

Source: Reading Eagle via Google News Archive
Drivers who raced at Bowman Gray and then trekked to Trenton for qualifying were Buck Baker, Cotton Owens, Eddie Pagan, Lee Petty, Jack Smith, Jim Reed, and 1958 rookie of the year candidate Shorty Rollins. With Lee's participation in both races, I'm curious if 19 year-old Richard was tasked to drive the car home from Bowman Gray - or take a car to Trenton. Hmm.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

May 19, 1974 - Three laps short in Dover

Generally speaking, there is such a thing as an "insurmountable lead" in football, basketball, hockey and baseball. I've been to events where folks head for the exits well before a game is officially over.

I've also seen folks leave races early with the belief that the winner is a foregone conclusion because of his dominance. I'm pretty sure I've only left one race before it was declared official - and that was because of rain. We rolled the dice the rain would continue, but it didn't. I want to see the official end of a race because too many times things have happened with the checkers in sight.

One such day - before my era as a race fan - was May 19, 1974 at Dover Downs International Raceway.

Future NASCAR Hall of Famers claimed the top 4 starting spots for the Mason-Dixon 500. David Pearson won the pole with Richard Petty alongside him in second. Cale Yarborough laid down the third quickest lap, and Bobby Allison timed fourth.

As an on-going goodwill gesture by NASCAR to acknowledge the country's energy crisis, 10 percent of the race was cut. The first 50 "laps" were not scored, and the 500-lap race (now 450) officially began on lap 51.

Pearson leveraged his top starting spot to lead the first 18 laps. Cale then asserted his dominance in the race by leading the next 179 laps. The next 100 laps was a back-and-forth effort between Cale and the King.

As the race hit about the two-thirds mark; however, the #43 STP Dodge Charger seized control. Petty re-took the lead on lap 341 and found his groove. Corner by corner, lap after lap, the King hit his marks and let everyone know the win was soon to be his. I have to believe many non-Petty fans headed for the parking lot to get headstart on the traffic.

But then...

With less than four laps to go and a comfortable lead, the Maurice Petty-built engine in Richard's Dodge went POOF. Cale slipped by to take the lead, and Pearson also passed the 43 to move into second. In a flash, it was Yarborough's #11 Junior Johnson Chevy claiming the trophy vs. Petty's Dodge that finished third despite not completing the final two laps.

Cale in victory lane...

Source: NBC Sports
Even Stock Car Racing magazine knew Cale inherited the win. Yet as is frequently the case in racing, the adage "It's better to be lucky than good" prevailed.

Source: Observer-Reporter via Google News Archive

Monday, May 11, 2015

May 11, 1958 - Bob Welborn Wins Greensboro

Greensboro Speedway in North Carolina hosted only three Grand National races. Paul Goldsmith and Buck Baker won the first two in 1957. The final one was run on May 11, 1958.

Source: Greensboro Daily News
A year earlier, the track was the site of an epic yet apparently (mostly) true story involving driver Tiny Lund and the full Petty family. Many times legendary motorsports beat writer Tom Higgins has told and written about the turn of events that took place before the start of the April 1957 race including in this column he wrote for the Charlotte Observer.
Lund had driven five races for the Petty team in 1957, and the association ended bitterly.

Prior to a race in Greensboro, a flatbed from a trailer truck was being used as a stage for driver introductions. So happened that [Lee] Petty and Lund were starting in fairly close proximity, so they passed on the stage.

An obviously disparaging remark was made, and knuckles started flying.

"The deal was, Tiny and Daddy had a falling out," said Richard Petty. "To spite Daddy, Tiny was telling the other teams about some special, secret things we did to our cars. Daddy confronted him about it, and they went to it right there in front of everybody. I think Daddy took the first swing."

"Tiny" was a joke of a nickname for Lund. He stood 6'5" and weighed between 250 and 275 pounds.

Lee Petty stood 6'3" and weighed about 175.

"Daddy and Tiny scuffled onto the deck of that flatbed, and he was whipping Daddy pretty bad. Me and my brother Maurice, both still teenagers, jumped in to try and help Daddy. Well, Tiny was whupping all three of us.

"This is when my mother got involved. She came on that stage and started pummeling Tiny in the head with her purse. She was raising pump knots on poor ol' Tiny.

"The reason is, she had a .38 caliber pistol in that purse!"
Back to 1958's edition - where I'm sure some fans arrived earlier than usual just in case a fracas erupted again.

Greensboro's local feller, Bob Welborn, qualified in the top spot in a #44 1957 Chevrolet. Sources I've checked suggest Julian Petty was Welborn's car owner of record; however, I'm not entirely convinced of that stat.

Throughout 1958 (and for much of the rest of his career), Welborn raced car #49. Recent NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Rex White made 16 GN starts in car #44 in 1958. Some records indicate White made most of those starts in Julian Petty's cars. In speaking with White in October 2014, however, he insisted he never raced for Petty. Max Welborn, Bob's brother, fielded GN cars in that era - some numbered #44.

Bob Welborn raced full-time in 1958 with Julian in the convertible division, but they raced only part-time in the GN series. The day before the Greensboro race, Welborn finished 6th in the Rebel 300 convertible race at Darlington. With Greensboro being only one day later and a "hometown" track for Welborn, I'm thinking Bob may have hitched a ride in his brother's car as Julian took the ragtop home to tweak it for its next event.

Regarding the race itself, Perry Allen Wood noted in Silent Speedways of the Carolinas:
They dropped the curtain on the little dirt track on Sunday afternoon, May 11, 1958. A gorgeous day saw 19 entries take the spring green for a quick 150-lap, 50-mile war. Hometowner Welborn, at the peak of his career, went wire-to-wire winning handily over [Lee] Petty, [Junior] Johnson, [Speedy] Thompson and Doug Cox. The event took just over 65 minutes, then Greensboro's speedway slipped into the misty memory of how it was. ~ p. 239

Source: Greensboro Daily News