Wednesday, July 1, 2015

July 1, 1961: Richard Petty's 'Lost' Firecracker Win

In the summer of 1961, NASCAR's Grand National division raced on back-to-back days - June 23rd in Hartsville, South Carolina and a day later on June 24th at Starkey in Roanoke, Virginia. Then the teams turned south to head for Daytona Beach to run the third annual Firecracker 250 ten days later on July 4th. Well, most of them anyway.

Several GN regulars - including Elmo Langley, Wendell Scott, Richard Petty, Jim Paschal, Jim Reed and Doug Yates - continued their trek north to race in a NASCAR Eastern Late Model division race a Lincoln Speedway in New Oxford, PA on July 1st. Two-time NASCAR GN champ Buck Baker was also expected to race, but there is no indication he ended up making the trip.

Source: Gettysburg Times via Google News Archive
The Eastern Late Model series - as can be inferred from its name - raced tracks primarily in the Atlantic corridor states. Originally, the cars were similar to Grand National cars - which is why some of the GN regulars opted to race at Lincoln.

Over time, the cars became more closely akin to NASCAR's touring late model sportsman division. When Anheuser-Busch beer reformed the LMS division, first into the Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series and later as the Busch Grand National Series, dollars were also invested in remodeling the Eastern Late Model division into the Busch North Series.

Over time, the Busch North Series was re-branded as the Busch East Series ... and then the Camping World sump'n, sump'n ... and now the K&N Pro Series East.

Though records are not clear about how qualifying went, two heat races were held to apparently set the starting order. Petty and Hoss Kagle won the two heats to put them on the front row for the 100-lap feature.

The wins by Petty and Kagle in the preliminary heats were indicative of how things would go in the main event. Kagle pursued Petty's 43 Plymouth for much of the race. With 11 laps to go, however, Kagle blew a tire and hit the pits for service.

With Kagle's late race misfortune, the King cruised the remaining laps to claim the win. Jim Paschal, likely driving for Julian Petty - his regular GN car owner, took over second from Kagle and stayed there. Jim Reed, a multi-time NASCAR Short Track Division champion in the 1950s, finished third. Langley and Scott rounded out the top five finishers.

Source: Gettysburg Times via Google News Archive
Courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
As the above article referenced, Richard claimed the trophy at another track on which his dad had won previously. Lee Petty won a Grand National event at Lincoln Speedway three years earlier

The final paragraph of the second article also referenced raising funds to assist Reds Kagle for his injuries suffered at Charlotte. About five weeks earlier in the second annual World 600, Kagle was running second to leader and eventual race winner David Pearson. He then blew a tire, sailed up the track and pierced the guardrail. The good news was the guard rail prevented Kagle from sailing out of the track. The bad news was that he broke through the rail which in turn impaled Kagle's car and severed his leg. He survived the accident and even raced for years afterward, but his leg had to be amputated following the accident.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
After Petty's win, the team headed back home to Level Cross to prepare for their next event. Interestingly, the next event was not at Daytona. In February, Lee and Richard both sailed over the wall in their qualifying races for the Daytona 500. Lee was critically injured, and his racing days were all but over.

Richard, Maurice Petty and Dale Inman were left to move forward to keep the race team in business. Perhaps rather than risk another wreck for a nominal purse return, they took book-it money by racing at Lincoln. The other GN regulars - Paschal, Reed, Langley, Scott and Yates - also passed on racing at Daytona.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Though Richard opted not to race at Daytona, the Pettys still had a presence at the beach. Lee felt well enough to return to the track that nearly took his life 4+ months earlier. He was all smiles as he served as the honorary pace car driver.

Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal via Google News Archive
Lincoln Speedway hosted seven GN races with the last one in 1965. The track (web | Twitter), however, continues to host a regular slate of races each year.


1 comment:

  1. Those fells were racing smack, dab in the middle of potato chip country, home to some of the country's finest snacks!