Monday, July 27, 2015

July 26, 1958 - Bob Welborn Wins Myrtle Beach

In 1961, Bill France, Sr. banned driver and fan favorite Curtis Turner from NASCAR "for life". Turner had been kicked to the curb by the board of Charlotte Motor Speedway after he'd worked to build it. CMS was completed only after Turner joined forces with businessman Bruton Smith (a France competitor) after Smith's own plans to build a superspeedway fell on hard times. After his ouster, Pop met with leadership of the Teamsters Union to help secure a financing arrangement so he could buy his way back in to the track. In exchange, Turner was alleged to have agreed to help organize a drivers' union.

Which sin was biggest in the eyes of France - the deal with Bruton, the Teamsters financing plan, or a proposed drivers' union - isn't truly known. Either way, the lifetime ban went into effect though it lasted only until 1965.

Turner was more, however, than just a driver in NASCAR-sanctioned races or a thorn in France's side. He was also a businessman away from the track - as well as within the sport. In 1958 for instance, he and France worked together to promote races at Starkey Speedway in Roanoke, VA. However, as Greg Fielden notes in his book, Rumblin' Ragtops: The History of NASCAR's Fabulous Convertible Division:
The event at Roanoke was scrapped when Curtis Turner, who was co-promoting the event with Bill France and Alvin Hawkins, was seriously injured in a crash at the Charlotte Fairgrounds. While attempting to qualify for a July 6 Modified-Sportsman race, the throttle on Turner's Ford coupe hung open and he crashed through the guard rail. The popular driver suffered seven broken ribs in the mishap. While he was confined to his bed, Turner felt it would be best to cancel the Roanoke race. ~ p. 103
Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
The cancellation at Starkey became an opportunity for the owners of a new track in Myrtle Beach, SC. Rambi Speedway was built in 1958 as a replacement for Coastal Speedway. The owners gleefully seized the opportunity to have Rambi's debut be a NASCAR convertible event to replace Turner's cancelled one.

A 200-lap race was slated for Saturday night, July 26th.

Source: Wilmington Morning Star via Google News Archive
Tootle Estes from Knoxville, TN started from the pole in his second of four career NASCAR convertible races - all in 1958.

Tiny Lund started on the front row with Estes. Larry Frank and Bob Welborn in Julian Petty's #49 Chevy comprised the second row. Ken Rush started 16th in the 19-car field in a second #44 Julian Petty Chevrolet. Starting shotgun on the field was a driver with one of the most unfortunate names not just in racing but life in general: Richard Spittle.

As was so often the case in 1958, Welborn was first to receive the checkered flag. The victory was Welborn's sixth convertible division win of the season and third in a row - all in Julian Petty's cars. Rush rallied from his poor starting spot to finish 4th in Julian's second car behind Lund and Frank. And poor Mr. Spittle? He finished where he started: 19th and dead last in car #0.

Most records indicate the date of the race as July 27, 1958. Because of its blue laws, NASCAR didn't race on Sundays in South Carolina. The race was held on Saturday night. It's likely the race ended a bit after midnight. NASCAR's scoring officials likely dated the race based on its conclusion rather than its beginning.

Rambi's debut set itself up for a successful run. Though the convertible division did not return after its one and only race, the track was host to many NASCAR-sanctioned races in the decades to follow - including nine Grand National races from 1958-1965. The track was sold to a new owner in 1968, converted from dirt to asphalt in 1974 and re-branded as Myrtle Beach Speedway.


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