Thursday, August 6, 2015

August 6, 1961 - Paschal Nabs Nashville

NASCAR brought its Grand National division to Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway for the first time in 1958. Joe Weatherly won the inaugural 200-lap race. Rex White and Joe Lee Johnson split the two GN races in 1959, and Johnny Beauchamp captured the only one in 1960 (his second and final career GN victory).

The race distance was increased 100 laps each year, and the 1961 race was billed as the Nashville 500. Rex White, one of the track's race winners in 1959, captured the pole for the 1961 race. Starting up front at Nashville was nothing new to Rex. He had won the pole for the fifth consecutive race at the track (four Grand National races and one GN - convertibles "sweepstakes" race).

Source: The Tennessean
Any smiles Rex may have sported after qualifying quickest again likely faded quickly. He couldn't leverage his top starting spot to lead any early laps, and his day came to a sudden end on lap 15. White blew a right front tire, hooked right, popped the guardrail, and nearly launched through the the track's outer-ring billboards.

Source: The Tennessean
I had the opportunity to mention the wreck to White when I met him in October 2014. He laughed as he recalled it and noted some of the other drivers suggested he may have hit the billboard on purpose in an effort to meet "that purty girl" on it.

Source: Russ Thompson 
Richard Petty started on the front row alongside Rex, and he dominated the race from its beginning. A scenario then developed that seemed to mirror what has frequently been seen in the 2015 Cup season: rain. Showers began to fall around lap 220. NASCAR opted to let the cars ride around under yellow for eighty laps before finally displaying the red flag at lap 302.

After a delay of about 45 minutes, the cars were put back under the yellow where they rolled around for another 50 laps or so. When the green flag was finally displayed again at lap 351, the fans had endured approximately 130 consecutive caution laps plus a 45-minute halt in racing action.

Petty dominated the first 220 laps and paced the field through the extended rain delay. When the race went back to green, however, the engine in Petty's #43 Plymouth wasn't up to the challenge. The engine raced at optimal temps under green. When the rains fell and the engine cooled off substantially, however, the Mopar power plant wasn't ready to return to full song. The future King led 10 more laps when the race returned to green, but he then had to watch the rest of the race from a different vantage point than from behind the steering wheel.

With White and Petty sidelined, Jim Paschal went to the front in his #44 Julian Petty-owned Pontiac.

Source: Russ Thompson
Paschal led the next 41 laps before rain returned. Officials then called the race after 403 laps, and Paschal was declared the winner.

Source: Russ Thompson
Paschal's win was the last victory for a #44 Petty car until Kyle Petty won Daytona's ARCA 200 to begin his driving career in February 1979.

By 1961, Richard had already built a solid fan following. Many were disappointed to see such a dominant run end prematurely. And of course, most were disappointed when the last 20 percent of the race was cancelled because of summer showers and especially with 172 of 403 laps run under caution.

Source: The Tennessean
Ned Jarrett finished second to Paschal, and Jarrett eventually won the 1961 GN championship title - his first of two. Johnny Allen finished third in a Chevrolet owned by one of the 1959 Nashville winners, Joe Lee Johnson.

Source: The Tennessean
Paschal and Julian Petty parted ways at the end of 1961. Paschal began the 1962 as the driver for Cliff Stewart's Pontiac team. About half-way through the season, Paschal then moved to the other Petty team - Petty Enterprises. The pairing gelled immediately as Paschal won three consecutive races in the #42 Plymouth - including a second consecutive win at Nashville. With Lee Petty as his crew chief, Paschal kept his Music City mojo working and won a third consecutive time at Nashville.


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