Saturday, August 8, 2015

August 8, 1958 - Ken Rush Inherits Southern States

Prior to the opening of Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1960, NASCAR's Grand National and Convertible divisions raced on other tracks in the Charlotte - Concord area. One of those races was a 200-lap, 100-mile ragtop race on Sunday, August 3, 1958 at the dirt, half-mile Southern States Fairgrounds in Charlotte.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
As the cars readied for qualifying, a summer shower arrived and gave the track and the fans a good soaking. Bob Welborn and Soapy Castles had already made their laps, and Fred Harb was on the track when the rain began to fall. Promoter Bruton Smith and his crew tried to run cars on the muddy surface to help pack it and ready it for racing.

What followed was a comedy of errors. A few cars and a tow truck toured laps around the banked dirt oval. After while, however, they started sliding from the high muddy side to the low loose dirt. Even the wrecker had to winch a cable and pull itself out - only to slide back down to where it initially had become stuck. Finally, the decision was made to postpone the race about a half-hour before the scheduled start. Not long after the announcement was made, however, the sun returned. The track was soon ready for racing, but the decision to postpone had already been made. No make up date was initially announced, but Bruton and NASCAR soon decided to try again on Friday the 8th.

Source: The Statesville Record and Landmark
Curtis Turner, who would lead the effort to build Charlotte Motor Speedway, won the pole for the Southern States race when the drivers returned five days later. Two-time Grand National champion, Buck Baker lined up alongside Pops. Lee Petty timed third in one of his infrequent convertible division starts, and Joe Weatherly started on the outside of the second row.

Lee Petty's son, Richard, planned to run what would have been his second convertible start and fifth overall career start after racing in Grand National events at the Canadian National Exposition in Toronto, Civic Stadium in Buffalo, and Wall Stadium in New Jersey.

The day before the original date of the Charlotte convertible race, Lee raced in the first Grand National race on Bridgehampton, New York's road course. After the convertible race was postponed, Papa Lee returned home and likely told his 21 year-old son "I got this." As a result, Richard went back to servicing his dad's car in the pits. About a 1-1/2 years later, though, the future King captured his first of 200 career GN / Cup wins at the Southern States Fairgrounds.

The race was not a good one for the #42 Petty Plymouth. Problems with the rear-end relegated Lee to a 15th place DNF. The car was likely the same one (minus the hard top roof) Lee raced 24 hours earlier in a 200-lap GN race in Columbia, SC.

Turner apparently was unable to leverage his top qualifying spot. Buck Baker got by him right away and proceeded to dominate the race. After leading 183 laps and with victory in sight, Baker broke a ball joint and lost one of his front wheels.

Ken Rush, NASCAR's 1957 Grand National Rookie of the Year, had been tooling behind Baker. Rush was driving a #44 1957 Chevrolet fielded by Julian Petty as a teammate to Bob Welborn. When Baker broke, Rush assumed the lead and led the remaining 17 laps.

Source: Rumblin' Ragtops - The History of NASCAR's Fabulous
Convertible Division 
by Greg Fielden
I suppose Rush's win was a bit of an upset considering how dominant Bob Welborn and Curtis Turner had been in the convertible series that year. Rush's victory was his only one in 106 combined starts in NASCAR's GN and convertible series.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Rush's career as a NASCAR convertible division driver ended after 1959 when the series was disbanded. He continued to run a Grand National race or two each year from the early 1960s through his final one in 1972.

He found perhaps his greatest success in NASCAR's Grand American division - a support series from the late 1960s through the early 1970s. He had the distinction of being the first winner at Talladega, Michigan and Dover - all in 1969 - when the GA races were held the day before the Grand National races.

Rush passed away at the age of 80 in October 2011.


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