Tuesday, October 13, 2015

October 13, 1957 - Gwyn Staley Nabs Norfolk

North Wilkesboro's Gwyn Staley ran about half the NASCAR Grand National races in 1955 and 1956 - with pretty much all of them behind the wheel of Chevrolet's fielded by car owner Hubert Westmoreland. (Johnny Mantz won the first Southern 500 in a Plymouth fielded by Westmoreland.)

In 1956, Staley and Westmoreland ran about half the convertible division's races in addition to their GN schedule. In 1957, Staley and Westmoreland began their season focused only on the convertible races - perhaps in an effort to claim the division's championship that was won by Bob Welborn in 1956.

For whatever reason, the duo parted ways about half-way through the season. Staley hired on with Julian Petty to run most of the remaining convertible races as well as a dozen GN events.

The new arrangement paid dividends early for Staley in the GN races as he won three times in Julian's cars. The convertible races were a different story though as Gwyn and Julian couldn't quite find their way to victory lane despite a number of top 5 finishes.

Then with three races to go in the 1957 season, the ragtops rolled into Virginia for a 250-lap race on the 4/10-mile, dirt Virginia Beach Speedway. (The track, built in 1947, seems to have gone through a a series of name changes over the years including Chinese Corner Speedway, Weatherly Speedway and Norfolk Speedway.)

Glen Wood won the pole in the Ford maintained by his brothers. Staley qualified on the front row alongside him in Julian's #38 Chevy. Lined up third was Welborn in his own #49 Chevy, and starting fourth was 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Joe Weatherly. Starting shotgun on the 14-car field was perhaps an unexpected entrant: Julian Petty. In addition to fielding Staley's car, Julian saddled up in the #88 Oldsmobile belonging to his older brother Lee. The race was Julian's one and only career convertible start - and his first race as a driver since June 1955.

Welborn controlled the race as was often the case in the convertible races from 1956-1958. When he made a pit stop with 40 laps to go, however, Staley was able to take the lead from him. Staley was able to prevail over the remaining laps to finally secure the long-sought, ragtop win. Welborn soldiered on to finish second, and he all but secured his second consecutive convertible division title.

As an owner, Julian Petty had a fine day. As a driver, well... not so much. He apparently tooled around on a Sunday afternoon in a '57 Oldsmobile owned by his brother Lee. After all, he did have the top down. Though records indicate he was still running at the end of the race, Julian finished where he started - 14th and dead last - 195 laps down to the winner's car that he owned.

Source: Greensboro Daily News
The four victories in the two divisions in the back half of the schedules likely gave Gwyn Staley and Julian Petty the confidence greater things lay ahead for them in 1958. They returned the next season to run the full schedule in both series - including the beach race at Daytona.

Fate had a different plan, though, and Staley was tragically killed in Julian's car on the first lap of of the convertible race at Richmond's fairgrounds raceway. His win at Norfolk in October 1957 turned out to be his final one.


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