Monday, November 9, 2015

November 9, 1958 - Welborn is Champion's champ

The 1959 NASCAR Grand National season began on November 9, 1958. The 1/3-mile, paved Champion Speedway in Fayetteville, North Carolina hosted a 150-lap, 50-mile race to open the '59 season.

Source: The Robesonian via Google News Archive
February 1959 brought fans the first Daytona 500 with Lee Petty declared the winner after a multi-day dispute (and promotion). To get to Daytona, however, the GN regulars first had to begin the season a in Fayetteville on November 2nd.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Mother Nature decided she'd control the opening of the 1959 season rather than Big Bill France. The race was rained out and rescheduled for a week later on November 9th.

When the cars returned the following Sunday, Bob Welborn won the pole in Julian Petty's Chevrolet. Rex White in another Chevy started second. Roy Tyner (whose mother later married Julian) timed third. NASCAR Hall of Famers Glen Wood and Buck Baker rounded out the top five starters.

Lee Petty started sixth in his customary #42 Oldsmobile, but his young son sported a number most commonly associated these days with Jeff Gordon. Richard Petty reversed his dad's number, qualified 13th, and raced #24 for the first and only time in his career.

Welborn led the first nine laps before Rex White muscled his Chevy out front. Welborn followed in the tire tracks of the leader, but he seemed content to follow Rex. Rex lost the lead on lap 42 when his Chevy began to overheat. White's problem allowed Welborn to re-take the lead which he held until the checkered flag.

The future King held the middle for the duration of the race. He qualified 13th for the 25-car field, led no laps, and finished right where he started - 13th.

After four Grand National races in the span of a 12-month period, the series did not return to the track. Champion also hosted four NASCAR convertible races - three before the first GN race and one after the final GN event. Coincidentally, Welborn won the first convertible race in 1956 to go along with his victory in the final GN race.

Though records indicate Welborn raced for Julian Petty, I'm not convinced. Julian sold his equipment to his son-in-law Roy Tyner after the 1958 season. I'm not sure if the transaction was made after the season ended or the year, but it may well have been right before the 1959 season officially began at Champion. Tyner raced a self-owned #49 Chevrolet at Fayetteville - Welborn's number throughout 1958 and for many of his previous seasons. Welborn won with #46 on the door of his Chevrolet. Julian may have held a car back to field for Welborn and simply inverted the 9 to a 6. If Julian indeed owned the car, Welborn's victory was his last with Julian as the owner.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Thanks to fellow Petty fan Tim Leeming for info about Champion Speedway in Fayetteville and the 1958 GN race.


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