Thursday, March 29, 2018

1966 Flameless 300

The current footprint of Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway debuted in July 1958. The abbreviated first season concluded with the Southern 200 modified-sportsman race. The race was extended by 100 laps in 1959 and another hunnerd in 1973, and the Southern 300 / 400 remained the track's season-ending race for twenty years.

The scheduled renewal of the Southern 300 in 1965, however, never got the green flag. On Monday, September 20, 1965 - opening night of the Tennessee State Fair - an inferno raged through the track's grandstands and many other fairgrounds buildings.

Temporary grandstands were rebuilt, and the track was again ready for racing in the spring of 1966 through cooperation with the city of Nashville, the Fair Board, and track management. Perhaps as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the devastating fire and certainly the track's resilience following it, the season opening race on April 23, 1966 was named the Flameless 300.

Jim Donoho, brother of track promoter and leaseholder Bill Donoho, wrote the following poem after the fire and before the 1966 season.

Well, things looked black that night last year
As flames leaped towards the sky
And thousands stood here in silent awe
As smoke filled every eye

But as show business states, "the show must go on"
We took that fire in stride
Because the roar of motors once again
Just could not be denied

Something is missing for sure, we know
The grandstands had its day
But the excitement is just as strong indeed
And soon will be underway

To the many fans who showed concern
To those who asked and wondered
We give you now our answer by
The Speedway's Flameless Three Hundred

As we open the track, we expect more trials
From speeding cars and daring men
Welcome to every one of you
And isn't it great that we're racing again

The Donohos and partner Bennie Goodman got solid interest with 46 entrants in a race only slated to accomodate 33 starters. Defending track champion Coo Coo Marlin entered the race as expected but so did a 19 year-old kid from Owensboro, Kentucky: Darel Waldrip ... or Darrell Waltrip as folks soon learned the proper spelling of his name.

Another expected racer for the Flameless was 1965 NASCAR national modified champion, Bobby Allison. He had arranged to pilot P.B. Crowell's Chevrolet - a car sold by Allison to Crowell.

Source: The Tennessean
Allison's participation was contingent on (1) completing a modified-sportsman race at Martinsville and (2) being able to fly to Nashville in time for the Flameless 300. Apparently one or both conditions didn't happen as Allison wasn't in the 33-car starting line-up. Crowell raced his own #48 Chevy with Bill Morton at the wheel of Crowell's second #49 car.

Source: The Tennessean
Local driver Walter Hamilton started the race but surrendered the wheel to relief driver George Bonee during the first caution. Hamilton was still recovering from major knee surgery just two weeks prior to the race. Walter was the son of Bud "Preacher" Hamilton and uncle of the late Bobby Hamilton, Sr. Preacher Hamilton built a bit of fame as the mechanic for part-time racer and country music crooner, Marty Robbins.

Johnny Thoni belted into a car owned by Ralph Clary at the last minute and finished seventh. Thoni showed up at the fairgrounds as a spectator, but Clary asked him if he'd drive. "Wait until I get my helmet!" replied Thoni as he headed for the car.

A trio of drivers from Chattanooga, Tennessee dominated the race. Bob Burcham won the pole and led the first 109 laps. Another pair of Noogans - Friday Hassler and Freddy Fryar - controlled the final two-thirds of the event.

Hassler certainly knew his way around Nashville as he won the season-ending 1963 Southern 300. He led laps 110 through 160 before he and Fryar made scheduled pit stops. Fryar's crew ripped off a quick stop while Hassler's crew struggled with slower pouring fuel dump cans. The stop difference was enough to flip the running order when the duo returned to racing action.

After additional cars made their stops, Fryar found himself at the point on lap 179. Hassler hassled the bejesus out of Fryar's bumper throughout the final third of the race, but he simply could not get by him.

At the stripe, Fryar prevailed over Hassler for the win. According to The Tennessean's race report, Hassler said "I did everything but put him in the wall," as he discussed the race with another driver, Crash Bond. "I didn't want to win it that way. I was running about a quarter of a second a lap faster than him, but I just couldn't get around him."

Steam poured from underneath the hood of Fryar's Ford in victory lane. He told his mechanic the radiator ruptured with about 30 laps to go - but that he had no intention of coming to pit road while holding down P1.

Fryar got himself a good smooch from Winkie Louise "Miss Firebird" before receiving his trophy for a job well done.

Burcham finished third with local driver and future NASCAR inspector Walter Wallace fourth. Long-time Fairgrounds racer Charlie Binkely finished fifth with Boyd Adams (1960s racer and Nashville's track operator briefly in the 1980s) in sixth.

Marlin blew a tire and exited the race after only 78 laps. Marty Robbins finished 12th despite falling out after 244 laps because "the rear end was going out". Preacher Hamilton joked later that Robbins simply tired out. Darel Waldrip finished 13th in what was apparently his first Nashville start.

Donoho built temporary stands for about 10,000 seats following the fire - enough to get the 1966 season started. One of his biggest challenges on opening day, however, was trying to rally more space to place the nearly 2,000 additional fans from the overflow crowd.

Source: The Tennessean
Fryar continued to be a force in short-track racing for years to come. Hassler, who had been racing while holding down a day job in a farm equipment business, made it to NASCAR's Grand National division in 1967. He raced regularly over the next five years and notched a dozen top 5 finishes and nearly 50 top 10s. During his qualifying twin for the 1972 Daytona 500, however, Hassler wrecked and was tragically killed.

The Flameless 300 continued to be scheduled annually as the track's season opening race through 1971.

Finishing Order
  1. Freddy Fryar
  2. Friday Hassler
  3. Bob Burcham 
  4. Walter Wallace 
  5. Charley Binkley 
  6. Boyd Adams 
  7. Johnny Thoni 
  8. Dave Mader 
  9. Joe Burcham 
  10. Jimmy Allen 
  11. Charles Lloyd 
  12. Marty Robbins 
  13. Darrell Waltrip 
  14. Crash Bond 
  15. Charley Stofel 
  16. Sherrill Harris 
  17. Eddie Mitchell 
  18. Charles Greenwell 
  19. Lewis Loyd 
  20. M. C. Coble 
  21. Bill Woodall 
  22. Mack Roberts 
  23. Bobby Celsor 
  24. Bobby Walker 
  25. Donald Penny 
  26. Walter Hamilton (with relief from George Bonee) 
  27. Coo Coo Marlin 
  28. P. B. Crowell
  29. Martin Sharpe 
  30. Bill Morton 
  31. Jimmy Griggs 
  32. James Greer 
  33. Tommy Galloway


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