Thursday, April 12, 2018

1968 Flameless 300

Drivers belted in for the third annual Flameless 300 on April 20, 1968 - once again, the season opener for Nashville's Fairground Speedways.

Long-time Nashville racer and future NASCAR official, Walter Wallace, returned for another season but with a different panache. Wallace won the track's late model sportsman title in 1967 and returned for his defense of it - albeit with a different car and owner.

Source: The Tennessean
Chattanooga's Bob Burcham, the defending race winner and two-time pole winner, returned to middle Tennessee yet again with a high level of confidence. He had good reason for his optimism with a handful of other Nashville wins in 1967 in addition to his Flameless pole and victory.

Source: The Tennessean
After three Nashville titles in four years plus a bucket of wins in 1966 and 1967, Coo Coo Marlin began to reduce his time at the fairgrounds and increased his number of NASCAR Grand National starts. Yet, he was ready to go yet again for the big race, the Flameless 300.

Coo Coo's older brother Jack Marlin, however, still had a Nashville itch to scratch. Walter Wallace didn't win a race in 1967 yet won the track title over Jack. That fact alone provided a good bit of motivation for the 39 year-old.

Source: The Tennessean
In addition to the track regulars, season champions, and out-of-town ringers, the race featured another interloper of sorts. Country singer Marty Robbins took his racing as seriously as he did his musical craft. Though he didn't get to race as often as many of the regulars, Robbins made sure to do what he could to be right in the thick of the mix.

Source: Nashville Fairgrounds Racing History
Source: The Tennessean
Even with his planned schedule reduction, Coo Coo came to race - not to play. He plunked his #711 car on the pole. Yet for the third year in a row, he simply could not muster a winning race in the Flameless. In the 1966 event, he blew a tire and fell out of the race at lap 78. In 1967, poor fuel mileage and/or pit execution relegated him to a P2 finish, two laps down to winner Bob Burcham.

When the green fell on the 1968 race, Coo Coo hauled off into turn 1 and led the first 10 laps. He surrendered the lead and settled into a good rhythm for the rest of the evening. About ten laps later, however, his accelerator hung and he piled into the first turn wall.

Furthermore, Coo Coo was aching. He needed to be taken to the hospital to have his injured back examined and treated. But as long-time Nashville racing historian Russ Thompson blogged, he didn't want his wife, Eula Faye, to see him loaded into an ambulance so he slipped out the back gate in a wrecker instead. With true grit toughness and as a display of good sportsmanship, Marlin returned to the track before the end of the race and congratulated the winner in victory lane.

Three weeks later, Tom Powell from The Tennessean interviewed Coo Coo about the accident and his planned return to racing:
Coo Coo wrecked in the opening night Flameless 300 race when his accelerator stuck. "It was the worst wreck I was ever involved in," the blond farmer from Columbia confessed yesterday. "It almost knocked me unconscious."

Asked to describe the sensation he experienced when the throttle stuck, Coo Coo said, "It was like driving without brakes in that I kept picking up speed and couldn't do anything about it. There was no time to reach for the switch. Everything happened so fast."

Concerning his car that has been wreaking havoc for the rest of the drivers at the Speedways during the last couple of seasons, Coo Coo smiled and said, "If it’s better when we get it fixed, it'll be a dilly. I just hope it runs as good as the other one."

The car will have a new frame. “We're trying to salvage everything good from the other one, but we're completely rebuilding. The biggest damage was to the frame, but we haven't looked at the engine yet."

Coo Coo said he saw no way to have the car ready for this week's show and stated, "I just hope we can make it by the next week, but we've still got a long way to go."

Marlin admitted, "My wife's been after me to quit during this spell, so we just let the car set for three or four days, but we're going after it now."

Despite not racing last week, Coo Coo was in the pits watching the races. "I wonder what other people find to do on Saturday nights," he laughed. ~ May 3, 1968 The Tennessean 
With delays in getting his car rebuilt and listening to Eula Faye who advised him to back it down, Marlin did not return to racing until June 2. He finished fourth in the 30-lap feature  - six weeks after his Flameless misfortune.

Coo Coo's wreck was hardly the only DNF of the night. Nine cautions chewed up 70 of the race's 300 laps. When the checkered flag fell, only six of 27 starters were still around to see it.

Jack Marlin set the tone early with a second lap wreck involving himself, Charlie Higdon, and Robbins. Jack said later "This is a helluva way to start the season, but I had fair warning. Two black cats crossed my path today." Troubles for other racers after the Marty and Marlins exits including:
  • Charley Binkley - engine issues
  • P. B. Crowell - led 29 laps but fell out because of overheating
  • Charley Stofel - steering 
  • Walter Wallace - engine issues. He joked "I even got a haircut to cut down on the car's weight, but we must have broken about a dozen rocker arms."
As the car counted dwindled, two drivers separated themselves from the rest of the remaining field. Burcham and the 1966 Flameless 300 winner, Freddy Fryar, pretty well had the race to themselves.

Near the midpoint of the race, Burcham made an unscheduled stop under green because of a flat tire and lost two laps. Fryar made his planned stop later but was able to do so during a caution. Burcham made up one of his two laps during Fryar's stop, but he still needed good fortune to have a shot at Fryar.

Burcham was all over Fryar with 25 laps to go. He raced him hard but clean with the aggressive hope of getting back on the lead lap. He made the pass to get back on the lead lap - barely, but Burcham needed to see another yellow flag to close the gap.

With only six cars remaining, however, the race stayed green the rest of the way. For the second time in three years, Fryar again took home the trophy and the loot. Though P.B. Crowell fell out of the race as a driver, he still got to visit victory lane as the winning car owner.

Source: The Tennessean

Finishing Order:
  1. Freddy Fryar
  2. Bob Burcham
  3. Donnie Carter
  4. David Hill
  5. Chester Albright
  6. James Veach
  7. Stan Starr
  8. Donnie Roberts
  9. Ronnie Blasingim
  10. Bobby Walker
  11. Art Ellis
  12. Ronnie Muller
  13. P. B. Crowell
  14. Otis Deck
  15. Tommy New
  16. James Ham
  17. Jimmy Griggs
  18. Bobby Hargrove
  19. Bunkie Blackburn
  20. Charley Stofel
  21. David Sisco
  22. Charley Binkley
  23. Coo Coo Marlin
  24. Walter Wallace
  25. Jack Marlin
  26. Charlie Higdon
  27. Marty Robbins

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