Thursday, April 19, 2018

1969 Flameless 300

As the calendar turned to 1969, only three seasons had passed since Nashville's Fairground Speedways re-opened following a devastating fire in September 1965.Yet the new tradition of the Flameless 300 as the track's season opener was by then old hat. The fourth running of the event was scheduled for April 19, 1969.

Several track regulars returned for another season at the fairgrounds. Included in that bunch were Jimmy Griggs from Donelson (TMC's stomping grounds as a yute), long-time veteran driver Bill Morton, future Winston Cup independent Dave Sisco (who would also claim the track's LMS title in 1969), and 1967 late model track champion Walter Wallace.

Source: The Tennessean via Nashville Fairgrounds Racing History Facebook page
One regular who did not return was four-time track champ Coo Coo Marlin. Tom Powell from The Tennessean noted Coo Coo "retired" following the 1968 season. Coo Coo didn't actually retire - he just didn't race at the fairgrounds as often. He focused instead on developing a NASCAR Grand National program and entered seven races in 1969 - including the inaugural Grand National race at Talladega. Though Coo Coo's GN/Cup program wasn't a winning one, it served as a proving ground over the next decade for his son, Sterling.

Source: The Tennessean
The Flameless 300 was scheduled as the track's season opener since 1966. In a bit of irony, rain arrived and postponed the 1969 Flameless. Instead of opening with a 300-lapper on a Saturday night, fans welcomed the new season with a Tuesday night slate of regular races. The 300 was rescheduled for the following Saturday, April 26th.

Source: The Tennessean
The late Joe Carver was track promoter Bill Donoho's right hand man when it came to promoting races. He polished the rainout by suggesting the makeup date would draw more big name drivers including NASCAR legends Junior Johnson, Rex White, and Red Farmer as well as two-time and defending Flameless 300 winner, Freddy Fryar.

As it turns out, none of the drivers teased by Carver showed for the race. Zero. But Carver always looked forward - not behind. After a few more years in Nashville, he moved to Virginia to promote races at Langley Speedway. Carver later became an integral part of Darrell Waltrip's management team - including the launch of his own Cup team, DarWal, Inc. The two met during Waltrip's formative and championship years in Nashville.

Source: The Tennessean
Ben Pruitt won the pole in his first late model sportsman division start. Though a late model noob, Pruitt was a dominant winner throughout 1968 in the track's Tuesday night limited late model division. Aboard one of R. C. Alexander's Harpeth Motor Fords, Pruitt had a so-so night in his debut. As it turns out, his Flameless 300 P1 start ultimately became his biggest accomplishment in the late model sportsman division.

Pruitt continued to race albeit with limited success. In August 1972, he was involved in a vicious wreck with James Ham in turn 2 as the cars entered the backstretch. Flames engulfed Pruitt's car, and his recovery from the burns all but ended his racing career.

Flookie Buford had been a 1960s era racer in the track's figure 8 and Cadet divisions. Like Pruitt, he moved up to the track's late model sportsman division as a rookie beginning with the 1969 Flameless. He joined Pruitt as a teammate in a second Alexander Ford. In the 1970s, Alexander provided late models for his son, Mike Alexander, who eventually had an injury-shortened Winston Cup career.

Pruitt set out to prove being fastest during qualifying wasn't his only skill. When the green flag fell, Pruitt buried his foot, hauled off into turn one, and led the first 107 laps.

While Coo Coo Marlin turned his efforts to NASCAR's Big Time, his brother, Jack Marlin, returned for another season and shot at the Flameless 300 trophy. But as was the case a year earlier, Jack again had a miserable night. He wrecked early and finished 24th out of 27 cars. In 1967, Jack exited under a similar scenario and finished 25th out of 27 cars.

After leading the opening third of the race, Pruitt surrendered the lead to Bob Burcham. A junk dealer (*cough* retailer of used auto parts), Burcham qualified second to Pruitt and held his lead until he made a stop for fuel on lap 194.

Jimmy Griggs assumed the lead when Burcham and Pruitt pitted. Griggs had rallied from three laps down because of an early-race accident and extended time in the pits. But he made up the deficit and found himself in the lead when the top two made their stops. Griggs' lead was short-lived, however, as Burcham went back to the point on lap 202. Griggs later lost a right front wheel spindle but still managed a P3 despite his steering challenges.

Pruitt's #85 Cinderella chariot unfortunately turned into a pumpkin. Despite keeping pace with Burcham and maintaining a clean car, he cut a tire with 60 laps to go, popped the wall, and had to settle for an eighth place finish.

With Pruitt out of the picture and Griggs having issues, Burcham hunkered down and led the remaining third of the race.

Unlike his teammate Pruitt, Flookie Buford had a great night in his LMS debut with a P2 in the Alexander Ford. Buford really took to the division and won Nashville's LMS title in 1971 and 1972. His son, Joe Buford, later won four titles of his own between 1998 and 2002.

With four Flameless 300s in the books, two were won by Freddy Fryar and Burcham nabbed the other two. Burcham had an edge in overall stats with two poles and a P2 finish in 1968.

Source: The Tennessean
The race was the final Flameless on the Fairgrounds' original track layout. Construction equipment rolled in after the 1969 season concluded, and the track was rebuilt to a high speed demon. Gone was the original half-mile. In its place would rise a 5/8-mile oval banked 35 degrees - steeper than any track in the country including Daytona and Talladega.

Finishing Order:
  1. Bob Burcham
  2. Flookie Buford
  3. Jimmy Griggs
  4. Raymond Stiles
  5. Dorman Adams
  6. Tommy Andrews
  7. Bobby Hargrove
  8. Ben Pruitt
  9. Phil Woodall
  10. Donnie Roberts
  11. Ed Kennedy
  12. Charlie Higdon
  13. Ron Blasingim
  14. David Hitt
  15. B.K. Luna
  16. James Veach
  17. Gene Payne
  18. Don Binkley 
  19. Bruce Hidenwaite
  20. Chester Albright 
  21. Otis Deck Jr.
  22. Roy Brinson
  23. John Nicholson
  24. Jack Marlin
  25. Walter Wallace
  26. Charlie Binkley
  27. David Sisco


  1. Chase, the kind of background knowledge about track regulars, as you provide here, was and probably still is a big part of what makes a short track successful. Great job with a series that brings back lots of memories, including Joe Carver's tenure at Langley, which took place while I was living in Tidewater, Va., and visiting the track often.

  2. This has been a most interesting & informative series. Imagine Joe Carver "suggesting" a host of big name drivers who might just appear - or might NOT!😃
    Noting the beauty queen, don't encounter too many young ladies named Douglas. Ironically, the daughter of the late & highly regarded Richmond Times Dispatch sports editor Chauncey Durden also had a daughter who shared the first name of Douglas with Miss Fairgrounds Speedway. Small world.

  3. Hey, Mr. "Unknown" is me!Dave Fulton. Now Google has sucked my identity away!