It should be no surprise that I have elected to go with an event from Columbia Speedway today given all the importance Columbia Speedway has played in my life with racing. After all, I was there one September night in 1952 when I was almost six years old for my first race. So, let's go back to April 13, 1962.
Only 19 cars showed up for the 100 mile/200 lap race on the half mile dirt track, considered by most drivers as being one of, if not THE toughest half mile in NASCAR. This was the Eleventh race run in the 1962 season and Joe Weatherly came into the event leading the point standings. (Joe would go on to win the Championship in 1962).
I had already been to Daytona for the 500 in February, 1962, and to the March 17th race in Savannah, so this was my third race for the season. I do remember how excited I was to enter the speedway that night and take our usual parking position next to the fence in turn four. We always parked there so we could see who was pitting, but much of my time was spent walking all around the fence in the infield watching every inch of the track at some point during a race.
Joe Weatherly put his Bud Moore Pontiac on the pole and was very entertaining, I remember, cutting up with everyone before the race. Joe Weatherly was known as the "clown prince" of racing and that was a justifiable title if ever there was one. Joe was a pleasure to be around.
The early part of the race was a duel between Joe and Jack Smith, in another Pontiac, with Rex White and Buck Baker holding their own. Ralph Earnhardt, a regular in the weekly events at Columbia Speedway was driving a 1961 Pontiac and was putting on quite a show with what appeared to be an ill handling car, althoughback in those days it didn't seem handling was that often discussed on a half mile dirt track. Buck Baker in a '61 Chrysler 300and Richard Petty in '61 Plymouth ran side by side for several laps during the mid part of the race.
In the end, smooth driving Ned Jarrett in his 1962 B.G. Holloway Chevrolet came home the winner with Joe Weatherly the only other car on the lead lap. Gentleman Ned, as he was known, even then, put on a display of smooth driving on that track which, although it was dirt, took on asphalt charactiristics very early on. It was Ned's 9th career Grand National (Cup) win in a career of excellence.
Columbia Speedway was a track with blazing fast straightaways and turns made perfectly for the "power slide" which was perfected by so many. Many a night out there Tiny Lund would put on a display powersliding that had to be seen to be believed. I recall watching Junior Johnson execute the perfect power slides with his left arm out the window holding on to the roof. But on this night, it was the silk smooth driving Ned used to take the win.
Much of the history of this race is apparently lost to the records and although I can close my eyes and see some of what happened that night, it is too bad that even the local newspaper from Columbia, from which I have the clipping from that race, found little to mention other than Ned won and Joe maintained the points lead. I also found it interesting that it was noteworthy in both my sources, that Wendell Scott was mentioned as "the only black driver on the major league stock car racing circuit". With all the hoopla today about the movie "42" concerning Jackie Robinson in Baseball, it's time we remember that Wendell was black, yes, but Wendell was a race driver. He had far less than most anyone else running the circuit but he was there every race and he raced his heart out. Wendell was easy to talk with, even for a teenager as I was then. I think, in today's world, Wendell would be referred to as "a stock car race driver" without the necessity of throwing in the "black". What he did in racing, with what he had, in my opinion, far outweighs anything accomplished on a baseball diamond and that is not intended to slight Jackie Robinson at all. Just my admiration for Wendell and what he accomplished in stock car racing.
Top five finishers at Columbia that April 13th night were:
1. Ned Jarrett, Chevrolet, winning $1,200.00
2. Joe Weatherly, Pontiac, winning $600.00
3. Jack Smith, Pontiac, winning $400.00
4. Jim Paschal, Pontiac, winning $300.00
5. G.C. Spencer, Chevrolet, winning $275.00
Other finishers of note were Rex White 6th, Richard Petty 7th, Buck Baker 8th, Ralph Earnhardt 9th, Curtis Crider 11th, Stick Elliott 12th, Buddy Baker 13th, Wendell Scott 16th, and Cotton Owens 18th. It should also be noted that rookie Jim Bennett qualified third but was the first car out of the race when he lost oil pressure on the 27th lap of the 200 lapper. He won $50.00. Even at 1962 prices, I would think he lost money.
Honor the past, embrace the present and dream for the future.
updated by @tim-leeming: 12/05/16 04:00:58PM