Just noted another bit of irony regarding Joe Littlejohn and Talladega. We were at Talladega in July 1989 when his death was reported. Here's the account from the Spartanburg paper:
Auto racing pioneer Joe Littlejohn dies
Published: Sunday, July 30, 1989 at 3:15 a.m.
Joe Littlejohn, a member of the National Motorsports Press Association's Stock Car Hall of Fame, died yesterday morning in Spartanburg after a massive heart attack.
He was 81. "Daddy seemed to be doing all right," said Joe Littlejohn Jr. "We are just as shocked and surprised and stunned as everyone." Littlejohn was one of the great promoters in the early days of stock car racing. He attended the organizational meeting of NASCAR in 1948 and was a promoter of early NASCAR races. As a driver in the 1930s and '40s, Littlejohn competed in stock car races that were the forerunners of today's professional Winston Cup events. The Pacolet native was the first man to register 100 mph in a stock car through the measured mile on the sand at Daytona Beach, Fla. He made that run in 1950, in an Oldsmobile, and ended his competitive driving. Littlejohn, who staged the first stock car race at the Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds' half-mile, horse-racing oval Nov. 11, 1939, then turned his full-time attention to promoting races.
He continued operating the Spartanburg track until the mid-1960s, and served as general manager of the Atlanta International Raceway and co-owner of Asheville-Weaverville (N.C.) Speedway. Littlejohn worked with NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. in an attempt to locate a 11/2-mile speedway in Spartanburg County in the 1960s, but the project was stymied by opposition from some local residents. He then helped France select the site where the Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway is now located. The DieHard 500, to be run this afternoon, is the second of two annual Winston Cup races at the 2.66-mile track. Littlejohn organized the National Motorsports Press Association, which honors him with an award each year to the leading motorsports writer.
"He was a big instigator in organized racing," NASCAR driving legend Richard Petty said yesterday at Talladega, where the racing community mourned the death of Littlejohn. "He was really something else. He knew what needed to be done in this sport and went out and did it. "A lot of outsiders probably don't realize how much of an impact he had on this sport. He did a lot to promote this sport and he always did things his way." Petty said Littlejohn continued to be a big supporter of NASCAR up until his death, despite his declining health. "He would always come around and talk to me," said Petty.
"With his health, he couldn't get out and around as much as he wanted to. Everybody in this sport is sure going to miss him." Spartanburg's David Pearson, another former NASCAR champion who has curtailed his driving, also credited Littlejohn for the sport's success. "Him and Bill France were real big buddies and I'm sure Joe gave him a lot of ideas about forming NASCAR," said Pearson. "I'm sure a lot of people are going to miss him. "He took me to Daytona in 1960 when I was just getting started in this business. He introduced me to France and all those folks. If he liked you, he'd do anything he could to help you."
Littlejohn was also close to Spartanburg car owner Bud Moore. Littlejohn was a frequent visitor to Moore's shop and the two often played golf together. "He was a great man," said Moore, obviously shaken upon learning of Littlejohn's death. "He had a lot to do with this sport getting started." Littlejohn had shoulder surgery earlier in the week after falling, according to Jim Foster, a longtime associate of Littlejohn. "He came through the surgery just fine, but then he had the heart attack."
Foster, a former sports editor of the Spartanburg Herald, now serves as NASCAR's vice president of marketing. He credits Littlejohn for helping him get into NASCAR. "He was just one of the true old-time pioneers of the sport," said Foster. "He was successful as a driver, as a promoter and as an official. "He was always doing what he could to promote the sport and he was very close to the press. He would always want to hang around all the writers whenever he could.
"He was a lifelong friend of Bill France. The two were very close. They got NASCAR to where it is today. He was also a very innovative promoter. He would promote match races in Spartanburg featuring guys like Lee Petty, Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly and Cotton Owens." Foster recalled one of his favorite stories about Littlejohn's racing days.
"He used to haul a load of turnip greens down to Daytona Beach and sell them so he could have enough money to eat," Foster said. "Then he would race the same car he drove down there in the stock car race. "He was one of the guys everybody liked. He had a tremendous impact on everyone in NASCAR - from the drivers, to the car owners, to the officials to the press. The best way to describe him would be simply to call him a pioneer. "I owe a lot to the man. He helped get me the job in Spartanburg and he later introduced me to France and helped me get this job with NASCAR."
Jim Freeman, director of public relations at Talladega, said Littlejohn loved being around those involved with NASCAR. "I wasn't around him that much until he had gotten older," said Freeman. "But he always seemed to care about everybody. He loved being around this sport."
Racing writer Tom Higgins of The Charlotte Observer recalled one of his favorite stories involving Littlejohn. "There was a group of guys up in Wilkes County (N.C.) who called Joe up and wanted him to send them a couple of bushels of peaches to make peach brandy with," said Higgins, who has covered NASCAR for over 30 years. "Joe loved playing practical jokes so he had a train car full of peaches sent to Wilkes County. He loved to do stuff like that."
"They got him back, though. They made the brandy and sent all of it back to Joe's hotel in Spartanburg. He couldn't believe it." Littlejohn's son, Joe Jr., has carried on the racing tradition in the family, driving in races on area short tracks.
"It would probably be impossible to figure out how many people he has touched through his involvement with the sport," said Foster. "He's a legend." Funeral services will be conducted by the Rev. Hal Marchman tomorrow at 2 p.m. in Floyd's Greenlawn Chapel on East Main Street in Spartanburg. The family will receive visitors at the funeral home tonight from 7-9 p.m.
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"