I suppose I picked this particular event for a History Minute for two reasons:
1. The World 600 comes up this weekend, and
2. This involves Fred Lorenzen, who was overlooked for the NASCAR Hall of Fame this year.
The 1965 season was the year of the boycott by the Chrysler Teams after NASCAR outlawed the potent Hemi engine which had been successful on the superspeedways the previous year. Fords ruled and General Motors was not "officially" involved in the sport while Ford was in it to the limit.
Forty-four cars started the 1965 World 600 with "Fearless" Freddie capturing the pole with a speed of 145.268 mph. You have to go all the way back to 13th starting spot to find the first non Ford/Mercury starter. Buck Baker qualified a Chevrolet in 13th.
The race got off to a fast start with Fred leading laps 1-16 before Junior Johnson took over to lead for 7 laps. Then Panch took over. Six drivers would share the lead with a total of 23 lead changes during the race with Lorenzen consistently in front or very near the front. He fought off serious challenges from Darel Dieringer, Panch and Johnson. Although Lorenzen led for 257 of the 400 laps, he was in a side by side duel with Dieringer for several laps which kept the crowd of 50,000 on its collective feet.
Earl Balmer, referred to at the time as an "upstart" driver turned out to be the late race nemesis of Lorenzen. Balmer had led in the early going and was running every bit as fast as the white 28. On lap 246, Balmer brought his Bud Moore Mercury to the pits with a broken wheel. He returned to the track four laps down but began to run the fastest laps of the day. With his speed, and caution flags at just the appropriate times, Balmer made up the four laps and was ready to race Fred for the win. With seven laps remaining, Balmer made his move to pass Lorenzen and would almost assuredly have done so, but a lapped car didn't get out of the way fast enough forcing Balmer to brush the wall (guard rails in those days) and it slowed him enough that it allowed Lorenzen to win. Lorenzen and Balmer were the only two cars on the lead lap at the end.
An interesting note to this race was the entry of a Ray Fox prepared Chevrolet with LeeRoy Yarbrough as the driver. The car could not seem to get through NASCAR tech inspection, although such inspections back in those days were far less intensive than those of today. Charlotte Motor Speedway officials, A.C. Goines and Richard Howard met privately with Big Bill France and "convinced" him that the Chevy needed to be in that race. Surprisingly, after the meeting, the Chevy passed inspection and was placed in the field in 44th and final starting position. No one seems to know, or at least won't tell, what convinced Big Bill to "pass" the 396 Cubic Inch Chevy to run, but logically, it was all Big Bill (or bills). The car blew an engine on lap 309 and was credited with 14th finishing position.
Top five finishers were:
1. Fred Lorenzen, Holman-Moody Ford, winning $27,270.00
2. Earl Balmer, Bud Moore Mercury, winning $10,900.00
3. Dick Hutcherson, Holman-Moody Ford, winning $6,895.00
4. Buddy Baker, Baker Dodge, winning $4,250.00
5. Pedro Rodriguez, Holman-Moody Ford, winning $3,425.00
Sixth was Ned Setzler. Seventh was Paul Lewis in the Lewis 1964 Ford. I call special attention to Paul as it is due to him that we have this RacersReunion site to share memories and history. Paul and his wife, Linda, are a huge part of this site and the events in which we participate. Eighth was Donald Tucker.Larry Hess was 9th and Neil Castles 10th.
So, if you watch, or attend, the 600 this weekend, remember these guys who pioneered the sport on short tracks, dirt tacks, and the then emerging superspeedways like Charlotte. When you see all the glitz and glamour that is Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend, remember that once upon a time the track was surrounded by metal guard rails, had much less seating capacity and the infield was mostly dusty and dirty. NASCAR has come a long way but needs to always remember from where it came and who helped it climb that ladder.
Honor the past, embrace the present, dream for the future.
updated by @tim-leeming: 12/05/16 04:00:58PM