I had a couple of choices for today's Minute, but I chose the 100 mile race at Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds in Spartanburg, SC, because of the special meaning of that track to some of our members. Also, as we have addressed on this site before, Spartanburg, SC was very important in the earliest days of NASCAR through the end of the Bud Moore and Cotton Owens eras. That comment does not even include David Pearson in the equation. Spartanburg could have been, and possibly should have been, the Mooresville and Talladega of NASCAR. Well, we are not about woulda-coulda-shoulda here, but about history so let's go back to a July day in 1954.
The race started with Hershel McGriff on the pole in a Frank Christian Oldsmobile. Hershel had come to the east from Oregon when Fonty Flock abandoned the Christian ride AND his NASCAR affiliation to run in the SAFE Circuit which was a direct competitor of NASCAR. The big Olds would experience tire problems and Hershel fell to 10th place in the final run down. Of the twenty-one starters in the race, on five failed to complete the distance.
The checkered flag went down an hour and 41 minutes after the green dropped. It is interesting that the pole winning speed was 58.129 mph and the average speed for the race was 59.181 mph according to my source (Greg Fielden's "Forty Years of Stock Car Racing") so that would seem to indicate there were no caution flags and that record also indicates every car that did not finish had mechanical failure of some kind rather than wrecked. As I recall the Spartanburg track from my visits there in the 60s, it was the type of dirt track that gets faster as the track "irons out", so that may have accounted for the increase in speed.
Herb Thomas won the race, the second straight win of the season and his 27th overall Grand National (now Cup) win.
Top five finishers were:
1. Herb Thomas, Smokey Yunick Hudson, winning $1,000.00
2. Jimmie Lewallen, Joe Blair Mercury, winning $650.00
3. Lee Petty, Petty Engineering Chrysler, winning $450.00
4. Buck Baker, Ernest Woods Oldsmobile, winning $350.00
5. Joe Eubanks, Oates Motor Company Hudson, winning $250.00
Sixth through tenth were Jim Paschal, Dick Rathmann, Clyde Minter, Arden Mounts and Hershel McGriff.
Bill Blair, Sr., whose son, Bill, Jr. is an active member of RacersReunion events, finished in 15th place although he fell out of the race on the 173rd lap with clutch issues in his Hudson. Speedy Thompson was credited with 21st and last position in his Oldsmobile after a failed fuel pump put him out of the race on lap 6.
The importance of Spartanburg, SC, to NASCAR history ranks right there with Daytona Beach. That area of South Carolina produced pioneers of the sport and many are chronicled by Perry Allen Wood in his two books "Silent Speedways of the Carolina" and "Declaration of Independents", both excellent historic records and good reads.
Honor the past, embrace the present, dream for the future
Be sure to check out the History Minute tomorrow, July 4th. You may be surprised by what you find. If you do miss us, have a safe and Happy Fourth of July.
updated by @tim-leeming: 12/05/16 04:00:58PM