Racing History Minute - July 3, 1954

Tim Leeming
@tim-leeming
5 years ago
3,119 posts

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
TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
5 years ago
3,985 posts

Two articles from Spartanburg Herald Journal

Race preview - July 3rd

Race report - July 4th




--
Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.

updated by @tmc-chase: 07/03/17 11:21:00AM
Cody Dinsmore
@cody-dinsmore
5 years ago
589 posts

First off.....we have several trophies won by Hershel McGriff, including this pole on display at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame. Since Frank Christian is going to be inducted this year, we already have some of his items on display.

Second....wasn't Talladega thought to be planned somewhere near Spartanburg before Fonty Flock chose Eastern Alabama??

TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
5 years ago
3,985 posts

Here is a link to a May 1, 1983 SHJ article about the big track going to Bama vs. SC.

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=bkMsAAAAIBAJ&sjid=384EAAAA...

And here is a NASCAR.com article from 2009 that I had to dig out of the Way Back Machine because the content didn't carry over to the "new" NASCAR.com.

http://web.archive.org/web/20090502093907/http://www.nascar.com/2009/news/features/04/29/enterprise.inside.nascar.spartanburg/index.html




--
Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton
5 years ago
9,125 posts

The Spartanburg newspaper account of the battle between Herb Thomas and Hershel McGriff is the kind of show we all hope to see when we put down our ticket money. Sounds like a heck of a race. Hershel had come east at the request of Big Bill France who met him at the inaugural Mexican Road Race won by McGriff in 1950.

During the 1954 Grand National season, Hershel won 4 events, captured 5 poles and posted 13 top-5s in 24 starts. He also found time to win sevearl Pacific Coast Late Model events, including a big show at Oakland.

Hershel with the #14 Frank Christian Olds in 1954 as captured by the late, great photographer T.Taylor Warren.




--
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
Tim Leeming
@tim-leeming
5 years ago
3,119 posts

Chase, those are excellent additions to the Minute. Thank you so much for adding to my meager reporting.

Cody, Talladega was indeed, first destined for Spartanburg as the story goes and as the postings Chase has put up verify. But I'll give you one point not many people know. About 1965, Big Bill was looking at about 600 acres of land off Highway 215 in Columbia, about 2 miles from Interstate 20 and 5 miles from I-26. The property was within walking distance (about 3/4 of a mile from where I lived and had grown up. Dr. Kerr, who was pominent in the area here met with Big Bill to look at the property and I actually, quite by accident, stumbled on the two of them parked beside the highway. Of course I had to get out and talk. They didn't say much but Dr. Kerr told me later it was about another Daytona Speedway going in there. About a year later, when nothing had been done, I ran into Dr. Kerr again and asked him what happened. Back in those days, the entity known as "The Columbia Bible College", now known as "Columbia International University" was located less than a mile from the proposed site so they circled the wagons with all their Southern Baptist Senators and Representatives and made sure the track wouldn't go there. It was then Spartanburg was considered, but you can read from Chase's postings how that went.

There is a lot more to the story about Columbia, but I'm not about to put it in print. There are some things I should talk about and that is one of those things. Sort of glad Alabama got the track.

Thanks for reading and commenting Cody and thanks Chase for making the post special.

Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton
5 years ago
9,125 posts

One other latter day note. My wife, who has rubbed shoulders with Earnhardts, Pettys and other NASCAR greats, counts as her most special moment around racing the morning she drove Hershel McGriff from Guest Quarters in Charlotte to Darlington, SC to attempt to qualify for the 1988 Southern 500. Alas, at age 60, he didn't make the field.




--
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
5 years ago
3,985 posts

Shhh, now don't go spoilin' all my thunder for my 4th of Julie post Perry. ;-)




--
Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.
TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
5 years ago
3,985 posts




--
Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.
Cody Dinsmore
@cody-dinsmore
5 years ago
589 posts

Wow, what an awesome 'What If?"

Devin
@devin
5 years ago
611 posts

Indeed, Cody. :)

Tim Leeming
@tim-leeming
5 years ago
3,119 posts

Your thunder is safe from this corner Chase. I'm going another direction with the "Minute" today. Have a great Fourth.

TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
5 months ago
3,985 posts
1954 Spartanburg promo 062754SHJ.png
1954 Spartanburg ad 070354SHJ.png



--
Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.