Racing History Minute - July 14, 1957

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

Maybe it's because 1957 was the year I made my first trip to Darlington, or maybe it's because most of the 1957 cars had distinctive appearances on the track. For whatever reason, each time I post a Minute about a race in 1957, mental images of the cars and tracks, and more especially for the drivers of the era, float across my computer monitor as I try to type. When preparing the Minute for today, the term of "cookie-cutter tracks" arose as this Minute is about a 1.5 mile track, a size very prevalent in NASCAR these days. But the 1.5 mile track for today's event was DIRT. That's right. A 1.5 mile dirt track located in LeHI, Arkansas. Who knew? Did you?

On this date in 1957, a 200 mile/134 lap race was race number 30 on the '57 schedule. Twenty-six of the drivers and their crews made the trip to Arkansas for the race. When qualifying was over, Speedy Thompson would have his Chevrolet on the pole with Paul Goldsmith in a Ford in second starting position. Buck Baker would start third with Curtis Turner fourth. Fifth place starter was Bill Amick.

This race included cars designated as "Grand National" which were the same as the designated "Convertibles" with only the addition of the roof to specify a difference. Fourth place starter, Curtis Turner, was the only convertible to start in the top five. Ten of the 28 starters drove convertibles.

A crowd of 9,500 spectators came out to witness the event, but by the half-way point of the race, more than half of the crowd left the premises as the blinding dust raised by the cars made viewing impossible and breathing most uncomfortable. Two caution flags flew for a total of 56 MINUTES for no other reason than to wet the track in an effort to keep the dust down. No other cautions were required but the 56 minute total delay in the race was just too much for some fans as well.

Paul Goldsmith parlayed his second starting position into the lead on lap one and held on to that spot for 36 laps before Curtis Turner slid his Ford convertible into the lead. The topless Turner would lead until lap 72 before Jack Smith stormed into the lead in his Grand National Chevrolet. Smith steadily moved away from second place and with 10 laps to go appeared headed for a sure victory. With eight laps to go, the Chevy power plant exploded and Smith was out of the event. Smith's departure left Marvin Panch to inherit the number one position. After the race, Smith said he was "retiring from the sport" as he coiuld "not afford to keep buying engines". Plainly stated, Jack said "I quit. I have run my last race". Of course we know that wasn't set in stone as Jack went on to have a successful career in NASCAR.

Marvin Panch would win the race over a hard charging Bill Amick. With a few more laps, Amick may have stolen the event from Panch.

Top five finishers were:

1. Marvin Panch, Herb Thomas Pontiac Grand National, winning $3,500.00

2. Bill Amick, Amick Ford Grand National, winning $2075.00

3. Fireball Roberts, Paul Spaulding Ford Grand National, winning $1,375.00

4. Buck Baker, Baker Chevrolet Grand National, winning $950.00

5. Bob Welborn, Welborn Chevrolet Convertible, winning $750.00

Sixth through tenth were Lee Petty in a Grand National, Cotton Owens in a Grand National, Possum Jones in a Convertible, Billy Carden in a Grand National and Curtis Turner in convertible.

Glen Wood was 11th, Johnny Allen 12th, Jack Smith 13th, Larry Frank 14th, and Brownie King 15th. Ken Rush finished 19th, Speedy Thompson 22nd, Jim Paschal 23rd, Joe Lee Johnson 24th, Joe Weatherly 26th and Paul Goldsmith 27th.

Honor the past, embrace the present, dream for the future


updated by @tim-leeming: 12/05/16 04:00:58PM
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton
5 years ago
9,121 posts

I've managed to make it through nearly 65 years without hearing of the mile and 1/2 dirt track in Arkansas until your post today, Tim. Many thanks.

Jim Foster wrote in the June 26, 1957 Spartanburg paper that the track had suffered two consecutive rain outs that cost the teams a great deal of money.

In his review of South Carolina motorsports writer Mike Hembree's book, 100 Things NASCAR Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, motorsports journalist Tom Higgins has the following passage:

For me, the most compelling chapter in 100 Things is entitled A Ghostly Track. Its about Memphis-Arkansas Speedway, where NASCAR founder Big Bill France took his tour for five races at the top level from 1954-57.

Mike Hembree, author of "100 Things NASCAR Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die," has been a motorsports journalist for over 30 years.

Hembree writes that few former NASCAR tracks have a story as riveting as the track located at LeHi, Ark. The track was a strange animal a 1.5-mile, high-banked dirt oval, 14 miles from the Mississippi River in what once was, and now is again, fertile farmland.

Because of its length and severe banking (it) was one of NASCARs earliest examples of high-speed, high-risk racing. It was too fast and too dangerous for the technology of the 50s, and drivers showing up to compete at the track realized the difficulties immediately. It was one of the few tracks that shot a sense of fear through drivers in those barnstorming early days of NASCAR.

Hembree relates that Cotton Owens said, It was rough, and you got through the turns the best way you could. It had so many holes. It was so dusty you couldnt see

Remembers Richard Petty, It was really, really fast for dirt. We had never run a mile and a half on dirt and never anything close to that fast. (Qualifying speeds at LeHi were in the 100 mph range).

Four drivers and two crewmen were hospitalized with injuries in LeHis first race on Oct. 10, 1954. A local newspaper described the race as full of wrecks, gasoline explosions and flaming cars.

Notes Hembree, A sad trend had been established On Oct. 9, 1955, driver Tiny Lund, making his first start in the Cup Series (then Grand National) was involved in a brutal accident Lund was thrown from his Chevrolet when the car flipped several times. He landed on the track surface and drivers behind him swerved to avoid him. Ralph Liguori hit Lunds helmet as he drove through the wreckage I thought I had killed him, said Liguori.

Said Richard Petty, I was there when Tiny got thrown out of the car and was laying in the middle of the track. He was big as a car. He was laying there with his T-shirt and white pants on in that dark gumbo (soil).

Hembree reasons that Lunds all-white clothing probably saved his life in the horrifying accident, allowing following drivers to see him more easily in the dust that flew around the track.

Lund sustained only a broken arm and a few bruises.

Tragically, 20 years later in 1975 the popular Lund was destined to die in a crash at Talladega.

Continues Hembree, In June of 1956 two drivers were killed (at LeHi) when their cars hurtled out of the track.

The danger, the excessive dust and financial problems led to the demise of the track in 1957.




--
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
5 years ago
3,970 posts

As Dave noted, it was ironic they had to wet the dusty track after having had 2 back-to-back rainouts about a month earlier.

As noted in Tim's Racing History Minute for June 22, qualifying for the LeHi race originally scheduled for that date was rained out.

The race was rebooked for June 23rd - but again rains caused a postponement. The race was then rescheduled for July 14th.

And from the June 26, 1957 Spartanburg Herald Journal




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Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.

updated by @tmc-chase: 07/13/17 11:01:06PM
TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
5 years ago
3,970 posts

Race report fromDaytona Beach Morning Journal with a headline emphasizing the local angle of Fireball finishing 3rd vs. noting Panch as the winner.




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Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.
TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
5 years ago
3,970 posts

As mentioned, the teams originally intended to race at Lehi in 1957 in June. I found this article in theSpartanburg Herald Journal that mentioned Bud Moore's teams preparing to go - AFTER a frightening encounter with exhaust fumes by Buck Baker at Newport TN. But Buck saddled up again, and he, Bud and teammate Speedy Thompson headed for West Memphis, Arkansas.




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Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.
TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
5 years ago
3,970 posts

The two driver killed in 1956 were Clint McHugh (killed while qualifying) and Cotton Priddy (during the race). Following their deaths, NASCAR began looking into new safety advances.

Times Newsof Hendersonville NC

Daytona Beach Morning Journal

Spartanburg Herald Journal

Without detracting from the tragic deaths of the 2 drivers in 1956 - or from Tim's focus on the 1957 race - I find it interesting the Times News article says Paschal was declared as the "official winner" of the 1956 race over Ralph Moody. Greg Fielden's book says NASCAR reversed its decision again and declared Moody as the winner - several hours after the end of the race and presumably after the filing deadline for the race report.




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Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.

updated by @tmc-chase: 07/13/17 11:01:38PM
TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
5 years ago
3,970 posts

Victory Lane photos




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Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.
TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
5 years ago
3,970 posts

Remnants of the old track are still visible. Its only about 15 minutes west of West Memphis, Arkansas.

And its about a half-hour from The King's house - no, not Level Cross NC. The OTHER King - Elvis - Graceland to the track, about 30 minutes.

Nice topside view from Virtual Globetrotting




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

updated by @tmc-chase: 07/13/17 11:02:04PM
TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
5 years ago
3,970 posts

Well, about as quickly as I thought I understood how events unfolded in June and July 1957, I've now found another nugget. I thought the 2 rainouts that led to the rescheduling of the race for July 14th were June 22nd and 23rd. Turns out the race was first scheduled for June 9. Only way I learned this was from this program cover.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers

That date actually makes sense as the previous year's race was held on June 10, 1956. A couple of interesting points from the program though. It refers to the "fourth annual" 250-mile race. Yet the event was the 5th and final GN race at the track. But, the GN cars raced twice in 1955 with the second one being a 300-miler. So maybe this WAS the 4th 250 mile race. But wait - note what Tim posted. The race turned out to be 134-lap, 200-mile event! So was the race shortened because of the twice-rescheduled event? Condensed to 200 miles after the programs were printed? The dust? The known dangers of racing on the 1.5 mile, dirt surface? I suppose the research can continue.

Regardless, the race was rained out and rescheduled for the weekend of June 22-23. That event too was rained out, and that led to July 14th. Whew.

Source: The Dispatch




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

updated by @tmc-chase: 07/13/17 11:02:51PM
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton
5 years ago
9,121 posts

Chase, you have been a busy fellow. Lots of information to digest. Thanks for the research.




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

Great work Chase and Dave! What wonderful information you guys added. Thank you so much.

Dennis  Garrett
@dennis-garrett
5 years ago
556 posts

CANNON BALL BAKER in 1957 Memphis-Arkansas Speedway Victory Lane photo.

01 CANNON BALL BAKER front head shot

02 CANNON BALL BAKER rear head shot

Thanks for any information or photos posted.

Dennis Garrett

Richmond, Va. USA

Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton
5 years ago
9,121 posts
Erwin "Cannon Ball" Baker
Birth: Mar. 12, 1882
Death: May 10, 1960
Motorcycle and Race Car Driver. Born in Dearborn County, Indiana, he was a motorcycling pioneer who set dozens of cross-country records riding a variety of motorcycles and was known for record-setting runs in automobiles. In 1908, Baker purchased an Indian motorcycle, began entering races and won the first race ever held at the newly built Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909. After a record-setting transcontinental drive in 1914, he was nicknamed "Cannon Ball". From the 1910s through the 1930s, he set 143 driving records and his best remembered drive was a 1933 New York City to Los Angeles trek, setting a 53.5 hour record that stood for nearly 40 years. He also had a focus toward automobiles, drove in the 1922 Indianapolis 500 Race, finishing 11th and became a test driver for automobile companies. He became an AMA race official and later was named the first Commissioner of NASCAR. He died of a heart attack at age 78 in Indianapolis, Indiana, and was posthumously inducted to the Motorcycle Museum's Hall of Fame 1998.(bio by:John "J-Cat" Griffith)
Search Amazon for Erwin Baker
Burial:
Crown Hill CemeteryIndianapolis
Marion County
Indiana, USA
Plot: Section 60, Lot 150
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Record added: Jan 01, 2001
Find A Grave Memorial# 1431
Erwin Cannon Ball BakerAdded by:quebecoise
Erwin Cannon Ball BakerAdded by:James Cunningham
Erwin Cannon Ball BakerAdded by:Seth Musselman
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God bless you on your birthday and always. Rest in Peace.
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-you were a great motorcyclist ,you are missed.Added: Jan. 18, 2013
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--
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
5 years ago
3,970 posts

Well how 'bout this? Found a couple of photos from Lehi in the Memphis Commercial Appeal. The first one was in today's edition of the on-line paper. Its from the 1957 race. The 92 car in the background by the Pure fuel trailer is Herb Thomas' car driven to the victory by Panch.

This next one is supposedly from the 1954 race vs. 1957. But it gives a good view of the lonnnnng dirt front stretch.




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

updated by @tmc-chase: 07/13/17 11:03:15PM
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton
5 years ago
9,121 posts

Awesome photos, Chase. Speaking of that "other" King, the #1 song on July 14, 1957 was (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear by Elvis Presley.




--
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
Sandeep Banerjee
@sandeep-banerjee
5 years ago
360 posts

I didn't know about this track either. Can certainly imagine the size of dust clouds kicked up at such an unconventionally big dirt track.

Once again, amazed at the amount of post-article information and pictures. :D

Dennis  Garrett
@dennis-garrett
5 years ago
556 posts

#4 Art Binkley 1956 Plymouth Convertible
Started 27th - Finished 28th.
Raced 33 laps out of 134 laps. winning purse: $125.
Timing was DNF reason.

Thanks very much for any information or photos posted.
Dennis Garrett
Richmond,Va. USA

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

Loving those pictures! You guys are the very best.

TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
one month ago
3,970 posts

Bump




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