The final race of the 1956 season was held at Wilson Speedway in Wilson, NC. A half-mile dirt track which has a storied history in NASCAR circles. This was the 56th race of the tumultuous 1956 season in which Carl Kiekhaefer and his pristine white Chrysler dominated the circuit. This was the season in which Kiekhaefer had NASCAR schedule an additional race to allow his driver, Buck Baker, to gain an advantage in the points. That race was on October 23rd and you can go back to read that in the History Minutes as we reported on that race on that date.
If anything, Carl Kiekhaefer was the first of the really big time spenders in NASCAR. He had everything money could buy, including drivers. He even bought off NASCAR but we all know that today that is no big deal. But, back in 1956, NASCAR was trying to get established as a sport and really catered to Kiekhaefer as we will see in this History Minute.
Twenty-four entries qualified for the 100 mile race at the Wilson track. Three of those qualifiers were Kiekhaefer teams. However, Pete DePaolo had FIVE of his Ford teams entered. Buck Baker won the pole in the big Chrysler number 300b. Ralph Moody in one of DePaolo's Fords would start second, Speedy Thompson in another Kiekhaefer car third. Speedy was the driver who intentionally caused the accident in Shelby that almost killed Herb Thomas, removing Herb's opportunity to win the Championship over Baker. Fourth place starter was Gwyn Staley in his own Ford and Bill Amick in another DePaolo Ford would start fifth.
Now follow this closely, because it can be confusing, even to fans of NASCAR today who are accustomed to race manipulation at every turn. Speedy Thompson took the lead on the green and held it until lap 185 of the 200 when he was forced to pit for gas. Baker, who had been running second in the team car made it to lap 197 before his big Chrysler began to sputter and he headed for the pits for a splash and go. This left Joe Weatherly in the lead and Weatherly was determined his Ford could go the distance so he pressed on.
Coming off turn two on the final lap, Lil Joe's car ran dry and he was coasting around the track with no power while Baker was running full bore and covering ground like a rocket. The number 112 Ford of Weatherly was barely in motion as he rolled under the checkered flag, powerless, as Buck Baker came screaming by him. Weatherly beat Baker to the line by two car lengths and Weatherly was declared the winner. But hold on here!!!!
Carl Kiekhaefer filed an immediate protest claiming that the official scoring stand was located in turn one and because of that location, Baker got to the "official clock" before Joe so Buck was the winner. NASCAR actually deliberated for several hours, admitting there was no rule in the book to cover such an occurrence and there were no pencils available to write one on the blank page in the rule book. So, after several hours, NASCAR ruled in favor of Kiekhaefer and awarded Buck Baker the win and relegated Lil Joe to second. Buck Baker wrapped up the championship with his main competition lying in a hospital bed.
Top five finishers in the points for 1956 were:
1. Buck Baker, Kiekhaefer Chrysler, starting 48,winning 14
2. Herb Thomas, starting 49, winning 5.
3. Speedy Thompson, starting 42, winning 8
4. Lee Petty, starting 46, winning 2
5. Jim Paschal, starting 42. winning 1
Finishing order for the Wilson Race:
1. Buck Baker, Kiekhaefer Chrysler, winning $950.00
2.Joe Weatherly, DePaolo Ford, winning $675.00
3.Speedy Thompson, Kiekhaefer Chrysler, winning $475.00
4. Fireball Roberts, DePaolo Ford, winning $375.00
5. Bill Amick, DePaolo Ford, winning $320.00 (1 lap down)
7. Billy Carden
8. Ralph Moody
9. Lee Petty
10. Doug Cox
11. Johnny Dodson
12. Gwyn Staley
13. Johnny Allen
14. Jack Smith
15. James Jones
17. Blackie Pitt
18. Jim Paschal
19. Tiny Lund
20. Emanuel Zervakis
21. Bill Champion
22. Bunk Moore
23. Mel Larson
24. Earl Moss
There was so much unrest by fans after the incident with Speedy Thompson and Herb Thomas, that Carl Kiekhaefer, after winning the championship and 30 of the 56 races with different teams in 1956, disappeared from the scene. Speedy Thompson continued his career and very little is known about his feelings about the incident. But the fans blamed it on Kiekhaefer. When the 1957 season got underway, gone were the big white trucks and the white Chryslers and Dodges. Gone was the man who had been so demanding that Tim Flock walked away from the team rather than continue to live under the dictator like conditions.
PERSONAL NOTE: I rarely make personal comments on races this far back in the history but I need to on this one. When Kiekhaefer first came into NASCAR the year before, my Uncle Bobby, who, although a fan of Lee Petty and no one else on the Grand National Circuit, did like the idea of those Mopars having such a strong presence in the sport. Uncle Bobby was a Mopar man. I remember when the Herb Thomas incident happened although I admit much of that memory was refreshed in a conversation with my Uncle Bobby months ago. Bobby was lamenting then how money had ruined NASCAR and went back to the Kiekhaefer days blaming Carl for bringing that issue to the front and center. But he said something profound at the time when he said that "money will buy anything you want and it bought Kiekhaefer the success he wanted". Bobby went on to say that what was done to Herb Thomas should have haunted Kiekhaefer til his "dying day" because that was "flat wrong". Must say I have to agree with that. Wonder how Speedy would have felt if Herb had been killed in that accident?
I did add my personal feelings in today's Minute mentioning the lack of pencils for the NASCAR officials to write in a rule to cover the Kiekhaefer protest. I apologize for that but, like Uncle Bobby, I know Kiekhaefer slipped the "officials" some of those "greenies" as Smokey called them, and the reason it took several hours to render a decision was the continuing addition of "greenies" to the pockets of those officials. This was not one of NASCAR's finest moments.
Honor the past, embrace the present, dream for the future
updated by @tim-leeming: 12/05/16 04:00:58PM