The 1963 Daytona 500 was quite the event. The twin qualifiers were proving grounds for the new Chevrolet teams of Ray Fox and Smokey Yunick. Johnny Rutherford was driving black and gold Yunick entry and the Ray Fox cars were piloted by Junior Johnson and G. C. Spencer. It seemed those Chevys were untouchable in the qualifying races.
The first 100 miler saw lead swapping between Junior, G.C., and pole starter Fireball Roberts before the Johnson Chevrolet set the pace for the last 16 laps with his teammate tucked right in behind him. The two Fox Chevrolets crossed the line literally together, but second place G. C. Spencer was assessed a two lap penalty for ignoring the black flag because his gas cap was missing. The race ended with an average speed of 163.681 as a wild pack of drafting cars set records from the fall of the green flag. After the penalty on G. C. Spencer, the top five finishers were:
1. Junior Johnson, Ray Fox Chevrolet
2. Paul Goldsmith, Ray Nichels Pontiac
3. A. J. Foyt, Ray Nichels Pontiac
4. Larry Frank, Holman-Moody Ford
5. Dan Gurney, Holman-Moody Ford
Fireball Roberts, who had dominated Daytona the year before, finished sixth in a Banjo Matthews Pontiac which Fireball labeled as "woefully short on power".
The second 100 miler got underway with a USAC Rookie, Johnny Rutherford, driving the Yunick Chevy. While Rutherford was not expected to be a real threat to the NASCAR regulars, the end result was that he blasted around Rex White with a handful of laps to go and beat White to the line by 3 car lengths, winning the first NASCAR Grand National race in which he competed. Rutherford averaged 162.969 mph before some 27,000 fans.
Race day Sunday dawned cool and with a light mist falling. Soon after daybreak, the mist turned into showers which became a steady rain. It was looking doubtful that the race would get underway that day, but NASCAR kept the faith and waited out the rain. The race took the green almost 2 hours late.
Before we get into the race details, we need to talk about what happened at Daytona 10 days before the 500. Marvin Panch, set to drive the Wood Brothers number 21 Ford was checking out a Maserati sports car when it went out of control, flipped and caught fire, trapping Marvin inside. Five men standing near where the car was burning rushed to his aid and saved Marvin's life, although he was severely burned and would not be able to compete in the 500. One of the men who risked their own life to save "Pancho" was Tiny Lund. Tiny had come to Daytona without a ride but his actions caused Marvin to ask the Wood Brothers to allow Tiny to drive the car in the 500. So, with a strip of silver duct tape, the name on the door changed from "Marvin Panch" to "Tiny Lund".
Fireball Roberts was starting on the pole by virtue of the Daytona qualifying rules as he had recorded the fastest time before the Twin 100s. He immediately took the lead in the Banjo Matthews Pontiac and was able to hold on for 10 laps before Bobby Johns, in another Pontiac, slipped by and took over. Johns led 10 laps and then Paul Goldsmith in yet another Pontiac went out front on lap 23 and was leading on lap 33 when the Pontiac began to lose power . Goldsmith hit the pits on lap 39 and went behind the wall with a burned piston, out of the race. A. J. Foyt, G. C. Spencer, Rex White and Larry Frank traded the lead back and forth through lap 70 when, for the first time, a Ford took the lead with Fred Lorenzen driving. Lorenzen would hold the lead through lap 105 before Bobby Johns swept by to lead a lap. Johns and Lorenzen were battling it out when Fireball slipped out front to lead 115. Bobby Johns took his Pontiac back to the point and stayed there through lap 118 before Gentleman Ned Jarrett took his Ford to the first spot. Ned would lead through lap 141 before Lorenzen worked his way back out front. The rest of the race was a lead swapping event between Lorenzen, Jarrett and Tiny Lund.
There were more than 70,700 fans in the stands, a record at the time, watching the lead swapping between 11 drivers for more than 30 lead changes. Although those notorious Chevys were hot in the qualifying races, durability was not their forte. Both Johnson and Spencer in the Fox cars were out by the half way point. Rutherford, in Yunick's Chevy was riding along saving his car for the end when he says a wind gust caused him to scrap the wall just enough to lose 4 laps in the pits repairing the damage.
With less that 10 laps to go, Ned Jarrett was leading when his Ford started to sputter just a little, letting Ned know he HAD to make a pit stop for gas. With Ned rolling down pit road, Tiny Lund in the number 21 swept by to take the lead he would hold the rest of the way. In a common Wood Brothers situation, they had out-smarted the competition, making one less pit stop than the other teams and running the entire 500 miles without a tire change. The fact there were only 2 caution flags for a total of 10 laps played into the Wood Brothers plans perfectly.
It was, indeed, a perfect ending to a script that could only have been written in Hollywood (and from a Daytona hospital bed) when Tiny Lund won the race. Emotions in Victory Lane overflowed into excitement for the fans in attendance who had just witnessed a great race and a great outcome.
1. Tiny Lund, Wood Brothers Ford, winning $24,550.00
2. Fred Lorenzen, Holman-Moody Ford, winning $15,450.00 (24 seconds back)
3. Ned Jarrett, Burton-Robinson Ford, winning $8,700.00
4. Nelson Stacy, Holman-Moody Ford, winning $8,275.00 (1 lap back)
5. Dan Gurney, Holman-Moody Ford, winning $3,550.00 (1 lap back)
6. Richard Petty
7. Bobby Johns
8. Joe Weatherly
9. Johnny Rutherford
10. Tommy Irwin
11. Larry Frank
12. Troy Ruttman
13. LeeRoy Yarbrough
14. Rex White
15. Parnelli Jones
16. Darel Dieringer
17. Sal Tovella
18. Bob James
19. H. B. Bailey
20. Stick Elliott
21. Fireball Roberts
22. Ed Livingston
23. Jim Cushman
24. Herman Beam
25. Jimmy Pardue
26. Wendell Scott
27. A. J. Foyt
28. Jim Hurtubise
29. Red Foote
30. Johnny Allen
31. Len Sutton
32. G. C. Spencer
33. Floyd Powell
34. Jack Graham
35. John Rogers
36. Jim Paschal
37. Dick Goode
38. Jim McGuirk
39. Bob Cooper
40. Paul Goldsmith
41. Billy Wade
42. Junior Johnson
43. Bubba Farr
44. Jack Smith
45. Bunkie Blackburn
46. Reb Wickersham
47. Ralph Earnhardt
48. David Pearson
49. Ted Hairfield
50. Curtis Crider
PERSONAL MEMORIES: My Uncle Bobby had been planning our second trip to Daytona for about a month prior, which was unusual for him as he was usually a "let's do this" kind of guy. There were many times in my youth when I would be helping Bobby wash a car or something and he would say something like "let's go to Greenville Pickens Speedway tonight. 30 minutes later we were in the car and off to the track. That was what it was like growing up with him. I sort of got used to that life style although in my later years I sort of give myself a day or two to plan things.
I do remember that the Friday before the 500 weekend I woke up not feeling too well and could tell I had a slight fever. I don't recall anytime you would have seen a 15 year old get ready for school faster, making sure Mama never got a chance to get a good look at me. She could always tell when I was sick by just looking at me. I also recall suffering through school that day, not only because I wasn't feeling well, but because the next day we would be on the way to Daytona. Somehow I made it.
When I got off the school bus, I headed straight to my room with the excuse I had "a lot of homework to do" so I could avoid Mama. I accomplished that well and by supper time I think I was feeling better and did not seem to have a fever. Sleep did not come easy that night as I was so excited about my second trip to Daytona.
The next day, Uncle Bobby called me over to his house and as I walked across the street I could only dread that something had happened and we weren't going. When he met me in the driveway, he told me to look behind the house. Parked back there was a brand NEW 1963 Plymouth Belvedere, blue, but not Petty blue. He had bought the car the day before and had hidden it from me to surprise me with the Daytona trip in that new car.
Saturday afternoon we headed out. Uncle Bobby, Aunt Mary, Cousin Debbie, me, and the new Plymouth! It was quite a trip to Daytona in that shiny new car. I got to ride up front most of the trip and I thought it was really cool to look across the hood and see that Plymouth emblem sitting up tall in the center of the hood. I still like that emblem.
We arrived at Daytona after dark and pulled into the track infield. The first turn area where we had parked the year before was pretty well filled so we drove across to the banks of Lake Lloyd and parked by the fence overlooking the lake. It was too dark to see much but it looked like a good spot.
When daylight broke in the misty rain, I wasn't feeling too well, but we could see from turn one all the way down into turn three and, if we stood up in the trunk, we could see the high part of the tri-oval. Now, that was a view to see. I can almost see that through my imagination right now.
Mid morning the rain stopped and it looked like just a cloudy day. I put on my jacket and hat (yes a cowboy hat but sans the feathers) and walked over to the pit fence. Several of the drivers could be seen in the garage area and some would even walk over to the fence and talk to fans. Suddenly, with no warning, it began to rain pretty hard. I had no cover under which to hide so I ran back to the car. By the time I got back I was soaked through and through. I sat inside the car and shivered while Aunt Mary wrapped a blanket around me. Uncle Bobby was debating whether or not to leave and head back to Columbia so I put in my two cents worth saying we were in Daytona so we may as well stay. I remember saying "they are going to race today". A little later that afternoon, as the cars roared around the track, I briefly considered a future in weather forecasting but quickly dismissed that to return to my dream of racing. Had I ever imagined that weather forecasters could make such good money for being consistently wrong, I may have reconsidered. Oh well, too late now.
So, the story of the race is written above. The story of me and the race is here for you to read. Hope you readers don't mind my personal touches to these History Minutes but it is the history of me as well as the racing. I can go on to say that when we got home about 4:00 a.m., my mother was waiting for her boy to come in. As soon as I walked in the door, she said "you're sick" and she did that mother thing of feeling my forehead and said "you have a fever". She got the thermometer and, indeed, 102 was the score. I was in bed the rest of the week with what they first thought may have been pneumonia but turned out it was only a bad cold (or maybe the flu). I remember Mama saying "you're never going back to Daytona". I didn't really take that threat seriously as Uncle Bobby was her "little brother" and he could pretty much get his way with her when he needed to. Oh, those were the days!
Honor the past, embrace the present, dream for the future.
updated by @tim-leeming: 12/05/16 04:00:58PM