Racing History Minute - April 26, 1959

TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
3 years ago
3,984 posts

The Grand National teams had a hectic schedule in late March through early April 1959. They raced 4 times in an 8-day period:

  • March 29 - Wilson NC
  • March 30 - Bowman Gray
  • April 4 - Columbia
  • April 5 - North Wilkesboro

But then the drivers and crews got some "whew" time away from the track. The next race didn't take place until April 26 for a 200-lap, 100-mile race at the Reading Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania. The event turned out to be the second of only two GN races ever held at the Fairgrounds track.

In the days leading up to the race, Pat Purcell was apparently dispatched up north to assist with race promotion. Though I haven't found anything yet to prove it, my hunch is Ed Otto likely had a hand in the logistics of the race based on all the track connections he developed in the northeastern part of the US and Toronto, Ontario.

Some of "advertised" drivers included...

Johnny Beauchamp

Elmo Langley

Tom Pistone, Lee Petty, 1958 Reading winner Junior Johnson and Speedy Thompson

I think we now know where the producers of the sitcom The Brady Bunch got their idea for the opening of their show.

Tiny Lund was also expected to race. For reasons I'm unclear about, Tiny apparently didn't race. He isn't listed in any finishing order I've seen.

Race preview from Reading Eagle

The race was scheduled as a one-day event with qualifying held right before the race. Mother Nature interfered a bit and brought rain to the area. Imagine that - rain at a Pennsylvania race. (*cough* Pocono).

With qualifying rained out, the drivers drew for starting positions. I'm guessing the drawing part was orderly and understood. The documentation of the draw, however, was not. I can't find who started where.

Regardless of where he started, Lee Petty let it be known early that the race was his. He set sail on lap 1 and kept everyone behind him for the first 173 laps. Problem for him was that the race was scheduled for 200 laps.

Petty led lap after lap even while being pursed by Pistone, Cotton Owens and Johnson. Lee's time out front likely doomed his pit strategy - and ultimately cost him a trip to victory lane. He had planned to race the full 100-miles without a stop. But with the 42 Oldsmobile being pushed by his 3 challengers, he likely burned more gas than he'd expected. On lap 174, Johnson finally got past Petty - who perhaps had gone into conservation mode. But Lee then realized he had to make a stop to finish the race. He ducked into the pits with 12 laps to go but then snapped an axle as he headed back to the track. One lap later, he was done despite the dominating performance.

By the time the race had reached its late stages, Cotton had exited the race and Thompson had passed Pistone for 2nd. Petty and Johnson had built a comfortable lead over the field. With Petty off the track at lap 189, Junior won by 4 laps over 2nd place Thompson and 3rd place Tiger.

The above victory lane photo shows Junior's car void of a right side door. The caption says he lost it in an accident in a New York race the previous night. A GN race wasn't scheduled so I wonder if perhaps a NASCAR Short Track Division race was held.

Just to even things up a bit, Junior ran the [ Volunteer 500 at Bristol] two years later with his LEFT side door missing. -Getty

Race report from Reading Eagle

Though Ed Otto's involvement with the promotion of the race is debatable, his connection to the higher-ups in NASCAR is not. Another point that may be debatable is whether having a dog named after you is an honor ... or an insult.

Fin Driver Sponsor / Owner Car
1 Junior Johnson Paul Spaulding '57 Ford
2 Speedy Thompson Steve Pierce '57 Chevrolet
3 Tom Pistone Carl Rupert '59 T-Bird
4 Tommy Irwin Tommy Irwin '59 T-Bird
5 Buzz Woodward Buzz Woodward '57 Ford
6 Lee Petty Petty Enterprises '57 Oldsmobile
7 Tiny Benson Tiny Benson '57 Chevrolet
8 Jim Parsley Jim Parsley '57 Chevrolet
9 Ben Benz Bernard Friedland '57 Chevrolet
10 Shorty Rollins Shorty Rollins '58 Ford
11 John Seeley '57 Chevrolet
12 Reds Kagle Hoss Kagle '57 Chevrolet
13 Al White Al White '58 Ford
14 Cotton Owens W.H. Watson '58 Pontiac
15 Ken Johnson Ken Johnson '57 Ford
16 Ray Fanning '57 Chevrolet
17 John Findlay Jim Findley '57 Chevrolet
18 Gus Wilson Gus Wilson '57 Chevrolet
19 Rex White Rex White '59 Chevrolet
20 Bobby Johns Shorty Johns '57 Chevrolet
21 Johnny Beauchamp Jim Reed '57 Ford
22 Elmo Langley Ratus Walters '57 Ford
23 Don Angel Don Angel '58 Ford
24 Jim Reed Jim Reed '57 Ford
25 Dave Marburger '57 Ford



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

updated by @tmc-chase: 12/05/16 04:00:58PM
bill mcpeek
@bill-mcpeek
3 years ago
820 posts

great report Chase. Really enjoyed it...

TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
3 years ago
3,984 posts

Found what I believe to be a bit more about the Saturday night race in New York. Ed Otto promoted a race at the Polo Grounds in New York City - the stadium once home to teams as varied as the New York Giants, New York Yankees, and New York Titans (the football team that became the Jets with the Titans name going to Tennessee's team ~50 years later).

When the Giants relocated to San Francisco, the Polo Grounds had no primary tenant. In 1958-1959, Otto promoted midget races at the Polo Grounds - just as he had at tons of tracks from as west as Chicago to as north as Toronto and Buffalo.

In the bookThe Ghosts of NASCAR: The Harlan Boys and the First Daytona 500, I found this excerpt referencing the Saturday, April 25 race. It doesn't mention Junior's wreck. But it does mention Jim Reed as the winner - just as noted in the Reading Eagle article. And though I still haven't found the specifics, my bet is the race was part of NASCAR's Short Track Division schedule.




--
Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton
3 years ago
9,124 posts

Good stuff, Chase. If you recall, we talked a little about the Polo Grounds and Ed Otto and the Reading race a couple of years back in some comments to one of Tim's posts:

http://racersreunion.com/community/forum/stock-car-racing-history/26378/racing-history-minute-august-21-1959




--
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton
3 years ago
9,124 posts

The half-mile dirt Reading Fairgrounds Speedway hosted its last race of any kind in 1979. The property was then developed into Fairgrounds Square Mall.

Guess what? Now Fairgrounds Square Mall situated on the site of the former Reading racetrack is a near ghost town as evidenced in a video shot at 3:00pm on Saturday afternoon October 5, 2014.

Perhaps turnaround is fair play. Maybe they could tear down the mall and build a racetrack.




--
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
3 years ago
3,984 posts

Good memory Dave. I'd forgotten about it, and searches via Google and RR failed to take me to that page. May have been because I was searching for images vs. text. Either way - good recall to link back to it.

I found this archived New York Times article today covering the Polo Grounds race. (Wait - this post was SUPPOSED to be about the Reading Fairgrounds race, right? Anyway...) Interesting that it was referred to as a Grand National race. Found shorter snippets in Daytona and Sarasota FL papers referring to it simply as a "late model" race. So much for any branding of the division. The article mentions the race had several cautions but not one involving Junior specifically.




--
Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.
Alex FL Racing Fan
@alex-fl-racing-fan
3 years ago
221 posts

TMC Chase,

Personal experience and familiarity with the method of compiling races, it is very possible that this was a Grand National and/or Short Track race. It is not proven, but it is belief held by others that we do not have the results of every Grand National race (meaning the 71 Ontario race might actually have been race #1000!).

Do you have the links to these races?

Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton
3 years ago
9,124 posts

Reading Eagle - August 7, 2006

Reading Eagle - January 27, 1980

Reading Eagle - July 31, 1999




--
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
3 years ago
3,984 posts

Compiling the Short Track Division races year by year seems to be a project tailor-made for RacersReunion. Could obviously be a gradual effort - much like working on an old car in the garage from time to time.

I honestly very little about the short track series. Hadn't even heard of it until a couple of years ago. Last year, I bought an old issue of Illustrated Speedway News on ebay because it had a pic of Lee Petty and Bob Welborn. When I got it & started comparing the issue to websites, I realized the pics weren't from a GN race but from a Short Track race. It'll be tough to know if one gets 'em all since there are so few records to compare against.

The 1959 GN schedule supposedly only had 3 races in the northeast: Reading, Trenton and Heidelberg near Pittsburgh. While it's possible the Polo Grounds was a GN race, I tend to believe it was indeed part of the S-T division. The race had GN regulars in it - with cars raced the next day in a GN race at Reading - and was likely promoted by Otto as having "NASCAR's top GN drivers" participate - even though it may technically not have been a GN event. Otto wasn't above working in the gray from a promotional standpoint. And who from New York City was going to correct him when most knew so little about NASCAR anyway?




--
Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.
Jack Walker
@jack-walker
3 years ago
161 posts

Chase,

According to the Nascar Record Book there only 9 short track races held in 1959. Four of those were in the North East, and 5 were in California. Those in the North East were held at New York, NY on April 25th, and July 11th. These may have been at the Polo Grounds. The other2 were : Montreal Canada on July 12th, and Buffalo, NY on July 18th.

TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
3 years ago
3,984 posts
That's some good stuff Jack. Will what I can to track down news clippings for those.


--
Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.
Alex FL Racing Fan
@alex-fl-racing-fan
3 years ago
221 posts

Compiling the S-T Division is not for the faint of heart, to say the least. However, my current project is investigating the possibility of lost GN results... this project is fascinating enough that even NASCAR itself is trying to help me on this.

Yes, Ed Otto was a very sneaky promoter. But he followed through on things without fail. He got big names and promoted the races as an appearance of said drivers, and if the drivers didn't show up he always got the reason and shared it with the public. Sneaky? Yes. Honest? Also yes.

Any help you can provide is greatly appreciated. Thanks.