NASCAR purchased SAFE's Circuit of Champions All Star convertible series in 1955. Most of the regular drivers chose not to make the jump to the series' new owner. NASCAR forged ahead anyway with the launch of its acquisition in 1956.
The re-branded NASCAR Convertible Division ran 47 races in its 'inaugural' season - with a large number of its drivers pulling double duty in the convertibles and the Grand National and/or Short Track divisions.
The 14th race of the season was also the division's first trip to Columbia Speedway in South Carolina. Because of an aggressive race schedule by NASCAR and its track promoters, the drivers and teams had to hump it from Virginia to South Carolina. The convertibles raced on Friday night at Starkey Speedway in Roanoke and had to make the overnight trek to Columbia for the one-day event on Saturday.
Curtis Turner won the Roanoke race, and he kept the mojo rolling early in Columbia. He laid down the quickest lap to claim the pole. Jimmy Lewallen started 2nd. Fonty Flock & Jimmy Thompson made up the third row, and eventual three-time division champion Bob Welborn rounded out the top 5.
When the green dropped, Pops picked up right where he'd left off the previous night. He set sail and left the others behind for the first third of the race. But things got interesting a bit past the 30th lap when Turner made an aggressive move on the backstretch to pass two lapped cars. Aggressive? CURTIS TURNER?? Who woulda thunk it.
Turner cleared the two cars - but all sorts of hell broke out in his wake as Dick Joslin and Don Gray sailed out of the track. Despite the near miss, Curtis continued to lead until lap 72 when he cooked an engine and left the race. Lewallen, Possum, and Welborn then took turns leading a smidgen of laps at a time until lap 120.
At that point, Welborn seized the lead to pace the field for 72 consecutive laps - the same number as Turner had led. But then like Turner, Welborn inexplicably saw his chance at victory disappear when his Chevy quit running because of all things, a vapor lock.
As if often the case, it's often better to to be lucky than good. Jimmy Massey had the good fortune to have survived the race and to be in second place when Welborn parked his car. Massey rolled through the corners for 8 more laps, and he took the win.
I don't have Greg Fielden's Rumblin' Ragtops book to recap the race, any pictures or legible newspaper articles. But I was able to extract the majority of the text from a race report from an archived edition of the Florence Morning News . I'll let it tell the story, and I'll inject a few things along the way.
A three-car collision that sent two cars through the backstretch barrier, one in flames, marred an accident-slowed 100 mile Grand National Circuit late model convertible race here tonight before Jim Massey of Burlington, N.C., crossed the finish line the winner.
Massey took the lead on the 192nd lap of the long grind on the half-mile Columbia Speedway dirt track before a crowd of 4,500. He finished two laps ahead of Jimmy Lewallen of Archdale, N.C. and Possum Jones of Mango, Fla. who came in third. All three front finishers were in Chevrolets. Frank Mundy of Atlanta was fourth in a Dodge that started last in a field of 20. (TMC: The run-down Ive found shows 22 starters with Mundy rolling off 21st.)
The one bad accident came about when Curtis Turner of Roanoke, Va., tried to shoot his Dodge between a driven by Dick Joslin of Orlando, Fla., and a Ford wheeled by Don Gray. There wasn't quite enough room, and Joslin and Gray tangled and went head-on through the barrier. One car caught fire and both were demolished. Gray was treated at hospital for minor cuts and bruises and dismissed. Turner managed to keep his car on the track but went out on the 60th lap with a burned-out motor. (TMC: Racing-Reference shows Turner exited on lap 72 after leading every lap to that point.)
The caution flag went up several times in the race sponsored by the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing. This was the first race drive in South Carolina in the new NASCAR classification of convertibles that are run with tops removed but with roll bars welded in to protect drivers.
Massey's win was his first of three career convertible victories. All of them were in Hubert Westmoreland's Chevrolet. Though I don't have a photo of Massey from Columbia, I'm guessing his car looked like the one he raced in Hutchinson, Kansas on June 10th, about 3 weeks after Columbia. [ Source ]
The back-to-back races over the two nights were apparently more than the cars could handle. Making things even tougher was a race five days before Roanoke at the legendary Langhorne Speedway in Pennsylvania where the majority of the field didn't finish. With three races compacted into 6 days - 650 miles apart - and low-budget, multi-purpose cars, it is perhaps not surprising at the high level of attrition at Columbia.
When the checkers fell, it had to be a curious sight to see for fans in the stands. Only 4 cars were still running of the 22 starters. Massey was in a lap to himself. Possum finished 2nd in a lap to himself. Lewallen finished third a lap behind Possum. And Bill Lang soldiered home as the final car running - 17th and about 140 laps down to the winner!
|1||Jimmy Massey||'56 Chevrolet||200||running|
|2||Possum Jones||'56 Chevrolet||199||running|
|3||Jimmie Lewallen||'56 Chevrolet||198||running|
|4||Frank Mundy||'56 Dodge||198||rf tire|
|5||Bob Welborn||'56 Chevrolet||191||vapor lock|
|6||Dave Hirschfield||'56 Chevrolet||176||steering|
|7||Fonty Flock||'56 Chevrolet||174||exhaust|
|8||Ray Atkinson||'56 Dodge||170||tires|
|9||Art Binkley||'56 Plymouth||159||carburetor|
|10||Gene Blair||'56 Mercury||155||push rod|
|11||Mel Larson||'56 Ford||153||rear end|
|12||Dick Joslin||'56 Dodge||143||crash|
|13||Danny Letner||'56 Dodge||136||rear end|
|14||Allen Adkins||'56 Dodge||124||transmission|
|15||Curtis Turner||'56 Ford||72||engine|
|16||Jimmy Thompson||'56 Mercury||69||engine|
|17||Bill Lang||'56 Ford||64||running|
|18||Larry Odo||'56 Chevrolet||59||piston|
|19||Bob Pronger||'55 Buick||45||spindle|
|20||Don Gray||'56 Ford||33||crash|
|21||Bill Brown||'56 Mercury||31||piston|
|22||Don Oldenberg||'55 Buick||6||crash|
Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.
updated by @tmc-chase: 12/05/16 04:00:58PM