50 Years of NASCAR Racing ~ Post 48
By Matt McLaughlin
Editor’s note: This article is part of a special reprise of Matt McLaughlin’s “50 Years of NASCAR Racing”, written and published in 1998 in commemoration of NASCAR ‘s 50th Anniversary celebration that year. In keeping with the RacersReunion mission of passing the history of our sport down to younger fans, Matt has kindly granted us permission to run the entire series. Please, sit back and enjoy as you take a journey back through the pages of history and perhaps relive a memory or two. Many thanks to Matt for his generosity in sharing. God bless you, my friend.
· At the 1963 race in Riverside, California, Richard Petty drove a Plymouth equipped with an automatic transmission as an experiment for Chrysler, who had an extensive program of developing automatic transmissions for drag racing. (Mainly because their manual transmissions were junk) The experiment didn’t fare too well and Richard dropped out after 27 laps with transmission failure. Years earlier, Tim Flock actually won a Daytona Beach and Road course event in a Chrysler equipped with an automatic transmission.
· Speaking of Richard Petty, does anywhere remember where he ran his first NASCAR Grand National (now Winston Cup) event? It was at the Canadian National Exposition Speedway in Toronto, Canada, July 18th, 1958. His dad, Lee Petty won the event. That race and one July 1st 1952 in Niagara Falls Ontario remain the only two points paying races ever run on foreign soil.
· Dale Earnhardt has never won a pole at Martinsville…but his car has. Dale was unable to get to the track in time for the 1989 fall race due to the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo. NASCAR allowed Jimmy Hensley to substitute for him and Hensley put the pole in the 3 car. (Editor’s note: That pole also earned Gentleman Jimmy a spot in the 1990 Busch Class. By luck of the draw, he started from the pole, driving a car provided by Rob Moroso, not Richard Childress, and finished 10th, which was dead last, one lap down to eventual winner, Ken Schrader)
· Herman “The Turtle” Beam made an embarrassing mistake during his qualifying race for the 1960 Daytona 500. He was so excited to get into the event that he forgot to put on his crash helmet and remains to date the only driver ever black flagged for not wearing a helmet.
· Al Keller won the race in Linden, New Jersey, on a road course set up on an airport’s runways, on June 13, 1954. Keller was driving a Jaguar, which remains to date the only foreign car ever to win an event in NASCAR’s top division.
· In 1963, Joe Weatherly won the Grand National Championship driving, at various points during the season, a Pontiac, Dodge, Chrysler, Plymouth, and Mercury.
· On August 1963, at the Winston Salem quarter-mile oval, Bill Whitley drove a Corvette….to a dead last place finish. Smokey Cook beat him by two positions in an MG.
· In 1950, the second year of Grand National racing, 10 out of 19 events were held north of the Mason Dixon line.
· In 1952, Hudson automobiles won 27 out of 34 races.
· The last dirt track race in Grand National competition was held September 30th 1970, at the one-mile oval in Raleigh, North Carolina. Richard Petty was the winner.
· 1971 was the first year Winston was the title sponsor of NASCAR’s premier division. Of the tracks that held races that year, 19 no longer run Winston Cup events.
· There was no Daytona 500 in 1974. It was the Daytona 450. Because of the fuel crisis, Bill France asked all track owners to cut their event’s length by 10 per cent in the early part of that season. Coincidentally, the Firecracker 400 was the first race that ran at full length that year.
· During the period from 5/30 to 8/27 1971 there were 17 events. Richard Petty or Bobby Allison won all but two of them. Bobby Isaac and Charlie Glotzbach won the other two races.
· Richmond remains the only track to date where all three Pettys, Lee, Richard and Kyle have won an event.
· Curtis Turner was once ticketed for driving 57 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone…..in reverse.
· At the Riverside race, June 21st 1987, Rick Hendrick had five cars entered. Tim Richmond won the race in one of those cars. Other drivers included Darrell Waltrip, Benny Parsons, Geoff Bodine, and Jim Fitzgerald who was 65 years old at the time. ( He was Paul Newman’s racing partner)
· Anyone remember the name of Cale Yarborough’s brother who also raced in NASCAR’s ranks? Sorry, it wasn’t LeeRoy, who was not related to Cale and in fact spelled his last name differently (Yarbrough). Cale’s brother J.C. ran in two events in 1969. LeeRoy had a brother Eldon who ran in three Grand National events. To add a little more confusion there was also an Eddie Yarboro who raced in the late 60′s and 70′s. Don’t feel bad if you thought Cale and LeeRoy were brothers. So did I until recently. ( Thanks, Gary Christopher. )
· In 1993 Richard Petty’s car, driven by Rick Wilson, carried the number 44 not 43. Richard had been hoping NASCAR would retire his number, but when he found out it was up for grabs, he quickly switched back to “43″ in 1994.
· Janet Guthrie ( who raced at Indy this year) finished 23rd in points in 1977 with 4 top ten finishes, the best showing by a female in the modern era. Three woman competed in the 1977 Firecracker 400, the first time that had happened since 1949.
· Wendell Scott won the 100-mile race at Jacksonville on December 1, 1963. It remains to date the only race won by an African-American driver. Scott actually had to complete 202 laps of the scheduled 200 that day, and Buck Baker was flagged the winner. Scott protested, and 4 hours later NASCAR decided he had indeed won, blaming a scoring error. Some folks will point out, by that point the crowd had gone home, and guess NASCAR was afraid how the crowd would have reacted to a black driver winning. Someone stole the trophy before Wendell could receive it.
· The most events ever run in a Grand National season was 62 in 1964. The least amount of races was 8 in 1949, followed by 19 in 1950. The least amount of races in the modern era was 28 in 1973.
· When Bill Elliott won the Winston Million, he was showered with fake cash by Winston in winner’s circle. Unfortunately most of them had his last name misspelled “Eliott”. Of course, Bill was in a forgiving mood that day. Some member of his pit crew had installed the number 9 decal on the roof of his Ford upside down as well.
· During a modified race, legendary stock car independent driver Soapy Castles was leading a race. Crowd favorite Curtis Turner was a lap down and trying to make up that lap. Castles didn’t want Turner back on the lead lap, because Curtis would restart right on his rear bumper after the next caution, and anyone who ever raced against Curtis knew you didn’t want a rear-view mirror full of Turner if you were between him and the checkers. The flagman kept waving the “Move Over” flag at Castles, who found an unusual way to get that fellow to reconsider. He pulled a handgun, and shot the flag out of the starter’s hand.
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