May 29, 1922 - January 19,
STORIES - 2
“Good Old Days” were not really that good. Even those of us who
lived through those days must admit, upon further reflection,
that the Good Days are today.
I’d like to take this
opportunity to give some history, as well as a bit of personal
perspective about 1964, the year Joe Weatherly died and
Not too long after the
death of Joe Weatherly, I was riding with my father when he told
me he wanted to stop at a place where I might see something
interesting. We pulled to a stop at a monument company!
Displayed in front of the building were examples of the
company’s main product: headstones. When we got inside, Dad
asked the man to show me a proposal drawing for a headstone. The
proposed headstone was for Joe Weatherly. While the
actual finished design of the marker differs from my memory of
the drawing, the designs’ distinctive features are intact.
The marker is in the shape of Riverside International Raceway,
as it was used for the NASCAR races.
The cars followed
the track going through the “esses,” then taking the right-hand
Turn Seven then going straight to the right-hand Turn Twelve,
for a 2.62-mile, nine-turn lap. The point where Weatherly’s car
impacted the wall (Turn Five) being marked on the headstone by
crossed checkered flags. Perhaps such an unusual headstone is
appropriate for a man who was called “The Clown Prince of
The simple roll bar
structure shown in the above photos is the basic design upon
which the current structure is based. Safety, as can be seen in
the photo, was nothing like it is today.
When Cotton Owens added a door bar (about at seat cushion
level) on the drivers side of his Dodges driven by David
Pearson, it warranted an article in the race program for the
1964 World 600.
For most of NASCAR’s
existence, driver’s safety equipment was “suggested” or
“recommended.” The drivers and teams were, after all,
“independent contractors.” For example, Weatherly did not like,
and did not use, a shoulder harness and none was required.
Weatherly said he could escape from any fire faster if he was
not using a shoulder harness.
Joe W. at
Riverside in 1964 before the fatal wreck. Notice there is no
shoulder harness or window safety net.
There was virtually nothing to keep a left side head impact from
The '61 USAC Stock Car Champion Paul Goldsmith, a teenage Linda
Vaughn as Miss Pontiac and Joe Weatherly (who went on to win the
'62 NASCAR Championship) are shown during a promotional tour for
the record-setting Nichels Engineering prepared Pontiacs. This
photo shows the red Catalina hardtop at Daytona; Note the high
banks and the distance to the banking as well as Joe's brown and
white saddle shoes.
As you may have noticed in
photos of Weatherly in my story about him, he is often shown
wearing short-sleeve shirts and regular dress shoes; the shoes
in Joe’s case usually being brown-and-white saddle shoes (see
top picture). Even later, when driver uniforms were available,
drivers tended to wear street shoes, David Pearson and Dave Marcis were well known for their well-worn leather
shoes. Safety testing in more recent years has shown that
leather shoes are not protective in the case of a fire. Drivers
who use ‘sneakers’ or similar type street shoes are very
vulnerable to fire injury, as the rubber parts of these types of
shoe can melt causing major damage to the driver’s feet.
Driver’s uniforms in 1964
were regular cotton material soaked in a chemical bath and then
allowed to air dry, leaving the garments stiff and smelly. Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, although a fine athlete who worked
out regularly, suffered from asthma and did not wear a treated
uniform. (More on this later.) The first protective driver
uniforms used NOMEX ® a flame resistant material, which was
under development in the early 1960s by DuPont, but was not
available until 1967.
Weatherly’s car impacted the
concrete wall in the right hand Turn Five at Riverside. This
turn was part of the complex of turns commonly called the
“esses” labeled as Turns Three, Four, Five and Six.The images
show how the impact with the wall has crushed the left front
fender and the headlight area of the grille on the cars’ left is
impact was so hard that the windshield had popped out of its
mounting, with the rubber window seal (shown in the top image)
in the air to the right of the car.
Although the information available is not clear on this, it is
generally believed that Weatherly died on impact.
There is more info, pictures and video of
the fatal crash.
Caution: Material is graphic and we only
material readily available in public.
And Later .
. . . the 1964 World 600 . . . Tragedy again
On May 24, 1964 the World
600 was held, and once again, I was with my Dad and his friends
in the Ford Grandstand on the front straight to watch the race.
An accident occurred half way through lap eight on the back
stretch. We weren’t quite sure what had happened, as we were
without a radio to listen to the race broadcast; but we soon
knew some bad was happening. A large cloud of black smoke began
to rise from the back straight.
This photo was taken from a slightly lower angle than my
viewpoint in the Ford Grandstand
on the front straight at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
This photo shows an overhead view of the accident, as Roberts’
car is being extinguished.
The black smoke was from burning gasoline.
The accident included
Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson and Glenn ‘Fireball’ Roberts.
Roberts’ car had struck
the inside guardrail rear-end first and the stock gas tank,
still full of fuel, was split open and the contents burst into
fire. Jarrett’s car had also hit the inside
wall with his cars’ smashed gas tank spilling gas which caught
on fire as well. Jarrett pulled Roberts from the burning car.
Roberts driving suit, specially tailored to fit, had not been
chemically treated and Roberts suffered burns over 80% of his
Roberts’s car had landed
upside down and the burning gas pooled in the roof of the car.
Roberts amazed the doctors by surviving the first 48 hours after
the accident, and he somehow survived, even appearing to begin
recovery, until succumbing to his burns on July 2, 1964 at age
The death of Joe
Weatherly had still been on the drivers’ minds before the
start of the race. Roberts had mentioned to Jarrett before the
start of the ‘600’ that he was thinking of retiring at the end
Roberts in fact had
recently been divorced but had wanted to wait to get re-married
until he and his fiancé could have a ‘proper’ wedding. Roberts’
fiancé visited him every day while he was in the hospital. When
Roberts died she was legally entitled to nothing from his
estate, and she never married.
Jarrett went on to win the
season championship in 1964 and retired while still champion in
mid-1965. Johnson basically retired after the 1965 season, but
competed in seven short-track races late in 1966.
NASCAR's First Triple Champion… Almost.
The Nichels Engineering Pontiacs take the green flag at
Darlington to set more world records.
season had 53 races. Joe Weatherly, Richard Petty and Ned
Jarrett each raced in 52 races that year and that was the
order of finish in the final point standings. Weatherly won the
championship with nine wins, 39 Top Fives, 45 Top Tens, and
seven poles. Petty had eight wins with Jarrett wining six times.
Southern 500 of 1962 had caused a big problem for Joe
Weatherly. The race was the 13th annual Southern 500
and Weatherly told track president Bob Colvin that he
would not compete. Colvin was furious, as he had a handshake
deal with Weatherly and Colvin demanded that Weatherly honor the
agreement. But Joe refused to have anything to do with the
number thirteen.Colvin finally devised a way to appease
Weatherly. The 1962 Southern 500 was renamed the “The 12th
Renewal of the Southern 500.”
captured the 1962 NASCAR championship on the strength of his
nine wins in 52 starts. An amazing level of consistency
contributed to Weatherly's title run as he finished out of the
top 10 only seven times. Weatherly drove 51 of his 52 starts in
Bud Moore’s No. 8 Pontiac, and made one start in Fred Harb’s
Ford at the 0.333-mile Southside Speedway just south of Richmond
VA. Weatherly finished the 1962 season with 30,836 points with
an average finish of 5.0, Petty with 28,440 and an average
finish of 6.9, and Jarrett with 25,336 points and an average
finish of 9.3. Weatherly would take his second championship in
the 55 race 1963 season.
would start 53 races, getting three wins, 20 top fives, 35 top
tens and six poles. Joe had over $74,600 in winnings. Richard
Petty raced in 54 races in 1963 and took 14 wins, 30 top
fives, 39 top tens and eight poles. Petty finished second in
points with 31,170, compared to Weatherly’s 33,398 points. Petty
took over $55,900 in prize money. The points awarded for races
in that era were on a formula totally different from what is
used today, with point values for each race awarded by a
combination of length of race and money won.
Fred Lorenzen was the first NASCAR driver to break
$100,000 in winnings for a season (one source says $122,587,
while another says $113,750). 1963 was the same year that Arnold Palmer became the first golfer to break $100,000 in
winnings. Lorenzen finished third in the final season points for
1963, competing in just 29 races, compared to fourth place Ned
Jarrett with 53 starts. Over 2400 points separated the two
drivers. Jarrett took over $ 45,800.
The GM Benefit
Motors hit its peak in 1962 with the company taking about 51% of
all car sales in the United States. Racing had helped Pontiac
move into third place in sales (the brand was sixth in 1957), a
position Pontiac would hold through 1969. General Motors was
aware that the federal government was concerned that GM had too
much of the market, and that there had been work done to
possibly break up GM due to anti-trust (monopoly) laws. As a
company, General Motors was certainly concerned about drawing
too much attention to itself. Perhaps that was the reason that
for 1963, Pontiac’s parent company cut back on the money used to
support the racing efforts of both Chevrolet and Pontiac.
whatever the reason, the cut back forced Weatherly’s chase of
the 1963 championship into one of the most unusual championship
efforts in the history of NASCAR. Joe’s car owner, Bud Moore
cut back on the races that he competed in, and Weatherly had to
‘bum’ rides with other owners at the events that Moore’s car’s
did not contest.
Weatherly drove races in cars owned by Floyd Powell, Pete
Stewart, Worth McMillion, and Possum Jones, a total of 15
times, all in Pontiacs. Weatherly also drove a Petty
Enterprises Plymouth, a Chrysler for Major Melton, and
a Dodge (twice) for Wade Younts.
GM eventually announced that it would adhere to the racing ban
that was still in effect with the Automobile Manufacturers
Association. Meanwhile Ford was totally ignoring the ‘ban’ in
1963 after returning to racing in 1962. Meanwhile the money for
the GM teams was drying up. Weatherly’s team eventually switched
to Mercury, with Joe making his debut in a Bud Moore
Mercury at the 45th race of the season, the Southern
500. Weatherly used a Moore Pontiac in two small races at the
end of the season before finishing the 1963 season in a Moore
Mercury in the Golden State 400 at Riverside CA. Weatherly won
the 1963 championship driving five different makes of cars for
eight different owners!
Joe started the 1964 season in a manner similar to his 1963
season, driving for different owners in the small races that
began the year. He ran the first race of the year in a No. 8
Moore Pontiac finishing second to Ned Jarrett, having led 84
laps in a 250 lap race at Concord NC. Joe then drove a Bill
Stroppe Mercury in the second race of the season, following
that with races for Sherman Utsman and Ray Osborne
both times in Fords. In the third race of the 1964 season, run
on December 3 1963, Weatherly finished 12th in
Utsman’s Ford, 82 laps behind winner Wendell Scott.
Buck Baker had taken the checkered flag when he finished his
200 laps (the official length of the race) for the apparent win.
But after Scott protested it was found (after the fans had gone
home) that Scott was two laps ahead of Baker. Wendell Scott
is shown as the race winner, having run 202 laps of a 200 lap
race. It was the only win for Scott in the Grand National
Series, and is still the only win in the series by an
fifth race of 1964 season, on the road course at Riverside CA,
Joe was leading the season points. Joe was driving the new Bud
Moore 1964 Mercury Marauder, wearing the now-familiar
number 8. Mechanical problems forced Weatherly into the pits
early, and he lost laps while repairs were being made. Weatherly
was back on the track trying to gather as many points as
possible when, on his 85th lap of the 185-lap race, he crashed
in the right-hand bend of the "esses" on the twisting road
course. There has been debate about what caused the accident.
Some have speculated that an engine failure occurred, with the
parts thrown out severing the brake lines. Bud Moore has
said that new type brake parts inside the drums (remember the
cars all had four-wheel drum brakes) failed, causing brake
failure. Joe Weatherly, whose life was almost ended by a head
injury so many years before, was killed when his helmeted head
struck the wall.
NASCAR's First Triple Champion...Almost—Pt. 1
Weatherly won the Cup Championship in 1962 and, after a near
heroic effort, again in 1963 and was leading the points as the
fifth race of the 1964 season began at Riverside California.
Mechanical problems forced Weatherly into the pits early, and he
lost laps while repairs were being made. He was back on the
track trying to gather as many points as possible when, on his
85th lap of the 185-lap race, he crashed in the "esses" on the
twisting road course.
than just a hell-raising buddy of Curtis Turner, or the
Clown Prince of Racing, Weatherly won his two Cup Championships
after winning three championships on motorcycles, and out of 230
Cup races he ran from 1952-64, he took 25 wins, 28 seconds, and
19 thirds, with 19 poles.
Joe Herbert "Little Joe" Weatherly Jr.
was born on May 29, 1922 in Norfolk Virginia. The nickname
“Little Joe” likely came from the fact that he was Joe Jr., but
also from the fact that, as an adult, he was no more than five
feet four inches tall.
Weatherly was well known for his playful disposition. During
his racing days he was usually seen smiling with his distinctive
scar running down the left side of his face. As a kid, I
couldn’t believe my eyes when Joe Weatherly appeared on the TV
show What’s My Line? The show consisted of a panel of
four celebrities who would ask a series of questions to find out
the guest's “line of work.” One of the panelists asked Joe if he
got his scar from his line of work, but Joe told them that he
received the scar in an accident.
a lot of misinformation around about the source of Joe’s scar.
There have been comments that Joe got his scar from a racing
accident. Most Internet information about Weatherly report
something like: “Weatherly was wounded while serving for the
United States armed forces in North Africa during World War II.
A German sniper's bullet struck him in the face.” Joe
himself has been reported to have told the sniper story on
story of Joe’s scar was reported in The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA) by Earl Swift on Oct. 2, 2007.
night of Wednesday, Oct. 2, 1946 approached midnight, two
officers were reporting to duty on the traffic bureau of the
Norfolk (VA) Police Department, when they got the report of an
accident on 26th Street at Leo Street with multiple injuries.
Fortunately for Joe Weatherly, a pair of off-duty officers
hitched a ride on the stretcher-equipped van that answered the
call. The off-duty officers were hoping to simply catch a ride
home. The single car accident involved a 1942 Buick with six
passengers. Of the two couples in the back, the two girls were
just shaken up. One of the men was slightly injured, but the
other man was found with his head wedged between the front seat
and the door post. The officers said, “he was in bad shape.”
front seat, things were very dramatic. The face of the driver,
Joe Weatherly, was badly cut by the windshield with blood
spurting from his neck. Joe’s girlfriend, who Joe would marry in
October 1948, suffered two broken legs. One of the off-duty
officers put both hands over Weatherly’s neck to stop the loss
of blood from his jugular vein, and then he went with Weatherly
in the ambulance to DePaul Hospital, the officer’s action saving
seat passenger was extricated from between the seat and door
post and was transported to Norfolk General Hospital with “a
forehead laceration and internal injuries.” Weatherly was
charged with reckless driving and driving with a revoked permit.
When the passenger died on Oct. 6, Weatherly was charged with
homicide. Two months after the accident, the homicide charge was
dropped. Weatherly’s girlfriend later testified that Joe had
stopped just a block before the accident scene to talk to some
friends. Speeding was not the cause, she said, but a steering
link broken after striking a curb was, with the car then hitting
Weatherly was convicted of the lesser charges after appeal in
January 1947 and fined $400 and two suspended 30-day sentences.
Later Weatherly lost a case brought by the dead man’s family,
and the victim’s family was awarded $15,000. Weatherly was even
sued by his fiancée and her mother, and in June 1947, a jury
awarded $10,000 to his fiancée and $4,000 to his fiancée’s
accident occurred just a few months before Weatherly began to
professionally race motorcycles. Weatherly had become interested
in motorcycling during high school and had even taken a job as a
pharmacy motorcycle deliveryman. Weatherly had served in the
Army in World War II and was readying to resume his motorcycle
racing career, but on a professional level, when his
face-scarring accident occurred. Within two years of the
accident, Weatherly would be a national motorcycle champion.
young Joe Weatherly is shown with his Harley-Davidson motorcycle
during his motorcycle championship days. (Motorcycle Hall of
first sign of racing excellence to come was first seen in
Weatherly’s motorcycle career, which only lasted about five
years, when he took a sixth place in the prestigious Laconia
(New Hampshire) Classic 100-Mile road race in 1947. Weatherly
went on to win the Laconia race in 1948 by a margin of almost a
minute. Weatherly proved he wasn’t just a one-race wonder by
winning Laconia again in 1949. Weatherly’s third National win
was in Richmond (Virginia) in 1950. After these three American
Motorcycle Association Class C championships on his
Harley-Davidson, he began to switch his racing efforts to stock
cars in 1951.
Weatherly raced a few more times through 1954 in the Daytona 200
motorcycle event, he had begun racing full-time in stock cars by
1952. (Joe Weatherly was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of
Fame in 1998.) Weatherly started racing stock cars in 1950 and
reportedly won the first race he entered. In 1952, Weatherly
competed in NASCAR and won 49 of the 83 races that year and won
the NASCAR Modified Championship.
Weatherly won 52 races, again winning NASCAR’s Modified National
Weatherly was also interested in the business side of the sport,
being involved in a race track on the corner of Witchduck Road
and Virginia Beach Boulevard in Virginia Beach (VA). This
three-eighth mile sand/dirt track was built in 1948 and was used
until 1960. The track was sometimes known as Virginia Beach
Speedway or Joe Weatherly Speedway, but was perhaps best
known as Chinese Corner Speedway.
remember the time my father took me to Chinese Corner for a
race. I was pretty young, and I remember he said that Joe
Weatherly was running there. But the only thing I remember of
the trip was that it was my first time taking the ferry across
the Hampton Roads (the name the Jamestown settlers gave the
harbor) from Hampton to Norfolk. The ferry was replaced by the
Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel in 1957.
partnering with Paul Sawyer (his partner at Chinese
Corner), Weatherly became owner of the Richmond (VA) race track.
That track was known at the time as the “Atlantic Rural
Fairgrounds.” About a year later, Sawyer bought out
Weatherly and continued for many years as owner of the Richmond
Weatherly in the “M-4" modified owned by John Robert (Bob) Fish
Jr. The car numbers were inspired by the model of Fish
Carburetor used. However, I have only found evidence of model
numbers M-1, M-2, and M-3.
Weatherly’s first Grand National (Cup) race was the 1952
Southern 500 driving a ’52 Hudson for fellow Virginian Junie
Donlavey. This event was only the second race as a Cup car
owner in Donlavey’s 45-year career as an owner at the Cup level.
Weatherly started 38th and finished in 16th that day.
Weatherly’s next GN start was in 1954, finishing seventh in the
11th race of the season at Wilson NC in a 1953 Oldsmobile.
Weatherly got his big break in 1955 when he got a ride with the
Ford factory team, and it was all because of the advertising of
Chevrolet’s advertising agency.
Chevrolet introduced their new V8 in 1955, its first V8 since
the post-World War I era. For decades before 1955, Chevrolet had
been using six-cylinder engines, and their advertising agency
was looking for a way to promote the new engine.Qualifying for
the February races at Daytona was unique even prior to the
Daytona Speedway opening in 1959. Racers were timed in the "flying mile"
down the beach to determine starting positions
in the race. These straight line efforts no doubt prevented the
turns on the beach-road course from being torn up before the
races began. During "Speedweeks" at Daytona, flying mile times
were also open to average people grouped into various classes.
A Florida Highway Patrolman drove his 1955 Chevy V8 to a speed
of 112.113 MPH, an unheard-of speed for a low-priced car. The
advertising agency for Chevrolet wasted no time running ads
about “The Hot One,” as they dubbed the new engine. The fact
that the Chevy was only second quickest in class was not
15 a Chevy won at Fayetteville NC, in a non-Grand National (Cup)
race, and a Chevy won the Grand National race at Columbia SC on
March 26. Newspaper and radio ads followed each win, and Ford
dealers complained loudly to the company headquarters in
Dearborn. The Ford dealers had been unhappy for years, but when
their direct competitor was advertising wins (and getting sales
on Monday after the wins on Sunday), it was too much to
Chevrolet’s advertising made it seem (at least to the Ford
dealers) that they were constantly winning. The fact that Chevy
had only won one Grand National race prior to the Southern 500
during the 1955 season didn’t matter.
Chryslers won 27 races (18 wins by Tim Flock in the
Kiekhaefer Chrysler) and Oldsmobile won 10 in what would be a
45-race season in 1955.
you an idea of the variety of nameplates competing, both Buick
and Chevrolet got their first two wins in the series in 1955.
Dodge and Hudson each got one win.
Herb Thomas was responsible for the
last-ever win for Hudson and the first-ever two wins for Buick
before switching to Chevrolet.
Meanwhile, Ford dealers felt they had the V8 market (at least in
the low-price field) to themselves, what with Ford introducing
its V8 in 1932. The fact that with the introduction of Strictly
Stock (Grand National) series, the racers had at first gone to
Cadillac or Oldsmobile was bad enough, but at least those two
brands were not considered direct competitors to Ford.
Kiekhaefer Chrysler team that dominated the 1955 season was
not supported by the manufacturer, and the crusty Carl
Kiekhaefer would likely not have put up with anyone from
Chrysler telling him what to do anyway.
Ford introducing their new overhead valve “Y-block” engine in
1954, an engine that was slightly more powerful that the new
Chevy engine, they had had no success. More expensive brands
were winning races in NASCAR. Up to early in 1955, Ford cars had
just one NASCAR Grand National victory since the series began in
1949. Ford knew they had to enter NASCAR racing, but they were
not sure if they should wait until the races in Daytona in
February 1956 or go right away.
leaders of Ford actually asked a field service manager from
Ford’s Charlotte (NC) District, who had been helping Ford
racers, "unofficially," since 1951, about how they should
respond to the Chevrolet threat. Bill Benton was that
man, and he had gone to Dearborn to tell Ford’s leaders about
what needed to be done to go stock car racing. When the top
people asked Benton if they should wait for the start of the
1956 season, or go to Darlington in 1955, Benton said, “We’ll
go.” Benton felt that any sort of effort in 1955 would be better
than waiting. And so a man, who had no power to make a
corporate decision, committed Ford Motor Company to enter NASCAR
racing in mid-1955, and the circumstances of how Ford would
later get two of the best drivers on the circuit was just as
remarkable. Two cars were built in Ford’s experimental garage in
Dearborn and received their final preparation in the service
area of Schwam Motors, a Ford dealer in Charlotte, NC
that would be the sponsor for the cars.
Charlie Schwam was a showman and had the cars painted a
vivid purple, with caricatures of snorting wild boars on the
front fenders. The cars were nicknamed “Schwam’s Wild Hogs.” A
salesman for Schwam who was a racing fan and friend of Joe
Weatherly asked Joe if he would be interested in driving one
of the cars, and Joe talked to his friend Curtis Turner,
and so Ford had two of the best drivers around driving the two
new cars. Things were much simpler in those days! The two cars
arrived a few weeks before the race, with Ford engineers along
to supervise the preparation. Despite long hours of work and
early morning three-hour trips to the track for secret sunrise
testing, the preparation was not going well. Buddy Shuman,
a Charlotte car builder and driver, was called in to get the
cars ready. After a week of sleepless nights for Shuman and the
Schwam mechanics, the race cars were at the track for the event.
Weatherly qualified his Ford at 109.006 MPH, while Shuman tested
the second car at 109.054 MPH, embarrassing Turner, who, for
some reason, couldn’t get the car over 106. Fireball Roberts’
Fish Carburetor-sponsored Buick was on the pole at 110.682
MPH, while second-day qualifier Tim Flock’s Chrysler set a new
record of 112.041. Soon after the 75-car field took the green
flag, Turner charged to the lead, after starting in 15th. The
two Fords were putting on a show, with Turner leading laps 110
through 123 of the 366-lap event, until a tie-rod in the front
suspension failed, ending his day on lap 133. Weatherly soon
took the lead of the 364-lap race. Joe led from lap 180 to lap
278 until he pitted for gas and tires, putting Herb Thomas’
Chevrolet in the lead. Thomas, who had won Darlington in 1951
and 1954, could do nothing to prevent Weatherly from regaining
the lead with his Purple Hog on lap 307. But this story would
not have a happy ending for Ford, as Weatherly’s front
suspension failed on lap 317. After starting seventh in the
69-car field and leading for 140 laps, he finished 33rd. A
privately entered Ford finished fifth, while Thomas went on win
the race in his Chevrolet, with more bowties following in
positions 2-4-7-8-9-10. Chevrolet’s ad agency went to work
proclaiming the performance. After the initial disappointment,
Ford officials knew they had done the right thing, as they felt
the Fords had given fans excitement they had not had before.
continued to race the cars on a limited basis in 1955 with
Weatherly in six races and Turner with five starts for the team.
But despite the fact the factory had two of the best drivers,
Ford only got two wins in 1955. Speedy Thompson and Buck
Baker each got a win in October 1955, which, when added to a
win in 1950, gave the Ford nameplate just three NASCAR wins from
1949 to 1955. While this compared well with Chevrolet’s two wins
during the same period in NASCAR, Ford was now out for more.
Things would change in Ford’s favor in the Chevy vs. Ford
conflict in 1956, and Joe Weatherly was along for the ride.
NASCAR's First Triple Champion...Almost—Pt. 2
1956 NASCAR season approached, Joe Weatherly for the first time
in his budding career had a full-time ride in a national touring
NASCAR series. In 1955 when Ford Motor Co. decided to enter
stock car racing, they set up an outside corporation to run the
effort. Pete DePaolo, winner of the 1925 Indianapolis 500,
agreed to head the organization.
DePaolo stands beside a 1956 Ford Sedan with Joe Weatherly in
the driver's seat. Despite the plain-Jane appearance, notice the
"Thunderbird engine" logo on the front fender above the front
bumper tip. No plain vanilla two door, this car had a 312 under
Engineering Inc. was the organization set up to run the racing
efforts. However, there were several flaws in the effort. While
Chevrolet had leaders and engineers who liked racing and put
changes of the cars into production line vehicles in the
interest of improving their racing, Ford was not doing this.
Ford leaders and engineers did not know about the strange world
of stock car racing, and changes to the production line products
would not be put into effect until years into the future. In the
planning of the racing efforts and the work of liaison between
Ford and the racers, the new DePaolo organization was less than
the best as well.
that the Ford teams were ahead of everyone else was in the team
of drivers. In those days, a good driver could make a lesser car
run up front and even take wins. Shortly after the DePaolo team
was formed, Ford factory-built cars dropped out of races with
minor problems that could have been corrected by the experienced
racers if DePaolo had let them, instead of listening to the Ford
engineers. Part of the problem was that DePaolo’s headquarters
was in California, near the Bill Stroppe team that had
prepared the Lincolns in the Mexican road race and built stock
car racers for Mercury. DePaolo needed someone to run the
Eastern operations and Red Vogt was brought in to help.
After two sedans and two convertibles were built for 1956, the
team was short a driver.
Joe Weatherly shown in his 1956 Ford Sunliner convertible on the
beach at Daytona. The debut race of the new Convertible Division
was Feb. 25, 1956. Weatherly started on the pole in his No. 12
and led the first five laps before dropping out on lap 20 with
water pump failure.
Weatherly, Curtis Turner and Fireball Roberts were left as
drivers after Speedy Thompson quit. Vogt knew that a
former midget racer, Ralph Moody, was available.
Vogt offered Moody $500 a month to drive, plus 40 percent of the
winnings plus expenses, and an additional $500 if he also worked
on the cars, the driver shortage was quickly solved. Soon after
the season began, John Holman was hired by DePaolo.
Holman, a former employee of Bill Stroppe was a man who
would soon prove he had his own ideas on how the new
organization should be operating. Red Vogt quit shortly
after, but Holman eventually got the team on the right track.
Kiekhaefer hired Red Vogt the day after Vogt had quit
the Ford team. Vogt wanted to know how Kiekhaefer knew that he
had quit. “I have my ways and means,” replied Kiekhaefer.
Ford, the debut race for the new Convertible Series in February
1956 on the Daytona beach-road course was better than expected.
Weatherly started on the pole in his No. 12 and led the first
five laps before dropping out on lap 20 with water pump failure.
Turner started in 14th place in his No. 26 and led the final
34 laps of the 39 lap race to take the win in the Saturday
event. Roberts started 15th in his No. 22 and finished in second
place one lap down to Turner, with Herb Thomas, also one
lap down, finishing third in a Chevrolet in the 28-car field.
The drivers’ skill made up for any deficiencies of the Ford
cars. Turner’s broad-sliding style was spectacular and a big
inaugural 1956 season for the Convertible Division had 47 races
with races in such locations as Daytona; Soldier Field in
Chicago; Old Bridge, N.J.; Canadian Exposition Stadium
(Toronto), Flat Rock, Mich.; and Taft Stadium (Oklahoma City)
Weatherly and Turner were the big stars of the Convertible
Division. Weatherly ran in 38 races with 11 poles, four wins, 24
top fives, and 27 top tens, finishing fourth in the
championship. As Weatherly’s Ford teammate, Turner won the first
three races of the season, taking a total of 22 wins in 42 races
run, with 16 poles, 28 top fives, and 29 top tens, finishing
second in the championship.
Bob Welborn won the championship in his Chevrolet with 45
starts, taking two poles, three wins, 32 top fives, and 39 top
Grand National race at Daytona was the sixth race of that
series’ 1956 season. Ford and Chevrolet each had one win and
Chrysler three as the teams readied for the Sunday event.
rolls his No. 12 Ford to miss Lee Petty in his No. 42 Dodge on
the beach at Daytona, during the February 1956 NASCAR Grand
National race. Petty’s windshield was coated with sand and Moody
went on to finish third in the race.
Sunday, Moody started 22nd in the 76-car field and finished
third after challenging the eventual winner Tim Flock’s
Chrysler. Moody was running on Flock’s bumper at one point, and
had even rolled his car while trying to avoid Lee Petty
who was returning from a splash in the ocean to clean his
windshield. Flock, in the Kiekhaefer Chrysler, led 34 of the 37
laps on the 4.1-mile Daytona beach-road course. Jim Paschal
who started eighth in a 1956 Mercury was the only other leader,
leading three laps and finally finishing 33rd. Joe Weatherly
finished 16th in the 1956 Grand National season, only
running 17 races for the Ford team in the GN season, with no
wins, 6 top fives, 12 top tens, and one pole.
Curtis Turner was the Most Popular driver for the 1956 Grand
National season, despite running in only 13 races. Turner won
the Southern 500, also taking four Top Fives, and 10 Top Tens
and no poles for the season. Weatherly and Turner had dedicated
themselves to win the 1956 Southern 500 in memory of Buddy
Shuman, the man who made the Fords competitive in their
debut at that race in 1955. Buddy Shuman was the racer
who had worried over the cars for a week of near-sleeplessness
before the 1955 Southern 500. Weatherly, in fact, had apologized
to Shuman for his race-ending accident, even though it was due
to parts failure and not his fault.
November, just weeks after the 1955 Southern 500, Buddy
Shuman died from asphyxiation due to smoking in bed. Shuman
was no doubt unable to sleep, worrying about the next move to
get the new Fords competitive. The fact that these two gruff,
hard-partying drivers would show such sentimentality in the
mid-1950’s was remarkable. The effort to win the 1956 race
showed the respect that Joe and Curtis had for Shuman.
Curtis Turner wins 1956 Southern 500 in the Wild Hog No. 99
Schwam Motors Ford; No. 26 is Jim Paschal in a Bill Stroppe
built Mercury who finished 6th, six laps down. Turner started
11th and won the race, leading 225 laps of the 364 lap race.
Teammate Joe Weatherly started 16th and finished eighth, 12 laps
behind in his No. 9 Purple Hog.
known as the ‘Clown Prince of Racing’ due to his many
off-track practical jokes and superstitions that were a part of
his popularity. One of Weatherly’s favorite jokes was a rubber
snake. He would throw the ‘snake’ at known snake-fearing drivers
and mechanics. Perhaps the most laughter from Weatherly was
generated when a driver-victim had to escape from a race car
when the ‘snake’ landed in his lap.
Below, you will see how Joe got his
moniker "The Clown Prince of Racing"
Always the practical joker, Little Joe with his "snake"
Weatherly’s victims would try to get back at Joe with tricks
involving the color green or peanut shells. Green has long been
considered unlucky by racers. Peanuts were a bad luck item in
racing after a fatal accident. The fatal car was found to have
peanut shells inside after the car was returned to the pits
following the wreck. The peanut shells were attributed to a
hanger-on who left a trail of peanut shells behind as he munched
and walked through the pits. The legend of the fatal peanut
shells has been told for so many years that no one knows if the
story is true or not. For a superstitious person, that legend
does not have to be documented as true to be believed.
One year at Darlington
after a rain shower, Joe’s rain-soaked socks bled color until
they were a shade of green. Weatherly hurriedly shed the socks
and was sock-less for the rest of the day.
Joe with Bud Moore '61
Raceway "Rebel 300" winners received a special Rebel 300 shirt,
which Joe [the 1960 winner of the "Rebel 300"] wore while he
drove on many occasions.
Weatherly was known for his love of wearing wild clothes and
partying late into the night. Weatherly was the guy wearing the
scuffed-up, black-and-white saddle oxford shoes, the same ones
he wore when he was driving. He once drove his practice laps
wearing a Peter Pan suit.
was known as “Pops” because he called everyone, including
Weatherly, “Pops.” But Turner was also known as Pops from the
‘pops’ he administered to drivers’ bumpers when they were too
slow to get out of the way. Daytona was the site of one of the
most infamous incidents involving ‘Little Joe’ and ‘Pops.’ This
incident is so outrageous that even Hollywood movie makers have
chosen not to depict the entire episode. One year while at
Daytona, Joe and Curtis decided that the trip back to their
motel in their rental cars would be more interesting if the
first man back would receive their favorite beverage, a bottle
of Canadian Club, as the prize.
went, down the narrow two-lane ribbon of asphalt that was Route
A1A in those days. “POP” went the cars as the boys laughed as
they raced side-by-side slamming into each other, racing for the
coveted bottle of “CC.” The scene above (minus the bottle of
“CC”) will be familiar to anyone who has seen the movie “Days of
Thunder.” As they approached the motel, Weatherly was determined
not to lose this race to Turner. Joe left his braking as late as
he dared. Weatherly mis-judged the stopping distance, and his
rental car slid into the motel’s pool. Joe stood in wet triumph
next to the pool taking a victory drink from his newly-won
bottle of “CC.” The scene above (minus the bottle of “CC”) will
be familiar to anyone who has seen the movie “Cannonball Run.”
The rental car company, whose cars had been trashed while the
boys had fun, later sent photos of the two drivers to all their
locations, instructing them to never rent a car to Weatherly or
driving the Schwam “Purple Hog” in the Grand National
Series, Joe once brought a live purple pig into the race track.
Joe reportedly gave the pig a ride around the track but it has
never been reported who, after the pig’s ride, cleaned up the
mess made by the pig in the race car.
officials attending the Rebel 300 at Darlington were horrified
to see teammates Weatherly and Turner race side-by-side
“popping” each other, with bits of car trim showering to the
track and the two buddies laughing all the time. This incident
no doubt contributed to NASCAR eventually making a rule that
made teams remove the chrome trim off the side of the race cars.
Weatherly and Turner enjoyed talking the officials of the
Darlington pre-race beauty pageant into allowing them to be
judges. The pair no doubt enjoyed the bathing beauty display and
the contest also supplied them with many “Baby Dolls” that lost
the contest, to console.
Godwin Kelly, in his book
Fireball, called Joe and
Curtis “NASCAR’s designated crazy men.” Kelly went on to write:
“Turner and Weatherly won plenty of stock car races and never
lost a party.”
was well known for often saying ‘If you don’t like this party,
another will be starting in fifteen minutes!’ Weatherly and
Turner competed off the track as well; sometimes using a chalk
board to keep score of the number of “Baby Dolls” each had been
with. Weatherly and Turner weren’t the only drivers who were
partying with the ladies we today might call “groupies.” One
thing the rock and roll bands and their “groupies” did not have
to contend with was the fact that when the stars performed they
didn’t have to worry about dying during the performance! The
partying and joking around were one way for the drivers to vent
some of the tension involved in a sport that was much more
dangerous than it is today. The various jokes and parties for
Weatherly and Turner happened over the many years that the two
raced against each other.
Pronger, driving the No. 99 Ford, runs just ahead of rim-riding
Fireball Roberts in the inaugural NASCAR Convertible race on
Feb. 25 1956. Pronger, from Blue Island, Ill., drove sparingly
in NASCAR's Grand Nationals and Convertibles in the 1950s.
convertible season made stars out of Weatherly and Turner. The
two were dubbed “The Gold Dust Twins” by the press because of
the rooster-tails of dirt to two would throw up as they raced
each other around the dirt tracks. When the two would get out
front, unchallenged by the other racers the real show began.
Weatherly and Turner would slide through the turns almost
side-by-side at times, swapping the lead every few laps. The
lead changes and the broad-sliding thrilled the crowd and amused
the two while they controlled the lead. The convertibles
allowing the crowds to see the drivers twist the steering wheels
of their cars to control the slides. As the last few laps began,
the showmanship gave way to real racing with the fans screaming
to the checkered flag.
Turner’s Most Popular award for the Grand National series in
1956 was undoubtedly from the popularity generated by Turner’s
spectacular driving in the convertibles. Turner won just once in
13 Grand National starts, while he won 22 times in 42 starts in
1956 Grand National season moved ahead the Ford team forgot
about their Chevrolet rivals as a much tougher team, the
Kiekhaefer bunch became the big challenge.
of the strength of the Kiekhaefer cars, Carl Kiekhaefer
constantly protested the Fords over such things as gas tanks and
engine parts. The Ford team would at times file protests against
the Kiekhaefer Chryslers and Dodges.
September 1956 with races just a day or two apart, and no time
to perform the tear-downs, there were eight cars between the two
teams to inspect! The two teams, at that point, agreed to drop
Kiekhaefer was not satisfied however, and protested the next two
races even though one of races was won by his car. Kiekhaefer’s
cars won the final five races of the 1956 Grand National season
with the team being disbanded in December. NASCAR must have been
relieved when Kiekhaefer quit, as his cars were ‘stinking up the
show.’ Kiekhaefer was tired of having his team booed by the
fans. Booing fans were not the kind of advertising the
Kiekhaefer wanted for his Mercury Outboard motors. Kiekhaefer
was also tired of having to deal the officials who he felt
weren’t preventing the other teams cheating. For Weatherly and
his Ford team-mates the upcoming season would be better, with
much-improved cars on the way for 1957.
NASCAR's First Triple Champion… Almost. - Pt. 3
Weatherly and the other Ford drivers must have been excited at
the beginning of the 1957 season. The Ford drivers would have a
new weapon, a supercharger. In addition, the company had begun
work for the upcoming season in the summer of 1956, so the Fords
would be well prepared compared to the previous two seasons. The
312 cubic inch supercharged Ford engine produced 325 horsepower,
but was advertised at 300 to hold down customer demand, as the
early superchargers were hand-made until McCulloch could get its
production line running.
1957 Ford 312 'F' code engine shown as installed.
intended the superchargers for use of the factory cars, even
running single four barrel carburetor equipped 312-inch powered
cars as back-up; while superchargers were not allowed by NASCAR
in the convertible and short track divisions. Mercury went with
the 368-inch 335 horsepower engine originally used exclusively
in Lincolns. The horsepower race, which hit its peak about a
decade later, was on. Chevrolet increased their engine size to
283-inches and added fuel injection for about 300 horsepower.
Pontiac began its efforts to rid its stodgy image with a 347
cubic inch engine making 325 horsepower. Oldsmobile offered a
371-inch engine making 325 horses.
when Kiekhaefer quit the Grand National series the heavy though
powerful hemi-powered Chryslers were gone. With Chrysler not
supporting racing, the lighter, smaller Dodge (354-inch,
330-horse) and Plymouth (318-inch, 300-horse) hemi-engined cars
were considered non-competitive and the top Dodge driver, Lee
Petty switched to Oldsmobile.
not the first events in the racing season, the races of
Speedweeks in February at Daytona were always a big splash. At
Daytona, Ford had 11 cars with 28 men to take care of them.
Mercury had 15 cars, mostly for runs on the beach-straight time
trials, and 29 crew. With engineers, public relations men and
others, Ford Motor Company had over 100 people at Daytona. Stock cars raced in that era still used mostly production parts.
Ford had convinced NASCAR to allow them to reinforce the front
spindles of their cars, citing safety concerns. The possibility
of front wheels coming off cars and getting into spectator areas
was something no one wanted. The reinforcements were allowed as
NASCAR was always open to allow variations from production parts
if safety was a question.
Daytona a fault in steering linkages on the Fords caused severe
toe-in making the cars plow up the sand. In the 160-mile
convertible race on Saturday, Weatherly managed a second place,
between winner Tim Flock and Billy Myers both in Mercurys.
Frank spins his No. 76 Chevy as Curtis Turner in his No. 26
Ford, passes inside during the Feb. 16 1957 NASCAR Convertible
race at Daytona.
front tire's extreme toe-in on Turner's Ford, the result of
defective heat treatment of the production steering linkage.
Although Turner started third, he led the first three laps but
finished 13th in the race. Reason out: "radiator hose."
On Sunday, little-known
Cotton Owens won the Grand
National (Cup) race in a Pontiac; with the Fords getting a best
of fifth with Marvin Panch while Weatherly took 18th
after starting 42nd.
the poor results at Daytona, the “Gold Dust Twins,” Weatherly
and Turner, continued their usual partying at their Daytona
Party Pad featured a fully stocked bar that had bathing beauties
painted on the wall behind. When black lights were turned on,
the bathing suits would ‘disappear’ on the art work, surely
amusing the party-goers (including the ‘baby dolls’) while they
consumed the ‘Twins’ favorite drinks: ‘shooters’ of “CC” and
the embarrassment at Daytona, 1957 began with what looked like
would be a dominant performance for Ford. The Ford team appeared
to be taking up where Kiekhaefer’s Chryslers had left off. The
1957 Grand National season had begun in November 1956, and
through May 5, the Fords won five of the 16 races. In the
Convertible Division, Fords won 16 of the first 17 races, the
exception being the Mercury win at Daytona. The Gold Dust Twins
were in their glory during that stretch in the convertibles. Of
the 16 wins Weatherly got four and Turner nine.
Wood (beginning the Wood Brothers’ long association with
Ford) won two of the first 17 convertible races with Fireball
Roberts taking the biggest race in the convertible series, the
first Rebel 300 at Darlington.
Curtis Turner, driving his peach-colored #26 Ford, pairs up with
#21 Glen Wood on the front row for the start of the April 22,
1957 NASCAR Convertible race at Winston-Salem's Bowman Gray
the race, giving his Peter DePaolo Ford team its eighth win in
the first 11 races at the start of the 1957 ragtop season. Glen
Wood in his independent Ford won two races during that stretch.
A crowd of 7,800 packed the grandstands around the flat 1/4-mile
track to watch the event.
bombshell that would blow up the Ford effort was lit in February
of 1957. At a meeting of the AMA (Automobile Manufacturers
Association) the president of Chevrolet suggested that the car
makers get out of racing. This idea was also supported by the
National Safety Council. The head of Ford’s engineering had made
a similar comment in 1956, and after the February 1957 AMA
meeting, the idea quickly gained favor in the highest levels of
management at Ford. A lot of money was being spent and the sales
gains did not seem to justify the expense. The support of the
head of Ford’s engineering department to get out of racing, at
first glance, seems unlikely. From today’s perspective it would
seem that engineers would welcome the challenges racing would
the young engineers at the lower levels welcomed the challenge
and the excitement, the men at the top did not. The engineering
department was open to embarrassment (like the Daytona steering
debacle) from parts failures, and they also did not like the
idea that they might be put in a position of responsibility for
any slip of car sales. The engineering departments of all the
auto manufacturers had been able to design cars’ internal parts
in relative ease for about twenty years and were happy that
customers were only concerned about styling and price when they
walked into the showroom. The engineering chiefs liked the fact
that the sales department took all the heat for any loss in
sales, plus it was much easier to design a car used exclusively
for street use compared to the additional stresses of racing. Henry
Ford II supported the idea of dropping out of racing and
“The Deuce” always got his way. With the top management
supporting it, the ‘AMA Ban’ would be observed by Ford Motor
Company. This ban was put in place at Ford, despite the internal
memos that said it was essential that Ford support racing so
that wins would be possible. The ban was enforced despite the
fact that some Ford officials felt that the Chevrolet leaders
knew that getting Ford out of racing was in Chevy’s best
though the Ford officials already had reports that Chevrolet
would take their efforts under-the-table, the ban would be
followed strictly. Because top management wanted Ford out of
racing by June 1st, the racing group had about a
month to dispose of the cars and equipment. The decision to get
out so quickly would put Ford in compliance before the June 6th
AMA meeting where the racing ban resolution would be voted upon.
The resolution was passed putting the “ban” into effect.
dispose of the equipment, Ford gave each of the drivers two cars
(at the cost of one dollar each), a tow truck and a supply of
parts. But there was plenty of material to dispose of quickly to
meet the self-imposed June 1st deadline.
the drivers got their share, John Holman called Ralph
Moody and asked him if he was interested in the two of them
buying the remaining Ford gear. The ‘yes’ from Moody caused the
purchase to take place, and the Holman and Moody organization
was born. The formation of Holman-Moody was so informal
that the two men didn’t even formally organize the business on
paper until 1962 when Ford returned to racing. The new team
immediately went racing in the USAC stock car circuit to gain
publicity by beating drivers who had competed in the
Indianapolis 500 and to put money in the bank account of the new
team. Ralph Moody’s winnings from the USAC races included a
prize of $14,000 from a single USAC race in July! This was at a
time when the Ford Fairlane "500" Club Sedan (Model #
64B) Two Door had a Base Price with the eight cylinder engine of
$2,381 plus options.
success of the Holman-Moody Fords let the drivers “up north”
know where they could get supercharger parts, as NASCAR had
banned superchargers in April while the supercharger remained
legal in USAC. The effect of the ‘ban’ was very evident by the
win totals at the end of the 1957 NASCAR season. Of the 21 Grand
National (Cup) races before the AMA ban Ford won 15 while
Chevrolet won five. Of the 32 races after the resolution, Fords
won 12 and Chevrolets won 14.
Baker was 1957 Grand National Champion racing in 40 races,
with ten wins, 30 top fives, 38 top tens and six poles in a
Chevrolet. Baker led 857 laps second only to Fireball Roberts’
1107 laps led, all in a Ford. Weatherly, whose main effort was
the convertibles ran fourteen Grand National races with no wins,
five top fives, seven top tens, no poles, and one lap led. In
the Convertible Division before the ban, Fords won 16 and
Chevrolet won three of the 20 races. After the ban, Fords won 10
and Chevrolet nine of the 20 races. In the Convertible Division
for 1957, “The Gold Dust Twins” were still the big story with
Weatherly getting five wins, and finishing second in points.
Turner took eleven races, leading the most laps (1289) while
finishing in sixth place in the season final point standings. In
addition, Glen Wood (who had been recommended to Ford by fellow
Virginian Turner) got four wins in the convertibles, and
finished third in the final point standings.
Weatherly’s totals for the 36-race1957 Convertible Division
season: 36 races run, five wins, 25 top tens, 32 top tens, five
poles and 457 laps led. Weatherly finished second in the final
points standing with 9112 points, compared to champion Bob
Welborn (Chevrolet) with 9364 points. Interestingly Weatherly
actually completed nine more miles during the season than
Welborn, who had six wins during the season. Weatherly, Welborn
and Wood were the only drivers to compete in all 36 convertible
races in 1957.
the Short Track Division, the ‘before’ win totals were
Ford eight and Chevrolet four of the 13 races. After the ‘ban’
Ford won six and Chevrolet nine of the last 15 races. Chevrolet
driver Jim Reed was champion. Turner, who made and lost
fortunes in the timber business, had an airplane to survey
potential timber purchases as well as attending races. Weatherly
also bought an airplane and the two were some of the earliest
drivers to use private planes to go from race to race. The two
drivers were notorious however for their use of aircraft as if
they were automobiles. They would jump into the planes without
the usual ‘walk-around’ that pilots to this day use to inspect
their aircraft. Flight plans were not filed, and following the
roads on the ground was a commonly used way for Weatherly to get
from place to place.
Weatherly and Turner also pulled various tricks on
passengers/victims while in the air. The pilot sleeping with the
auto-pilot on, and ‘engine failures’ that were actually caused
by the pilot switching the engine off, were just two of the high
jinks causing much amusement, for Joe and Curtis anyway. In that
era, the race cars were really based on production cars and
Weatherly was known for stealing the ignition keys out of the
other competitors’ cars. The only car to start on command was
Weatherly’s accompanied by Joe’s laughter. After the teams got
wise to the stolen keys trick Weatherly switched to stealing gas
caps off the cars, as NASCAR would not allow cars to race
without gas caps.
Beginning with the 1958 season NASCAR and USAC banned
supercharging, multi-carburetion and fuel injection after the
factory engine war of 1957. For 1958 Weatherly and Holman-Moody
would race when there was sponsorship was available. Despite the
appearance of the former factory team, Ford Motor Company was
out of racing.
the fact that Ford had out-sold Chevrolet in the new car
showrooms in1957 did not change the company’s decision to stay
with the ban. The costs of racing may have been part of the
reason to continue the racing ban. Plus, the costs of the 1957
production run, (which involved the largest number of model
variations on a single assembly line that any car maker has ever
produced, before or since) may have also influenced the decision
to not race. With sponsorship obtained, Weatherly and Turner
were in Daytona for the races in February 1958 with “zipper-top” cars.
Zipper-top cars were a trend among many competitors who cut the
roof off the hardtops for the convertible events and then bolted
the roof on for the Grand National event the next day.
Zipper-top cars weren’t really allowed by the rules, but Big
Bill France never let his rules stand in the way of having top
drivers and cars in a race.
convertible race on February 22 1958, Weatherly started 14th
and finished third, while Turner, after starting in 12th
won by 14 seconds after leading 29 of the 39 laps. Both the
Holman-Moody cars were 1958 Fords. The pole winner Lee Petty led
eight laps and finished second in his 1957 Oldsmobile
convertible. The next day the tops were bolted on and Weatherly
finished fourth after starting 23rd.Turner started
eighth and finished second behind Paul Goldsmith, with Goldsmith
leading all 39 laps in his Smokey Yunick-built Pontiac.
race would be the last to be run on the 4.1-mile beach-road
course. Turner had been almost a minute behind the leader at
halfway but erased the deficit only to finish one car length
behind Goldsmith. The cars ran when sponsorship was available,
at least until Weatherly promoted a race on the half-mile dirt
track at Wilson NC. Weatherly and Turner talked Holman into
letting them run the race, with Weatherly finishing third, while
Turner won. The problem was the Wilson race was on May 4, and
the biggest convertible race of the year was the Rebel 300 at
Darlington on May 10. There was no longer a fleet of race-ready
cars from the factory waiting back in Charlotte. The dirty,
battered cars were cleaned up and repaired but did not get to
Darlington until the day before the race. Weatherly qualified
tenth with Turner starting twelfth. Weatherly took the lead on
lap ten and led 122 laps of the 219 lap race and finished
second. Turner led 79 laps and took the win. The Gold Dust
Twins’ performance was a tribute to the overnight work of the
Holman-Moody mechanics the night before of the race, as well as
the skill of the drivers.
Joe Weatherly and his '58 convertible started 10th and finished
Darlington Rebel 300 convertible race on May 10, 1958.
1958 season Joe Weatherly competed in twelve of the 19
races in the convertible series, finishing third in the final
standings with one win (with a 1956 Ford!) five top fives, and
eight top tens. Weatherly was third in money won at $7,536.
Convertible champion Bob Welborn was second in money won
with $11,455 competing in all 19 races. The top money winner was
Turner who raced five times and won four taking $11.577 in
winnings! Weatherly ran in 15 of the 51 Grand National races in
1958. He got one win, five top fives, seven top tens, with one
pole and $6330 in winnings.
NASCAR's First Triple Champion… Almost. - Part 4
Weatherly competed in fourteen of the fifteen races in the 1959
Convertible Series with two wins, five top fives, seven top
tens, three poles and finished seventh in points. “The Gold
Dust Twins” of Curtis Turner and Joe Weatherly, were not the
factor in the Convertible Series in 1959 as they were the
previous seasons. Turner took part of the season off, not only
resting his bad back, but struggling to get his dream track at
first three races of the 1959 Grand National (Cup) season
Weatherly drove Chevrolets and was involved in one of the most
famous race finishes of the era. In 1959, the new Daytona
Speedway was the biggest, most steeply banked track the NASCAR
racers had ever run on. Ground breaking for the Daytona
International Speedway didn't take place until November 25, 1957
with the first Daytona 500 being run on February 22, 1959. Big
Bill France insisted on a track 2.5 miles in length (same as
Indianapolis) and after getting a pie-shaped piece of land from
the dog track next door, France was able to bend the front
straight and get his 2.5 mile racetrack. The engineers working
for Bill France stacked the fill material for the banking as
high as it would allow resulting in 31-degree banked turns. The
lake in the Daytona infield, that exists to this day, was a
result of the fill material removal to make the banked turns.
The lake in the Daytona infield, that exists to this day, was a
result of the fill material removal to make the banked turns.
1959 Oldsmobile street car is used in a test run on the still
unfinished Daytona Speedway. The 31-degree banking at Daytona
International Speedway was the steepest in the country and it
awed many drivers.
Modified driver Jimmy
Thompson perhaps summed it up best when he said, "There have
been other tracks that separated the men from the boys. This is
the track that will separate the brave from the weak after the
boys are gone."
field for the first Daytona 500 was filled by two qualifying
races, one each for the convertibles and the Grand National
cars; the mixed car starting field making something called a
‘Sweepstakes’ race by NASCAR. Amazingly the race had run caution-free and as
Lee Petty in his Oldsmobile
and Johnny Beauchamp in a Holman-Moody built 1959
Thunderbird caught Weatherly as they approached the front
stretch. Weatherly had led six laps during the “1959 First
Annual 500 Mile NASCAR International Sweepstakes at Daytona”
and Joe thought he was racing for the win as he
approached the flag stand. Joe was in fact on the verge of being
put a second lap down as the checkered flag waved.
the fact that Tim Flock had used a radio when he raced on the
Daytona beach-road course in 1954, teams were still relying on
the traditional chalk board to communicate with the drivers,
which is why Weatherly didn’t really know his position in the
race. Big Bill France was standing at the base of the flag stand
to see who would cross the finish line first, but Weatherly’s
car blocked a clear view of Beauchamp and Petty as the three
cars crossed the finish line. Three days after the race ended
Bill France announced that Beauchamp, who was originally
declared the winner, had actually been beaten to the finish line
by Petty. Weatherly finished fifth, one lap down.
This is the photo that decided the winner of the first Daytona
(From bottom to top) Johnny Beauchamp in No. 73 Holman-Moody
built 1959 Thunderbird, Lee Petty in his No. 42 Oldsmobile, and
Joe Weatherly in the E. C. Wilson-owned 1959 Chevrolet No. 48
who was actually almost two laps down, but thought he was racing
for the win. (Photo by T. Taylor Warren.)
car starting field included a wide variety of makes and models:
Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Thunderbird (which
NASCAR called a separate make) and Mercury, as well as
now-defunct models like Studebaker, DeSoto and even a 1958 Edsel.
The fleet of Thunderbirds convinced many racers that Ford was
back in racing. But in fact, John Holman had gone to the
assembly plant in Wixom, Michigan and had been the highest
bidder for “scrap” bodies, engines and other damaged parts the
were to be discarded by the plant.
The Thunderbirds actually ran 430-inch engines that were allowed
to be used as NASCAR (Big Bill France) wanted as many cars as
possible to run in the debut of his new racetrack. After three
races in Chevrolets, Weatherly drove Fords in the last 14 Grand National events he raced in for the1959 season. In the
44 race 1959 Grand National series Weatherly ran in 17 races,
finished 18th in the point standings with no wins,
six top fives, ten top tens, and no poles.
1959 Convertible Series, Weatherly ran ten of the 15
races, taking two wins, five Top Fives, seven Top Tens, and
three poles, finishing seventh in the final season points. 1959
was the last season for the Convertible Series.
Weatherly was back in Holman-Moody cars for most of his 1960
starts. Weatherly made 24 starts (three in a Valiant!) in
the 44 race season. Weatherly got three wins, seven top fives,
eleven top tens and no poles in 1960. Joe led a total of 246
laps and finished 20th in the point standings.
Weatherly won the Hickory 250 on April 16, leading 78 laps of
the 250 lap race in his familiar No. 12 Holman-Moody Ford.
Weatherly’s second win was on April 17 at Wilson NC where
Weatherly led the last lap of the 200 lap event. Weatherly’s
biggest (and last) win in 1960 was at Darlington in the
Rebel 300 on May 14, which was part of the Grand National
series (although Darlington raced convertibles through 1963).
Weatherly led 107 laps of the 219 lap race. Joe as the winner of
the race was awarded, along with the usual trophy, a Rebel 300
print shirt with the race logo as part of the pattern design.
The Rebel 300 shirt was presented to the race winners during
Darlington, with its beauty contest and parade, was always a
location for partying for Weatherly and the other drivers.
Weatherly once brought a donkey to his hotel. After paying a
local farmer $100 for the donkey, Weatherly and some friends
managed to get it up to the second floor balcony of their hotel.
The donkey paced back and forth on that balcony all night. No
doubt Joe enjoyed the startled reaction of folks trying to sleep
on the second floor when they saw the donkey. The next day,
Little Joe slapped some race stickers on the donkey and rode it
in the Darlington parade.
This photo shows Joe Weatherly riding the infamous donkey in the
Darlington 500 parade. Note the Rebel 300 shirt and saddle shoes
that Joe undoubtedly wore later while driving in the race. The
donkey was apparently ‘sponsored’ by Grey-Rock brake linings on
the rear ‘fender’ and Autolite Spark Plugs on the front
Weatherly won the first race of the 1961 season at the Charlotte
Fairgrounds in a Ford owned by Doc White, who was the
owner of the Thunderbird Joe drove in the 1959 Grand National
season. Joe then drove Pontiacs for the rest of the season, with
23 of his 24 Pontiac runs at the wheel of the No. 8 Bud Moore
car. Weatherly’s second win in 1961 was the in the fourth race
of the season. That race was the second qualifying race for the
Daytona 500 (the qualifying races were awarded points for many
years) and Joe drove the soon-to-be-familiar No. 8 Bud Moore
Pontiac. The 1961 season consisted of 52 races, Weatherly
finished fourth in the points, in 25 starts he got 9 wins (the
most by any driver),14 top fives,18 top tens and 3 poles.
of the now-Cup series in that era, 207 drivers drove during the
1961 season! It is interesting to note that one of the 207
drivers competing in 1961 was Bobby Allison who raced
four times, but did not race in the series again until 1965.
Weatherly won NASCAR's Most Popular Driver Award in 1961. Joe
ended the 1961 season on a strong note winning five of the last
nine races, with four of those wins coming in the last six
today’s slang Weatherly was Curtis Turner’s “wingman.” In
virtually every report you will see about the two, the reports
will start “Turner and Weatherly did…” this and that. Turner
competed in just eight GN races in 1961, and by 1962 he had been
‘banned for life’ by Big Bill France for his
money-for-union-votes effort he undertook to get funds to pay
for his new racetrack. Turner had been promised a loan by the
Teamsters if he could successfully sign up drivers for a union.
Although Curtis had a complete set of Virginia law books in his
original office in his home state before moving to North
Carolina, he was not aware that it was against federal law for
the promised loan to go through.
appears that as Weatherly approached his fortieth birthday, and
with Turner no longer around, he got serious about his racing.
Perhaps Joe decided it was time to add some Grand National (Cup)
championships to his résumé. Weatherly was likely pleased with
his chances, as Pontiac won 30 of the 52 races run in the Grand
National circuit in 1961.
before the 1962 season began Joe was involved in something
completely different. Near the end of 1961, Ray Nichels
who owned the USAC Stock Championship Pontiac driven by
Paul Goldsmith approached Pontiac about an effort to
prove the strength, endurance and speed of the up-coming 1962
models. Nichels was based in Indiana and was aware of the Stevens Challenge Trophy, awarded by the
Motor Speedway since the 1920’s. This trophy was awarded to
manufacturers who set 24-hour speed and distance marks at the
famous race track.
Ray Nichels and his two Nichels Engineering Pontiacs are
preparing to set a series of Stock Car world speed records
(which still stand) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on
November 20, 1961. The effort was originally scheduled to start
on November 16th but was delayed by weather, and the cars ran in
rain and sleet before the runs ended.
Photos: High Performance Pontiac Magazine;
Indianapolis Motor Speedway had been built not just for racing,
but also as an auto test facility, as the number of
manufacturers around Indianapolis at the time the track was
built was greater that the number of makers around Detroit. In
1954, Chrysler Corporation set the 24-hour record at 2,157.5
miles, with an average speed of 89.89 mph for the Stevens
Challenge. Ford Motor Company established the 500-mile record,
running 111.916 mph, including a one-lap speed record of 117.832
mph. Nichels went after all the records with two Pontiac
Catalina’s, one red and one black. While the red car was a
standard Catalina body, the black car was a Police Enforcer
2-door post coupe, sold by Pontiac to law enforcement
departments. Nichels painted the doors on the black car white
and added a blinking red light (supposedly for visibility
concerns) which made the car look very much like a police car.
The two cars were kept as stock was possible with reinforced
wheels, front spindles and roll bars the must noticeable of the
drivers were Joe Weatherly, Marvin Panch, Glenn "Fireball"
Roberts from NASCAR; and Paul Goldsmith, Len Sutton, and Rodger
Ward, from USAC.
by bad weather, the run began at Indy at 3 pm on November 20
1961. Despite a small accident by the ‘black-and-white’ and rain
starting at 4 AM, the records were accomplished. Nichels used a
fork lift during pit stops to lift the entire car in the air for
quicker stops, allowing all four tires to be changed on the cars
at one time.
The red 1962 Pontiac Catalina is shown running for world records
in the rain at Indianapolis. The effort started on 3 pm on the
20th, and the drivers ran the last 11 hours of the 24 hour
effort in the rain, snow and sleet.
broke the previous 24-hour distance record in their 20th
hour. The black-and-white Pontiac ran over 2,586 miles for the
24-hour run, for an average speed of 107.787 miles per hour. The
red Catalina ran over 2,576 miles for the 24-hour run, making an
average speed of 107.343 miles per hour. The cars had been
driven the 150-mile trip from Nichels’ shop to the speedway, and
afterwards, driven back to the Highland Indiana shop (21 miles
from Chicago) for the USAC inspection. Nichels then took the
cars to the most famous stock car track, Darlington, to repeat
the run under NASCAR supervision. When the runs of the two cars
were over, the “Certificate of Performance” signed by NASCAR
car’s Joe Epton and Bill France stated that the
Police Enforcer with the 389-inch Super Duty engine had run one
lap at 116.580 MPH. The car also set the 500-mile mark of
109.247 MPH (4 hours 43 minutes 52.89 seconds) and 24-hour marks
of 108.819 MPH for 2612.500 miles.