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May 29, 1922    -    January 19, 1964

STORIES - 2
Page 1           Page 2

Joe Weatherly, 1964, and NASCAR's Not-so-Good “Good Old Days.” by Crabber 1967 - Bleacher Report

The “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 beyond.

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 Racing.”

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 happening


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 totally crushed. 

The 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 included
material readily available in public. CLICK HERE


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 body.

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 35.

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 of 1964.

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.

Joe Weatherly: NASCAR's First Triple Champion… Almost.


The Nichels Engineering Pontiacs take the green flag at Darlington to set more world records.

The 1962 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.

 The 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.” 

Weatherly 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.

 Joe 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.

In 1963 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

General 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.

For 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.

 In 1963 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.

In 1963 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 ScottBuck 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 African-American.

 By the 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. 

Joe Weatherly:
NASCAR's First Triple Champion...Almost—Pt. 1

Joe 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.

More 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.

There is 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 occasion.

The actual story of Joe’s scar was reported in The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA) by Earl Swift on Oct. 2, 2007.

 As the 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.”

In the 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 Weatherly’s life.  

The back 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 a tree.

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 mother.

The 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.

The young Joe Weatherly is shown with his Harley-Davidson motorcycle during his motorcycle championship days. (Motorcycle Hall of Fame)

The 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.

Although 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. 

In 1953, Weatherly won 52 races, again winning NASCAR’s Modified National Championship.   

Joe 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.

I 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.

In 1955, 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 track.

Joe 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.

Joe 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 mentioned.

On March 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 tolerate.

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.

In fact, 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.

To give 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.

Interestingly, 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.

The 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.

Despite 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.

The 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.

Ford 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.

Joe Weatherly:
NASCAR's First Triple Champion...Almost—Pt. 2

As the 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.

Pete 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 the hood.

 DePaolo 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.

The area 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.

Joe 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.

When 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. 

Carl 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.

For 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 crowd pleaser.

The 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.

However, Bob Welborn won the championship in his Chevrolet with 45 starts, taking two poles, three wins, 32 top fives, and 39 top tens.

The 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.

Ralph Moody 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.

On 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.

In 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.

Joe Weatherly was 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

     

Darlington 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.

Turner 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.

Off they 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 Turner.

While 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.

Ford 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.”

Turner 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.

Bob 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.

The 1956 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 the convertibles.

As the 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.

 On top 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.

In late 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 the protests.

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.

Joe Weatherly:
NASCAR's First Triple Champion… Almost. - Pt. 3

Joe 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.

Restored 1957 Ford 312 'F' code engine shown as installed.

Ford 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.

However, 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.

Although 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.

At 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.

Larry 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.

 Notice the 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.

Despite the poor results at Daytona, the “Gold Dust Twins,” Weatherly and Turner, continued their usual partying at their Daytona ‘Party Pad.’                                                                                          

The 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 Coke.

Despite 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.

Glen 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 Stadium.

Turner won 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.

The 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 present.

While 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 interest.

And even 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.

To 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.

After 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.

The 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.

 Buck 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.

Joe 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.

Also, in 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.

 Even 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.

In the 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.

 This 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 2nd at
Darlington Rebel 300 convertible race on May 10, 1958.

 In the 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.

Joe Weatherly:
NASCAR's First Triple Champion… Almost. - Part 4

Joe 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 Charlotte constructed.

In the 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.

A 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."

The 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.

Despite 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 '500'.
(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.)

The 59 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.

In the 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 those years.

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 ‘fender.’

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.

Typical 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 races.

In 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.

It 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.

But 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 Indianapolis 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;  

The 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 safety changes.

Nichels’ drivers were Joe Weatherly, Marvin Panch, Glenn "Fireball" Roberts from NASCAR; and Paul Goldsmith, Len Sutton, and Rodger Ward, from USAC.

Delayed 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.

The team 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.

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