NASCAR in the 1950s
Daytona Beach in 1956
The very first beach race was in 1936 in Daytona.
Daytona Beach is the starting place of every season in NASCAR even though now they actually race on a real track rather than the beach. This beach course was most unique and provided the longest straightaways in stock car racing with two miles up the beach front and two miles down a paved road. There were hairpin curves at both the north and south ends. Some of the fans would watch the race from the sand dunes that were on the outer edges of the course. Others would sit in the wooden grandstands and some in the infield dunes.
In the 1936 race, there were all types of cars that entered – no car was considered ineligible. Convertibles, hardtops, sports cars -- you name it -- were entered in the race. Can you imagine some of those heavier cars on the beach? They would get bogged down in the sand. That race was scheduled for 250 miles but the officials stopped it 10 miles before the entire distance was completed. Ten cars out of the twenty-seven cars were left when they stopped it. Milt Marion was the winner with his 1936 Ford.
In 1953, Tim Flock went along with this crazy gimmick of putting a monkey in the car with him. They installed a small seat in the car for “Jocko Flocko” the monkey. He even had a helmet to wear. For eight races the monkey rode with him and they even won one of them. Two weeks later, Jocko rode for the last time, when late in the race, he got loose from his seat and jumped down on the floorboard. He pulled the cable that opened a trap door and a rock from the track flew in and hit Jocko right between the eyes. As you can imagine, he went crazy and started jumping on Tim. It was all Tim could do to keep from wrecking the car until he could stop for a pit stop. He said he had to stop to “get that monkey off his back.”
1956 was a year of controversy with the Kiekhaefer Team.
Buck Baker won the race in Shelby, North Carolina, but not without controversy. Buck was part of the Kiekhaefer team, whose owner was said to have been like a drill sergeant, according to Tim Flock, who quit the team earlier that year after 18 wins and a 1955 Grand National Championship. Another member of the team, Herb Thomas, also quit mid-season so he and Buck Owens were rivals.
Herb Thomas was leading in the points when the race started but Baker’s teammate, Speedy Thompson, “hooked” Herb’s bumper which triggered a crash and critically injured him. Due to the crash, Buck Baker was able to take the victory. Many observers and sports media criticized not only Thompson but also the team owner, Carl Kiekhefer. It got so bad that Kiekhefer never appeared at another NASCAR race.
Cotton Owens competed at the final beach race in Daytona Beach in 1958. He finished in 10th place. Paul Goldsmith managed to win in his #3 Smokey Yunick-prepared Pontiac (rightfully named) but not without obscured vision. His vision was obscured because his wipers were not working due to them having blown back over his roof. With the wet sand and moisture from the ocean, it was difficult for him to see. Nonetheless, he made it to the finish line just ahead of Curtis Turner. The next week, Paul quit NASCAR and joined USAC because he wanted a chance to compete in the Indianapolis 500. He did return to NASCAR years later.
In September of 1958, one of the most spectacular races in NASCAR history took place at the Southern 500 in Darlington. Three of the cars went sailing out of the speedway: the #45 of Eddie Pagan blasted through the guardrail after he blew a tire on lap 137; Eddie Gray left the building on lap 160; and Jack Smith in the #47 bounced over a wall on lap 207. It was a miracle but none of the drivers were hurt. “Fireball” Roberts won the race, which was his third super-speedway race that year.
The very first Daytona 500 was in 1959 with 39 NASCAR Grand Nationals and 20 convertibles starting the race. There were 41,921 excited fans in attendance. It was a very tight race that came down to Johnny Beauchamp in the #73 car and Lee Petty in his #42 car. Petty was in the lead with just four laps to go when Beauchamp pulled up beside of him. The officials declared Beauchamp the winner but most of the fans who were able to see clearly thought Petty won. It took 61 hours after the race was over for all the footage and photographs to be reviewed and then it turned out that Petty was the winner after all.
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