Thursday, April 19, 2018

1969 Flameless 300

As the calendar turned to 1969, only three seasons had passed since Nashville's Fairground Speedways re-opened following a devastating fire in September 1965.Yet the new tradition of the Flameless 300 as the track's season opener was by then old hat. The fourth running of the event was scheduled for April 19, 1969.

Several track regulars returned for another season at the fairgrounds. Included in that bunch were Jimmy Griggs from Donelson (TMC's stomping grounds as a yute), long-time veteran driver Bill Morton, future Winston Cup independent Dave Sisco (who would also claim the track's LMS title in 1969), and 1967 late model track champion Walter Wallace.

Source: The Tennessean via Nashville Fairgrounds Racing History Facebook page
One regular who did not return was four-time track champ Coo Coo Marlin. Tom Powell from The Tennessean noted Coo Coo "retired" following the 1968 season. Coo Coo didn't actually retire - he just didn't race at the fairgrounds as often. He focused instead on developing a NASCAR Grand National program and entered seven races in 1969 - including the inaugural Grand National race at Talladega. Though Coo Coo's GN/Cup program wasn't a winning one, it served as a proving ground over the next decade for his son, Sterling.

Source: The Tennessean
The Flameless 300 was scheduled as the track's season opener since 1966. In a bit of irony, rain arrived and postponed the 1969 Flameless. Instead of opening with a 300-lapper on a Saturday night, fans welcomed the new season with a Tuesday night slate of regular races. The 300 was rescheduled for the following Saturday, April 26th.

Source: The Tennessean
The late Joe Carver was track promoter Bill Donoho's right hand man when it came to promoting races. He polished the rainout by suggesting the makeup date would draw more big name drivers including NASCAR legends Junior Johnson, Rex White, and Red Farmer as well as two-time and defending Flameless 300 winner, Freddy Fryar.

As it turns out, none of the drivers teased by Carver showed for the race. Zero. But Carver always looked forward - not behind. After a few more years in Nashville, he moved to Virginia to promote races at Langley Speedway. Carver later became an integral part of Darrell Waltrip's management team - including the launch of his own Cup team, DarWal, Inc. The two met during Waltrip's formative and championship years in Nashville.

Source: The Tennessean
Ben Pruitt won the pole in his first late model sportsman division start. Though a late model noob, Pruitt was a dominant winner throughout 1968 in the track's Tuesday night limited late model division. Aboard one of R. C. Alexander's Harpeth Motor Fords, Pruitt had a so-so night in his debut. As it turns out, his Flameless 300 P1 start ultimately became his biggest accomplishment in the late model sportsman division.

Pruitt continued to race albeit with limited success. In August 1972, he was involved in a vicious wreck with James Ham in turn 2 as the cars entered the backstretch. Flames engulfed Pruitt's car, and his recovery from the burns all but ended his racing career.

Flookie Buford had been a 1960s era racer in the track's figure 8 and Cadet divisions. Like Pruitt, he moved up to the track's late model sportsman division as a rookie beginning with the 1969 Flameless. He joined Pruitt as a teammate in a second Alexander Ford. In the 1970s, Alexander provided late models for his son, Mike Alexander, who eventually had an injury-shortened Winston Cup career.

Pruitt set out to prove being fastest during qualifying wasn't his only skill. When the green flag fell, Pruitt buried his foot, hauled off into turn one, and led the first 107 laps.

While Coo Coo Marlin turned his efforts to NASCAR's Big Time, his brother, Jack Marlin, returned for another season and shot at the Flameless 300 trophy. But as was the case a year earlier, Jack again had a miserable night. He wrecked early and finished 24th out of 27 cars. In 1967, Jack exited under a similar scenario and finished 25th out of 27 cars.

After leading the opening third of the race, Pruitt surrendered the lead to Bob Burcham. A junk dealer (*cough* retailer of used auto parts), Burcham qualified second to Pruitt and held his lead until he made a stop for fuel on lap 194.

Jimmy Griggs assumed the lead when Burcham and Pruitt pitted. Griggs had rallied from three laps down because of an early-race accident and extended time in the pits. But he made up the deficit and found himself in the lead when the top two made their stops. Griggs' lead was short-lived, however, as Burcham went back to the point on lap 202. Griggs later lost a right front wheel spindle but still managed a P3 despite his steering challenges.

Pruitt's #85 Cinderella chariot unfortunately turned into a pumpkin. Despite keeping pace with Burcham and maintaining a clean car, he cut a tire with 60 laps to go, popped the wall, and had to settle for an eighth place finish.

With Pruitt out of the picture and Griggs having issues, Burcham hunkered down and led the remaining third of the race.

Unlike his teammate Pruitt, Flookie Buford had a great night in his LMS debut with a P2 in the Alexander Ford. Buford really took to the division and won Nashville's LMS title in 1971 and 1972. His son, Joe Buford, later won four titles of his own between 1998 and 2002.

With four Flameless 300s in the books, two were won by Freddy Fryar and Burcham nabbed the other two. Burcham had an edge in overall stats with two poles and a P2 finish in 1968.

Source: The Tennessean
The race was the final Flameless on the Fairgrounds' original track layout. Construction equipment rolled in after the 1969 season concluded, and the track was rebuilt to a high speed demon. Gone was the original half-mile. In its place would rise a 5/8-mile oval banked 35 degrees - steeper than any track in the country including Daytona and Talladega.

Finishing Order:
  1. Bob Burcham
  2. Flookie Buford
  3. Jimmy Griggs
  4. Raymond Stiles
  5. Dorman Adams
  6. Tommy Andrews
  7. Bobby Hargrove
  8. Ben Pruitt
  9. Phil Woodall
  10. Donnie Roberts
  11. Ed Kennedy
  12. Charlie Higdon
  13. Ron Blasingim
  14. David Hitt
  15. B.K. Luna
  16. James Veach
  17. Gene Payne
  18. Don Binkley 
  19. Bruce Hidenwaite
  20. Chester Albright 
  21. Otis Deck Jr.
  22. Roy Brinson
  23. John Nicholson
  24. Jack Marlin
  25. Walter Wallace
  26. Charlie Binkley
  27. David Sisco

Thursday, April 12, 2018

April 12, 1987 - Valleydale Meats 500

NASCAR's 1987 Winston Cup season got off to a blistering start. Awful Bill from Dawsonville, Bill Elliott, captured his second Daytona 500 win in three years. He did so after also capturing the pole at 210 MPH and leading over half the race. The jaw dropping lap was a NASCAR speed record that lasted only until May 1987 when Elliott topped it by another two miles per hour at Talladega.

The rest of the top five at Daytona was comprised of Benny Parsons as a replacement for Tim Richmond in the Hendrick Folgers Chevy, a surprisingly resurgent Richard Petty, another old guy Buddy Baker, and Dale Earnhardt.

Earnhardt then went on a tear. He and the Richard Childress Racing, Wrangler Jeans #3 team won four of the next five races. A failed alternator and battery during a dominating day at Atlanta prevented him from sweeping Rockingham through North Wilkesboro.

The racing gypsies then rolled into East Tennessee for the third short track race of the young season. The Valleydale Meats 500 at Bristol was slated for April 12th. The 1986 winner of the race, Rusty Wallace, was back to defend his title - albeit with Kodiak as his sponsor rather than Alugard as he'd had in 1986.

Embed from Getty Images

The Bandit - Harry Gant - won the pole for the 1987 race, but he had little time to enjoy his view from up front. Wallace leaped on the lead when the green flag waved and led the first 40 laps. Gant completed the full race, but led only one lap on his way to a pedestrian P6 finish.

Elliott was widely known for his superspeedway strength as well as his challenges on many short tracks. At Bristol, however, his Coors Ford came to race. He led three times during the middle stages of the race - two of which were for 50+ laps each. When the checkers fell, Elliott finished a solid P4.

Another lap bully of the day was one of Tennessee's own. Sterling Marlin was a three-time track champion at Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway. He had his sights set on his first Cup victory in the eastern third of the state.

As the race hit the 200 lap mark, Sterling found himself on the point. He found his rhythm and pulled the field around Bristol's asphalt half-mile for over 50 laps. Behind him and closing quickly, however, was the blue and yellow #3.

Earnhardt dropped low on Marlin as the two roared through turns 3 and 4 of lap 253. As they sailed off into turn 1, Marlin held his outside line as Earnhardt tried to squeeze to the inside as both passed Mike Potter on the bottom. Earnhardt twitched his car slightly to the right and hooked Marlin in the left rear. (Wreck begins around 1:39 mark in video near end of post.)

Potter continued along with Earnhardt who checked up a bit. Geoff Bodine jumped on the binders, spun, and Ken Schrader sideswiped the left side of Bodine's Levi Garrett Chevy. Though Marlin was calm and collected when interviewed by Jerry Punch on ESPN, he was anything but pleased with how things unfolded.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel
ESPN nearly missed the Earnhardt and Marlin incident after an on-screen graphic about an Oldsmobile having never won a Bristol spring race was removed just as Earnhardt made things three wide. As an aside, an Olds never did win the Bristol spring race. The manufacturer's only Bristol win was scored by Cale Yarborough in the summer 1978 Volunteer 500, the track's inaugural night race.

As the track crew cleaned the track from the accident and most of the leaders pitted, Kyle Petty stayed out an extra lap. Rain began to fall, and the race was red flagged at lap 265. Kyle had one Cup win on his résumé at that point - the February 1986 Miller 400 at Richmond - but was coming off a P2 to Earnhardt a week earlier at North Wilkesboro.

Kyle and his Wood Brothers, Citgo team had hoped NASCAR would call the race official at that point, but they also knew their chances of winning an abbreviated race were slim. Sure enough, the race resumed after a 90 minute delay. The #21 Ford was competitive yet not enough to hang with others in the top 5. When the long day was done, Petty landed in 7th place - the final car on the lead lap.

Source: Bristol Herald Courier
Side note: The writer of the article, Kevin Triplett, later went to work for NASCAR and then the Bristol track as its Vice President of Public Affairs. Today, Triplett is the Commissioner of Tourism Development for the state of Tennessee.

After the rain and during the final third of the race, Elliott resumed his strong run and led nearly 40 laps. Morgan Shepherd then took over the top spot for 30+ laps in Kenny Bernstein's Quaker State Buick.

Meanwhile, two cars were rolling towards the front. Earnhardt carved his way through traffic after repairs to his right front resulting from his hook of Marlin. He passed Shepherd with about 120 laps to go and set sail.

The second driver who found new life down the stretch was ol' King Richard. After seeing Kyle out front and in a position to win because of the rain, King may have been motivated to get up there and remind his kid of how the old man had done it for decades. He continued to progress through the top ten and knocked off drivers such as Kyle, Elliott, Ricky Rudd, and Shepherd.

With ten to go, King had Earnhardt in his sights. He white smoked his right rear tire as he hustled his STP Pontiac after the leader. Petty was *this close* to Earnhardt as the white flag flew, but he simply ran out of laps and tires to challenge for win #201.

The race was the final second place finish in The King's career. The race was also the second and final time Earnhardt and King finished in the top two spots - the other being at Atlanta in November 1986. Just about everyone knows Petty won 200 Cup races in his career. Many are not aware, however, of another remarkable stat from his career: 157 P2s.

Source: Bristol Herald Courier

Earnhardt won again the following week at Martinsville to extend his winning streak to four races. Had it not been for his failed alternator and battery at Atlanta, he could have had a seven-race winning streak heading to Talladega the week after Martinsville.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel

1968 Flameless 300

Drivers belted in for the third annual Flameless 300 on April 20, 1968 - once again, the season opener for Nashville's Fairground Speedways.

Long-time Nashville racer and future NASCAR official, Walter Wallace, returned for another season but with a different panache. Wallace won the track's late model sportsman title in 1967 and returned for his defense of it - albeit with a different car and owner.

Source: The Tennessean
Chattanooga's Bob Burcham, the defending race winner and two-time pole winner, returned to middle Tennessee yet again with a high level of confidence. He had good reason for his optimism with a handful of other Nashville wins in 1967 in addition to his Flameless pole and victory.

Source: The Tennessean
After three Nashville titles in four years plus a bucket of wins in 1966 and 1967, Coo Coo Marlin began to reduce his time at the fairgrounds and increased his number of NASCAR Grand National starts. Yet, he was ready to go yet again for the big race, the Flameless 300.

Coo Coo's older brother Jack Marlin, however, still had a Nashville itch to scratch. Walter Wallace didn't win a race in 1967 yet won the track title over Jack. That fact alone provided a good bit of motivation for the 39 year-old.

Source: The Tennessean
In addition to the track regulars, season champions, and out-of-town ringers, the race featured another interloper of sorts. Country singer Marty Robbins took his racing as seriously as he did his musical craft. Though he didn't get to race as often as many of the regulars, Robbins made sure to do what he could to be right in the thick of the mix.

Source: Nashville Fairgrounds Racing History
Source: The Tennessean
Even with his planned schedule reduction, Coo Coo came to race - not to play. He plunked his #711 car on the pole. Yet for the third year in a row, he simply could not muster a winning race in the Flameless. In the 1966 event, he blew a tire and fell out of the race at lap 78. In 1967, poor fuel mileage and/or pit execution relegated him to a P2 finish, two laps down to winner Bob Burcham.

When the green fell on the 1968 race, Coo Coo hauled off into turn 1 and led the first 10 laps. He surrendered the lead and settled into a good rhythm for the rest of the evening. About ten laps later, however, his accelerator hung and he piled into the first turn wall.

Furthermore, Coo Coo was aching. He needed to be taken to the hospital to have his injured back examined and treated. But as long-time Nashville racing historian Russ Thompson blogged, he didn't want his wife, Eula Faye, to see him loaded into an ambulance so he slipped out the back gate in a wrecker instead. With true grit toughness and as a display of good sportsmanship, Marlin returned to the track before the end of the race and congratulated the winner in victory lane.

Three weeks later, Tom Powell from The Tennessean interviewed Coo Coo about the accident and his planned return to racing:
Coo Coo wrecked in the opening night Flameless 300 race when his accelerator stuck. "It was the worst wreck I was ever involved in," the blond farmer from Columbia confessed yesterday. "It almost knocked me unconscious."

Asked to describe the sensation he experienced when the throttle stuck, Coo Coo said, "It was like driving without brakes in that I kept picking up speed and couldn't do anything about it. There was no time to reach for the switch. Everything happened so fast."

Concerning his car that has been wreaking havoc for the rest of the drivers at the Speedways during the last couple of seasons, Coo Coo smiled and said, "If it’s better when we get it fixed, it'll be a dilly. I just hope it runs as good as the other one."

The car will have a new frame. “We're trying to salvage everything good from the other one, but we're completely rebuilding. The biggest damage was to the frame, but we haven't looked at the engine yet."

Coo Coo said he saw no way to have the car ready for this week's show and stated, "I just hope we can make it by the next week, but we've still got a long way to go."

Marlin admitted, "My wife's been after me to quit during this spell, so we just let the car set for three or four days, but we're going after it now."

Despite not racing last week, Coo Coo was in the pits watching the races. "I wonder what other people find to do on Saturday nights," he laughed. ~ May 3, 1968 The Tennessean 
With delays in getting his car rebuilt and listening to Eula Faye who advised him to back it down, Marlin did not return to racing until June 2. He finished fourth in the 30-lap feature  - six weeks after his Flameless misfortune.

Coo Coo's wreck was hardly the only DNF of the night. Nine cautions chewed up 70 of the race's 300 laps. When the checkered flag fell, only six of 27 starters were still around to see it.

Jack Marlin set the tone early with a second lap wreck involving himself, Charlie Higdon, and Robbins. Jack said later "This is a helluva way to start the season, but I had fair warning. Two black cats crossed my path today." Troubles for other racers after the Marty and Marlins exits including:
  • Charley Binkley - engine issues
  • P. B. Crowell - led 29 laps but fell out because of overheating
  • Charley Stofel - steering 
  • Walter Wallace - engine issues. He joked "I even got a haircut to cut down on the car's weight, but we must have broken about a dozen rocker arms."
As the car counted dwindled, two drivers separated themselves from the rest of the remaining field. Burcham and the 1966 Flameless 300 winner, Freddy Fryar, pretty well had the race to themselves.

Near the midpoint of the race, Burcham made an unscheduled stop under green because of a flat tire and lost two laps. Fryar made his planned stop later but was able to do so during a caution. Burcham made up one of his two laps during Fryar's stop, but he still needed good fortune to have a shot at Fryar.

Burcham was all over Fryar with 25 laps to go. He raced him hard but clean with the aggressive hope of getting back on the lead lap. He made the pass to get back on the lead lap - barely, but Burcham needed to see another yellow flag to close the gap.

With only six cars remaining, however, the race stayed green the rest of the way. For the second time in three years, Fryar again took home the trophy and the loot. Though P.B. Crowell fell out of the race as a driver, he still got to visit victory lane as the winning car owner.

Source: The Tennessean

Finishing Order:
  1. Freddy Fryar
  2. Bob Burcham
  3. Donnie Carter
  4. David Hill
  5. Chester Albright
  6. James Veach
  7. Stan Starr
  8. Donnie Roberts
  9. Ronnie Blasingim
  10. Bobby Walker
  11. Art Ellis
  12. Ronnie Muller
  13. P. B. Crowell
  14. Otis Deck
  15. Tommy New
  16. James Ham
  17. Jimmy Griggs
  18. Bobby Hargrove
  19. Bunkie Blackburn
  20. Charley Stofel
  21. David Sisco
  22. Charley Binkley
  23. Coo Coo Marlin
  24. Walter Wallace
  25. Jack Marlin
  26. Charlie Higdon
  27. Marty Robbins

Thursday, April 5, 2018

1967 Flameless 300

With the success of the Flameless 300 as the 1966 season opener at Nashville's Fairground Speedways, the track chose to again have the big race start the 1967 season. The second annual Flameless was slated for Saturday, April 22, 1967.

Racer Walter Wallace paired with owners Charlie McGee and Kenneth Wiser to race a #43 Chevelle in 1967. The relationship worked well as Wallace notched the first of his two Nashville late model track championships (the other title coming in 1975).

Source: The Tennessean
The 43 received support from Merrill's Restaurant on Nolensville Road in Nashville. The restaurant is long-gone, and a Burger King sadly now sits on the site.

Courtesy of Russ Thompson
Bunkie Blackburn, a part-time, ten-year veteran of NASCAR's Grand National division, relocated to middle Tennessee. He shelved his GN career and focused instead on racing at the local level.

Source: The Tennessean
Blackburn's limited GN career included a half-dozen races for Petty Enterprises in 1962. He and Jim Paschal were hired as platoon drivers as the Petty team continued its recovery from the loss of Lee Petty and development of the future King, Richard Petty.

Freddy Fryar won Nashville's 1964 modified-sportsman division championship as well as the 1966 Flameless 300. Originally from the Chattanooga, Tennessee area, Fryar relocated to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and returned to Nashville to defend his 1966 win. Fryar's home base didn't seem to affect his racing career as he raced short tracks seemingly any time and anywhere.

Source: The Tennessean
After blowing a tire and falling out of the 1966 Flameless 300 before the one-third mark, Coo Coo Marlin went on a tear. He won more than a dozen races, his second consecutive track championship, and his third title in four years. Though the rush of weekly racing had started to fade a bit, Marlin was back again in 1967 looking to win the season-opener and pick up where he'd left off the previous September.

Source: The Tennessean
As racers arrived for preparation and practice, one 'driver' spotted on the track was Roy Drusky, country singer and songwriter. Drusky fielded a car for Blackburn in the Flameless 300 as noted in the above article, and he put others behind the wheel (including himself) over the next couple of seasons. Trivia unrelated to the race: Drusky was the first to record a song written by the legendary Kris Kristofferson, Jody and the Kid.

Source: The Tennessean
Chattanooga's Bob Burcham won the pole just as he'd done for the previous year's Flameless 300. Burcham led the first few laps before Marlin took over the top spot - a familiar sight for the field during the previous season. Coo Coo held the lead through nearly half the race before pitting for fuel.

Fryar raced in the top five for much of the race and stayed near Burcham, Marlin, and Wallace. With about 70 laps to go, however, he broke a wheel cylinder and was unable to keep up a contending pace. Even with fading brakes, the Beaumont Flyer still managed a sixth place finish.

Wallace took over the top spot when Marlin pitted a second time on lap 238. Walter put his #43 Chevelle in the wind and looked to be the car to beat over the remaining 62 laps. Until...

An inexpensive pulley belt broke on Wallace's car a dozen laps or so after taking the lead. The chance at the win was gone just like that. As was the case with Coo Coo a year earlier, a bad night in the season opener didn't derail Wallace's year. He soldiered on, had a solid year, and won the track title.

Burcham re-assumed the lead after Wallace's exit, but Coo Coo continued his pursuit. With five laps to go, however, Marlin had to pit an excruciating third time for a final splash of fuel.

A final caution flew with seven laps to go, and Burcham saw the green again with two to go. But with a two-lap lead on Coo Coo and his brother Jack Marlin, Burcham cruised the remaining laps to the win.

Marlin and his crew were perplexed as to how Burcham ran the race with only one stop vs. Coo Coo's two scheduled (plus one final top-off) stops. Rather than protest Burcham, Marlin returned to his Columbia, TN farm and waited for another race to win.

Burcham was worn out after the win but still enjoyed getting the spoils of victory lane. Winky Louise - Miss Firebird - was her elegant self in congratulating the winner. But somehow, I think Miss Fairground Speedways was none too happy about having the out-of-town pretty occupy her victory lane. MEOW

Source: The Tennessean
Finishing order:
  1. Bob Burcham
  2. Coo Coo Marlin
  3. Jack Marlin
  4. Jimmy Griggs
  5. Sherrill Harris
  6. Freddy Fryar
  7. Ed Kennedy
  8. Flemming Marlin
  9. Walter Wallace
  10. Jimmy Thurman
  11. Ronnie Muller
  12. Will Armstrong
  13. Clyde Adcock
  14. Darrell Waltrip
  15. Butch Eades
  16. Bobby Hargrove
  17. Bill Morton
  18. Jerry Long
  19. Crash Bond
  20. Charles Stofel
  21. Chester Albright
  22. George Bonee
  23. David Hill
  24. David Sullivan
  25. Charles Loyd
  26. Jimmy Brown
  27. James Veach
  28. Jerry Penick

Thursday, March 29, 2018

1966 Flameless 300

The current footprint of Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway debuted in July 1958. The abbreviated first season concluded with the Southern 200 modified-sportsman race. The race was extended by 100 laps in 1959 and another hunnerd in 1973, and the Southern 300 / 400 remained the track's season-ending race for twenty years.

The scheduled renewal of the Southern 300 in 1965, however, never got the green flag. On Monday, September 20, 1965 - opening night of the Tennessee State Fair - an inferno raged through the track's grandstands and many other fairgrounds buildings.

Temporary grandstands were rebuilt, and the track was again ready for racing in the spring of 1966 through cooperation with the city of Nashville, the Fair Board, and track management. Perhaps as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the devastating fire and certainly the track's resilience following it, the season opening race on April 23, 1966 was named the Flameless 300.

Jim Donoho, brother of track promoter and leaseholder Bill Donoho, wrote the following poem after the fire and before the 1966 season.

Well, things looked black that night last year
As flames leaped towards the sky
And thousands stood here in silent awe
As smoke filled every eye

But as show business states, "the show must go on"
We took that fire in stride
Because the roar of motors once again
Just could not be denied

Something is missing for sure, we know
The grandstands had its day
But the excitement is just as strong indeed
And soon will be underway

To the many fans who showed concern
To those who asked and wondered
We give you now our answer by
The Speedway's Flameless Three Hundred

As we open the track, we expect more trials
From speeding cars and daring men
Welcome to every one of you
And isn't it great that we're racing again

The Donohos and partner Bennie Goodman got solid interest with 46 entrants in a race only slated to accomodate 33 starters. Defending track champion Coo Coo Marlin entered the race as expected but so did a 19 year-old kid from Owensboro, Kentucky: Darel Waldrip ... or Darrell Waltrip as folks soon learned the proper spelling of his name.

Another expected racer for the Flameless was 1965 NASCAR national modified champion, Bobby Allison. He had arranged to pilot P.B. Crowell's Chevrolet - a car sold by Allison to Crowell.

Source: The Tennessean
Allison's participation was contingent on (1) completing a modified-sportsman race at Martinsville and (2) being able to fly to Nashville in time for the Flameless 300. Apparently one or both conditions didn't happen as Allison wasn't in the 33-car starting line-up. Crowell raced his own #48 Chevy with Bill Morton at the wheel of Crowell's second #49 car.

Source: The Tennessean
Local driver Walter Hamilton started the race but surrendered the wheel to relief driver George Bonee during the first caution. Hamilton was still recovering from major knee surgery just two weeks prior to the race. Walter was the son of Bud "Preacher" Hamilton and uncle of the late Bobby Hamilton, Sr. Preacher Hamilton built a bit of fame as the mechanic for part-time racer and country music crooner, Marty Robbins.

Johnny Thoni belted into a car owned by Ralph Clary at the last minute and finished seventh. Thoni showed up at the fairgrounds as a spectator, but Clary asked him if he'd drive. "Wait until I get my helmet!" replied Thoni as he headed for the car.

A trio of drivers from Chattanooga, Tennessee dominated the race. Bob Burcham won the pole and led the first 109 laps. Another pair of Noogans - Friday Hassler and Freddy Fryar - controlled the final two-thirds of the event.

Hassler certainly knew his way around Nashville as he won the season-ending 1963 Southern 300. He led laps 110 through 160 before he and Fryar made scheduled pit stops. Fryar's crew ripped off a quick stop while Hassler's crew struggled with slower pouring fuel dump cans. The stop difference was enough to flip the running order when the duo returned to racing action.

After additional cars made their stops, Fryar found himself at the point on lap 179. Hassler hassled the bejesus out of Fryar's bumper throughout the final third of the race, but he simply could not get by him.

At the stripe, Fryar prevailed over Hassler for the win. According to The Tennessean's race report, Hassler said "I did everything but put him in the wall," as he discussed the race with another driver, Crash Bond. "I didn't want to win it that way. I was running about a quarter of a second a lap faster than him, but I just couldn't get around him."

Steam poured from underneath the hood of Fryar's Ford in victory lane. He told his mechanic the radiator ruptured with about 30 laps to go - but that he had no intention of coming to pit road while holding down P1.

Fryar got himself a good smooch from Winkie Louise "Miss Firebird" before receiving his trophy for a job well done.

Burcham finished third with local driver and future NASCAR inspector Walter Wallace fourth. Long-time Fairgrounds racer Charlie Binkely finished fifth with Boyd Adams (1960s racer and Nashville's track operator briefly in the 1980s) in sixth.

Marlin blew a tire and exited the race after only 78 laps. Marty Robbins finished 12th despite falling out after 244 laps because "the rear end was going out". Preacher Hamilton joked later that Robbins simply tired out. Darel Waldrip finished 13th in what was apparently his first Nashville start.

Donoho built temporary stands for about 10,000 seats following the fire - enough to get the 1966 season started. One of his biggest challenges on opening day, however, was trying to rally more space to place the nearly 2,000 additional fans from the overflow crowd.

Source: The Tennessean
Fryar continued to be a force in short-track racing for years to come. Hassler, who had been racing while holding down a day job in a farm equipment business, made it to NASCAR's Grand National division in 1967. He raced regularly over the next five years and notched a dozen top 5 finishes and nearly 50 top 10s. During his qualifying twin for the 1972 Daytona 500, however, Hassler wrecked and was tragically killed.

The Flameless 300 continued to be scheduled annually as the track's season opening race through 1971.

Finishing Order
  1. Freddy Fryar
  2. Friday Hassler
  3. Bob Burcham 
  4. Walter Wallace 
  5. Charley Binkley 
  6. Boyd Adams 
  7. Johnny Thoni 
  8. Dave Mader 
  9. Joe Burcham 
  10. Jimmy Allen 
  11. Charles Lloyd 
  12. Marty Robbins 
  13. Darrell Waltrip 
  14. Crash Bond 
  15. Charley Stofel 
  16. Sherrill Harris 
  17. Eddie Mitchell 
  18. Charles Greenwell 
  19. Lewis Loyd 
  20. M. C. Coble 
  21. Bill Woodall 
  22. Mack Roberts 
  23. Bobby Celsor 
  24. Bobby Walker 
  25. Donald Penny 
  26. Walter Hamilton (with relief from George Bonee) 
  27. Coo Coo Marlin 
  28. P. B. Crowell
  29. Martin Sharpe 
  30. Bill Morton 
  31. Jimmy Griggs 
  32. James Greer 
  33. Tommy Galloway


Sunday, November 5, 2017

November 5, 1967 - Western North Carolina 500

Asheville-Weaverville Speedway's half-mile track was the scene of several memorable NASCAR events for almost 20 years between 1951 and 1969. The 1967 Western North Carolina 500 was the season-ending race though it was originally scheduled for August 20th - right in the heart of Richard Petty's 10-race winning streak.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
Petty's hot summer streak continued during qualifying for the August 20 race as Ol' Blue scored the pole.

Source: News And Courier
Heavy rains postponed the race; however, and it was rescheduled for August 27th. Though Petty didn't get to race, he still got to put a few bucks in his pocket - $500 for his pole run and a $400 appearance fee for meeting fans at an area shopping center.

Source: Spartanburg Herald
The teams were ready to roll once more a week later, and Petty was clearly the prohibitive favorite for the win. Rain again interrupted everyone's plans; however, and NASCAR and the track worked to find a mutually agreeable date for the third attempt.

Source: News and Courier
All eventually decided to slot the race as the season-ending event in what turned out to be a chilly early November. When the teams returned about two months later, NASCAR decided a "do-over" was necessary for qualifying. Petty's pole run and the rest of the August qualifying results were tossed, and everyone laid down another lap.

For the race that took, Allison captured the pole in his Fred Lorenzen-led, Holman Moody Ford, and Petty timed his Plymouth sixth rather than P1 as he'd done in August. LeeRoy Yarbrough qualified second in Junior Johnson's Ford, and David Pearson and Dick Hutcherson made up the second row in two more Holman Moody Fords. Cale Yarborough's Mercury timed fifth in his first of two starts for NASCAR Hall of Fame owner Bud Moore to give the Blue Oval crowd a sweep of the top five starting positions.

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Allison led the first 121 laps before giving way to Hutcherson for a couple of laps. David Pearson then went to the point for a 90-lap stretch. Petty took over on lap 215, and trio of Pearson, Petty, and Allison traded positions every so often during the second half of the race.

Attrition for the race was extremely high. Several cars left the race because of wrecks. Others ended their day early because of engine or transmission issues - possibly the result of racing a long, grinding season with worn-out parts. Of the 30 starters, only six cars finished the race.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott was one of the drivers whose day ended early. He spun and wrecked after only 52 of the race's 500 laps.

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About two decades later, Scott's tough day at Asheville-Weaverville in 1967 was used as the cover image for Brian Donovan's book about Wendell.

As the race entered the final few laps, the beatin' and bangin' fans enjoy so much with short track racing intensified. With about 20 laps to go, Petty dove to the inside of Allison's Ford. The 43 sent Allison into the marbles, but Bobby gathered his car and set sail for the blue Plymouth as it disappeared down the straight.

The tail pipe on Allison's car came loose and began to drag the track - likely the result of hard racing with Petty. Rather than black flag the leader, NASCAR officials rightfully let the battle continue. With seven laps remaining, Allison caught Petty, muscled his way to the inside, and nudged Petty's Plymouth towards the outside rail.

Just as Allison had done earlier, Petty regained control of his Plymouth and took off in hot pursuit. He was also keeping an eye on Allison's exhaust that was dragging the track right in front of him. When the checkered flag fell, Petty crossed the finish line one car length behind Allison.

After the race, Petty said "I guess when you've won as much as I have, everyone takes pot shots at you". Allison responded with "We were racing for the win. He put me out of the groove more than once, and I did the same thing to him." The race was the eighth of 51 times Petty and Allison finished in the top two spots.

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Allison's crew chief, Lorenzen, was bubbling with enthusiasm over the win. Lorenzen served as Allison's crew chief two times, and Allison had won both races. Lorenzen said "as far as I'm concerned, Allison has a life-time job."

Source: News and Courier
Petty forfeited his pole for the race because of two rain delays, and he finished a close second to his rival after getting bumped out of the groove. He and his crew still returned to Level Cross as winners though as Petty secured his second NASCAR Grand National title - a number that eventually grew to seven with his final title in 1979.

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