Hello race fans!
It is I, your Track Girl. I have returned from the clutches of Higher Education and return a Master. Or, well, I have a Masters Degree in Historic Preservation from Goucher College. This means that I can officially work on saving NASCAR’s heritage. This is very exciting for me and I promise that you don’t have to call me anything different, Master or Mistress or anything. The Track Girl works just fine still. 🙂 I will also be updating more frequently. Suddenly, my nights are no longer filled with agonizing over individual sentences. There is now a lovely copy of “Don’t They Just Turn Left? NASCAR’s Heritage Race Tracks and Preserving Stock Car Culture” on the shelf. Bound and impressive looking. Maybe I will post my abstract too, in case anyone is curious.
On to the history! I seem to remember promising a bit about Bowman-Gray the last time I wrote. Lets see what there is to learn about this track!
Bowman-Gray Stadium has hosted racing in North Carolina since 1947 but was only added to NASCAR’s schedule in 1958. The track is a 1/4 mile short track nestled into an actual football stadium and has been the sight of some fierce competition and still is today.
Bowman-Gray’s first race was won by Bob Welman, the second by Lee Petty and the third, in 1959, by Jim Reed. Not East Bound and Down kids, thats Jerry. Jim Reed was born in NY in 1926. The last race was run in 1971 and was won by Bobby Allison in a 1970 Ford Mustang. Glen Wood, Rex White and Junior Johnson all tore that track up.
Bowman-Gray is an interesting track for more than just its races though. In the last sixty years of stock car racing, a driver’s union has become an issue all of twice. In 1961, Tim Flock and Curtis Turner were banned for life from racing for trying to organize a driver’s union. Tim Flock, one of the Flying Flocks and Curtis Turner are two of the most interesting drivers you will ever learn about. I highly recommend doing a little reading on your own. You wouldn’t want to miss out on learning about Jocko Flocko would you? Or Turner and his legendary antics! Actually, come to think of it…I will post a follow up later this week. This site is about race tracks but I will happily fill you in on those two.
And as a side, though NASCAR banned Flock and Turner for life, your hostess certainly does not feel that they were in any way trying to harm NASCAR at all. The drivers were looking out for drivers and this was one way they tried to do it. On the other hand, I also agree that NASCAR is what NASCAR always has been because of the iron fist of Bill France. Wow! What a kettle of worms! I’m just a historian..just passing on the stories! 🙂
Anyhow! Back to the track history! Flock and Turner had been messing around with the idea of forming a driver’s union. There was a lot of issues in NASCAR that were not being addressed. One of them certainly was that the racing was increasingly dangerous. The cars were going faster than ever before and the introduction of the Super Speedway was cause for concern. This became an issue again with the introduction of Talladega Super Speedway in 1969.
One of the major backers of the idea of a union in NASCAR in the early 1960s was none other than the infamous Jimmy Hoffa. The Teamsters had helped Curtis Turner pay off a debt he incurred while building the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Turner was asked to help form a driver’s union at that time, but abandoned the idea. In truth, pari-mutual betting was common at horse tracks and Hoffa felt that the same kind of opportunities existed for betting on stock car races. Bill France was outraged and declared that he would plow up all his tracks and turn them into corn fields before he ever allowed a driver’s union to form in NASCAR.
France made his point clear at the driver’s meeting prior to the Grand National race at Bowman-Gray in August of 1961 when he banned Flock, Turner and Fireball Roberts (who had also come on board). He declared that no teamster and no union member would ever be allowed to race at any NASCAR race. He then threatened to shoot any union driver that showed up at his tracks. There are still no unions in NASCAR.
Bowman-Gray has an interesting little part of NASCAR history. Its a small part, but still significant. This is just one of the hundreds of little instances that made NASCAR what it is today. Unique and ruled by a single family (now corporation, I suppose.) Greg Fielden, God of NASCAR history includes the text of both the Professional Driver’s Union demands (which does indeed include a part about introducing pari-mutual betting to the tracks) and France’s written rebuttal. Interesting reading for sure and a glimpse of the struggle and balance of power between drivers and Big Bill.
On my last visit to North Carolina I was lucky enough to attend a race at Bowman-Gray. Talk about a real Saturday night at the track. It was some of the best racing I have seen in a long time. That little track hosted a fine battle between a local hero and a young whippersnapper..both on the same team and fighting each other for the lead the whole time. There was also a headstrong racer who turned the street stocks into a fist fight with cars. I wish I knew the drivers better so I could tell you who they were. But if you are ever anywhere near Winston Salem, first visit Old Salem and say hello to my mentor John Larson. And then, take yourself on over to campus and watch some of the best racing around!
Any suggestions about tracks out there? Anyone dying to know something about one of the tracks that is (or was!) part of NASCAR?
Until the next flag drops-