Dirt-track days brought to life at the stock car hall of fame


DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Speeding across the wide-screen TV, Red Byron and his NASCAR rivals from stock car racing's early days charge sideways off a turn at a dirt track and disappear into a dust cloud that swirls like a tornado.

Across the room, a voice tells of the feats of drivers who have become folk heroes: Buck Baker, Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner, Junior Johnson, Ned Jarrett and the three Flock brothers, Bob, Fonty and Tim.

Pylons featuring the likenesses of these men and 32 others stretch from floor to ceiling and are covered with memorabilia.

There's Fireball's helmet . . . the bermuda shorts that Fonty Flock wore while winning the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in 1953. . . David Pearson's driving uniform with a cigarette lighter attached to the chest for ease in firing up a smoke while at the wheel.

All of this is to be found in the National Motorsports Press Association's stock car racing hall of fame, which has become a reality after years of fitful starts.

The hall, an adjunct to the Joe Weatherly Museum on the grounds of Darlington Raceway, was dedicated Friday, in time for today's TranSouth 500.

"Even many of the most knowledgeable, devoted fans are surprised by some of the items that the inductees have donated to put on display," said Bill Kiser, executive director of the press association and general manager of Darlington Raceway.

Other intriguing memorabilia are a wheel with a distinctive flat spot along the rim and a section of a tire worn to the cord. Both are on Buck Baker's pylon. They were on the Dodge he drove to victory on a flat tire in the 1964 Southern 500.

On the pylon of each hall of famer is a red button. Push it and the voice of motorsports broadcaster Eli Gold comes from a hidden speaker, describing that individual's accomplishments.

Although driver Bill Elliott is still active -- and therefore not eligible for induction -- the Ford he drove to the Winston Million bonus in 1985 is parked in the hall. Also featured are the permanent Richard Petty Driver of the Year trophy and the Most Popular Driver Award, both presented by the NMPA.

Undoubtedly, the film will prove most fascinating to a great number of visitors. The footage includes rare color photography from the sport's dirt track early days and action on the old "Beach Course" at Daytona Beach, Fla., with the surf pounding in the background. Spectators daringly -- or idiotically -- stand beside the beach layout just a few feet from the speeding cars.

The movie, which has clips of every hall member, runs 17 1/2 minutes and is shown each half hour.

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