In 1949, the family sedan became a race car 'Strictly stock' meant drive in, race, drive home; Distant replay

THE BALTIMORE SUN

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- June 19, 1949, came hot and dry to Charlotte, N.C. It was a good day for selling soda to a crowd. A good day to stage a stock car race, featuring the latest automobiles, strictly stock, mind you.

That's what Bill France, the creator of NASCAR and Winston Cup racing, had written on the entry blank, that the 33 cars entered in this race must be recent models -- only 1947, 1948 and 1949 cars would do. And the only changes that could be made to them was to remove their hubcaps and add safety belts.

On this hot day, history was in the making, because this race was the first in the new class called "strictly stock" that would evolve into the Winston Cup Series.

The race was held at Carl Allison's three-fourths-mile dirt oval and came to be known as the Dust Bowl.

Allison's son David, who still operates a used truck business on the property his father purchased in 1946, recalls that "families from a mile around sued my father" to have their houses repainted because they were covered with the dust the cars threw up that day.

Former Winston Cup champion Tim Flock, who took part in that first race, recalls how, when the cars started practicing, the track got so rutted the wheels started pulling off the cars.

"The lug nuts were pulling right through the thin wheels that were on the cars of the time," he said. "After practice, we told Bill France that there was no way these cars could run 150 miles if he didn't change the rules."

Today, NASCAR is known for its penchant for continually changing rules to keep all cars competitive, and Flock can't help but laugh at the memory.

"Bill knew he was on the spot, and he told all the mechanics that they could take a piece of steel, a quarter-inch thick, and weld it to the inside of the wheel," Flock said. "The reason he wanted it on the inside was that he didn't want it where people could see it because he was strictly trying to keep the cars like the people were driving. That's what had everyone so excited, that the cars were just like theirs and we had all driven them to the race, headlights, license plates and all. Bill didn't want the fans to see the change."

Nearly 1,800 people packed the rickety stands. Humphy Wheeler, now general manager of the renowned Charlotte Motor Speedway, was a young boy in the crowd selling soda. Future two-time Winston Cup champion Ned Jarrett had picked a front row seat.

On the track, Flock, his brothers Bob and Fonty, Curtis Turner, Buck Baker, Lee Petty and Sara Christian, one of three early women racers, were in the field.

"When the race started, it was like watching 33 New York taxicabs all trying to get to the first turn to pick up a passenger," said Tim Flock, who recently has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. "It was wild, spinning out, hitting the fence. Everything happened."

Jim Roper won that day in a Mecklenburg Motors '49 Lincoln. He was paid $2,000.

"I remember I finished fifth, and my car owner, Buddy Hanes, went to the little booth where Annie France, Big Bill's wife, was handing out the winnings," said Flock. "She gave him $200, and he came down the pits and said, 'Here, Tim, you earned it,' and handed me a $100 bill. That was 1949. You could buy a loaf of bread for a nickel and a gallon of gas for 12 or 13 cents. I took that $100 back to Atlanta and gave it to my wife Frances and my five children, and would you believe we lived high on the hog for about 30 days?"

Everyone wasn't so fortunate. Lee Petty had driven over from Randleman, N.C., in his 1947 Buick Roadmaster. He crashed.

"He rolled end over end," Flock said. "The car was completely torn up, and I heard him mumbling as he walked back to the pits, 'What am I going to tell Elizabeth [his wife]? That's her grocery shopping car.' "

Petty's son, Richard, who grew up to be the sport's first seven-time champion, was also on hand.

"Me and Dad had to thumb a ride home," he said.

Pub Date: 2/09/98

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