SI Vault
John Bentley
November 01, 1954
A round-up of 1954 shows that stock cars are faster, midgets are fighting for their lives, and in hot rods it's go, man, go
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November 01, 1954

Souped-up And Hot

A round-up of 1954 shows that stock cars are faster, midgets are fighting for their lives, and in hot rods it's go, man, go

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Back in 1947, Bill France—a driver and promoter of stock car races in the Carolinas under AAA sanction—complained to the Contest Board in Washington. The AAA, he said, was neglecting stock car races. How about some orderly supervision? The Contest Board turned him down, so France called together a group of other promoters at Daytona Beach, Fla., formed the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing Inc. ( NASCAR) and became its president. The new body divided stock car events into six groups: Grand National Circuit and Short Track Division for late-model stock cars; Sportsman Division for older stocks; Modified Division for modified stocks and the Amateur Stock Car and Midget Divisions.


NASCAR grew rapidly in stature and importance and has since practically taken over stock car racing from the AAA. Starting with nine races on nine speedways in five states during 1949, NASCAR stock car (and midget) events last year paid drivers $1,500,000 prize money. This year NASCAR sanctioned 1,300 races which drew 350,000 spectators at 105 tracks in 27 states, for which 11,000 drivers, owners and mechanics received $2 million prize money. About 75% of NASCAR tracks are located east of the Mississippi, with the remainder covering Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa and (in 1954) California.

NASCAR's National Grand Circuit Stock Car champion is Lee Petty, Randleman, N.C., with enough points (8,641) to cinch the title. Petty earned $22,715 for 33 races, with seven wins, five seconds and six third places.

Midget races are featured on the same bill as stocks, to bolster up a deflated form of auto racing in which NASCAR is not primarily interested. Midgets hit the top in 1948 and the bottom in 1951, due to a monotonous equality of power and speed which deprives actual driving skill of the importance it holds in stock car racing. Since then, public interest in midgets has revived somewhat, but NASCAR has only 68 registered midget drivers who drove a total of 24 races this season, mainly in New Jersey and Michigan. This compares poorly with the AAA's 59 midget races at 28 tracks in 10 states, which drew 205,821 spectators and paid $163,306 prize money.

NASCAR's midget champion, Chuck Arnold, Stamford, Conn., this season racked up 840 points, earned $3,053 and scored four wins, three seconds, four thirds. AAA's midget title-holder is Rex Easton, Springfield, Ill., with 2,754 points, $6,037 in prize money for three wins, seven seconds and three third places.

On the other hand, AAA stock car racing, with certain permissible modifications (axles, steering, wheels, shock absorbers and gear ratios), is confined to production autos of the last three years. Only 16 events were run this year, netting drivers $119,843 in purses. These were all of championship status, with the same points system as for AAA big car racing (SI, Oct. 25) but with points awarded for feature races only. Total stock car racing personnel at present registered with AAA is 485. Champion is Marshall Teague, Daytona Beach, Fla., who scored 2,320 points and won $13,522 prize money with five firsts, four seconds and two thirds.


AAA sprint races, however—run on half-mile to one-mile tracks and with engine displacement limited to 220 cu. in.—remain fairly active. Forty-four sprint races were sanctioned by AAA this year, drawing 522,404 fans and paying the drivers $158,280 in purses. Of these, 16 were run on the East Coast, and 28 in the Midwest. Eastern sprint champion is John Thompson, while in the Midwest, top rating goes to Pat O'Connor.

The hot rod boys are something else again, since they do not run for money but (like sports car enthusiasts) for trophies and glory alone. California alone has 12 of the 60 drag strips now operating on a nationwide basis, with Texas the runner-up with five. Currently, some 200,000 enthusiasts build or race hot rods, but at least 2 million people participate in the sport.

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