What did ya think
of that? Betcha never saw anything like it before in your life, did ya?"
The thin, smiling Southerner asked me as we walked through the pit area after
the race. I had to admit I hadn't.
"If you cain't
write a story about that," he went on, still smiling as he savored the
enjoyment of the race, "you cain't write about nothin'. I never seen so
much goin' on in my life. Gosh all golly!"
You might have
thought that this handsome, youthful-looking man of 45 in the slacks and blue
woollen jacket had just watched his first auto race. He hadn't, though. He was
Lee Petty, last year's National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing's driving
champion, and only a few minutes earlier he had finished fourth in the Daytona
500-mile race for stock cars. Walking near us was Dick Petty, Lee's 23-year-old
son who is his old man all over again whether driving or just standing there
talking in his creamy, North Carolina hill-country accent. Dick's light-blue
1960 Plymouth had finished third in the race, just ahead of his father's
Lee Petty, the
father, had plenty of reason to be excited over the drive he had just
completed, and his voice was still pitched high with nerves. "Did you see
that T-bird come apart over on the other side of the track?" he asked me.
"Why I never seen the likes of that before. I had to drive right underneath
him while he was still in the air. I even heard part of his car come down on me
as I went past. Did you see my car? Did you see where he hit me?"
I went over and
looked, and there were a couple of ugly holes in the right tail fin of No. 42,
his Plymouth. I hadn't paid much attention to these scars when I first examined
the car, for rare indeed is the stock car that comes out of a race without some
such souvenir of combat.
was gratifying that not only Lee Petty but all the rest of the oldtimers were
shaking their heads in disbelief over this race. To a novice observer of
stock-car racing, the Daytona "500" had seemed like nothing so much as
the early stages of doomsday. Even Bill France, the man who built and operates
this fastest of all the world's race tracks, was saying, "I've never seen
anything like it, and I've been in racing 25 years and more."
To go back to the
beginning, this was only the second running of the Daytona "500,"
although as the first of the major races on the NASCAR calendar it already
ranks as one of the most important meets throughout the year. So the best cars
and the best drivers in stock-car racing showed up among the 68 starters.
Fireball Roberts, the home-town favorite from Daytona Beach, was in the No. 3
pole position in a 1960 Pontiac. He had qualified at 151.556 mph, the fastest
lap ever turned in stock-car competition and 5 mph faster than last year's best
qualifying time at Indianapolis. The Pettys had brought their new Plymouths
down from Randleman, N.C., where they had prepared them themselves. Curtis
Turner and Joe Weatherly, who are to this sport what Ruth and Gehrig once were
to baseball, lined up in 1960 Fords. From as far away as Canada and California,
bearing names like Banjo and Runt and Pappy and Speedy, had come all the other
A HUGE POPULAR
thousand people, many of whom had paid up to $20 a seat and driven hundreds of
miles to be there, crowded the Daytona grandstands and infield. For make no
mistake about it, stock-car racing is the sport of sports in the southeastern
part of the U.S. A fellow who once operated a professional baseball team in
that area was making this point recently when he said, "You ought to play a
Sunday game sometime when the stock cars are running in the neighborhood.
They'll murder you."
Just why this
should be was not immediately apparent to this particular pair of eyes and ears
as the Daytona "500" got under way. Though most of the cars were the
very latest Pontiacs, Chevrolets, Plymouths and Fords, their designers'
handsome lines were almost completely obscured by the welter of signs the cars
carried on their sides, advertising the garages and restaurants and hotels and
tire dealers and other sponsors who were helping to foot the rather hefty bill