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The Beginning (1959-1969)

Thursday, May. 21, 2009

April 22, 1959

Curtis Turner and Bruton Smith hold separate news conferences announcing their plans to build tracks in the Charlotte area. Turner wants to build a 1.5-mile track called Charlotte Motor Speedway on N.C. 49. He includes provisions for 45,000 seats and a 1-mile road course in his $750,000 project. Smith wants a 2-mile track in Pineville. His Charlotte International Speedway would have 75,000 seats with a road course and a football field between the front stretch and pit road. The cost of his plan is $2million.

May 7, 1959

Curtis Turner and his partners – Darlington Raceway builder Harold Brasington, Bowman Gray Stadium promoter Alex Hawkins and North Wilkesboro promoter Enoch Staley – form a corporation to build Charlotte Motor Speedway. Turner is elected president and the corporation is authorized to issue 1 million shares of stock at $1 per share. But no deal has been finalized for Turner's proposed site, and a new site is selected. The 550-acre site is just into Cabarrus County, 12 miles north of Charlotte. .

June 1959

Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner decide to work together toward building a racetrack in Charlotte.

Bob Moore: Both Bruton (Smith) and Curtis (Turner) were each going to build a speedway down in the Charlotte area. What happened was that in reality neither of them had any money to build one speedway.

They hated each other but they finally decided that to get anything done they had to work together.

July 29, 1959

Ground is broken for Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Sept. 22, 1959

Turner and Smith fly to Daytona Beach, Fla., and sign the contract for the inaugural World 600, scheduled for May 29, 1960. The announced purse is $100,000 – the first NASCAR race with posted awards in six figures.

January 1960

Lights are erected so workers can do two 12-hour shifts each day in an effort to catch up on lagging construction.

Jan. 30-31, 1960

Fans are invited to the site for an open house aimed at bringing attention to and jump-starting ticket sales for the first race.

March 1960

An 11-inch snowfall all but halts construction, which was further delayed by two more snow storms in the next two weeks.

May 19, 1960

Charlotte Motor Speedway announces that the inaugural race, scheduled for May 29, must be postponed to complete the project. The only opening on the Grand National schedule is June 19, so the 600 is moved to that date.

May 1960

Contractor W. Owen Flowe, in an effort to collect money he believes he is owed, orders his crews to halt work immediately. He places bulldozers and earthmovers on the last short strip of the track surface that remained unpaved and his operators stay on their machines, refusing to move. Turner and Smith brandish weapons and force the machine operators to leave. The bulldozers are hot-wired and moved out of the way and the paving is completed.

Bob Myers: I followed Max around. Curtis went out there with a gun. What started all of it was they found all of those boulders in the first turn.

Tom Higgins: They had a rock mound between 1 and 2 and a crater in 3 and 4.

June 15, 1960

The first on-track practice session, before a crowd of about 4,000, shows signs of trouble ahead. Within an hour of the track's opening a crack appears in the Turn 2 pavement. Cracks and holes continue to develop and repair crews spend the evening fashioning repairs.

Higgins: It still wasn't impressive the first time I went there.

Moore: To be perfectly honest with you, it was an embarrassing facility. You came in 10 years later and still…

Myers: The grandstands could hold maybe 20,000.

June 16, 1960

More holes develop as the second day of activity continues. But qualifying is held as scheduled as Fireball Roberts wins the pole with a four-lap average speed of 133.904mph, including a fast lap at 134.429mph. Jack Smith and Curtis Turner also earn front-row spots in a 60-car field.

June 19, 1960

On the 11th anniversary of the first race in what began as the NASCAR Strictly Stock Series, cars equipped with heavy screens to protect them from debris flying up from the track's surface take the green flag at 12:30 p.m. in front of 35,462 for the inaugural World 600. Fireball Roberts leads the first lap. The first crash happens on Lap 7 when Johnny Wolford gets down on the apron in his Ford. Wolford is hit by Johnny Allen and Cotton Owens and his car bursts into flames. Wolford escapes injury. Jack Smith leads by two laps at the halfway point and builds the lead to five laps before a piece of metal gashes the fuel tank. Crew chief Bud Moore tries to use rags and even bars of soap to plug the hole, but Smith's Pontiac is black-flagged after leading 198 laps. Joe Lee Johnson, the 1959 convertible division champion driving a Chevrolet owned by Paul McDuffie, takes the lead and wins by four laps over Johnny Beauchamp, who had relief help from Allen. Only 18 of 60 cars finish the race. Johnson averages 107.735mph and wins $27,150.

Myers: It was hilarious. The screens on the car reminded you of cow catchers.

Bud Moore went all through the pits looking for a bar of Octagon soap to plug the holes.

Higgins: At that time they had a little trailer or something that served as the pay window. They paid them (the drivers) in cash, right after the race. Richard (Petty) told me he and his dad (Lee) were over there in line to get paid and the guy running the pay window asked them why they were in line. (They told him), “We came to get paid.”

He told them they didn't have any money coming because they'd been disqualified, but they let them run half the race without telling them.

Junior Johnson is still hot about that.

Oct. 8, 1960

During a tire test the weekend before the fall race, “Tiger” Tom Pistone blows a tire and crashes hard in Turn 1, but escapes injury.

Oct. 10, 1960

NASCAR president Bill France Sr. inspects the track and says “it is not dangerous.”

Oct. 16, 1960

Speedy Thompson wins the first National 400 for the first superspeedway victory by the Wood Brothers team. Fireball Roberts leads most of the race, but he falls out after tire failure. Rex White finishes sixth to clinch the 1960 title.

May 28, 1961

David Pearson starts third in the 600 behind qualifying race winners Richard Petty and Joe Weatherly. Pearson leads six times for 225 laps. But with just more than one lap left he blows a right-rear tire. Pearson is far enough out front that he wins on three tires with sparks showering from the bare rim on the right-rear.

June 8, 1961

Turner and Smith resign from the Charlotte Motor Speedway board of directors after a stormy meeting as debts continue to mount. Allen Nance is elected president of the speedway.

Turner had sought an $850,000 loan from the Teamsters union with the promise of trying to organize drivers into a union and push for pari-mutuel betting in the sport.

Bill France Sr. later handed down a lifetime ban from NASCAR to Turner and Tim Flock, who was working with Turner in the union effort.

Higgins: Friend of mine told me, and I believe it, that Bruton had to borrow money to get out of town. He borrowed $5 from Buck Brigance, the old motorcycle racer, to get out of town.

Dec. 8, 1961

Facing more than $1 million in outstanding liens from creditors, the track's management holds off foreclosure sale and the track is placed under Chapter X of the Federal Bankruptcy Act. Judge J.B. Craven Jr. appoints Robert “Red” Robinson as trustee and gives him until March 1962 to come up with a plan to satisfy creditors.

March 1962

A.C. Goins and Richard Howard, having raised $254,000 from stockholders in an effort to match a promised $300,000 loan to halt foreclosure, lead a stockholders meeting in a building at Park Road Shopping Center and try to make up the $46,000 shortfall. Howard gets things rolling with a contribution of $5,000. Within two hours, they push the total raised to $301,510 and reach their goal.

May 27, 1962

Fireball Roberts and David Pearson, having won 50-lap qualifying races, start on Row 1 for the third World 600 on an afternoon with temperatures nearing 100 degrees. Pearson leads by a lap when his engine blows, and 41-year-old Nelson Stacy takes the lead with eight laps left. Stacy was in a backup Ford after NASCAR told the Holman-Moody team it could not use Galaxies with “fastback” rooflines.

July 25, 1962

Trustee Red Robinson asks Judge J.B. Craven to give the track's stockholders more time to reorganize. The judge assents.

April 1963

Debts of $740,376 are paid to 20 secured creditors and the track emerges from bankruptcy. Judge J.B. Craven appoints A.C. Graves as president, “Duke” Ellington as executive vice president and Richard Howard as vice president and general manager.

May 26, 1963

The fourth World 600 is rained out.

June 2, 1963

Junior Johnson and Fred Lorenzen battle for almost the entire race, with Johnson leading for 289 laps and building a 16-second lead with 20 laps to go. Lorenzen pulls to within four seconds with three laps left when Johnson loses his right-rear tire. Lorenzen, low on fuel, coasts to the checkered flag.

May 24, 1964

On Lap8 of the World 600, Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett hook bumpers and slide down the backstretch. Fireball Roberts puts his car into a slide to avoid hitting either car directly. The rear of Roberts' car hits an opening in the inside wall on the backstretch and winds up upside-down. In an era before safety enclosures for fuel cells, Roberts' car erupts into flames. Jarrett scrambles to Roberts' aid, helping Roberts from his belts. Roberts, badly burned, is airlifted to Charlotte hospital. Jim Paschal, driving the Petty Enterprises Plymouth, wins by four laps over Richard Petty.

July 2, 1964

Fireball Roberts dies at age 35.

Myers: Some guys retired because of that. Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson and eventually Fred Lorenzen. It tore up Fred Lorenzen so bad, he wrecked the day Fireball died (while) practicing in Daytona.

Higgins: They will swear that (Roberts' death) wasn't the cause, but it was entirely natural.

Moore: Within 24 hours all three of them had said they were going to quit. They didn't say it publicly, but they told their friends.

Myers: The fuel cell was a direct invention stemming from Fireball's death.

H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler: Fireball was a guy who made it through the modified deal and jumped right on the asphalt deal and (took) to it. He was a dirt driver – all of them were – and some of them couldn't get the hang of it. The tragedy of that whole deal is he was getting ready to retire.

Sept. 22, 1964

Jimmy Pardue, driving in a tire test in a Plymouth, blows a tire entering Turn 3 and goes through the steel guardrail, tearing out 48 feet of the railing. The car tumbles down a steep embankment outside the track and Pardue is killed.

Oct. 18, 1964

After turns 1 and 2 are repaved, Richard Petty sets the track mark with a qualifying lap at 150.711mph and leads 188 of 267 laps.

But Fred Lorenzen closes in over the final laps until Petty loses a right-front tire on his Plymouth with less than two laps to go. Lorenzen coasts to victory under the yellow flag. Petty still finishes third to clinch the first of his seven titles.

Oct. 17, 1965

Harold Kite, returning to action after a nine-year absence, is killed in a crash on the second lap of the National 400. After being reinstated by Bill France Sr. in August, Curtis Turner enters in a Wood Brothers Ford. Turner, Fred Lorenzen, Dick Hutcherson and A.J. Foyt lock up in three-way battle for more than 40 laps. Over the final 50, Foyt and Lorenzen swap the lead eight times. Foyt finally hits the wall and spins with six laps left, and Lorenzen holds off Hutcherson for the win.

June 1, 1967

Richard Howard takes nearly $300,000 to a bank in Newton, clearing Charlotte Motor Speedway from its remaining debts.

June 19, 1967

Richard Howard holds a mortgage burning ceremony for speedway officials and invited guests.

Higgins: That man absolutely saved the speedway.

I remember going down to the corner of Morehead and South Tryon. There was this gray building and the speedway had moved its offices down there. Richard Howard burned the mortgage.

Moore: There would be no Charlotte Motor Speedway without Richard Howard. There might not be one in Atlanta, either. It if wasn't for Richard Howard, this sport would be dramatically different without a Charlotte or an Atlanta.

Myers: I would like to see him get more credit than he gets. He owned a little bit of the stock and he got together with some of the other stockholders. Fred Wilson from Monroe and A.C. Goins talked Richard into being general manager. A.C. didn't want the job. He was president of the speedway and he talked Richard into being GM.

Higgins: (Richard is) the most generous man I ever met.

Oct. 15, 1967

Richard Petty, en route to a season in which he wins 27 Grand National races, comes to Charlotte riding a NASCAR record 10-race winning streak. Ford brings in A.J. Foyt, Gordon Johncock, Mario Andretti and others in an effort to halt Petty's streak. Petty loses an engine and finishes 18th, but it's Buddy Baker in a Ray Fox-owned Dodge in Victory Lane, his first career Grand National victory.

May 26, 1968

Buddy Baker wins a controversial, rain-plagued World 600 shortened to 255 laps (382.5 miles) by rain. A total of 110 laps are run under caution, including a stretch of 58 straight run behind the pace car with rain falling. Of the final 236 miles run before the race is called at 7p.m., 150 are under the yellow.

Oct. 13, 1968

Stinging from criticism over the weather-plagued 600 in May, Richard Howard sits through a day of rain on Saturday and calls the race at 8a.m. Sunday with rain still falling, without consulting NASCAR. Soon after, the weather clears.

Oct. 20, 1968

Charlie Glotzbach gets his first Grand National win. It's owner Cotton Owens' first superspeedway win since 1960 in the National 500.

Oct. 12, 1969

After a driver boycott of the first race at Talladega, Dodge's Daytonas take on Ford's Talladega in a battle of winged warriors. Cale Yarborough starts from the pole after setting a track mark at 162.162 mph in the Wood Brothers' Mercury. Donnie Allison, driving the Banjo Matthews Ford, beats Buddy Baker and Bobby Allison to win the National 500.

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