The 1960 Southern 500, although filled with exciting racing, confusion over the winner, and packed with over 80,000 fans, was also very tragic. This time it was not a driver killed, but two mechanics, Paul McDuffie and Charles Sweatlund, and a NASCAR official, Joe Taylor. Bobby Johns, in a Pontiac, rubbed Roy Tyner's Oldsmobile and slammed into the concrete pit wall which threw large concrete chunks through the air, killing the three and injuring three of Joe Lee Johnson's pit crew. Even before that tragic event Ankrum "Spook" Crawford was injured when Elmo Langley crashed into the pits and debris flew and hit Crawford as he was in the pits.
In those days, the pits at Darlington were literally the inner part of the track. There was a wall behind which the pit crew was located until it was time to pit the car. They would then go over that wall be would be changing tires and working on the cars less that three feet, at times, from where the race cars were going by at full speed. It is somewhat amazing that more fatalities or injuries were not sustained with that practice.
The race started with Fireball Roberts in a Pontiac on the pole with Buck Baker in another Pontiac starting second. Jim Paschal started third in a Plymouth, Joe Weatherly fourth in a Pontiac and Bobby Johns fifth in another Pontiac. Buck Baker would slam his Boomershine Pontiac out front on the green flag with Roberts hot on his tailpipes. Fireball would finally move around Baker on lap 7 and lead until lap 27 when Baker went back out in front. The race then became a battle between Fireball, Buck Baker, Cotton Owens, Bobby Johns, Richard Petty, Lee Petty and Rex White with each getting a turn at the lead.
The real battle for position finally wound down to a three way race between Baker and Roberts in the powerful Pontiac, and the blue Plymouth of second year driver Richard Petty who surprised everyone in the crowd (and the Pontiac folks) with the way he had that Plymouth right there in a position to win the race.
As the laps were winding down, Baker was leading, but Fireball and Richard had closed to the back bumper of Baker's Pontiac. Fans were going crazy expecting a real shoot out to the checkered flag. With only 11 laps to go, Fireball's Smokey Yunick Pontiac blew a plume of smoke from the tail pipes and he was done. That left it up to Richard Petty to hound the number 47 Pontiac. Petty was literally pushing Baker with three laps to go and fans were anticipating the possibility of a photo finish when, with three laps left, the Plymouth 43 wobbled as a tire blew taking Richard out of the hunt. Buck Baker was not on a lap by himself out front with two to go.
With a lap and a half to go, a loud "pop" eminated from under Baker's Pontiac as he blew a tire. Rex White, who now found himself in second after Petty's blown tire, passed by Buck as Buck rode around the apron. Rex took the white flag. Came back around took the white flag again. Next time by he got the checkers. To say there was confusion is to state it midly, but NASCAR Chief Scorer, Joe Epton was able to determine it was Buck Baker in the three wheel Pontiac that had crossed the line first at the end of 500 miles. It was after 7:00 p.m. when the official announcement came from NASCAR scoring that Baker had won and Rex White had finished second. That second place finish almost assured Rex White of the 1960 Grand National Championship which he did claim at the end of the season.
Top ten finishers were:
1. Buck Baker, Boomershine Pontiac, winning $19,900.00
2. Rex White, Piedmont/Friendly Chevrolet, winning $9,780.00
3. Jim Paschal, Petty Engineering Plymouth, winning $5,595.00
4. Emanuel Zervakis, Monroe Shook Chevrolet, winning $3,125.00
5. Ned Jarrett, Courtesy Ford, winning $2,000.00
6. Richard Petty, Petty Engineering Plymouth, winning $2,575.00
7. Banjo Matthews, Matthews Ford, winning $1,255.00
8. Johnny Beauchamp, Chevrolet, winning $1,025.00
9. Fireball Roberts, John Hines Pontiac, winning $2,175.00
10. Doug Yates, Yates Plymouth, winning $775.00
Marvin Panch finished 11th, PAUL LEWIS finished 14th. Herman Beam was 18th, Tiny Lund 19th,, Curtis Crider 20th, Joe Weatherly 21st, and G.C. Spencer 22nd. Cotton Owens would claim 24th, David Pearson 27th, Fred Lorenzen 28th,Lee Petty 30th, Reb Wickersham 32nd, and Jimmy Pardue 23rd. Buddy Baker clocked in as the 34th place finisher with Jim Reed 36th, Johnny Allen 37th, Tiger Tom Pistone 38th, and Speedy Thompson 39th. Elmo Langley finished 45th, Bunkie Blackburn 46th with Junior Johnson 47th.
PERSONAL MEMORIES from that event: I do remember that it was very, very hot that Labor Day. I have never really had a problem with heat, not even today at my advanced age, but I can almost feel the heat blowing off that asphalt in turn three right into the fence where I was standing to watch the race.
I heard the crash when Bobby Johns hit the pit wall but I never knew, that day, that anyone was killed. It was the next day when Uncle Bobby told me about it. I had already witnessed Bobby Myers being killed right in front of me in 1957 and I guess he was worried that, at my young age, I would come to associate racing with only death. I never did, but he was watching out for me.
Being the Petty fan that I already was, I remember screaming my lungs out most of the race as Richard was running a great race. In my little teenage mind, there was no doubt he was going to win. When he came by with that blown tire, I went as deflated as that tire. I remember Buck Baker coming by a couple laps later actually throwing sparks off that wheel with no rubber left. We actually thought Rex White won the race because that's what everyone was saying. We left the track for the drive back to Columbia believing it was Rex White. Next morning was school for me and I remember showing up unable to talk above a whisper because of all the yelling from the day before, not to mention being as sunburned as I have every been. To top all that off, my ears were still ringing with the sound of those race cars. I don't have much of a recollection of that first day of school, but I can still feel the vibrations under my feet as those cars came by me each lap. Funny how that works, huh?
OTHER SOUTHERN 500s run on September 5th through 1983.
1. Herb Thomas, Chevrolet
2. Jim Reed, Chevrolet
3. Tim Flock, Chrysler
4. Gwyn Staley, Chevrolet
5. Larry Flynn, Ford.
1. Darel Dieringer, Mercury
2. Richard Petty, Plymouth
3. David Pearson, Dodge
4. Marvin Panch, Plymouth
5. Fred Lorenzen, Ford
1. David Pearson, Mercury
2. Donnie Allison, Chevrolet
3. Buddy Baker, Ford
4. Richard Petty, Dodge
5. Cale Yarborough, Chevrolet
1. Bobby Allison, Buick
2. Bill Elliott, Ford
3. Darrell Waltrip, Chevrolet
4. Neil Bonnett, Chevrolet
5. Terry Labonte, Chevrolet
Honor the past, embrace the present, dream for the future
I hope there are many of you out there who remember this race and can add to what has been posted here.
10 minutes of really old footage. Not the greatest video quality. No sound either. So need to adjust your monitor or speakers. Nonetheless, some cool scenes from the 1960 500.
And a short video of Bobby Johns' wreck narrated by Howard Cosell. Despite the video title, there really isn't anything graphic about this coverage of a very sad racing accident.
Solid coverage from Charleston's News and Courier.
Thanks for the day's minute, Tim and the great followups, Chase. It was a tragic day. Those guys who serviced the cars back in the day and up to the time of pit road speed limits were sitting ducks. Even today we see injuries.
I attended my first Southern 500 (and first Darlington race) on this September 5th date in 1966. I have written previously on these pages of riding "The Hound" from Richmond to Darlington on Labor Day 1966.
The station in Richmond on Broad Street where my buddy Frank and I caught the bus to Darlington just past midnight on Labor Day, September 5, 1966. Just as the Labor day Southern 500 passed into history after 1983, the bus station above was closed in 1985.
The view from my Kodak Brownie box camera from the stands on September 5, 1966:
Riding the Hound to Darlington on Labor Day
Posted by Dave Fulton on August 19, 2011 at 1:41pm in -GENERAL
The calendar is fast approaching Labor Day, a sacrosanct date once synonymous with what was termed "The Granddady of Them All" - the Southern 500 stock car race at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. The temperature is now dropping out of the nineties at night occassionally, the days are getting shorter, the ground is covered with heavy dewfall in early morning. All signs that the good ole boys should be getting ready for the one they all wanted to win.
The Southern 500 was the one race my buddy, Frank and I most wanted to see. More than Daytona, more than Charlotte, more than Atlanta. It was the race we had listened to Bob Montgomery announce on radio after the strains of "Dixie" faded.
On Labor Day 1965 I was enlisted to help my Dad with the repainting of our Richmond home. We had big extension ladders propped against the back of the house. Much to my mother's consternation, I mounted a radio in an upstairs dormer window, cranked to full volume with the Southern 500 broadcast and listened as Ned Jarrett won. There wasn't much said on the broadcast of the death of Buren Skeen, but a lot made of Cale flying over the guardrail in Banjo's #27. I was so impressed with stories I read afterwards about Ned speaking to church groups about winning the Southern 500, that I incorporated that into my sermon when I was named the "Youth Week Minister" at my Southern Baptist church the following spring - 1966 - my senior year in high school.
Although one gentleman in the church congregatation worked on Al Grinnan's modified, I guarantee I was the first (and probably the last) to preach stock car racing from the church pulpit of Monument Heights Baptist Church!
I have recounted on these pages the adventure Frank and I took in March 1966 when we took the race train from Richmond to Rockingham for that track's first spring race - the first, last and only Peach Blossom 500. Well, we knew we were ready for Darlington - but, our parents didn't share our readiness. Although we were both 17 and had graduated from high school in June and would head to college right after the Southern 500, both sets of parents forbid we two 17 year olds driving from Richmond to Darlington and back on Labor Day. However, we weren't to be stopped. We finally convinced our folks to let us take a bus to Darlington, an idea that seems pretty stupid in 2011, but one we thought was outstanding in 1966!
Around 8 or 9 pm on Sunday night of Labor Day weekend, my father dropped us off at the downtown Richmond Greyhound bus terminal, not a very nice place, even in 1966. We already had our Darlington race tickets and we had previously bought two round trip bus tickets to Darlington. We were the only two caucasians on the "Hound" and the rest of the bus was filled with folks going to Labor Day family reunions in South Carolina. Everybody but us had fried chicken to eat on that long bus ride. We rode through the night, departing out of Richmond on Interstate 95 South, which still hadn't been completed between Gold Rock, north of Rocky Mount, NC and Kenly, south of Wilson, NC. At Gold Rock the bus cut over to U.S. 301 and sometime after that Frank awakened me full of excitement. To our left we were passing the brightly lit, now long gone Southern 500 Truck Stop, which in the 70s I learned was in Elm City, NC and frequented by the racers after Saturday night shows at Wilson County Speedway.
We still had a long ways to go, but sometime around 7:00 a.m. on Labor Day Monday that Greyhound let the two of us off at a little Pure Gas station in what I guess was downtown Darlington. It had one of those little rectangle signs you used to see at country stores, etc. that read, "bus." The place was closed, of course. In fact, everything was closed and we were totally lost without a clue how to get to the track.
I only remember that we walked for a long ways until we came upon a big open field with hundreds of cars and tents. There were campfires everywhere and a local church had erected a big tent and was serving breakfast to race fans. We thought we'd died and gone to heaven.
Our seats at Darlington were in the main grandstand, a place I never sat again, preferring Robert E. Lee's Paddock on the old turn 4. The cars ran right up on the wall out of turn 4 and all we could see on the main straight that day was the roofs of the cars.
Prerace was spectacular, much bigger than anything we'd seen at Richmond or Rockingham. The one similiarity was Ray Melton bellowing on the P.A. system, god bless him. We'd never seen a drag car before and during prerace the gold Hurst Hemi Under Glass Baracudda did wheelies down the main straight. Don't know if Linda Vaughn was riding along or not. Then our hearts really stopped. Coming in a parade down the front stretch were all the cars on exhibit in the Joe Weatherly Stock car Museum. The Johnny Mantz 1950 Plymouth, Buck Baker's Olds, Jim Reed's '59 Chevy, Little Joe's #8 Merc and the lavender #22 Ford of Fireball Roberts. By then we were ourselves steeped in the Darlington tradition and had each purchased a "Darlington Cushion," a seat cushion with the Southern 500 logo that we each carried like a badge of honor for years to come to races all over Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina as proof that we'd been to "The Grandaddy of Them All." Lord, I wish I knew what happened that cushion.
Our hero, JT Putney, had contracted to carry an onboard camera in his #19 that day in order to shoot footage for the annual Southern 500 promotional film. Seemed like he stopped every 20 laps to change film. I remember james Hylton in his pale yellow #48 pitted right across from us. I must have a thousand shots of him on 8mm film leaving his pit that day (or did until NASCAR lost all my film).
The big happening that day was Earl Balmer getting up on the fence in Turn 1. His K&K Dodge chopped off the tops of the guardrail posts and threw them into the open air press box like so many wood chips. The race was stopped for an eternity while the guardrail was rebuilt.
In the closing stages, Richard Petty cut down a tire and gave up the lead to Darel Dieringer who was flagged the winner in his Bud Moore #15 Mercury Comet.
When we left the track it started raining. We tried to thumb a ride back into Darlington and the closed bus station without any takers. We did both get hit in the head with rolls of wet toilet tissue tossed by drunks in a passing pickup. Sometime that evening, the bus enroute to Richmond picked us up at the closed bus station. My dad met us in the wee hours. We had survived our first Southern 500 and there would be many more Labor Day Monday adventures. But that was the the first and last time we rode the "Hound" to Darlington!