History & more; 51 years ago today NASCAR raced at Bristol
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away – wait -- that is another story for another time.
As these guys used to say, let’s set the Wayback Machine to Oct. 22, 1961 – 51 years ago today.
The day started with an incident, unknown at the time to much of the world, that five days later led to this, but I digress.
While the semi-unofficial yet standard dates for NASCAR weekends at Bristol has become mid-March and late August, it has not always been that way.
By the afternoon of that autumn day, 38 cars were lined up to take the green flag in the Southeastern 500 – the second NASCAR Cup race to be run at Bristol – and the 50th, yes, you read that correctly, the 50th race of the season.
Bobby Johns, a somewhat wiry driver from here, driving for Jack Smith, the winner of the first race at Bristol three months earlier, started from the pole and led 49 laps. In the end, it was not his day. Two superstars of the day took over from that point as Junior Johnson – the most successful car owner in Bristol history – and Fireball Roberts led 345 of the next 364 laps.
It was a diversified lineup that October day as the starting field featured four NASCAR-Hall-of-Fame drivers and at least four more who should be there at some point as well as three NHOF owners. Local drivers embraced the new facility in the Tennessee hills as seven drivers who lived within 30 miles of Bristol were in the starting field.
Initials were big in 1961. Either driving or owning a car that day were: G.C. Spencer, L.D. Austin, B.G. Holloway and J.L. Cheatham.
Nicknames were more prevalent then as well. In addition to Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, “Crawfish” Crider (who finished 15th) and “Wildcat” Williams represented the crustacean and animal world, respectively. James Ronald Blackburn, better known as “Bunkie” and not to be confused with this guy, who for years was the NASCAR Commissioner, was in the field starting 10th and finishing 30th.
It was a tough day with only 19 of the 38 starters making it to the end. And most everyone in the estimated crowd of 17,000 had time to get home to see this guy.
Take us back home Mr. Peabody.