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Winston Cup Myths
By Steve Samples
One of the long running television series of the 1950's and 1960's was the ever popular cops and robbers drama "Dragnet." The show featured Jack Webb playing the part of hard-nosed career cop Joe Friday, a tough but fair man, who seeded special privileges to no one. When interrogating a witness his patented by line was, "Just the facts please." No fluff, no speculation, no opinion. Just tell me what you know to be true.
It's a shame 'ol Joe couldn't have landed a job with FOX Sports, NBC, or even NASCAR. You see the facts of NASCAR's storied history have been distorted by those groups and other media outlets, to the point that it appears they share a public relations department with the World Wrestling Federation. Oh there are no conspiracies going on here. Just sheer incompetence mixed with well meaning but uninformed reporters making conclusions about events they never witnessed.
For the sake of historical clarification and accuracy, this "Beyond the Grandstand" column is devoted to setting the record straight. I'll begin by examining popular myths perpetrated and promoted by the media, and end our discussion with an analysis of NASCAR "experts" selection of the sport's 50 greatest drivers, which more appropriately should be named "NASCAR's 35 Greatest Drivers, and 15 Most Overrated Drivers." So buckle your seat belt while we take a short but rigorous ride from fiction to truth.
Let's start with the Daytona 500.
#1: The Daytona 500 has been
NASCAR's season opening and premier event since it's inception.
#2: Richard Petty was the only Grand
National/Winston Cup driver to portray himself in a feature length movie.
#3: "The Last American Hero," a film
about Junior Johnson in which Jeff Bridges portrayed the Hall of Fame
driver, was accurate in depicting the career of "The Ronda Roadrunner."
#4: Hall of Fame driver Ned Jarrett, who recently appeared on a
Wheaties Box, was one of NASCAR's all time greats.
#5: Competition today is tougher
than at anytime in NASCAR history.
#6: Stock car racing is more popular
today than at anytime in the history of the sport.
#7: The most accurate means to
compare drivers of different eras is to look at their total victories and
number of Winston Cup championships.
#8: The official NASCAR web site
refers to Tim Flock, Tiny Lund, and Fred Lorenzen as NASCAR pioneers.
#9: The "50 Greatest Drivers in
NASCAR history" are listed on the official NASCAR web site.
So what's wrong with NASCAR's "All Time Top 50"? An awful lot. Conspicuously absent are Dick Hutcherson, a tough hard nosed driver who ran the full NASCAR circuit for Holman-Moody from 1965 through 1967. In just three years, Dick won 14 races on an assortment of tracks, and earned a reputation as one of the circuits best. Few times in NASCAR history has anyone won 14 times in three years. Another MUST on anyone's all time list is Jim Paschal, perhaps the smoothest driver in NASCAR history. He won 25 races while driving mostly for Petty Enterprises, and frequently did so in marginal cars. Also missing from the list is Jack Smith. Jack was a dominant driver in the 1960's who won the inaugural 500 lapper at Bristol, and another 20 races to go with it. Jack was a hard charger who could drive circles around many on NASCAR's 50 Greatest list.
Yet another omission of magnanimous proportion is Speedy Thompson. Speedy peaked in the 1950's, and saw victory circle 20 times in his career. Although only a part time Grand National competitor, Indy ace Paul Goldsmith racked up nine career NASCAR victories. Respected by driver's in both stock and championship car competition, Paul was one of the best. And if A.J. Foyt gets in with just seven career wins, why not Goldsmith with nine? Darel Derringer is another curious omission. Driving a factory Mercury, Darel had seven career wins, and always ran with the leaders. Ironically Tiny Lund with only five wins, (some say four, as many records of his era were poorly kept) and a much lower win percentage gets in. Tiny, a genuine hero who helped rescue Marvin Panch from a burning Massarati at Daytona in 1963, seldom ran up front, and usually raced in a pack of cars several laps behind Darel Derringer.
If we are rating drivers on sheer ability, which is evidently the idea since A. J. Foyt makes the field with seven wins, let's include perhaps the greatest short track driver of all time- "Tiger" Tom Pistone. Tiger, which he preferred to be called, was about 5'3" and 130 pounds. But don't mess with Tom, he was one tough customer, long before the late Dale Earnhardt was born. He won only two NASCAR races because he seldom raced in NASCAR. Tom was the "King" of Solider Field, and once out ran a bevy of factory cars in an independent Ford at Martinsville. And speaking of omissions, Nelson Stacy a World 600 and Southern 500 champion, with short track wins as well, should have made the roster.
So who else doesn't belong on the Top 50 list? Red Byron with two career wins. Hershall McGriff, a great road course driver, who seldom competed at non-road course events, and Glen Wood a master car builder, a good driver, but not a great one. And what about...... we could go on forever, but the point has been made. It's time the public demand truth in the media reporting of
NASCAR's past. More Joe Friday, less Vince McMahon. We owe that to future generations.
Go To: NASCAR's Top 50
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