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Daytona 1955

Walt Wimer, Pennsylvania racing historian, sends these photos from the sands of Daytona in 1955.

Hi guys!!!! This week for my posting we are going way back!!  49 years to be exact for photos on the sands of Daytona after the Modified race on the beach-road track in 1955. These were some of the first race car photos I ever took, being all of 15 at the time.  Unfortunately racing sort of went on the back burner for several years while I was in high school, so with exception of one other roll at Palm Beach Speedway, I didn't take any more photos until late 1961, again at Palm Beach while still living in Florida. For several years at Daytona they ran two races for the Sportsman and Modified cars. The Sportsman cars got their own race on Friday and then could also run with the Modifieds on Saturday. Sometimes drivers ran the same car as both a Sportsman and Modified by changing from a single carb to a multi-carb setup.  There were several years that the starting field for the Saturday race numbered over 100 cars. To this day one of my big thrills as a long time race fan was sitting in the old North Turn grandstand watching 100 or so coupes coming full bore down the beach heading for the first turn. As most of you know from old photos, not all of them made it!!  Here are six shots from the 1955 Daytona races.

     TOP left........The famed Fish Carburetor #M-1driven by Fireball Roberts.  The Fish Carburetor cars were always among the ones to beat in any Daytona Mod-Spts race back then and they had a five car team in 1955. Actually this # M-1 car, a 1940 Ford, ran both races in 1955, with Roberts driving it to 3rd in the Sportsman race and Speedy Thompson finishing 6th in the Mod-Spts go on Saturday. In that race Roberts drove the #M-3 car, a 37 Chevy but dropped out for 44th place. Thompson won the Friday race with the M-5 car and Milt Hartlauf (M-2) and Herb Thomas (M-4) recorded top five finishes on Saturday, the M-3 car the only one not to make a top five finish in one of the two races.  Roberts of course became one of the first "super stars" of NASCAR, winning the 1962 Daytona 500 and the Southern 500 at Darlington twice (1958 & 1963), before loosing his life from burns in a fiery 1964 crash at Charlotte. Today his 31 wins still rank him 18th on NASCAR's all time win list, but he will drop to 19th the next time Dale Jarrett wins.  Thompson also won the Southern 500 at Darlington in 1957 and had 20 wins for 29th on the all time list. (The photo of the M-1 was taken at the Fish Carburetor plant parking lot. The plant was on the west side of the Halifax River just off one of the main bridges between the beach and mainland. Smokey Yunick's "Best Damn Garage in Town" was just up the road) 

       TOP right......#3 Bill Tanner, Newtown, Pa.  This clean 1937 Ford coupe was driven to 6th in the Friday race and 28th on Saturday by Tanner. As I remember the red and white #3 was owned by a husband & wife by the name of Coleman and you can see the name Coleman on the quarter panel along with a Fish Carb decal. Does that square number 3 remind you of someone!!!!  I don't know a whole lot about Tanner except that he was a fairly good runner in the Penn-Jersey area in those days. I did check some of my old NASCAR record books, but only found that he was 10th in Sportsman points at Morristown, NJ in 1954. Seems to me I also remember him in a purple & yellow #144 at Daytona one year.

       MIDDLE  left....#86 Sonny Black of Montgomery, Ala. Black, whose real name was Robert, was one of the best Modified drivers in the Georgia-Alabama area in the 1950s/early 60s.  In the early 60s he raced against the likes of the Allison Bros and Red Farmer at Birmingham and Montgomery. In 1960 Black was 3rd in the NASCAR national Modified points and 4th the following year. In 1962 NASCAR set up its short lived "Modified Special" division and Black was 9th in points when Bobby Allison won the first of his two titles in that class. However, he had a bad year in 1963 and was well down the list in track points at both Birmingham and Montgomery. My guess is that he didn't have a full time ride much of that season. Things got much worse in 1964 when he lost his life in a really nasty crash at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. From what several of you have told me he was hot lapping a Super-Modified "skeeter type" car of some sort when he hit the wooden flagstand which stuck out away from the wall. Black was sort of a journeyman driver who appeared to move a bit. NASCAR records have him from Montgomery in 1960 and before, but then Forest Park, Ga.(a burb of Atlanta) in 1961& 62.  As well as running on the beach, Black ran the early Modified races at DIS, first with a Chevy coupe and then with a metallic lavender '55 Chevy, both with the number 80 on the side.  In one of those races he had a real good finish, but I can't remember which and the old programs are down in the garage. The #86 he drove at Daytona in 1955 was a '37 Chevy coupe light yellow with maroon numbers, probably with an Olds or Cadillac engine under the hood. He didn't have much luck, dropping out for 45th place.

       MIDDLE right....#158 Hooker Hood of Memphis, Tenn, who would go on to become a famed Super-Modified & Sprint Car driver, earning him a spot in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa.  This car was another '37 Chevy, maroon with white numbers and probably had an Olds or Caddy under the hood as they were the hot GM set-ups of the day when engine mfg had to match chassis and body (yep, those were the rules back then!!). He didn't have much of a go at Daytona that year either, finishing 43rd. Hood, whose real name is Clarence, is still around and will be signing autographs for the National Sprint Car Museum May 8th at the Memphis USAC Silver Crown race. His best years were in the period 1965-68. In 1966 he won 20 out of 22 starts, mostly on dirt. In 1967 he won 57 of 63 races, about 1/3 of which were at West Memphis, Ark. Then in 1968 he won 48 times.  Pretty heavy stats for short period.  He ran a handful of NASCAR Grand National races in 1954-55, most at the old Memphis-Arkansas Speedway across the river, but he did have one Daytona start on the beach and one at North Wilkesboro. I am not sure which year he ran Daytona but it was with an Olds 88 and I think the car was purple with a yellow roof and numbers...looked like an Easter Egg!!  The only other time I saw Hood race was at the Lakeland Speedway in Memphis in 1962 when he was running a NASCAR Modified Special car. It was a blue coach, I think #99 and he finished 8th in track points that year. (Also running that night in a #191 white coach was Sam Swindell, Sammy's father) Hood ran his first races in 1948-49, racing both motorcycles and midgets in the Memphis area. Son Ricky Hood also was no slouch behind the wheel winning quite a few USAC races and is still racing today in the southwest driving for Johnny Herrera's parents Joe & Martha Herrera. (Special thanx here to long time friend Tom Schmeh of the National Sprint Car Museum for most of the stats used)

      BOTTOM  left......Jim Paschal of High Point, NC drove this #80 Sportsman '39 Ford coupe in the Friday race, dropping out and finishing 53rd. As you can tell, this photo was taken in a motel parking lot. I think maybe the one next to the one my father and I stayed at. I know we have all seen race cars at motels many many times, but Daytona was my first experience with such. One thing that I can remember is that a few of the drivers just drove their cars right down route A1A to the track.  Hey, it was race week and cops weren't about to bother them.  Besides they were all down at the track directing traffic!!  Don't know much about this car and how much Paschal drove it, but it was black with red numbers. Although he ran a lot of Modified races in his early days, Paschal was best known as a Grand National driver, scoring 25 career wins, including the 1964 world 600 at Charlotte in a Plymouth. He remains 22nd in all time wins and that appears safe at least for a little while unless Ricky Rudd or Terry Labonte can get hot 

      BOTTOM right.......The old North Turn, made famous by its many wrecks and deep ruts in the sand.  Most of the time we didn't get our tickets in time to get in the main North Turn grandstand and ended up in the smaller grandstand coming off turn two, which would be to the right off the photo. But this time we got the big stands and it was probably for the Friday Sportsman race.  I am pretty sure the car going through the turn when I took the photo was the legendary Dutch Hoag in the #96 red & white Penn-Yan Express.  He ran both races as a "Sportsman" that year, finishing 8th on Friday and 14th against the Modifieds on Saturday.  Since this is getting much longer than I had planned, I am not going to go into Hoag's career, especially since I covered if somewhat last year. Most everyone knows he won the Langhorne National Open five times and of course is in the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame at Weedsport, a very worthwhile visit when you are in that area!!

     In some 54 years as a race fan, my memories of the old Daytona beach course are still among my favorites. My father was not a race fan, but every year from 1954 through the last one in 1958, he would take me to Daytona to the Speedweek races. I am very thankful he did!!!  As a postscript to all of the above, the 1955 Modified race was a tragic one as it ended at 76 miles due to a fatal crash on the blacktop "backstretch".  Al Briggs of Lake Worth, Fla. lost his life in the fiery crash that also involved Cotton Owens and Jimmy Thompson in Dick Joslin's #71 among others. This was my first experience with the cruel side of racing and to make it worse it was a driver I had seen race at Palm Beach.  ( Also some special thanx to David Bentley, Tony Martin, Mike Bell and Marty Little for info on Sonny Black's fatal crash at Five Flags, which happened while I was in the navy and not known to me until years later)

GOOD RACING!!!! Walt Wimer

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