Twenty Bucks for an Autograph?
by Steve Samples
In an era when major league baseball players, NFL
greats, and NBA superstars charge upwards of $20 an autograph at impersonal
signing sessions with long lines, it's refreshing to see NASCAR's good 'ol
boys still signing for free, talking to kids, and generally making
themselves available to the public. Sure, there are times when drivers have
to leave to catch flights and excuse themselves from such activities, but
most NASCAR drivers are genuinely nice guys who will accommodate race fans
when they can. The nice guy tradition isn't new to the sport- it started a
long time ago.
Before the 1962 World 600 a boy scout group in
Charlotte contacted the speedway and requested the presence of a NASCAR
driver at their weekly meeting. The boys in the troop had made their
preference known. They wanted Fireball Roberts, and if they couldn't
get Fireball they would take David Pearson. The "Pontiac Pack" as it
was known in those days, made up of Roberts, Pearson, Joe Weatherly,
Jack Smith, Junior Johnson and others, was the dominant force in racing. On
the big tracks, they frequently qualified three to six miles an hour faster
than the Fords of Fred Lorenzen and Nelson Stacy, the Plymouth of Richard
Petty, and the Chevrolet of Ned Jarrett. Kids identify with headline makers
and clearly the Pontiacs were making headlines.
Unfortunately for the local boy scout troop, Roberts and Pearson had
commitments. Speedway executives began calling car owners everywhere, trying
on short notice to recruit a "star" to appear at the meeting. When just
about everyone had said, "Sorry our guy is booked", the phone rang. It was
the office of Holman-Moody. They had a driver named Nelson Stacy. Otherwise
known as "bull necked Nelson Stacy," or "Grandpa Nelson Stacy," as Nelson
did not begin his NASCAR career until his mid-forties, and was indeed a
grandfather. Stacy was a first rate Grand National driver (as Winston Cup
was known in those days). He had won the Southern 500 in Darlington the year
before and could handle a race car with the best of them. Unfortunately
Nelson hadn't made any headlines that season and the scouts were less than
excited when they found out someone called "grandpa" was going to be their
speaker. None the less they all showed up hoping to meet a real NASCAR
driver and were loaded with questions for the aging chauffeur.
When Nelson arrived he introduced himself to the kids who began to shower
him with racing questions. "Have you ever passed Fireball Roberts?"
one youngster asked. "Once I think, but he was in the pits," Stacy replied.
"Well what about this week, you think you could pass Fireball just
one time, for us"? the inquisitive scout asked. "I don't know," Stacy
replied, "he's awfully fast, but I'll sure try." The session ended with
autographs for everyone and a commitment from Nelson to run as hard as he
could on Sunday.
On race day the scouts sat together watching their new found hero with hopes
he would finish the race, and maybe even pass the famous Fireball Roberts,
even if the pass took place when Roberts was in the pits. The race
began with the Pontiac pack leading the way, but soon the powerful Pontiacs
began to fall out. The Fords driven by Stacy and Fred Lorenzen moved closer
to the front. As the race passed the halfway point it looked as if there
might be an upset but several makes of car were in contention. Educated fans
were simply waiting for the Pontiacs to take over. Despite their edge in
horsepower it was not a day for Pontiac. Stacy rocketed to the lead as if he
were shot out of a cannon and Lorenzen moved to third. As the laps ran down
the scouts began to look at each other. Was it possible an old man, a guy
over 40, who they had never heard of, could beat not only Fireball
but the entire field? Indeed it was. Nelson Stacy won the World 600 that
year, one of four victories in a short career, and a group of boy scouts had
finally met someone who could pass Fireball Roberts. The celebration
began in victory circle but ended in the stands with a screaming group of
boy scouts that had just witnessed what they thought was a genuine miracle!
I met Nelson Stacy once following that day. The occasion was after a race at
Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. Searching diligently for my boyhood hero
Fred Lorenzen, I came upon Stacy standing next to his car in the pits. The
year was 1963. It took four and a half hours to run 500 laps at the little
half mile oval in those days, and Stacy looked exhausted.
Realizing he was Lorenzen's teammate, I approached him for an autograph.
would you sign this for me?" I asked. He looked back and smiled. "Would you
give me a dollar for my autograph?" he said in a serious voice. "Yes sir," I
replied, reaching into my pocket and pulling out a crumpled dollar bill. As
I reached to hand it to him, he chortled. "No, you keep your dollar. I'll be
glad to sign your program," he said, laughing so hard I thought he would
Sadly, Nelson Stacy passed away several years ago. He spent his final years
in Florida where he owned a car dealership, complete with a big yellow sign
with a red 29, just like his Holman-Moody Ford. If he was around today I
would have a hard time envisioning Nelson Stacy charging $20 for an
autograph. But maybe, just maybe, at those autograph tables, he could bring
himself to charge a dollar.
Samples has been a student of stockcar racing for more than five decades.
His writing blends recollections from NASCAR's past with the promise of it's
future. When not watching racing, he is a Senior Account Representative for
3M/Unitek Corp. He is also an NRA Certified Firearms Instructor, and an
ex-Marine Vietnam veteran.
Copyright © 1999-2005 FireballRoberts.com
by Roland Via. All rights reserved. Revised:
05/07/12 20:55:50 -0400.