Joe Weatherly: NASCAR's First Triple Champion… almost. – Pt. 3
Joe Weatherly and the other Ford drivers must have been excited at the beginning of the 1957 season. The Ford drivers would have a new weapon, a supercharger.
In addition, the company had begun work for the upcoming season in the summer of 1956, so the Fords would be well prepared compared to the previous two seasons.
The 312 cubic inch supercharged Ford engine produced 325 horsepower, but was advertised at 300 to hold down customer demand, as the early superchargers were hand-made until McCulloch could get its production line running.
Restored 1957 Ford 312 'F' code engine shown as installed.
Ford intended the superchargers for use of the factory cars, even running single four barrel carburetor equipped 312-inch powered cars as back-up; while superchargers were not allowed by NASCAR in the convertible and short track divisions.
Mercury went with the 368-inch 335 horsepower engine originally used exclusively in Lincolns.
The horsepower race, which hit its peak about a decade later, was on. Chevrolet increased their engine size to 283-inches and added fuel injection for about 300 horsepower.
Pontiac began its efforts to rid its stodgy image with a 347 cubic inch engine making 325 horsepower. Oldsmobile offered a 371-inch engine making 325 horses.
However, when Kiekhaefer quit the Grand National series the heavy though powerful hemi-powered Chryslers were gone.
With Chrysler not supporting racing, the lighter, smaller Dodge (354-inch, 330-horse) and Plymouth (318-inch, 300-horse) hemi-engined cars were considered non-competitive and the top Dodge driver, Lee Petty switched to Oldsmobile.
Although not the first events in the racing season, the races of Speedweeks in February at Daytona were always a big splash.
At Daytona, Ford had 11 cars with 28 men to take care of them. Mercury had 15 cars, mostly for runs on the beach-straight time trials, and 29 crew. With engineers, public relations men and others, Ford Motor Company had over 100 people at Daytona.
Stock cars raced in that era still used mostly production parts. Ford had convinced NASCAR to allow them to reinforce the front spindles of their cars, citing safety concerns.
The possibility of front wheels coming off cars and getting into spectator areas was something no one wanted. The reinforcements were allowed as NASCAR was always open to allow variations from production parts if safety was a question.
At Daytona a fault in steering linkages on the Fords caused severe toe-in making the cars plow up the sand.
In the 160-mile convertible race on Saturday, Weatherly managed a second place, between winner Tim Flock and Billy Myers both in Mercurys.
Larry Frank spins his No. 76 Chevy as Curtis Turner in his No. 26 Ford, passes inside during the Feb. 16 1957 NASCAR Convertible race at Daytona.
Notice the front tire's extreme toe-in on Turner's Ford, the result of defective heat treatment of the production steering linkage. Although Turner started third, he led the first three laps but finished 13th in the race. Reason out: "radiator hose."
On Sunday, little-known Cotton Owens won the Grand National (Cup) race in a Pontiac; with the Fords getting a best of fifth with Marvin Panch while Weatherly took 18th after starting 42nd.
Despite the poor results at Daytona, the “Gold Dust Twins,” Weatherly and Turner, continued their usual partying at their Daytona ‘Party Pad.’ The Party Pad featured a fully stocked bar that had bathing beauties painted on the wall behind.
When black lights were turned on, the bathing suits would ‘disappear’ on the art work, surely amusing the party-goers (including the ‘baby dolls’) while they consumed the ‘Twins’ favorite drinks: ‘shooters’ of “CC” and Coke.
Despite the embarrassment at Daytona, 1957 began with what looked like would be a dominant performance for Ford. The Ford team appeared to be taking up where Kiekhaefer’s Chryslers had left off.
The 1957 Grand National season had begun in November 1956, and through May 5, the Fords won five of the 16 races. In the Convertible Division, Fords won 16 of the first 17 races, the exception being the Mercury win at Daytona.
The Gold Dust Twins were in their glory during that stretch in the convertibles. Of the 16 wins Weatherly got four and Turner nine.
Glen Wood (beginning the Wood Brothers’ long association with Ford) won two of the first 17 convertible races with Fireball Roberts taking the biggest race in the convertible series, the first Rebel 300 at Darlington.
Curtis Turner, driving his peach-colored #26 Ford, pairs up with #21 Glen Wood on the front row for the start of the April 22, 1957 NASCAR Convertible race at Winston-Salem's Bowman Gray Stadium.
Turner won the race, giving his Peter DePaolo Ford team its eighth win in the first 11 races at the start of the 1957 ragtop season. Glen Wood in his independent Ford won two races during that stretch. A crowd of 7,800 packed the grandstands around the flat 1/4-mile track to watch the event.
The bombshell that would blow up the Ford effort was lit in February of 1957.
At a meeting of the AMA (Automobile Manufacturers Association) the president of Chevrolet suggested that the car makers get out of racing. This idea was also supported by the National Safety Council.
The head of Ford’s engineering had made a similar comment in 1956, and after the February 1957 AMA meeting, the idea quickly gained favor in the highest levels of management at Ford.
A lot of money was being spent and the sales gains did not seem to justify the expense.
The support of the head of Ford’s engineering department to get out of racing, at first glance, seems unlikely. From today’s perspective it would seem that engineers would welcome the challenges racing would present.
While the young engineers at the lower levels welcomed the challenge and the excitement, the men at the top did not.
The engineering department was open to embarrassment (like the Daytona steering debacle) from parts failures, and they also did not like the idea that they might be put in a position of responsibility for any slip of car sales.
The engineering departments of all the auto manufacturers had been able to design cars’ internal parts in relative ease for about twenty years and were happy that customers were only concerned about styling and price when they walked into the showroom.
The engineering chiefs liked the fact that the sales department took all the heat for any loss in sales, plus it was much easier to design a car used exclusively for street use compared to the additional stresses of racing.
Henry Ford II supported the idea of dropping out of racing and “The Deuce” always got his way.
With the top management supporting it, the ‘AMA Ban’ would be observed by Ford Motor Company.
This ban was put in place at Ford, despite the internal memos that said it was essential that Ford support racing so that wins would be possible.
The ban was enforced despite the fact that some Ford officials felt that the Chevrolet leaders knew that getting Ford out of racing was in Chevy’s best interest.
And even though the Ford officials already had reports that Chevrolet would take their efforts under-the-table, the ban would be followed strictly.
Because top management wanted Ford out of racing by June 1st, the racing group had about a month to dispose of the cars and equipment.
The decision to get out so quickly would put Ford in compliance before the June 6th AMA meeting where the racing ban resolution would be voted upon. The resolution was passed putting the “ban” into effect.
To dispose of the equipment, Ford gave each of the drivers two cars (at the cost of one dollar each), a tow truck and a supply of parts. But there was plenty of material to dispose of quickly to meet the self-imposed June 1st deadline.
After the drivers got their share, John Holman called Ralph Moody and asked him if he was interested in the two of them buying the remaining Ford gear.
The ‘yes’ from Moody caused the purchase to take place, and the Holman and Moody organization was born. The formation of Holman-Moody was so informal that the two men didn’t even formally organize the business on paper until 1962 when Ford returned to racing.
The new team immediately went racing in the USAC stock car circuit to gain publicity by beating drivers who had competed in the Indianapolis 500 and to put money in the bank account of the new team.
Ralph Moody’s winnings from the USAC races included a prize of $14,000 from a single USAC race in July!
This was at a time when the Ford Fairlane "500" Club Sedan (Model # 64B) Two Door had a Base Price with the eight cylinder engine of $2,381 plus options.
The success of the Holman-Moody Fords let the drivers “up north” know where they could get supercharger parts, as NASCAR had banned superchargers in April while the supercharger remained legal in USAC.
The effect of the ‘ban’ was very evident by the win totals at the end of the 1957 NASCAR season. Of the 21 Grand National (Cup) races before the AMA ban Ford won 15 while Chevrolet won five. Of the 32 races after the resolution, Fords won 12 and Chevrolets won 14.
Buck Baker was 1957 Grand National Champion racing in 40 races, with ten wins, 30 top fives, 38 top tens and six poles in a Chevrolet. Baker led 857 laps second only to Fireball Roberts’ 1107 laps led, all in a Ford.
Weatherly, whose main effort was the convertibles ran fourteen Grand National races with no wins, five top fives, seven top tens, no poles, and one lap led.
In the Convertible Division before the ban, Fords won 16 and Chevrolet won three of the 20 races. After the ban, Fords won 10 and Chevrolet nine of the 20 races.
In the Convertible Division for 1957, “The Gold Dust Twins” were still the big story with Weatherly getting five wins, and finishing second in points. Turner took eleven races, leading the most laps (1289) while finishing in sixth place in the season final point standings.
In addition, Glen Wood (who had been recommended to Ford by fellow Virginian Turner) got four wins in the convertibles, and finished third in the final point standings.
Joe Weatherly’s totals for the 36-race1957 Convertible Division season: 36 races run, five wins, 25 top tens, 32 top tens, five poles and 457 laps led.
Weatherly finished second in the final points standing with 9112 points, compared to champion Bob Welborn (Chevrolet) with 9364 points.
Interestingly Weatherly actually completed nine more miles during the season than Welborn, who had six wins during the season. Weatherly, Welborn and Wood were the only drivers to compete in all 36 convertible races in 1957.
Also, in the Short Track Division, the ‘before’ win totals were Ford eight and Chevrolet four of the 13 races. After the ‘ban’ Ford won six and Chevrolet nine of the last 15 races. Chevrolet driver Jim Reed was champion.
Turner, who made and lost fortunes in the timber business, had an airplane to survey potential timber purchases as well as attending races. Weatherly also bought an airplane and the two were some of the earliest drivers to use private planes to go from race to race.
The two drivers were notorious however for their use of aircraft as if they were automobiles. They would jump into the planes without the usual ‘walk-around’ that pilots to this day use to inspect their aircraft.
Flight plans were not filed, and following the roads on the ground was a commonly used way for Weatherly to get from place to place.
Weatherly and Turner also pulled various tricks on passengers/victims while in the air.
The pilot sleeping with the auto-pilot on, and ‘engine failures’ that were actually caused by the pilot switching the engine off, were just two of the high jinks causing much amusement, for Joe and Curtis anyway.
In that era, the race cars were really based on production cars and Weatherly was known for stealing the ignition keys out of the other competitors’ cars. The only car to start on command was Weatherly’s accompanied by Joe’s laughter.
After the teams got wise to the stolen keys trick Weatherly switched to stealing gas caps off the cars, as NASCAR would not allow cars to race without gas caps.
Beginning with the 1958 season NASCAR and USAC banned supercharging, multi-carburetion and fuel injection after the factory engine war of 1957.
For 1958 Weatherly and Holman-Moody would race when there was sponsorship was available. Despite the appearance of the former factory team, Ford Motor Company was out of racing.
Even the fact that Ford had out-sold Chevrolet in the new car showrooms in1957 did not change the company’s decision to stay with the ban.
The costs of racing may have been part of the reason to continue the racing ban.
Plus, the costs of the 1957 production run, (which involved the largest number of model variations on a single assembly line that any car maker has ever produced, before or since) may have also influenced the decision to not race.
With sponsorship obtained, Weatherly and Turner were in Daytona for the races in February 1958 with “zipper-top” cars.
Zipper-top cars were a trend among many competitors who cut the roof off the hardtops for the convertible events and then bolted the roof on for the Grand National event the next day.
Zipper-top cars weren’t really allowed by the rules, but Big Bill France never let his rules stand in the way of having top drivers and cars in a race.
In the convertible race on February 22 1958, Weatherly started 14th and finished third, while Turner, after starting in 12th won by 14 seconds after leading 29 of the 39 laps. Both the Holman-Moody cars were 1958 Fords.
The pole winner Lee Petty led eight laps and finished second in his 1957 Oldsmobile convertible.
The next day the tops were bolted on and Weatherly finished fourth after starting 23rd.
Turner started eighth and finished second behind Paul Goldsmith, with Goldsmith leading all 39 laps in his Smokey Yunick-built Pontiac.
This race would be the last to be run on the 4.1-mile beach-road course.
Turner had been almost a minute behind the leader at halfway but erased the deficit only to finish one car length behind Goldsmith.
The cars ran when sponsorship was available, at least until Weatherly promoted a race on the half-mile dirt track at Wilson NC. Weatherly and Turner talked Holman into letting them run the race, with Weatherly finishing third, while Turner won.
The problem was the Wilson race was on May 4, and the biggest convertible race of the year was the Rebel 300 at Darlington on May 10. There was no longer a fleet of race-ready cars from the factory waiting back in Charlotte.
The dirty, battered cars were cleaned up and repaired but did not get to Darlington until the day before the race. Weatherly qualified tenth with Turner starting twelfth.
Weatherly took the lead on lap ten and led 122 laps of the 219 lap race and finished second. Turner led 79 laps and took the win.
The Gold Dust Twins’ performance was a tribute to the overnight work of the Holman-Moody mechanics the night before of the race, as well as the skill of the drivers.
Joe Weatherly and his '58 convertible started 10th and finished 2nd at Darlington Rebel 300 convertible race on May 10, 1958.
In the 1958 season Joe Weatherly competed in twelve of the 19 races in the convertible series, finishing third in the final standings with one win (with a 1956 Ford!) five top fives, and eight top tens.
Weatherly was third in money won at $7,536. Convertible champion Bob Welborn was second in money won with $11,455 competing in all 19 races.
The top money winner was Turner who raced five times and won four taking $11.577 in winnings!
Weatherly ran in 15 of the 51 Grand National races in 1958. He got one win, five top fives, seven top tens, with one pole and $6330 in winnings
End of Part 3
Next: The Darlington Donkey, Pontiac’s glory years, and championships.
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