NASCAR: Good Old Days Of Michigan Stock Car Racing

Marc BolandAnalyst IJune 13, 2008

(NOTE: This is another in a series of posts on the “Good Old Days” of NASCAR, this week’s entry centers on the State of Michigan site of this weeks Sprint Cup event at Michigan International Speedway.)

Cale Yarborough won the first NASCAR race at MIS on June 15, 1969, in a thrilling duel with LeeRoy Yarbrough as the two drivers battled door-to-door for most of the final 150 laps. But that historic event, at what was Lawrence H. LoPatin's dream turned sour, was only a continuation of a long history of NASCAR in the Great Lakes State.

The Grand Rapids Speedrome located in Comstock Park, a suburb of Grand Rapids, operated from 1903 until its was sold to the State in 1966.

While early Modifieds, Midgets and Sprint cars dominated action at the one-mile dirt oval, with famous names such as Louis Chevrolet, Ralph DePalma and Barney Oldfield gracing its winners circle, NASCAR in its earliest form made its presence felt also.

Marshall Teague, driving one of the Famous Hudson Hornets, won a 200-lap NASCAR event on the then-reconfigured half-mile of the "Drome," as it was called by the locals, in July 1951. Dick Rathmann, Fonty and Tim Flock and Lloyd Moore completed the top five.

Three years later, Lee Petty beat Buck Baker, Dick Rathmann, Ray Duhigg and Jim Reed across the line in the final NASCAR event held as the Drome.

As a sidenote to the 1954 season, flame-proof coveralls were made available to NASCAR drivers for $9.25 each by Treesdale Laboratories. It was the third NASCAR-specific product offered that season. The $35 GenTex 70 helmet and special racing tires priced at $37.90 each from Pure Oil Co. had already been offered.

Moving to the eastern side of the state, Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit (1899-1966) held two events in 1951-52. Tommy Thompson won the first Motor City 250 in a self-owned 1951 Chrysler. Joe Eubanks, Johnny Mantz, Red Byron and Red Byron finished out the top five.

Others competing that day were Curtis Turner (9th), Lee Petty (13th), Les Snow (21st) and the legendary Iggy Katona (22nd). Tim Flock won the second event at the Fairgrounds with Buddy Shuman, Herb Thomas, Bill Blair and Pat Kirkwood in trail.

Monroe Speedway (1949-1954) was located in Monroe very close to present-day Flat Rock Speedway. Tim Flock completed the 200 laps of the half-mile dirt oval in the lead followed by Herb Thomas, Lee Petty, Fonty Flock and Ray Duhigg. Katona competed in this event as well, finishing in eighth place in a '51 Oldsmobile.

NOTE: The image included with this post is Johnny Benson Sr., father of current NCTS star Johnny Benson Jr. Benson Sr. ran the Modified pictured at the Grand Rapids Speedrome and later when Berlin Raceway opened in Marne Michigan.

Benson's 25-year Berlin Raceway career (1966-1980) took a turn when he switched to late models in 1969. Benson dominated the 1970's at Berlin, winning seven track championships ('71, '72, '73, '74, '76, '77, '78). He won more than 191 features in his career at tracks all over the Midwest, mostly at Berlin.

He was inducted into the tracks Hall of Fame in 2006.

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