Now we get into the really weird stuff, some of which is stuff you might not find online. These are 48 strange happenings and tidbits in NASCAR that few people remember. I’ve also included ARCA in here for extra fun. NASCAR will be acquiring ARCA in 2020, after all.
- Transportation to Australia for the Goodyear 500k at Calder Park in 1988 took three weeks. St. James Davis’ team wasn’t willing to pay for the transport of the engine builder, a guy by the first name of Mitch, and had him sleep in the race car with a sleeping bag, a pillow, and some provisions. After about three days, Mitch got tired of it and exited the hold, where the ship captain, unaware of the stowaway, had him detained. Mitch was held in both quarantine and by Australian immigration authorities for a few days before being released to the custody of Calder Park’s owner, the late Bob Jane. Ironically enough, the 280-lap event ended on lap two for St. James when his engine failed.
- Jeff Gordon admitted on Undeniable With Joe Buck in 2017 that he was, in the late 1990s, ordered by NASCAR to keep his leads to no more than four seconds so the race didn’t become boring.
- There is no rule stating that a car must be facing forward to receive service in the pit lane. A backwards-facing car can still be serviced as long as all four tires are inside the box.
- During qualifying for the 1982 Daytona 500, former RotY Bill Dennis’ Pontiac was traveling at 180mph when, in the span of only two seconds, it snapped out and rammed the turn four wall at full speed. Dennis was clinically killed instantly, but was successfully revived by doctors A.J. Adessa and Jerry Punch. He suffered a broken shoulder, severe internal injuries, and a damaged larynx, along with a broken foot from his attempt to slow. Dennis was out of the hospital after a month, and despite putting in an attempt to return that summer, never raced again.
- In 1987, Morgan Shepherd claimed that some teams had devices that could dump oil on the windshields of the cars behind him a la James Bond. He also claimed that there was a device that could produce fake smoke with the intention of making trailing drivers believe the car in front was about to blow up, causing them to hopefully back off.
- After a race at Chicagoland in 2005, Jeff Gordon was reportedly so determined to confront Mike Bliss after an incident that he commandeered someone’s golf cart so he could drive to Bliss’ hauler.
- Road racer Mike Borkowski did such a terrible job while running for Bill Davis’ Busch team in 2000 that sponsor AT&T sued Borkowski and Davis for the $600,000 they had paid towards sponsorship, stating that Borkowski, who had been fired after wrecking six drivers at the tragic Loudon race in May, had smeared their reputation. The case was settled out of court in November and dropped early the next year.
- Jeff Gordon’s uncle, Pat Houston, was the lead trumpet player for Elvis Presley during the 1970s.
- Chase Elliott’s full name is William Clyde Elliott II.
- In 1956, Fireball Roberts won a race at the Raleigh Speedway in North Carolina. Opposing teamowner Carl Kiekhaefer believed Roberts’ flywheel was illegal and lodged protest. Officials, lacking a scale, had to weigh the flywheel at a nearby fish market. It was ruled legal.
- According to Rubbins’ Racin’, the chassis of the truck entered by Mark Beaver’s team at the spring Martinsville Truck race in 2018 was constructed in 2000, making it one year older than the team’s driver that week, Dawson Cram.
- Dale Earnhardt took the phrase ‘got the monkey off [his] back’ so literally that when he entered the press box after finally winning the Daytona 500 in 1998, he unzipped his uniform, fished out a stuffed monkey and threw it across the room.
- Jordan Anderson, who founded his own NASCAR Truck team at the beginning of 2018, only had $190 in his bank account during the second week of January.
- Jim Hurtubise, a popular New York-based driver who qualified a front-engine Mallard for the Indy 500 in 1968, the last time a front-engine car would qualify for Indy, lapped the field during the 1966 Atlanta 500 for his only NASCAR win. Hurtubise later admitted that he kept a wrench in the car and had found a nut he could access to change the aero from inside the car. During each caution, he gave the device a crank and lowered the car a bit, thereby improving the car’s aero. On the cool-down lap, he simply tossed the wrench from the car.
- Alan Pruitt of Hickory, NC had never run a race in his life before taking the green for the AC Spark Plug 150 ARCA race in 1990 at Pocono. He started at the back and lost the engine after 15 laps.
- Joe Frasson spent the start of 1975 struggling to qualify for races. By the time the World 600 rolled around, he’d had enough, and after another DNQ, Frasson destroyed his Pontiac with a sledgehammer. NASCAR suspended him for two weeks and fined him $100, but Frasson qualified for every race he is known to have attempted for the remainder of the season.
- Jimmy Ingram holds the record for the longest gap between Cup starts. 28 years passed between his second Cup start, the 1952 Southern 500 at Darlington, and his third and final Cup start, the 1980 Mason-Dixon 500 at Dover.
- During practice for the 1983 Richmond 400, Kyle Petty spun in practice and and knocked his Pontiac Grand Prix’s nose off. The team lacked a spare, and an attempt to procure one from a local dealership failed, as the dealer didn’t have one either. They then realized that their rental car that week was a Grand Prix as well, so they cut the rental car’s nose off, welded it onto the race car, and Petty scored a top-15 with the rental car nose.
- Sean Woodside ran the 2004 NASCAR Autozone West Series season in a car sponsored by the ever-controversial ‘talk show’ host Jerry Springer.
- A record low of 900 people attended a NASCAR Grand National race at the Newberry Speedway in South Carolina in 1957. Fireball Roberts won the race, the only for the Cup Series at the half mile.
- According to a 1991 article in Sports Illustrated, Penthouse was interested in sponsoring Dale, Sr. at some point in the 1980s.
- Kevin Harvick was originally supposed to run a #30 car part time in 2001 and then go full time the next year. His first race in the car was going to be the Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta, which he famously won.
- Hickory Speedway is located across the street from a burial ground. If a burial procession is scheduled alongside a race, the race will be red flagged during the procession. Bobby Isaac is buried there, and apparently Ned Jarrett has purchased a plot there too.
- California’s George Seeger crossed the country to take part in the 1951 Southern 500, which he finished 20th in. On his way home in the same Studebaker, Seeger got into an argument with car owner Tony Sampo, which ended in Sampo stranding Seeger at a Phoenix gas station.
- According to the “A Race Through Time” radio show from February 2018, Elmo Langley once took the pace truck out for a test run at Pocono, only to find himself in the middle of ARCA practice.
- Modified ace Greg Sacks planned to make his Cup debut at the 1981 Daytona 500 for new owner Richard Childress, but this plan was derailed when Sacks crashed into the earth wall off the inside of turn four during a test session in December 1980. The car exploded, rolling several times with such violence that Sacks’ helmet came off, but Greg’s worst injury was a broken collarbone.
- Pontiac and Toyota competed together in ARCA in 2007.
- The owners of Little Debbie are very religious, to the point that NASCAR teams sponsored by Little Debbie are contractually obligated to either remove or cover up any Little Debbie logos on the Sabbath (Saturday).
- During a NASCAR Grand Touring pony car event at Columbia Speedway in 1968, a spectator was being waved across the track during a caution period by officials when he suddenly stopped in front of the pit road exit. Buck Baker was exiting the pits at the time and ended up smacking into the fan’s car. No one was hurt, and the spectator, who was leaving because he’d gotten word that his wife was about to give birth, continued on through the gate and towards the hospital. Baker’s car wasn’t badly damaged and he went on to win the event.
- Also during the 1968 Grand Touring season was an event at the brand new Kingsport Speedway. So new, in fact, that the track was not finished when drivers arrived, leading two of them to withdraw. “They were still blasting rock out of the turns at 5 o’clock”, Buck Baker noted. The race was eventually started around 10:30 pm and was called at about 2/3rds distance at midnight.
- NASCAR intended to bring the Busch and Truck divisions to Suzuka in 1997 for demonstration runs alongside the Suzuka Thunder, but these demos never occurred.
- Elton Sawyer ran the 2001 NAPA 300 Busch race at Daytona using a Ford Cosworth engine. He started midfield with the engine, whose makers are best known for their Formula One involvement, and lasted six laps before a piston burned out.
- Tim Richmond had a pajama line that had the words “Sleep with a winner” imprinted on it.
- Alan Kulwicki was famous for his Polish Victory Lap, but in fact he only did it twice (first victory and championship) and only intended on ever doing it once more (if he ever won the Daytona 500).
- Junior Johnson flipped his car at the Lincoln Speedway in New Oxford, Pennsylvania in 1958, then hopped in Jack Smith’s car as a relief driver, only to flip Smith’s car as well.
- Ralph Earnhardt, Dale’s father, once drove a #188 Oldsmobile in the Grand National Series for, of all teams, Petty Enterprises.
- Jim Roper, the winner of the inaugural NASCAR Strictly Stock race at Charlotte, learned about the event through a comic strip named Smilin’ Jack after the comic’s creator, Zack Moseley, incorporated the then-upcoming race into his comic’s plot for one reason or another.
- Occasional NASCAR Truck Series driver Jamie Mosley is, by trade, the jailer for Laurel County, Kentucky.
- Michigan Int’l Raceway used to use helicopters to dry the track surface. During a Grand National race in 1969, a chopper crashed in turn three during a yellow flag after hitting a truck antenna. No one was hurt, but the practice was discontinued.
- In 2005, a short race using Oscar Meyer Weinermobiles was held at Atlanta. Kurt Busch (who later joked that his “weiner [had] never been so exhausted”) won the race by a frankfoot or three over Greg Biffle. Relishing third place was Michel Jourdain, Jr. and wurst of the four competitors was Todd Kleuver, who fell back and found himself unable to ketchup.
- There have been fewer than one hundred Cup races where a car numbered 65 has competed as of the 2018 season, the most recent being 1993.
- In 2001, Morgan Shepherd took part in a publicity stunt in which, during a Truck race at Kentucky, he changed his own tires, hopped over the pit wall, and downed a bag of chips and a soda before returning to the race. He dropped out soon thereafter.
- According to a post he made to Twitter, Parker Kligerman’s first job was cleaning up bird dump from a dock at a gentleman’s club.
- There is apparently an alarm located in a Dawsonville, Georgia pool hall that is only supposed to be pulled if an Elliott wins a race.
- Eldora Speedway is famous for its very low concession prices. A hamburger, fries, and a Powerade, for example, costs less than $6.
- Opel and Datsun (now owned by Nissan) competed in the NASCAR Dash Series, then called the International Sedan Series, in the early 1980s. Nissan continued to compete on and off in the early 1990s even after acquiring Datsun.
- Dayton Speedway, an ARCA mainstay that also held a few Cup races, reportedly achieved its high banks by having old trolley cars buried under the turns.
- While hosting the radio show “The Late Shift With Brad And Kenny” in April 2016, Brad Gillie and Kenny Wallace recalled how a driver had once lost out on a possible UPS sponsorship because they sent their contract back via FedEx. No names were provided, but the story, which has persisted on and off since about 1999, is often attributed to Buckshot Jones (who denied it).
Thanks for reading!
Stock Car Racing magazine
“AT&T Broadband sues over bad show on track”, December 10th, 2000 issue of the Denver Business Journal
“NASCAR’s Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Outrageous Drivers, Wild Wrecks and Other Oddities”, book by Jim McLaurin
“100 Things NASCAR Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die”, book by Mike Hembree
“The Official NASCAR Trivia Book: With 1001 Facts And Questions To Test Your Racing Knowledge”, book by John C. Farrell
“LANGLEY TO HONOR DEAD (ALMOST) RACER”, May 13th, 1989 article in the Daily Press (Newport News, VA)
“1001 NASCAR Facts: Cars, Tracks, Milestones, Personalities”, book by John Close
“Childress Racing teams with AOL”, February 15th, 2001 article on motorsport.com
“Wild Night at Columbia as Baker Wins GTC”, August 22nd, 1968 article in National Speed Sport News
Dayton Speedway’s Facebook
Little Debbie Snack Club