The History Of The NASCAR Sportsman Division

Credit to Travis Joyner for the featured image

By using UltimateRacingHistory, newspapers of the day, the few still-available broadcasts, and much cross-referencing, I have put together a massive spreadsheet consisting of all 42 NASCAR Sportsman Division races. You can access that spreadsheet here. I have also created a driver spreadsheet, which can be found here.

If you have any info I can add, please let me know! With that said…

 

The NASCAR Sportsman Division was an intriguing experiment. It pit weekend short trackers, journeymen, and budding talent against one another in low-speed duels at high-speed tracks in old equipment that had once been used in either the NASCAR Winston Cup Series or the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series. Races were short, yet televised. Crowds had low standards, but were decently sized. It was a great way to get one’s name out there. The Division was a racer’s dream, and yet at the end was a nightmare many wanted to forget. Today, in an article so long I’ve split it up into sections, we take a look at a series usually remembered as a division with its highs and lows, the NASCAR Sportsman Division.

 

PART 1: 1989

 

The NASCAR Sportsman Division was thought up by Humpy Wheeler, the President and General Manager of the Charlotte Motor Speedway, in mid-January 1989, and was made public later that month. The idea was simple. Take old NASCAR Winston Cup and NASCAR Busch Grand National cars, tune them down, and let short track racers lap the Charlotte Motor Speedway in them.

Drivers were allowed to use any Winston Cup car that had been made between 1982 and 1986, and were permitted to use any Late Model Sportsman/Busch Grand National car from between 1975 and 1986. In 1990, cars from 1987 would be permitted, in 1991, cars from 1988 would be permitted, and so forth. Drivers had to use 350 cubic inch engines and two barrel carburetors, meaning cars usually generated between 250 and 300 horsepower. Drivers who had made more than five Winston Cup or Busch Grand National starts were not permitted to race in the division. Additionally, the division would not use a points system, nor would it have a champion. It would purely be for glory and prize money. To participate, drivers only required a valid drivers license, which is actually not required in the Cup Series today, a NASCAR license, and to have had experience on a superspeedway, which could easily be achieved through the various racing schools at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Humpy announced that the schedule would consist of six or seven races, and that the first would be on Wednesday, May 24th. He also announced that the Sportsman Division would be supporting the October race, but every other race was left up in the air.

A large field showed up to the Charlotte Motor Speedway for their inaugural race, called the Wiscasset Super Speedway 150, 40 of which timed their way into the show. Ward Burton of South Boston, Virginia set the fastest time in an Oldsmobile. The Winston Cup pole speed that weekend was 173mph. Burton’s pole speed was a blazing 152mph.

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Screencap

Burton dominated most of the race, but with about 20 laps to go, his right rear tire blew, sending him around in turn three. This left left Jack Sprague, a Concord-area short tracker in a 1986 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, in the lead, and Sprague faced little competition from there.

However, after the race, it was discovered that the cylinder heads on Sprague’s car were several cubic centimeters too small. Smaller cylinder heads increase compression in an engine, and with it increase the horsepower. Sprague, who NASCAR officials believed wasn’t aware of the infraction, was disqualified that evening, and the win was given to Tim Bender, a snowmobile racing expert from Bolden, New York, in a Buick. Kirk Shelmerdine of Philadelphia, crew chief to Dale Earnhardt, Sr., finished second, and Jay Fogleman of Pittsboro, North Carolina finished third. Burton had to settle for 14th, one lap down. The race had been expected to be such a complete mess that the race’s caution count, four, was seen as surprisingly low.

The “six or seven” race schedule never came to fruition, however the series still ran at the Charlotte Motor Speedway again on October 4th for the Wiscasset 150. Tim Bender started on the pole, however a three car crash broke out after two laps that sent Chevrolet driver Dwight Cass of Union Grove, North Carolina to the hospital with a broken shoulder. No one knew it at the time, but Cass would be the first injury in a long line.

At quarter distance, a major crash broke out that took eight cars out of the race, including Maurice Petty’s son and Richard’s nephew, Ritchie Petty, of Randleman, North Carolina. Also collected was Neal Connell, Jr. of Tallahassee. The May race had been very clean, with only one car confirmed to have wrecked out, but the October race was very different. It showed a problem with the NASCAR Sportsman Division: when pileups broke out at high speed, drivers, more accustomed to short tracks, had no idea what to do. A spinning car on a tight short track can be difficult to dodge, however the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s banking and apron allowed for lots of maneuvering room. Additionally, Charlotte’s high banks often caused cars to roll down the track, not something short trackers, who were often taught to just hold the brake when around in a corner, had experience with. Only 23 of the 39 starters finished the race. The race up front, however, was quite interesting, as towards the end of the race Bender had to hold off Todd Bodine of Chemung, New York. Bender secured the lead for the last time with four laps to go. Bender had won both races that year, but unfortunately, since the division was an exhibition one, he wouldn’t be getting the champion’s spoils.

 

PART 2: 1990

 

The Sportsman Division got started in April at the Richmond Int’l Raceway in a race simply called the Winston Twin 200. It was a 200 lap race paired with the NASCAR Modifieds, who were also running a 200 lapper. The race, unfortunately, turned out to be a huge crashfest, with 15 yellows for 87 laps. It was won by Dennis Setzer in a tough fight between him and David Blankenship of Moseley, Virginia.

The second race, the Sportsman 100 at Charlotte, netted 72 entrants, so drivers were given several practice sessions so they could get used to the speedway. Some of these were done before registration, so drivers didn’t even need to have numbers on their cars.

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Credit to Racer’s Reunion

One driver who did have a number on his car was David Gaines, 27, of Goldston, North Carolina, a regular at the Caraway Speedway. Gaines, however, never got the chance to race. On May 16, during the final practice session before registration, Gaines was collected in a multi-car incident and his #36 Oldsmobile was struck by an unnumbered ex-Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet driven by Steve McEachern of Phoenix. Gaines was dead on arrival, and McEachern was injured.

Drivers and crews alike were puzzled as to why Gaines, whose cause of death was massive head trauma, had died. Driver Junior Franks of Skyland, North Carolina noted that he’d been struck in a similar manner during the massive pileup in the October 1989 race, and he’d been mostly uninjured. The collision, though fierce, was in the car’s back end. The series continued on, and 40 drivers were lucky enough to time their way in to the race, which was entitled the Sportsman 100 and held on May 20. Tim Hepler of Tyrone, Georgia, who had never once raced anything outside of go-karts, was the surprise polesitter. Charles “Tuck” Trentham of Orange City, Florida and Robbie Faggart of Concord dueled one another throughout the last few laps of the race, and Faggart nipped Trentham by six inches. Kerry Teague outdid Todd Bodine in the Wiscasset 150 on May 23, winning by a car length. Teague started 32nd in the race, the furthest back starting spot for a Sportsman winner. Teague, another Concord area short tracker, apparently won the race in an old Late Model Sportsman car.

The next race, the Armor All 125, was held on September 2 at the New Hampshire Int’l Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. T.W. Taylor of Chester, Virginia nipped Dennis Setzer for the pole, but Dennis took the lead quickly. The race went rather smoothly and Setzer was the winner.

The cavalry then moved on to Charlotte again. Robert Huffman of Claremont, North Carolina piloted his Chevrolet Monte Carlo to victory in the first race, the Wiscasset 150 on October 3, and race 6, the Sportsman 100, on October 6, also went to Huffman. While he easily took the first race, the second race was a wild duel between Huffman and Setzer. Huffman ended up passing Setzer’s Ford Thunderbird with a few seconds remaining in the race, off the fourth turn on the last lap.

 

PART 3: 1991

 

The NASCAR Sportsman Division once again started with a race at the Richmond Int’l Raceway, again alongside the NASCAR Modifieds.

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#99 Lee Tissot, #8 Robbie Faggart, #46 Doug Sanders, #41 Ritchie Petty, #95 Harry Page, #16 Will Hobgood, #17 Junior Franks, #68 Richard Jarvis, #93 Tim Hepler; Credit to Travis Joyner

34 cars started the race, the Twin 200, on March 24. Qualifying was rained out, meaning that the lineup would be random. Doug Sanders was the lucky driver up front, but Dennis Setzer, who started third, took the lead on lap one and never looked back. Sanders’ day didn’t last much longer than the first lap anyway, as he broke down around lap 50.

Next up were the May Charlotte festivities. The first race, the Sportsman 100, on May 19, required several qualifying sessions for the dozens of drivers, and many of those drivers had to run one of two 20-lap qualifying races to time their way into the race.

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Credit to the Associated Press

Driver Phil Ross, 25, of Greer, South Carolina, a regular dirt tracker in his home state, purchased a Chevrolet for the event, and took to the track. During the first qualifying race, Ross’ #1 MyTyme / Accuflow Chevrolet was struck from behind and was spun backwards into an opening in the pit lane. The car, apparently already known for catching fire easily, exploded into flames, forcing Ross to bail out the passenger door when it became apparent that the safety crews weren’t going to extinguish the car anytime soon. The Speedway stated that fire and gasoline had spread to the rescue vehicle, which was parked nearby, and they had to attend to that. In any case, Ross suffered second degree burns and retired from motorsport from his hospital bed. In the second qualifier, a crash sent Gravenhurst, Ontario’s Michael Goudie and Winston-Salem’s Doug Gold to the hospital with pains. Neither seemed to be badly injured. This brought the hospitalization count up to five.

The race itself went very smoothly – or at least it would have gone smoothly, if not for an early accident that sent William Metzger to the hospital. Metzger, of Deer Park, New York, required x-rays and a CAT-scan after being struck by a competitor in the quadoval. Robert Huffman dominated the entire race and won easily. Robbie Faggart probably would have dueled Huffman for the win, but the Sportsman frontrunner had been sent home after the qualifying races due to an illegal spacer.

On May 22, the Goody’s 150 was held. Drag racer Mark Cox of Walnut Cove, North Carolina led the field to the green and led the first lap, but Robbie Faggart took the lead quickly and led every lap from that point onward with the exception of one or two. Interestingly, Faggart’s starting spot, fourth place, was rather far back for a Sportsman race winner. In fact, on only three occasions in the entire history of the Division was the winner of a Sportsman race confirmed to have started outside the top six, and only one winner, Teague, started outside the top dozen. The race saw a notable starter in a younger Mike Skinner, making his only known Sportsman start. He started and finished midfield. It also saw another hospitalization in Ritchie Petty, who was sent to the hospital with a sore arm.

Race four, the Duron Maxwood 100, was held on May 25. The race, once again, was marred by a massive accident.

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Credit to the Associated Press

Ed Gartner, Jr. of Green Brook, New Jersey spun his #84 Pontiac out and collected Harry Page and Sherrills Ford, North Carolina’s Mike Carver, both in Pontiacs. After a few seconds, Tom D’Eath, in the #61 Chevrolet, slammed into Gartner’s door. Gartner broke his right leg and D’Eath, an legendary powerboat racer and Fair Haven, Michigan native, broke a bone in his neck. The race was red flagged briefly, but it continued on after about 15 minutes under red. Robert Huffman was mostly untouchable during the race, and he celebrated the victory heartily.

Race five brought the cavalry not to Loudon, but to Pocono, on July 20. The race, called the First Choice 150, saw an interesting speed disparity. In the Cup Series, in 1991, a lap of 56 seconds at Pocono was considered excellent, a number which has decreased to about 52 seconds over the years. In the Sportsman Division, a 65 second lap was considered quick.

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Kirk Shelmerdine’s Sportsman car (top), Dale Earnhardt’s Cup car (bottom) at Pocono 1991; Credit to Sporting News

The race itself was not a cautionfest, but the caution periods were very slow, and organizers found themselves running out of time. On lap 51, a crash started in turn three when Brian Pedrick of Monroe, NC collided with Knoxville’s ironically-named Monroe Snyder, causing a pileup that wiped out eight cars, including Tom Hessert, Jr. of the famous Cherry Hill, New Jersey-based racing family. The race was called on lap 53 due to time constraints. Dennis Setzer’s 1988 Ford won the race, leading most of it.

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#12 Tim Edwards (Mill Spring, NC); Credit to the Associated Press

There were no injuries from the pileup. However, there was one hospitalization: Rounder Saverance of Timmonsville, South Carolina pulled into the pits on lap 40 and collapsed. Saverance, a bank vice president who raced a little bit of everything as a hobby, was taken to the hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning. He was the only Sportsman Division hospitalization at a track other than Charlotte.

Two races were to be held at Charlotte that October, but a race planned for October 2 was rained out. The only race held that weekend was the Duron Paints & Wallcoverings 100 on October 5, which was easily won by Kirk Shelmerdine.

 

PART 4: 1992

 

The Sportsman Division found sponsorship in 1992, becoming the NASCAR Igloo Sportsman Challenge. The Division also started awarding points, so a champion would be crowned at season’s end. The schedule consisted of seven races, three races during the May Charlotte festivities, a single Pocono race during the June Pocono weekend, another solo Pocono race during NASCAR’s July visit, and a pair of races during the Charlotte festivities in October. The race at Richmond had been removed. This schedule of three Charlotte races, two Pocono races, and two Charlotte races would remain unchanged throughout the rest of the division’s history.

A cavalry of 62 drivers signed up for the first race, simply called the Sportsman 100, on May 16. The drivers included Jason Keller of Greenville, South Carolina, yet another short tracker looking to move up, Glenn Darnell of McDowell, Virginia, a businessman in his early 60s who had started racing on a whim about two or three years prior, Jerry Glanville, the Atlanta Falcons coach, and Gary Batson, 40, a restaurateur from Travelers Rest, South Carolina. Batson’s car was the same Chevrolet Monte Carlo that Phillip Ross had crashed. It had been restored and sold to Lawrence Ledford, who prepared it for Batson.

The top 30 made the race through qualifying sessions, but everyone else had to run a short last chance qualifying race, scheduled to last 30 laps. During the race, a pileup began after the leaders collided, and Neal Connell, Jr. collided with Batson. This pinned Batson’s car up against the barrier, where it came to rest in the quadoval.

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Credit to Randy Ayers

While Connell, Jr. was able to evacuate, the angle of Batson’s car, which was already prone to catch fire easily, made it impossible for him to immediately evacuate. Batson was extricated after about a minute, but he had suffered heavy burns.

Batson died the next morning from his burns. The last chance qualifier itself was shortened to about half distance, but was completed. Jerry Glanville was one of the drivers in the last chance qualifier, and unfortunately his engine blew during it, sending him home.

An investigation of the accident revealed that it had been a freak happening. Batson’s car came to a stop at a strange angle, and the mechanism that closed the gas cap in case the car rolled hadn’t activated, as the angle was too shallow.

As for the main event, it continued on as planned. Robbie Faggart dominated the race, which was a messy crashfest. The race was once again marred by a heavy accident, as towards race’s end, a massive pileup occurred on the backstretch. During the crash, Lee Tissot piled into the front end of Larry Caudill, a NASCAR Dash Series expert from North Wilkesboro, not injuring Caudill but sending Tissot to the hospital with head lacerations and other possible injuries.

The racing continued on. Race two, the Goody’s 150, on May 20, went rather quietly, though it did see a somewhat bizarre and humorous incident before the race had even started. Danny Sikes of Denver, North Carolina, who was lined up ninth, missed the driver’s meeting and was ordered to start from the back. Sikes refused to do this, and thus was parked. Faggart dominated this race as well, and he brought home the checkered flag.

Race three, the Duron 100, was won by Tim Bender, who took the lead from Peter Gibbons with about five laps left. The race saw some interesting incidents. Danny Sikes had surprisingly been permitted to take the start despite his earlier behavior, and on lap 22, Sikes wrecked his #72 Chevrolet in a fireball after colliding with Jerry Rector of Fountain Inn, South Carolina. Sikes was not badly hurt.

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Credit to the Associated Press; Note the #96 for Gary Batson on the #72’s C-post

Also during the race, Steve Allison of Snellville, Georgia struck the frontstretch barrier, sending him to the hospital with minor injuries.

Race four, held on June 13, was the Winnebago / Cedar Ridge 150 at Pocono. This race was an absolute crashfest, with over half the race being held under caution. The race was fairly wild, and was won by Tim Bender. Interestingly enough, Bender took the lead at race’s end from Peter Gibbons once again.

Race five, thankfully, went much more smoothly. It was again held at Pocono, on July 18. Eight cautions had flown during the Winnebago / Cedar Ridge 150. This race, called the Igloo Sportsman 150, only was only slowed by one. Peter Gibbons outdueled Tim Bender and was the victor.

Two more Charlotte races were held in October. They were the Winston Sportsman 100, on October 7, and the Duron Paints and Wallcoverings 100, on October 10. The former was the sixth race of the championship, the latter the seventh. Robbie Faggart won both races in dominant performances, and was crowned the inaugural Sportsman champion. Both races were chock-full of wrecks, and one crash during the latter event sent Mark Purcell of Watertown, New York, to the hospital with pelvic injuries. Outside of the many accidents, little interesting occurred.

 

PART 5: 1993

 

1993 had the same schedule as 1992, a trio of Charlotte races, a pair of Pocono events, and a pair of Charlotte events. The Division had lost its sponsorship from Igloo, and had returned to simply being called the NASCAR Sportsman Division. The fun started on May 22 with the Winston Sportsman 100. Tim Bender led the cavalry out of the gate, but Kirk Shelmerdine began reeling in Bender and was looking to catch the New Yorker. On lap 62 of 67, Martinsville, Virginia’s Shari Minter spun on the frontstretch and was plowed into by Shelmerdine. The crash also collected Tyrone, Georgia’s Jerry Knowles, Beauford, South Carolina’s Fred Yelinek, and Harry Page. No one was injured, but all were out of the race. Bender brought the field across the line under caution to win.

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Credit to (and of) Fred Yelinek

Next up was the Goody’s Sportsman 100 on May 26. A massive pileup was triggered on lap two by Peter Gibbons who rammed the #14 of Clearwater, Florida’s Michael Dokken. It took out the cars of Concord’s Terry Brooks, Lincolnton, North Carolina’s Stewart Ramseur, Shelby, North Carolina’s Ronnie Sewell, and Garland Hobgood of Winnsboro, South Carolina. Brooks had made the news the year prior when he’d been disqualified from the last chance qualifier that Gary Batson had been fatally burned in. The reason for his disqualification was given as an illegal carburetor.

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Credit to the Associated Press

The race also saw another pileup when Mint Hill, North Carolina native Russell Phillips triggered an accident in turn two. The crash demolished the cars of Marty Ward of Marietta, Georgia, whose car was owned by the same Lawrence Ledford who had prepared the car for Batson, Wally Fowler of Campobello, South Carolina, and Jerry Rector. Tim Bender won the race in a fairly dominant performance, though he did have to fend off Williamston, South Carolina’s David Smith.

By this point, the organizers of the Sportsman Division had had enough of the frequent accidents. They decided that the next race, called the Duron Paints and Wallcoverings 100 on May 29, would employ a single-file initial start. This decision proved to be a good idea. Not only did the race go caution-free, but fans got a great show. David Smith and Tim Bender traded the lead several times, and Smith was the one out front when the checkered flag fell. Humorously enough, the race did see a crash when Steve Clark of Shelby wrecked after the checkered flag.

Next race, the Winnebago / Cedar Ridge RV Sportsman 150 on June 12 at Pocono. The race once again started single file, and once again it went completely caution free. It also saw an interesting battle between Jerry Knowles, Tim Bender, and Kirk Shelmerdine. Knowles outdid both Bender and Shelmerdine and won the event. The single file initial start rule became universal in the NASCAR Sportsman Division after this.

The next event, the Levitz Furniture 150 on July 17, was again a duel between Bender and Shelmerdine, though this time without Knowles, who started at the outside of the top ten and stayed there most of the race. Bender started on pole, and Shelmerdine took the lead soon after. The Philadelphian led most of the race before losing the race to Bender late in the going. Michael Lovetere of Oakdale, Connecticut entered this race in a Chrysler Imperial, the only known use of a Chrysler in the Division’s history. Lovetere blew a gasket early on and finished last.

The October Sportsman races, the Winston Sportsman 100 on October 6 and the Duron 100 on October 9, were both absolutely dominated by Kirk Shelmerdine, who announced in victory lane after the latter race that he was going to be moving on from the Sportsman Division and was headed to the ARCA series. Shelmerdine won the pole and led every lap of both events. The races were notable due to a somewhat surprising entrant in Johnny Benson, Jr. of Grand Rapids, who had already started a few Busch races by that point, but hadn’t yet reached the magic limit of five. Benson was not on the grid for the former race and wrecked out of the latter race.

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Credit to the Associated Press

David Smith, who had never finished outside the top five that season, was the NASCAR Sportsman Division’s second champion in 1993, beating out Tim Bender. This would be the last year in which the Division awarded points. It went back to being an exhibition series for 1994. Smith sold his championship-winning 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo after 1993. In a strange coincidence, the buyer of the Chevrolet was also named David Smith – and he was looking to enter the Sportsman Division.

 

PART 6: 1994

 

The NASCAR Sportsman boys and girls started their season as they usually did: at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. They had three races lined up as per the norm, and the cavalry of short track regulars and others prepared for their qualifying sessions.

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Credit to Charlie Steed

David Smith of Holt, Florida had entered the race in David Smith of South Carolina’s old Chevrolet. South Carolina’s David Smith had also returned, this time in an Oldsmobile. To differentiate the two, the Floridian David Smith will be referred to hereon as he was in the broadcasts, David R. Smith.

David R. Smith’s first race in the division, the Winston Sportsman 100 on May 21, didn’t go too well, as the Floridian crashed on lap 9. Ronnie Sewell won his first Sportsman Division race, taking the lead from surprise polesitter Shari Minter, one of two females in the field alongside San Antonio’s Sherry Blakley. The race was shortened from 67 to 60 laps for whatever reason.

Race two, the Goody’s 100 on May 25, was an exciting race towards the back of the field. Coming to complete lap one, Concord’s Russ Galindo dumped the Chevrolet of Chesterfield, South Carolina’s John Stroud in turn three. The crash collected a myriad of cars, and Vic Kicera of Lancaster, Pennsylvania obliterated his car against Stroud’s. Thankfully both were uninjured. Also taken out of the race in the crash were David Owens of Rock Hill, South Carolina, Mickey Hudspeth of Ronda, North Carolina, Donnie Mergard of Park Hills, Kentucky and the grandfather of the field Glenn Darnell. Robert Wooten of Anderson, South Carolina and Pat Dunn of Altamonte Springs, Florida were also collected.

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Dunn; Credit to Bob Edwards

Wooten would later be wiped out in a crash that caused him to hit the water barrels off of turn four. Neither Galindo or Dunn would end up finishing the race, with Dunn done in by a broken differential on pit road.

Up front, the race was no contest. While Minter once again won the pole, Marty Ward seized the lead on lap one and never looked back.

Race three, the Duron Paints and Wallcoverings 100 on May 28, was even more destructive. With a little under 15 to go, Red Everette of Fairforest, South Carolina spun his car off of turn four down the circuit. It slid back up and was struck by the incoming cavalry.

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Credit to the Associated Press

Also wiped out in the accident were Donnie Mergard, Ronnie Sewell, and Shari Minter, who once again had sat on the pole and had led a good chunk of the race. Sewell and Everette both were taken to a local hospital. Sewell was only shaken up, and Everette’s burns were thankfully minor. This accident, oddly, marked the second time a South Carolina restaurateur had been burned in a Sportsman race, the first having been the less fortunate Gary Batson. Perhaps the strangest thing of all, however, is that Red’s real first name is Gary.

Just after the race restarted, a multi-car accident broke out once again in turn four. The crash sent an axle flying into the pits, injuring crewmen Jack Kochiss and Jerry Hawks. Driver Rounder Saverance also suffered minor injuries in the accident, and all three were taken to the hospital, where Kochiss was diagnosed with a separated shoulder and Hawks with a broken leg. Despite this, the race was again resumed, and Marty Ward finished first.

A planned Sportsman race to be held in June at Pocono was rained out and was rescheduled for July, meaning they’d be doing a Charlotte-style doubleheader. The first race, the T.G.I. Friday’s 150 on July 14, was dominated and won by Wally Fowler. The only time he lost the lead during the race was when he had to make an early pit stop, after which he took the lead back during the scheduled cycle. The second race, the Gatorade Thirst Quencher 150 on July 16, was again dominated by Fowler, though he actually had to fight this time, as Marty Ward and Tim Bender both dueled him for the win. However, they came up short, and Fowler took the big W.

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Credit to the Associated Press

…Or so he thought. NASCAR officials found undisclosed modifications to his Chevrolet which were against regulations, and Fowler was stripped of both wins. Jerry Rector was given the win in the first race, and Marty Ward was handed the second trophy. The only other known highlight of either race was a heavy crash during the second event where Russ Galindo and Monroe, North Carolina’s Doug Bennett collided, wiping out both cars but injuring neither.

A rather bizarre story came with the October Sportsman festivities. During practice for race six, Joe Gaita of Yorktown, Virginia’s car, owned by fellow driver Henry Benfield of Statesville, North Carolina, broke down. Benfield stepped aside and let Gaita hop in. No one thought to inform the officials, and scorers still scored Benfield in the car, which was piloted to a solid seventh. Their response when they learned of it is unknown, however neither driver ran race seven.

Another interesting story was Fred Castanza of Clearwater, Florida. Castanza, a police officer, raced for charity using the team name Top Cop Racing, and he’d decided to give the NASCAR Sportsman Division a go. He ran mostly towards the back during both events.

As for the races themselves, race six, the Winston 100 on October 5, was easily won by Wally Fowler. Race seven, the Duron/Accuspray 100 on October 8, was won by Marty Ward after Gary Laton of Albemarle, North Carolina spun out of the lead. Steve Knipe of Katy, Texas surprised everyone with a second place finish, his best finish in the series by a country mile.

 

PART 7: 1995

 

By 1995, only about 45 drivers were showing up to the May festivities. The 1995 Sportsman Division did see an interesting name in Maurizio Michangel of Rome, an experienced racer who had competed across Europe since the 1970s. Unfortunately Michangel, who had developed an interest after watching NASCAR on television, wrecked his car in practice in a collision with his teammate, David Owens, and was headed home.

The first race, the Winston Select 100, was rain-affected and was eventually shortened to 54 laps due to time constraints. The race was mostly dominated by Marty Ward, and he brought home an easy win. But perhaps the biggest winner during the race was Tim Neighbors of Bennlevel, North Carolina, who came very close to completely wiping out Robert Wooten during an incident early in the race.

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Credit to The Greenville News

Next up, the Goody’s 100 on May 24. Marty Ward started the race from the pole, but lost the lead to Shari Minter, and Minter led much of the race but was caught up in a large wreck after losing the lead. The crash also collected Tim Neighbors, Harry Benfield, Bubba Urban of Glen Allen, Virginia, and Spartanburg’s Don Satterfield. Lester Lesneski of Stanfield, North Carolina was the opportunist in victory circle.

Race three, the Duron Paints and Wallcoverings 100, on May 27, saw yet another heavy accident. Mickey Hudspeth lost control of his car off of turn four and began a long skid into the quadoval, where he was struck hard by Perry Tripp of Fredericktown, Missouri. Both cars exploded, and Hudspeth’s #26 was completely written off, but both drivers were all right. Also taken out of the race in the crash was Hardy Browne of Houston.

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Credit to the Associated Press

The race was won by Wally Fowler, who took the lead from habitual polesitter Shari Minter on lap two and won a spirited battle with Marty Ward and Lester Lesneski.

Race four, the Sportsman 150 at Pocono, was held on June 9. Wally Fowler won the race, a rather messy wreckfest. He started 12th, the second furthest back a Sportsman winner ever started, charged to the front early in his Chevrolet Lumina, and led most of the event. Race five, the NASCAR Sportsman 150 on July 14, was a heated race with a record ten lead changes, though once again it was a crashfest. Lester Lesneski was victorious.

On October 4th, race six, the Winston 100, was supposed to have been held, but it was rained out and postponed to Friday, October 6th. Russell Phillips, to that point a competent midfielder who had slowly been picking up speed, was the surprise polesitter. A quarter way through the race, Phillips was running just inside the top 10 when a crash broke out and his #57 Oldsmobile collided with the car of Steven Howard of Greer, South Carolina. The resulting roof-first impact with the catchfence killed Phillips, 26, in one of the most horrifying and graphic accidents in motorsports history, so brutal in fact that a planned tape delay airing of the race was called off. The race continued after a red flag, and Gary Laton won his first Sportsman race after passing Lester Lesneski late in the going. Lesneski easily won the next day’s race, the Duron 100.

The crash of Russell Phillips caused Humpy Wheeler to step back. He had to consider what he wanted to do with the Sportsman Division. It still had its three Charlotte races lined up for the next May, but Humpy wasn’t sure if he wanted the Division to continue. He thought about it for about a month and a half before making his decision public.

 

PART 8: AFTERMATH

 

For some drivers, the NASCAR Sportsman Division had been the perfect way to move up. Youngsters such as Michael Dokken, Bubba Urban and Jason Keller had tried their best to move their way up, and had entered the Sportsman Division so they could gain big track experience and potentially catch the eyes of a big owner.

For some drivers, the Division had been a way to do something new. Wheelmen such as Johnny Mackison, Jr., Joe Gaita and Ronnie Grinestaff had spent years racing on dirt tracks and asphalt short tracks, and had wanted to give superspeedway racing a shot.

For some drivers, the Division had been an excellent way to spend a Saturday. Racers such as auto mechanic Danny Bumbaco, restaurateur Red Everette, and Tim Hepler, whose family owns a construction firm, had gone home every Friday evening from work and had prepped their car for some rough-and-tumble racing – just at a little higher speed than normal.

For some drivers, the Division had been an exciting hobby to take part in in their later years. Competitors such as Glenn Darnell, Tom Sherrill and Rounder Saverance, despite being double the age of some of their competitors, had proved time and again that they could race with – and often beat – their opponents.

However, while the Sportsman Division had been a dream for some, it had been a nightmare for others, and with the horrors of Russell Phillips’ crash in the public’s eye, and the Division itself clearly outdated, organizers decided the greater nightmare would be to continue the series as it was. On November 29, 1995, the NASCAR Sportsman Division’s Charlotte dates were officially cancelled. It was confirmed that ARCA would take the division’s May Charlotte date, and there would be no replacement for the October date. No official announcement as to the cancellation of the Pocono dates was made, however the Sportsman Division was done.

 

The alumni of the Sportsman Division had varying futures and amounts of success.

Tim Bender picked up a varying set of Busch Series rides before settling on Robbie Reiser’s team in 1997. Bender suffered a neck injury during qualifying at Bristol that year and retired soon thereafter. He was replaced by a young short tracker named Matt Kenseth.

Wally Fowler still runs dirt tracks, mostly in the South.

Marty Ward still races in the American southeast. Incidentally, his home track, the Anderson Speedway, is also frequented by former Sportsman driver Lee Tissot.

Shari Minter retired from racing in 1996.

Robbie Faggart ran in the NASCAR Busch Series for a few years. He still competes in legend cars in the Charlotte area.

Kirk Shelmerdine raced into the mid 2000s, then retired. He was last seen playing professional poker.

David Smith’s current activities are unknown. He ran a few NASCAR Truck races into 1997.

David R. Smith now works in the home improvement business.

Rounder Saverance moved on to restoring classic cars and racing powerboats after the Sportsman Division ended. Saverance passed away in 2013.

 

The Division itself, however, didn’t die completely. In 1996, a new series, often reported on as the Sportsman Division staying afloat for one last year but in fact not sanctioned by NASCAR, used a similar “old race car” format on the short tracks of the Southeast. This series was called the USAR PROCUP Series, which was having a sort of ‘trial run’ in 1996. The year was successful for the series, and it began running full seasons in 1997. The series eventually moved to a North-South format and picked up sponsorship, becoming the Hooters Pro Cup Series. The series as it was eventually fell to the wayside, but both the North Division and South Division survive today under new organization and in different formats. The North Division is now called the Stock Car Super Cup Series, and the South Division the CARS Super Late Model Tour and the CARS Late Model Stock Tour. Perhaps most importantly, the largest track the Pro Cup Series ever raced on was Milwaukee.

 

Even still the NASCAR Sportsman Division did create some names. Ward Burton, Jack Sprague, Dennis Setzer, Robert Huffman and Todd Bodine all got their start in the Sportsman Division, and some interesting moments, good and bad, occurred in the series. The Sportsman Division also led to the start of the Pro Cup Series, a classic short tracking division that launched many more careers. While the Division itself was a failure, its legacy gave birth to an important feeder series whose talents include Brian Vickers, Mario Gosselin, Shane Huffman, Mark McFarland, Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, James Buescher, Brian Scott, Drew Herring, and many more, and in that aspect, it was a success.

In the end, perhaps the best description of the Sportsman Division is as a “baptism by fire”. It put drivers who weren’t experienced in big tracks and high speeds in dangerous situations and expected them to react like NASCAR’s finest. Some did, and others did not. The Division was destructive, entertaining, and interesting, and it left a lasting impression. Yet all the destruction and injuries the Division suffered makes one wonder what would have happened had the proposed 1991 Sportsman race at Daytona occurred.

Yes, that was an actual proposal.

 

Sources:

Ultimateracinghistory.com

“Auto racing”, Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia), January 21, 1989

“New division starting”, Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Kentucky), January 26, 1989

“Big time sportsman”, The Greenville News, May 25, 1989

“Sportsman winner disqualified at Charlotte”, The Greenville News, May 26, 1989

“Tallahassee driver falls short in Wiscassett race”, Tallahassee Democrat, October 6, 1989

“Crew chief defends ill-fated driver”, Florida Today, May 19, 1990

“Sportsman Division not ready for Daytona”, Greensboro News & Record, May 19, 1990

“Area drivers assess death of Gaines as freak accident”, Asheville Citizen-Times, May 25, 1990

“Greer driver injured in qualifying session”, The Greenville News, May 19, 1991

“Crash update”, The Atlanta Constitution, May 20, 1991

“Faggart claims flag at Goody’s”, The Gastonia Gazette, May 23, 1991

“More drivers injured in Sportsman race”, The Tennesseean, May 26, 1991

“Darnell races after his dream”, The News Leader (Staunton, Virginia), June 2, 1991

“Setzer wins”, The Greenville News, July 21, 1991

“Rain forces qualifying delay”, The Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia), October 3, 1991

“Racing accident claims life of county restaurant owner”, The Greenville News, May 17, 1992

“Sportsman cheater”, Gastonia Gaston Gazette, May 17, 1992

“Faggart Sportsman’s winner”, The Anniston Star, May 17, 1992

“Bender wins Duron 100”, The Index-Journal (Greenwood, South Carolina), May 24, 1992

“NASCAR Sportsman Division offers Winston Cup thrills”, Lassen County Times (Susanville, California), August 18, 1992

“Faggart wins race”, The Greenville News, October 11, 1992

“Crash helps Bender win Sportsman race”, The Atlanta Constitution, May 23, 1993

“Bender wins Sportsman”, The Greenville News, May 27, 1993

“Smith wins caution-free race”, The Index Journal (Greenwood, South Carolina), May 30, 1993

“Shelmerdine wins”, The Greenville News, October 10, 1993

“Duron Paints & Wallcoverings 100”, Tampa Bay Times, May 29, 1994

“Ward, Rector win after Fowler’s disqualification”, The Greenville News, July 17, 1994

“Speedway to drop Sportsman class”, Tampa Bay Times, September 13, 1994

“Dunn dreams about NASCAR”, Florida Today (Cocoa, Florida), October 1, 1994

“Holt racing driver has two types of fun on track”, Pensacola News Journal, October 5, 1994

“Gaita’s debut”, The Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia), October 7, 1994

“Ward dominates Sportsman race”, The Greenville News, October 9, 1994

“As the Romans do…”, The Greenville News, May 21, 1995

“Sportsman race”, The Star Press (Muncie, Indiana), May 28, 1995

“Fowler gets revenge in Sportsman race”, The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), June 10, 1995

“Charlotte drops Sportsman class”, The Greenville News, November 29, 1995

“Marietta’s Ward wins in Florida”, The Greenville News, November 4, 1996

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Who Was Joe Booher?

A rather violent crash well-reported on at the time but little remembered today, and a driver who had competed in a little bit of everything during his career; today we take a look at the life of Joe Booher.

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Credit to the Journal and Courier

Born in February 1941, Joe Booher, full name Donald Joe Booher, was a farmer first and a racer second. He raced as what he called a ‘hobby’. His first known race was in 1958 in home-made vehicles best described as caged karts mixed with tractors, and moved onto midgets in the mid-60s. Even by the late 1960s and early 1970s, most drivers were getting their jump when they were in their early twenties. For Booher, his big time career started when he was already almost 30.

Booher came from the town of Montmorenci, a farming town of less than 250 people just outside Lafayette, Indiana and about 5 miles from Purdue University. He made his first start in the big leagues at the 1970 ARCA Daytona 200, which was still a 300 mile race at the time. Booher qualified 35th in his 1969 Dodge Charger and came home a solid 12th, albeit 25 laps down. Booher continued to race across the Midwest throughout the rest of the year, and ran a partial USAC Stock Car schedule in 1971. Booher usually ran cars sponsored by either his farming business or his trucking business, sometimes for himself, and sometimes not.

Joe Booher was very open as to the cost of being a small town racer who wanted to race with the big boys. He once referred to it as a “millionaire’s hobby”, yet was still looking for the day when he’d be able to outdo the big boys. When the racing season wrapped up for Booher, it was always back to his 1300 acre farm at the wide open Booher property, where he lived with his wife and three children, including a racer by the name of A.J. (after A.J. Foyt, an old friend of his).

Booher’s first Cup attempt was the 1975 Daytona 500, for which he failed to qualify. His first start was at North Wilkesboro in 1978 driving for Bobby Wawak. Booher placed a solid 16th. He would go on to make 21 starts between 1978 and 1988, his best finish being 11th at Richmond in 1980 while running for D.K. Ulrich. Booher ran frequent USAC Stock Car races in the early 70s, but by the late 70s had slowed his starts in the series to every once in awhile. His best finish in USAC was a sixth at Eldora in 1971. Booher also made ARCA starts every once in awhile. To Booher, simply racing with the big guns and bringing the car home, which he did often, made everything worth it, though he still waited for the moment he’d beat the frontrunners.

Booher kept racing well into the early 1990s. He had found a new home in the Goody’s Dash Series, running its annual trip to Daytona, while still attempting the Daytona 500, for which he didn’t qualify in 1990 and 1992. On February 12th, 1993, Booher took the green for the annual 200-mile Goody’s Dash race at Daytona. He qualified at the back of the field and remained there for the first lap.

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Credit to the Associated Press

On lap two, the #57 Pontiac Sunbird of Carl Horton of Ayden, North Carolina and Booher’s #98 Lucas Oil Products Chevrolet Beretta collided off of the tri-oval. It appeared that Booher had simply moved over on Horton, causing Booher’s right rear to sweep across Horton’s left front. Horton was able to drive away, but Booher struck the wall head-first at about 145mph. The Beretta skidded across the track and was struck in the right front by the #95 Pontiac Sunbird of Rodney White of Gaffney, South Carolina, who was traveling at full-bore. Both cars came to rest in the infield.

The race went under red flag for a short while as both drivers were extricated from their cars. Joe Booher, 51, was declared dead on arrival of massive head injuries. Rodney White was taken to the hospital as well with two broken vertebra and lacerations. To knowledge, White never returned to motorsports, though he had every intention of doing so.

After Booher and White had been transported to local hospitals and Booher’s death had been established, the drivers were told of Booher’s passing, after which the race resumed. Will Hobgood was victorious after a heated battle with several other drivers, after which spectators were informed of the bad news.

 

As for Booher’s legacy, it lives on in a somewhat different way. He was almost a larger than life personality in Montmorenci, where the Booher farm still exists. Booher was frequently the subject of local writers and reporters and didn’t seem too bothered by the fact that, on paper, his results weren’t spectacular. In fact, he took it in stride. A 17th place at the 1980 Daytona 500 was celebrated as if it were a victory by Booher. He enjoyed what he did and found victories in small things, once being proud that his name was right alongside Neil Bonnett’s in a NASCAR press book. Ironically, Bonnett was killed on February 11th, 1994, a day before the first anniversary of Booher’s crash.

Unfortunately, the days of racers who ran businesses by day and bounced around rides in the top echelons of racing by night are mostly over, though they make up many of the competitors on short tracks. Booher was one of the very last to do this, and his passing may have marked the end of these journeymen.

 

Sources:

“Booher proud to be NASCAR racer”, October 17th, 1981 edition of the Journal and Courier (Lafayette, Indiana)

“Joe Booher: ‘Boomer’ races with the best”, August 15th, 1976 edition of the Journal and Courier (Lafayette, Indiana)

“Dust fails to stop homemade racers”, September 13th, 1958 edition of the Journal and Courier (Lafayette, Indiana)

“Drivers shoot for today’s Twin 125”, February 13th, 1992 edition of the Journal and Courier (Lafayette, Indiana)

“The dream is all that’s free”, February 27th, 1983 edition of the Tallahassee Democrat

“Crash kills Booher in Florida 200”, February 13th, 1993 edition of the Tampa Tribune

A History Of The Turismo Carretera

A list of major Argentine tracks, including all recent Turismo Carretera tracks.

There was a day when that old dirt road in your backyard could be used as part of a very long closed circuit race track. Of course, those days are gone, but they did not end very long ago. In fact, there was a day where the sight of stock cars on those old dirt roads was nothing to drop your jaw at, but instead was something to love and cheer on. And cheer the fans of the day did! Watching race cars go neck and neck maybe a kilometer away from your house? It was every fan’s dream. This is exactly what Argentina’s Turismo Carretera series did.

Turismo Carretera, literally road touring, is the world’s oldest active racing series. The series started in 1939 and has been going strong since, despite a rocky beginning and a lack of virtually any safety integration until the late 1960s at the earliest.

 

Motorsport reached Argentina around 1910, but instead of permanent circuits, Argentina frequently used open road courses made of gravel, dirt, and asphalt, something the United States had mostly done away with for its major events by the First World War. The first Turismo Carretera event, however, is often considered to have been held in 1937, though the series was named Campeonato Argentino de Velocidad, literally Argentine Speed Challenge. The first race of the new championship was the Gran Premio Argentino, an event that was already on its 20th running by 1937. This open road race saw 72 drivers on the entry list with an assortment of cars, mostly Fords, Chevys and Plymouths, though Dodge, Hudson, Lincoln, Hupp, Graham, Hillman, Peerless, and Continental also saw some use. Entered in a #58 1935 Ford Voiturette was a young Oscar Alfredo Gálvez, the namesake of the track in Buenos Aires.

The Gran Premio Argentino, at least in its earlier years, was held alongside pedestrian traffic, though speed limits were often ignored. In 1936, speed limits had begun to be enforced on some roads, leading to a decreased amount of heavy accidents. The 1937 running was much the same, with few major accidents despite safety regulations so relaxed that some drivers were actually seen wearing pajamas at points during the 13 day, 6894km race.

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Credit to Historiatc; The car of José Balcarce

19 cars finished the event, which was won by Angel Lo Valvo’s Ford. Two more races were held that year, the Circuito Correntino, won by Raúl Melo Fojardo in a Dodge, and the Mil Millas Argentinas, a one day, 1000 mile event held at Avellaneda won by Eduardo Pedrazzini in a Ford Coupe.

The series’ first fatality was during the 1937 Mil Millas, when newcomer Américo Traba flipped his Ford on approach to the small town of Tres Lomas, Buenos Aires Province. Traba, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, was killed in the crash, though his co-driver survived. The first co-driver to die was Héctor Moisello, the co-driver to Angel Lo Valvo, whose car rolled during the 1938 Gran Premio Del Sur Argentino. Moisello suffered injuries that he would die from a few days later.

As stated earlier, events in these days were usually multi-day events, with very long stages making for a format reminiscent of a very long rally race. Co-drivers, or as they were called, acompañantes, served both as a voice of reason and a guide, though again they were fully optional. Also optional in the early days of the series were roofs on the cars, as while few teams used them, convertibles were permitted.

In 1939, the Campeonato Argentino de Velocidad received a name change to Turismo Carretera, a name it has kept to this day. The first race with the new name was the Gran Premio Internacional del Sur, won again by the Ford of, again, Angel Lo Valvo.

Drivers in these days would use a variety of tactics to improve themselves, their vehicles, and their times. A common way of practicing was tiradita, possibly derived from either tirado, the Spanish equivalent of easy-peasy, or tirar, to launch. These were straight line dashes down a stretch of public road, often done with traffic still running in the opposite direction. Despite incredible danger, these dashes were legal for several years in Turismo Carretera. As expected, several fatalities occurred during tiraditas, including an incident in 1939 where three people died when their car was hit by a train.

Also seen was la técnica del bidoneo, or the technique of bidoneo, which I was unable to fully translate. This was functionally a way to refuel without stopping. A service team would place itself at a naturally slow part of the track such as a hairpin, and would throw fuel cans into the car through the co-driver’s window. The co-driver would then unbuckle his seat belt and refuel the car while it was still running. It was a dangerous technique and was completely against the rules, but many teams did it anyway.

The Turismo Carretera was one of the very few motorsport series to actually be run in 1942, with most of the world fighting World War II. Two races were held in 1942, though no champion was crowned. Being as Argentina was not directly involved in the War, competition continued, though it still took a hiatus from 1943 to 1946. The competition resumed in 1947.

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Credit to Historiatc; A.T. Palacios competes at the 1947 Mil Millas Argentino

The competition had proved itself dangerous in the early years, with six competitor fatalities, three drivers and three acompañantes, during events, in the pre-War years, and it was about to get even more dangerous.

One of the series’ most influential moments came during the Gran Premio de la America del Sur in 1948, a 20-day race from Buenos Aires to Caracas by way of La Paz, Lima, Quito and Bogotá. A massive 138 car field made up of Chevys, Fords, Buicks, Nashes, DeSotos, Lincolns, Mercurys, Plymouths and Dodges took the start of the 6,000 mile race. All eyes, however, were on the red #1 Chevrolet of Juan Manuel Fangio and acompañante Daniel Urrutia. While traversing a narrow pass in Peru, Fangio lost control and flipped down an embankment. First on the scene was Oscar Gálvez, who stopped his race to assist the stricken duo. Fangio was found injured but awake and alert, and reportedly asked Gálvez to get back in his car, to which he refused. Gálvez soon thereafter found an unconscious Urrutia, who’d been ejected through the windscreen. Urrutia suffered a basilar skull fracture and died later that night. Several drivers, Gálvez included, wanted to retire from the event, but Fangio made a radio message from his hospital bed and managed to convince most to continue. Fangio, on the other hand, was heavily contemplating heading home to Balcarce and opening up a garage, but decided to give his motorsport career another shot, a move that would pay off considerably.

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Credit to HistoriaTC

Urrutia was one of six fatalities during the race, alongside driver Julián Q. Elguea and his acompañante Heriberto Román, whose fatal fall down a Bolivian gorge made them the first duo to be killed in Turismo Carretera, and three spectators.

With the 1950s under way, motorsport in Argentina was growing more and more popular. Juan Manuel Fangio had begun racing in Europe, and the inaugural Argentine Formula One Grand Prix was a few years on the horizon. In 1952, two new circuits were opened in Argentina, the Autódromo Diecisiete de Octubre, a circuit basically built for the Argentine Grand Prix, and the Autódromo Ciudad de Rafaela, a literal three mile ribbon of dirt in the shape of an oval.

In the meantime, Turismo Carretera was doing what it did best, providing racing in the backroads of Argentina. Chevrolets and Fords were still the primary cars of choice, though again there were other manufacturers that saw use.

1951 however saw another tragedy when 1938 champion Ricardo Risatti crashed during the Vuelta del Norte race. His car overturned about fifteen times, not badly injuring his acompañante but fatally injuring Risatti. Risatti, who had begun racing as a way to raise money for his critically ill wife, was apparently running his last race before retirement.

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Credit to HistoriaTC

In 1953, the inaugural Formula One Argentine Grand Prix was held at the Diecesiete de Octubre circuit, and 300,000 spectators showed up to the track after the ultra-popular Argentine leader Juan Perón guaranteed free admission for everyone. Despite the death of 13 spectators when Nino Farina spun into an enclosure, the race was successful in showing the world Argentina’s love for motor racing.

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Credit to HistoriaTC; Domingo Marimon crosses a rail line during the 1953 Vuelta de Santa Fé

 

That same year was marred by another death, as Eusebio Marcilla, the same driver who had stopped his race and helped transport Juan Fangio and the fatally injured Daniel Urrutia to the hospital in 1948 and a noted anti-Peronist whose views kept him out of the newspapers, was killed in a crash during the 1953 Vuelta de Santa Fé. Beloved by the fans, Marcilla’s death left the community in mourning, but the race kept going.

By 1956, Perón had been overthrown, and the Autodromo Diecisiete de Octubre had been renamed. Around this time, motorsport had been growing more and more popular, though the roads on which they were run weren’t getting better, in fact they were getting worse. The tiradita had begun being cracked down on, and the la técnica de bidoneo was distinctly illegal, with threat of disqualification, though drivers still did it. One co-driver was actually fatally burned during a failed bidoneo in 1960.

The 1960 Gran Premio Argentino demonstrated well the dangers of the series. The Gran Premio had remained on the schedule and had, in terms of safety, improved very little if at all.

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Credit to HistoriaTC; The car of Ernesto Scally during the 1960 Gran Premio

Exactly how many spectators died during the 1960 Gran Premio will never be known, though the lowest estimate is 12. A cyclist was struck and killed halfway through the event, a young boy died after a guidebook error sent the race leaders skidding into a crowd while making a U-turn, and with about 20 miles to go, another driver failed to negotiate a bend and went into a group of fans, instantly killing seven and injuring many, some of whom likely died in the hospital later. Just a half mile up the road from this accident, another occurred when a racer struck a pedestrian motorcycle carrying two people and veered into an enclosure. One of the motorcycle riders died, as did two spectators in the enclosure. All drivers involved in these accidents as well as their acompañantes were unhurt. Police blamed the spectators for the two larger accidents, as crowds were stated to be so thick that drivers couldn’t see the apexes of corners.

Not even the death of one of the series’ mainstays was enough to halt the madness. By 1963, Juan Gálvez, who had started as his brother’s acompañante before hopping behind the wheel himself, had proven himself as the best driver in series history to that point, with 59 wins and nine championships. His brother Oscar possessed five championships. In fact, between 1947 and 1961 (inclusive), there was only one year in which a Gálvez brother did not win the title.

Unfortunately, Juan himself would be fatally injured behind the wheel. Oscar Gálvez refused to compete at the 1963 Vuelta de Olavarria, his reason being the terrible weather and the rowdy fans, who had in fact thrown stones at him the last time they had been in town. Juan hopped into his 1939 Ford Coupe and started the race, but while approaching an ess bend just past the race’s halfway point he hit a pile of mud and rolled. Juan, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, was ejected from the car and killed instantly, though his acompañante survived. This crash was blamed on poor road conditions. Not even the Juan Gálvez memorial run one month later on a completely paved circuit went without tragedy, though the race itself was remarkable, being the first broadcasted Turismo Carretera event in history. During the race, Joaquín Deporte and his acompañante Joaquín González were both killed when their car rolled. Ford had been dominating Turismo Carretera as of recent, and the death of Gálvez ended that dominance.

 

By the mid 1960s, the 1930s coupes that had been used for so long were beginning to look outdated. Turismo Carretera needed better, and they quickly found it in a variant of the muscle cars that were popular during the times. Sleek and powerful, these cars, sometimes developed in house and sometimes not, were expensive, leading to decreased fields. However, it did also cause something else: the introduction of the manufacturer IKA. During the 1960s, IKA was a subsidiary of Kaiser, though it has since been purchased by Renault. IKA cars lined the grids during the mid to late 1960s, their powerful engines leaving the cars of old in the dust. The introduction of a sports prototype partially owned by IKA called the Liebre Tornado made the usage of other manufacturers silly for a short time.

1968 started off poorly for the Turismo Carretera. A disagreement had caused fields to dwindle, and only around 25 cars, mostly series fulltimers, showed up to the opener at Buenos Aires, by this point renamed the Autódromo Juan Gálvez. The frontrunners had started using the new Liebre Tornado, with Fords, Chevys, and Peugeots filling a few positions as well. Unfortunately, Turismo Carretera would have more important things to worry about, as the fifth race of the year, the Vuelta De Balcarce-Loberia, proved to be a game changer.

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Credit to HistoriaTC; The car of Jorge Kissling

Over a hundred cars lined up for the Gran Premio Lubricantes Celinoil through the backroads of Balcarce and Loberia, in Buenos Aires province, a slight decrease from the 120s when coupes were being run, but still a healthy grid nonetheless. The disagreements which had marred the beginning of the year had been resolved and older machinery was still usable and fairly competitive on the dirt and decrepit asphalt roads of Argentina. On lap one of two, Raúl Salerno veered off course and into a crowd, killing one and injuring several. Later that lap, Jorge Kissling and acompañante Quique Duplán were both killed when their car’s steering arm broke on a gravel stretch, sending their IKA Torino rolling.

On lap two, while passing by the property of Juan Manuel Bordeu, a one-time F1 starter and good friend of Juan Fangio (who himself was the race director), the cars of Plinio Rosetto and Luis Gargiulo collided and went off course. Both cars flipped, and both drivers and their acompañantes were injured. Rosetto’s co-driver, Rubén Barra, died of his injuries a few days later. Finally, while approaching the finish line, Segundo Taraborelli and acompañante Hugo Bonavento lost control at full speed and spun into a stationary lorry. The car exploded, killing both Taraborelli and Bonavento. Two occupants of the lorry were also killed.

 

The toll of the race caused the intervention of the Argentine government. All motorsport events in the country were prohibited for the next month. During this time, Turismo Carretera, recognizing the danger of brand new equipment running on roads which likely hadn’t seen an inspection since the 1940s, chose to replace all of the wide open backroads races with ones on permanent tracks and street circuits, with the exception of the Vuelta de Allen, which had very high-quality roads to begin with while they conducted inspections of potential circuits. The rest of the calendar consisted of races at Rafaela, which had since been paved, Buenos Aires, Alta Gracia, San Juan, and a trip to the El Pinar circuit in Uruguay, alongside the remaining road race, the Vuelta de Allen.

At year’s end, Turismo Carretera made their decision. Races on the open road circuits, known as semipermanente circuits, would remain, but roads had to be of a much higher quality, and gravel roads, while still used for several more years, were banned in any races held in the Buenos Aires province. This also spelled the end of the classic rough-n-ready Gran Premio Argentino, though it would remain on the schedule for another decade as an all-asphalt race.

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Credit to HistoriaTC; Oscar Mauricio Franco races at Buenos Aires 1969

 

By 1971, Turismo Carretera had found a rhythm. Grid sizes were still small for the most part, as cars were being updated so quickly that even the Liebre Tornado was growing outdated, but competition was fierce and manufacturer involvement was strong. The series ran their 500th race that year, the Vuelta de Hughes. Races by this point lasted no more than two days for the most part, though the Gran Premio still lasted around five. That same year, the USAC Indycars made a very rare international trip, stopping by the large oval at Rafaela for a pair of 150 mile races, both won by A.J. Foyt.

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Credit to Sygic Travel

The dangers of Turismo Carretera hadn’t exactly faded, however. This was realized once again by the series in 1973. Nasif Estéfano was a popular face in Turismo Carretera who also ran a couple of races in Europe on occasion, and he had dominated early 1973. Going into round 13 of 15, an event known as the Gran Premio de la Reconstrucción Nacional, his points lead was looking insurmountable, and by the end of the first leg, it mathematically was, as the points Nasif had gained for winning the leg combined with the failure of his main rival to finish had given him enough of a buffer. On day two of the race, however, Nasif’s car shot off into a sandbank near Aimogasta, and Nasif was fatally injured. His co-driver was not hurt. Despite missing the last two rounds of the schedule, Nasif brought home the title.

The tiradita had become a no-no by this point according to Argentine traffic rules, and the organizers of Turismo Carretera had started cracking down on them, though a little sporadically. A fatal crash in 1974 caused the Turismo Carretera to outlaw tiraditas on public roads, though tiraditas on semipermanente circuits were permitted. Also in 1974, Octavio Suárez, a longtime competitor in Turismo Carretera, became President of the series’ sanctioning body, ACTC. Interestingly, despite his new position as President, Suárez continued to compete in Turismo Carretera.

 

One of the most interesting events of the 1970s occurred at the Vuelta de Salto, Buenos Aires province, in 1976. A field of 64 teams lined up for the event, all of them using cars that were, by the day’s standards, modern. The Ford users ran the Falcon, which had been sold in the United States for several years, but had been discontinued by 1976. The IKA representatives ran the Torino, which is even today considered the ‘national car’ of Argentina, but has no American equivalent. Those running Dodges mostly used the GTX, a car with a design that was heavily derived from the original Dodge Dart. Lastly, Chevrolet users ran the Chevrolet Chevy, which was based off of the American Chevrolet Nova. All of these cars were extremely popular with the Argentine public. The Chevrolet 400, Dodge Polara, and Peugeot 404 saw limited use.

On lap four of the first heat, which was to be followed by a second heat and a final, Luis Rubén Di Palma blew his engine while running a part of the track that ran through a small village called La Blanquita. Enrique Bravi skidded in the oil and struck a marshal’s post, terribly injuring a marshal. The post collapsed into the middle of the circuit, and Carlos Nani and his acompañante were injured when they crashed in an attempt to avoid it.

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Credit to HistoriaTC; The car of Eugenio Cali

The competition continued, and a cavalcade of people entered the circuit in an attempt to flag down drivers and assist Nani and his co-driver. Even the entry of an ambulance wasn’t enough to stop the cavalry of cars. After a short while, backmarker Eugenio Cali collided with another car while passing the accident site and flipped into the crowd, killing three spectators. Cali and his co-driver were not injured, and despite the violence of their hit, Enrique Bravi and his co-driver also weren’t injured. The marshal at the post that had been collapsed survived.

The reason why the race hadn’t been stopped immediately soon became apparent: the timing and scoring platform had collapsed in a separate incident. The race was finally called on lap eight. The round was cancelled, and while racing returned to the area, it wouldn’t be on the same circuit.

 

With the arrival of the 1980s, the series’ Ford representatives had begun looking into a new model for the car, believing they could go even faster. However, even with the discontinuation of most of the models either by the 1980s or in the early 1980s, the Chevy, Falcon, GTX and Torino had proven themselves so popular that the series kept using them. Once again, not everything was sunshine and rainbows for the series.

Octavio Suárez was a burly man and a fairly older one too, but behind the wheel of his Dodge GTX he fit in with his fellow competitors, despite being head of the ACTC. Sadly, he would become another victim of the Turismo Carretera.

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Credit to HistoriaTC; Octavio Suárez and acompañante before V. de Benito Juárez, 1984

On lap one of the Vuelta de Benito Juárez in 1984, Suárez’s car blew a tire and the car shot off the track on a very long straightaway. The car went end over end and landed on its wheels, completely destroyed. The car soon burst into flames, forcing Norberto Torre, his co-driver, to evacuate out the windshield. Suárez, however, was pinned.

Torre turned around and asked Suárez if there was a bar or something he could use to help get his driver out of the burning vehicle. Suárez’s arm was pinned against the door, but when Suárez saw a spectator approach with a flashlight, he, smelling fuel, ordered the spectator away. As Torre backed up to try and find a resolution, he noticed officials approaching the scene, who he beckoned to the scene, but the moment they arrived at the car, the Dodge GTX exploded. The race continued for a few more laps, though it was halted early. The series had lost its leader, and no one wanted to race. Eerily, the year prior, Octavio’s wife had passed away, leading Octavio to ask his brother, who had usually been his acompañante to that point, to retire, as if the pair had both been killed in a crash, his children would have been orphaned.

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Credit to fanafalcon

Even more tragedy was down the road, however. By 1988, semipermanente circuits were making up about half the calendar. Ford had found their alternate model in the Fairlane, which was just starting to be used in Turismo Carretera. Most semipermanente circuits were fully paved, the Gran Premio had been discontinued, and even then the semipermanente circuits were much smaller than they had been, at usually no more than ten kilometers long. Grid sizes often totalled in at around 50 to maybe 60, and the 750th Turismo Carretera race, which was held that year at the Circuito Semipermanente de Benedicto Campos, at Necochea, Buenos Aires province, was no exception.

On lap 14 of 21, Edgardo Caparrós, the son of Raimundo Caparrós, who had been killed in a Turismo Carretera accident in 1965, was running down the track’s longest straight when the car threw a tire. Caparrós, who’d been the winner of the previous season’s last two events, veered off the road and into the crowd. It demolished a caravan, a parked car, and flattened a tent before digging in and rolling five times. Edgardo Caparrós survived the accident, which stopped the race immediately, but he suffered severe head injuries that would force his retirement. Worse off was his acompañante, Alberto Belloli, who was killed, as were twelve spectators and an unborn child. At 14 confirmed dead, it was the worst accident in the history of Argentine motorsport, and finally led to the discontinuation of spectator enclosures being directly off the road. All tracks had to be closed off, though semipermanente circuits survived.

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Credit to HistoriaTC; The car of Caparrós

The next year was the year of the Ford Fairlane, which was used alongside the Falcons during the season by a few drivers. Oscar Angeletti was the frontrunner of the Fairlanes, winning three races and finishing second in the championship chase. Angeletti, however, was very badly injured during the 1990 season opener at Santa Teresita when his car went off and struck a pole at high speed. He would survive, but never raced again. The Ford Fairlane was eventually phased out at year’s end, and the cavalry went back to the Falcons.

 

Through death and excitement, semipermanente circuits had survived. They didn’t make up the bulk of the schedule any longer, but they were still being run. Gravel roads had been phased out after 1968, and dirt roads had been done away with in the late 80s, but the old remnants of the past had survived into the 1990s. A pair of fatal crashes, however, spelt their end.

Roberto Mouras was a very frequent frontrunner in the series, as he had been since the 1970s. He had three titles to his name, and had almost won the championship in his first fulltime year in 1971. Even in the 1990s, he was still a frontrunner, and he had a championship shot going into the penultimate round of the championship, the Vuelta de Lobos, in 1992.

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Credit to Motores En La Sierra

During practice, Mouras stepped out of the car, and expert tuner Jorge Pedersoli, who had once been Mouras’ acompañante, stepped in. He ran a couple of laps to see if he could diagnose a nagging problem with the left front of the car that the team had been enduring. Mouras had lost a recent race due to a failure of the left front, and the problem hadn’t been going away. Pedersoli had a scary moment behind the wheel, but the problem was not addressed much further. During the main event, the left front again gave way, and Mouras skidded the car off at full speed, hitting an earth wall with so much force that the roll cage was shattered. The car went skyward, landing with a sickening thud. Mouras died on the spot, and his co-driver Amadeo González was terribly injured. He died a few days later. The race was ended, with Mouras being declared the winner.

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Credit to HistoriaTC

In 1994, Osvaldo Morresi, a former teammate of Mouras, slipped in another car’s oil during a race at La Plata and crashed into another earth wall. Morresi was pronounced dead within a few hours, and Jorge Marceca, his acompañante, was badly injured. Marceca died of his injuries two days later. Morresi, one of the best drivers in the series and one of the most successful to never win a title, also won the race he was killed in posthumously. This crash was the last straw, and semipermanente circuits were prohibited. They continued for three more years, but the very last semipermanente circuit to be used was the Santa Teresita circuit in 1997. Turismo Carretera had done away with something so influential it had given the series its name. That same year, Dodge and IKA both introduced new models to run in Turismo Carretera to slowly replace the Dodge GTX and IKA Torino, prototype models known as the Dodge Cherokee and Torino Cherokee. The pair of Cherokees, developed hand in hand, were based off the GTX and IKA Torino respectively and were created solely for racing. Their goal was to end the dominance of Chevrolet and Ford, which proved somewhat successful, though it would take a few years.

Dodge still struggled, however, while they attempted to get their Cherokees up to speed, and yet another tragedy would make the time before the Cherokees were competitive enough even more miserable. During a practice session for the round at Rafaela in 1998, Raúl Petrich, a Dodge mainstay, told his team that he detected an issue with the car’s undercarriage that was holding him back. His normal co-driver hopped out, and Oscar Lafeudo, a chassis expert, hopped into the passenger seat, a legal maneuver in practice. On his last lap of the day, however, the Dodge went straight on into a corner. Rafaela had seen very few updates since USAC had stopped by in 1971, so rather loose steel guardrails were still being used in the corners. When the Dodge hit the wall, it broke off the guardrail support, and the steel guardrail entered the cabin, instantly and graphically killing both occupants. The round was completely cancelled, and Rafaela built proper barriers for the series’ next visit.

By the beginning of the 2000s, Turismo Carretera had hit a rhythm. Circuits were all permanent with the occasional air base or closed street circuit event. Acompañantes were still being used. They were completely optional, however. The classic look of the cars also remained, and they were both loved by and popular with the public.

However, there were still more changes to be made, and again it would take tragedy to change them. Turismo Carretera has many junior series, one of which is TC Pista. During a race at Rafaela in 2006, Alberto Noya spun his car in a chicane and was hit full-bore by Hugo Fayanás directly in the passenger door. Both Noya and his acompañante, Gabriel Miller, died, forcing the cancellation of the Pista race and the Turismo Carretera Final. Rather famously, the fans, well past drunk by this point, were not pleased with the race’s cancellation. They set fire to tires and banners in protest, but officials did not budge.

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Credit to HistoriaTC

Turismo Carretera, in a historic ruling, ruled that acompañantes would be done away with at the beginning of 2008, only for their discontinuation to be made immediate after a bizarre crash at Rivadavia in mid-2007 claimed the life of Turismo Carretera competitor Guillermo Castellanos, who was fatally injured when his car was struck while he attempted to navigate a crash. Even though his co-driver wasn’t injured in the accident, the Turismo Carretera prohibited the use of them immediately. There was another thing that was done away with in 2008: the tiradita, which was completely outlawed by the ACTC.

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Credit to HistoriaTC; Matias Rossi rounds a bend at Mar de Ajo in 2007

The beginning of the 2010s was marred by one last tragedy for the series. Guido Falaschi had worked his way from Argentine Formula Renault in 2008 to Turismo Carretera in 2011 at the age of 22. Going into the semi-final race of the year at Balcarce, he had an outside shot at the championship, which was further helped by Guido qualifying pole position.

Balcarce had proved itself a dangerous circuit, using primary tire barriers and earth walls instead of concrete. A pair of Fiat 600s had once flown over the fence in the same turn during a race in separate accidents, and even during the 2011 race weekend Agustín Canapino utterly destroyed his car during practice, though he was surprisingly not injured.

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Credit to MundoD

With two to go in the main event, leader Mauro Giallombardo encountered the lapped car of Leonel Larrauri with Guido Falaschi running a close second. Rounding a small bend, Larrauri bailed out of the leaders’ way with too much speed and ran off. Guido Falaschi found Larrauri’s car bouncing in front of him and darted to the side to the track  in an attempt to avoid Larrauri. Falaschi’s car hit the tires and spun into the middle of the circuit, being hit by Guillermo Ortelli and then Nestor Girolami, whose Torino struck the Ford in the driver’s door. The race was red flagged and ended a lap early as rescue crews worked to extricate Falaschi, who was pronounced dead of a basilar skull fracture an hour later, the 126th competitor fatality in Turismo Carretera. Guido’s race team, HAZ Racing Team, closed down immediately after his death. It would reopen the next year as Por Siempre Guido (Forever Guido) 16 Team, running touring cars.

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Credit to Minutobalcarce

Balcarce was closed down in the aftermath of the crash, organizers deciding the track simply was too unsafe. As of 2018, it has not reopened.

 

Today, Turismo Carretera continues on. Turismo Carretera is currently considered a stock car series, in a way the Argentine equivalent of NASCAR complete with double-file restarts and high speed banked turns, and even a playoff system. Grids often clock in at about 45 per event. Races usually consist of practice and qualifying, followed by a series of three short heats to determine starting grid and, if there is a need for DNQs, who they will be. Afterwards is the Final, which is often between 100 to 120km, though there is an annual 1000km endurance event held at Buenos Aires. The season usually starts early, in February, and ends in December.

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Credit to Clarín; Guri Martinez leads the pack at Parana 2015, note the flipped car of J.P. Gianini in the back

There are a myriad of series that drivers can use to step up to Turismo Carretera, however drivers who want to move right to Turismo Carretera start in the TC Pista Mouras series, which began in 2008. Drivers who move up from this series go on to TC Mouras, which began in 2004, after which is the TC Pista series, which was created in 1995. These, along with an Argentine Porsche GT3 series, are the series run by the ACTC.

The series is supported by a myriad of other series. TC2000 and Súper TC2000 are a pair of touring car series that usually run their own race weekends, but will occasionally support Turismo Carretera. Both series are very high-ranked, especially Súper TC2000. The two series use cars such as the Citroën C4 Lounge, Toyota Corolla, Renault Fluence, Peugeot 408, Fiat Linea, Chevrolet Cruze, and Ford Focus.

Another popular series in Argentina is Top Race, another high-ranked touring car series that used to be owned by the ACTC, but no longer is. Top Race has three levels, Top Race, V6, and Junior, and uses its own regulations, regulations which can best be described as a mix of Supertouring and S2000. In it run the Ford Mondeo, Mitsubishi Lancer, and Volkswagen Passat.

Yet another big series in Argentina is Turismo Nacional, a production car series with two separate classes. C2, the secondary class, consists of segment B cars, usually seen as subcompacts by American definition, such as Renault Clios and Peugeot 208s. C3, the primary class, uses segment C cars, the American equivalent of which are compact cars. Cars used include the Honda Civic, Renault Mégane, and Volkswagen Vento.

These are only some of the series. Also popular is GT2000, a sports prototype series a la IMSA Lights, Turismo Pista, a fairly similar series to Turismo Nacional with three classes, a Formula Renault series, and many more. These series all help contribute to Argentina’s love for motor racing, but of course racing’s popularity is best seen in Turismo Carretera.

 

 

Sources:

Historiatc.com.ar  (Carrera Nº 1, Nº 3, Nº 7, Nº 21, Nº 29, Nº 73, Nº 107, Nº 292, Nº 451, Nº 499, Nº 538, Nº 580-A, Nº 691, Nº 750, Nº 780, Nº 826, Nº 846, Nº 1044, Nº 1130)

“Hace 20 años moría Octavio Justo Suárez”, September 24th, 2004 article to La Nueva

“A 30 años de la tragedia del TC que dejó 13 muertos”, March 5th, 2018 article to Política Necochea

“Cuando el Fairlane fajó a las Chevy, Falcon y las Dodge GTX”, December 6th, 2014 article to La Izquierda Diario

“RELEVAN ESTADO DEL AUTÓDROMO EN BALCARCE”, March 5, 2018 article to Carburando

Motorsport Memorial

“Adios a las tiraditas”, January 30th, 2008 article to Olé!

The Survival Of David Anspaugh

Some people just love to race. The allure of racing is too much for these individuals, and despite many of them not having the greatest equipment and not being the greatest drivers, they are often loved by the fans simply due to how enjoyable they are to watch.

In August of 2000, one of these drivers slid into his car for what would be the final time. A life changing crash awaited the journeyman, a driver his fans often called the Racing Principal.

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Credit to Weichtfh.com

David Anspaugh of Sturgis, Michigan was one such journeyman. Anspaugh’s racing career began in the late 1970s, and he had been competing ever since for the love of the sport.

By trade Anspaugh, who was married with no children, was the superintendent of Waldron, Michigan’s school district. The Racing Principal, as he was called, was a popular face, freely talking about his love for racing, giving ideas and tips to students who shared his love and wanted to start racing themselves, and sometimes even showing up to school in his racing suit. Anspaugh also had his students sign the side of his race cars. Anspaugh found success in local racing, winning several races and even the 1984 track championship at what’s now the Angola Motor Speedway.

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Credit to comicozzle; note Anspaugh’s sponsor

Anspaugh, who owned his own team with his brother Frank, moved to the ASA in the 1990s. He was never a frontrunner, but was a respected driver nonetheless. Anspaugh’s best career finish came at the I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Missouri in 1992, where he finished ninth, and he was a frequent midfielder who raced cleanly and enjoyed himself thoroughly.

By the time 2000 arrived however, Anspaugh, 51, found himself struggling to make races. In late August, the ASA wagon train arrived at the Milwaukee Mile for the Time Warner Cable 200 for round 15 of 20. Anspaugh, who hadn’t failed to qualify for any races in 1998 or 1999, had only timed his way into three of the 12 races he’d attempted in 2000. Anspaugh’s name was to show up on the DNQ list yet again when the weekend was over, but this time it would be as a withdrawal.

During the race’s first practice session on August 26th, the #37 1st AYD/Sturgis Middle School-sponsored 1999 Pontiac Grand Prix suffered a malfunction on the front straight. It was first believed that a brake pad came loose, but later sources claimed that the accelerator hung. In any case, the car spun backwards, hit the wall rear first at top speed, and turned onto its roof, sliding upside down for some distance before eventually rolling back onto its wheels. Anspaugh was unconscious when reached by officials and was extricated from the car through the top. No marks were found on Anspaugh’s helmet, but the beloved superintendent had suffered a severe closed head injury.

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Credit to The Toledo Blade

Anspaugh was comatose for six weeks before finally awakening, upon which therapy began. Doctors had only given Anspaugh a 1% chance of survival, yet the Racing Principal taught them otherwise, so to speak. Through rigorous therapy, Anspaugh made incredible progress, and when he next returned to his schools in February 2002 for a fundraiser, Anspaugh turned heads. He’d started to walk on his own again, though only for short distances as he otherwise used a wheelchair. He’d regained the ability to swallow, speak full sentences, and read, and his wife was planning on bringing him home. His speech was still somewhat erratic, and he still needed assistance, but Anspaugh was able to perform most actions on his own despite suffering an injury which had killed and incapacitated many other drivers such as Rick Baldwin and Bruce Jacobi. This, unfortunately, was the last update made.

The Racing Principal did not lose his interest in race cars. In fact, when asked in March 2001, Anspaugh indicated that he still wanted to race again, though he never actually got behind the wheel of one again. David Anspaugh passed away on July 23, 2014 at the age of 65 from cancer, though he continues to be a fantastic example of a race car driver returning from the very edge.

 

Sources:

“Kulwicki lands ride in NASCAR”, May 26, 1985 edition of The Post-Crescent (Appleton, WI)

“Waldron’s chief suffered brain injuries in stock car”, March 5, 2001 edition of the Toledo Blade

“Victory lap finally in sight”, February 27, 2002 edition of the Toledo Blade

“Death at the Track”, November 11, 2001 special edition of The Charlotte Observer

“Collision with uncertainty”, February 28, 2006 edition of KPC News (date likely wrong, but that’s what is listed)

Who Was David Gaines?

It’s that time again. NASCAR is off to Charlotte. I did an article on Gary Batson last year, and the year before on Russell Phillips. By process of elimination, it’s time to do an article on the remaining Sportsman fatality, David Arthur Gaines.

The background of the Sportsman Division is likely one you know well from my prior articles, but for those who don’t know, the NASCAR Sportsman Division ran from 1989 to 1996. Its objective was to allow for drivers who were accustomed to short tracks and much lower speeds to receive experience on larger ovals such as the Division’s home base, the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The cars used were old Cup and Busch cars that had had their engines tuned down and speeds lowered considerably. However, the series had many detractors, who believed that lowered speed alone wasn’t enough of a measure to keep the newcomers safe. Wrecks frequently became much worse than they needed to be, as inexperienced drivers panicked when a crash broke out in front of them at speeds much higher than what they were used to. The allure of racing at Charlotte, however, was just too strong for some.

#36 David Gaines
Credit to @wrangler3chevy

Not much is known about David Arthur Gaines, but what is known is that he was born on January 20th, 1963 in Raleigh, North Carolina and possessed an enjoyment of motorsport for many years. Gaines, a native of Goldston, North Carolina, began competing at the Caraway Speedway in 1985. Gaines, by trade an engineer at an electronics firm, was well known for crafting some rather impressive race engines, which won him three races and scored him 11 second places. He finished second in his division’s points table at Caraway in 1989, and did some other late model racing on the side, including one confirmed race where he raced against the Burtons. According to friends and family, Gaines’ love was racing, and he held his engineering position to fund his race team, which was managed by his father, Jerry, with David’s brother Todd on the box.

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Credit to The Anniston Star

Looking to move up, Gaines purchased an Oldsmobile and entered into the NASCAR Sportsman Division in 1990’s opening event, the Sportsman 100, at Charlotte, to be held May 20th. Pre-race practice sessions were aplenty, as the 72 drivers entered into the race, most of them very new, tried to acclimate to the speedway. They’d have a qualifying session followed by two 20-lap qualifying races to determine the 40-car grid for the 67-lap race.

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Credit to Racer’s Reunion

On May 16th, a practice session was held for the drivers. This was to be the last practice session before registration, and as such, some drivers ran unnumbered cars with the plan to register the next day. During the session, Ted Comstock of Rockwell, North Carolina spun his car through turn four, skidding up the track and sending the Pontiac of successful Australian stock car racer Terri Sawyer, of Melbourne, into the wall. As Gaines came on scene, his #36 Chatlee Boat and Marine Oldsmobile Cutlass was clipped from behind by Stouffville, Ontario’s Peter Gibbons, causing Gaines to strike a set of water barrels on the track’s inside.

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Credit to AP
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Credit to AP

Steve McEachern, 29, of Phoenix, approached the site of the wreck with the speedway caution lights still flashing. McEachern piloted his unnumbered Chevrolet, a recent purchase from Dale Earnhardt, on the inside through the turn at high speed, seemingly attempting to race back to the line. With little time to react, he slammed into Gaines’ right rear quarter panel at full speed. The impact knocked McEachern’s car onto its roof. McEachern, an off-road racing specialist who was also brand new to speedways, spun several times upside-down before the car hit the grass in the quadoval, sending him back onto his wheels with a vicious bounce.

Rescuers found McEachern conscious in his car, with injuries to his hands, but otherwise fine. Upon reaching Gaines, however, two men, presumably crew members, walked over to Peter Gibbons’ stalled car and put their heads in their hands. Gaines had suffered severe head injuries in the crash, and was pronounced dead on arrival to the hospital 20 minutes later.

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Credit to AP; The man squatting, head in hands, is Todd Gaines

Sawyer, Gibbons and Comstock all found themselves on the DNQ list. The race itself went on as planned and, somewhat surprisingly, was solid, containing a duel between Robbie Faggart and Charles ‘Tuck’ Trentham to the line, won by Faggart by a bumper.

NASCAR actually did not require Sportsman drivers to test at specific NASCAR-sanctioned racing schools, simply to have experience, a flaw that was swiftly changed in the aftermath. The Division was new at this point, and NASCAR hadn’t seen for itself what this would lead to. Unfortunately, when it did lead to something, it was a fatality. NASCAR clearly tried its best to make the Division work out, sending drivers to one of the best driving schools in the area before they could run a Sportsman race, and making its protocol much stricter. However, as later crashes revealed, it was not meant to be.

 

Sources:

“DAVID GAINES DIES IN FATAL CRASH FIVE-CAR ACCIDENT TAKES LIFE OF DRIVER”, May 16th, 1990 edition of the Greensboro Record

“Crash takes life of electrical engineer”, May 17th, 1990 edition of The Kokomo Tribune

“Gaines killed at Charlotte”, May 17th, 1990 edition of The Anniston Star

“Sportsman driver dies in crash during practice run”, May 17th, 1990 edition of The Morning Call (Allentown, PA)

“NASCAR driver Gaines killed in multi-car crash”, May 17th, 1990 edition of The Tampa Tribune

 

The Non-Competitor Cup Fatalities

Eight non-competitors have been killed during NASCAR Cup events, ranging from spectators to policemen to crew members to officials. Today, I’m going to give an overview speaking about what exactly happened and who they were.

 

STEVE CLARK

On August 19th, 1956, a NASCAR Pacific Coast Late Model Division race was held at the Bay Meadows Race Track, a one mile oval in San Mateo, California. Though the race was for what’s now called the West Series, it did also count for Grand National points.

With about ten laps to go in the 250 mile race, backmarker Royce Hagerty crashed his car hard into the barrier. With the massive crowd interested to see if Hagerty was all right, several officers rushed onto the scene to keep them away from the fence. Conditions had been terrible that day, and drivers were unable to see very well. As such, there was little Scotty Cain could do when 46-year-old reserve officer Steve Clark of San Mateo stepped into his path.

Cain recalled later that conditions were so terrible that the only way he could see was by wiping away a small square of dirt on his windshield with his left hand. He only realized Clark was there when he struck him.

Clark died at the scene, and the race was stopped with 241/250 laps completed. Hagerty ended up being all right. The Bay Meadows Race Track was not used for any further stock car events, but it remained open to horse racing until 2008.

 

W.R. THOMASSON

A third of the way through a race at the recently paved North Wilkesboro Speedway on October 20th, 1957, Tiny Lund threw a wheel on his Pontiac. Another car hit the wheel, and the tire went over the fence and into the crowd. The wheel squarely struck 28-year-old spectator W.R. Thomasson, a mechanic’s helper from Mount Holly, North Carolina. Thomasson died instantly. Also injured in the incident was Frank Campbell of Charlotte, who was released shortly thereafter. A caution was waved, and after both injured men had been taken to the hospital, the race resumed.

Thomasson remains the only spectator fatality in NASCAR’s top series.

 

PAUL MCDUFFIE, CHARLES SWEATLUND AND JOE TAYLOR

On lap 95 of the 1960 Southern 500 on September 5th, Floridian Bobby Johns was racing alongside independent driver Roy Tyner when the duo collided. The cars entered the pit lane, and to the horror of inaugural World 600 champion Joe Lee Johnson, they were headed right towards him. Johnson, who had been receiving service, sped away from his pit box just in time. Tyner and Johns passed into the pit lane, as there was no wall to separate it at the time, and struck the inside wall, with Tyner’s car bouncing away from the site of impact and Johns’ car backing into the wall at full speed and rolling onto its lid. This sent the concrete blocks which marked the inside wall flying into the pit area.

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Credit to Legends of NASCAR

The pit lane was a mess, with several crew members injured. Three men had been killed in the mayhem, all victims of the blocks. They were identified as 32-year-old Paul McDuffie of Atlanta, Charles Sweatlund of Atlanta, and Joe Taylor of Charlotte. Also injured were mechanics Ralph Byers, R.M. Vermillion Jr., and John Blalock, all of Atlanta, as was bystander A.M. Crawford of North Carolina. Crawford’s injuries were considered minor, Byers and Vermillion Jr. had suffered serious injuries, and Blalock’s were considered critical, though he survived. Johns suffered minor injuries, and Tyner walked away.

McDuffie had been the crew chief for Fireball Roberts during Roberts’ excellent 1958 season, and was both the owner of and a mechanic on Johnson’s car. Sweatlund was also a mechanic for Johnson’s car, and Taylor was a NASCAR official, serving as the assistant inspector to Chief Inspector Norris Friel. Bill Gazaway was reportedly also almost struck.

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McDuffie; Credit to Georgia Racing History

Joe Lee Johnson withdrew from the race after the incident. NASCAR would eventually order the construction of a barrier to protect the pit lane.

 

RANDY OWENS

On May 4th, 1975, Richard Petty was making a pit stop during the Winston 500 at Talladega when a fire was detected on a forward wheel bearing. Petty had been leading the race, which was on its 140th lap, so the crew worked frantically to try and put the fire out. Suddenly, an explosion was heard – but it wasn’t from the car.

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Credit to Findagrave

20-year-old Randy Owens, the brother of Richard’s wife, the late Linda Petty, was tending to the car fire by using a water tank. Shortly after Petty had evacuated the car, the water tank blew up, splitting in two near the base. Owens was struck and instantly killed by the top section of the tank, which struck him in the upper chest and chin. The tank shot 100 feet into the air and came back down, almost striking Richard according to Benny Parsons’ crew chief, Travis Carter. Also injured in the explosion, which soaked the surrounding pit boxes and garage area, was Gary Rodgers, a crew member for Parsons. Rodgers suffered lacerations and was released from the hospital a short time later.

Petty withdrew from the race immediately after the explosion, and NASCAR provided the team with a plane back home. Randy left behind a wife and two children, including future racer and crew chief Trent Owens, who was still an infant at the time. Chief mechanic for the Buddy Baker team Bud Moore suggested that the pop-off valve, a valve used to relieve pressure, may have stuck on the tank, though the exact cause of the explosion appears to have never been discerned.

 

DENNIS WADE

On March 18th, 1979, Dave Watson, the 1977 ASA champion, was leading the Atlanta 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Despite the #37 Phil Howard-owned car not being one of the quicker cars on the grid, Watson had done a great job during the season, with one top ten in three races.

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Credit to Findagrave

Around the race’s one-third mark, Watson was making his pit stop and had just shifted into a lower gear when the transmission locked, leading to the rear wheels skidding. 18-year-old high schooler Dennis Banister Wade, a recent hire for Howard’s team who had worked previously for Janet Guthrie, hopped over the wall with the jack and ran to where Watson was expected to be, only to be confronted by the spinning Monte Carlo. Wade was struck by Watson’s car and died at the scene. Watson withdrew from the race immediately. While his racing career continued, Watson would never race in the highest level of stock car racing again. No caution was flown for the incident. Buddy Baker, incidentially enough, emerged victorious at day’s end.

Bill Gazaway stated that there would be an investigation into the incident, but the results appear to have not been released, though he did not blame Wade, as Wade hadn’t run too far out into the pit lane. Wade was noted to have ‘frozen’ when Watson spun towards him.

 

MIKE RICH

While it isn’t shocking to think of the fact that there was once no pit road speed limit, it’s quite jarring to think that it took until 1990 for one to be put in place. This measure was made, of course, after a pit lane accident.

On November 18th, 1990, race leader Bill Elliott was making his last pit stop of the year at the Atlanta Journal 500 at Atlanta Int’l Raceway. In the meantime, Ricky Rudd had entered the pit lane at speed and had started to slow to enter his own pit stall. Suddenly, under braking, Rudd’s #10 jerked left and slid backwards into Elliott’s #9, pinning two crew members.

42-year-old Tommy Cole, the jackman, was struck in the back and suffered an arm injury, but was later said to be in good condition. Michael Dawson Rich, the rear tire changer, however, was pinned for several minutes, and he suffered heavy crush injuries and other severe internal trauma. Rich, a 32-year-old married owner of a construction firm from Blairsville, Georgia, was airlifted to Georgia Baptist Hospital, where he died that night of a heart attack. Rich was conscious during transport, and reportedly was more concerned with whether Elliott could return to the race, which Elliott ultimately did not.

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Credit to Kirt Achenbach (Rich is at far right, with light hair and dark beard)

This accident led to the introduction of proper pit road speed limits, along with an odd-even system that was meant to ensure that cars had an open spot in front and behind at all times. The odd-even system was ditched shortly thereafter, but the pit road speed limit has remained to this day.

 

Sources:

Motorsportmemorial

“Racing Cars Kill Officer At Track; Weekend Toll 4”, August 20th, 1956 edition of The Times (San Mateo)

“2 Mechanics And Inspector Killed At Darlington Race”, September 8th, 1960 edition of The Gaffney Ledger

“Gold Thunder: Autobiography of a NASCAR Champion”, book by Rex White and Anne B. Jones

“In Tragedy-Marred Talladega Race, Baker Over Pearson By Inches”, May 5th, 1975 edition of The High Point Enterprise

“Pit Crew Member At Atlanta 500; Man Killed In Racing Tragedy”, March 19th?, 1979 edition of the Charlotte Observer

“Crew member dies of accident suffered in Atlanta Journal 500”, November 18th, 1990 edition of UPI

Who Was Bruce Jacobi?

A will to race with the big boys despite small wages and a trying couple of years for a family after a violent accident; Today we take a look at the life and crash of Bruce Jacobi.

With high-level racing becoming more and more demanding and expensive, it’s becoming more and more rare to see journeymen who worked low paying jobs during the week spending their weekends racing in the top leagues, with ARCA usually serving as the upper limit nowadays. But there was a day in which America’s workers and laborers could race in the Cup Series and in Indycar, maybe even both, on the weekend.

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Credit to This Day In Motorsport History

Born on June 23rd, 1935 in Salem, Indiana as the first of two children of Fred and Helen Jacobi, Harold Bruce Jacobi got his start on the short tracks of Indiana before eventually moving to the USAC Champ Cars. Jacobi was a privateer, going to smaller teams and bringing their cars home. He was never quick, but he could finish. Jacobi attempted 74 races between 1960 and 1970, qualifying for 38 of them. His best finish was at Springfield in 1970, where he finished fourth, and out of the 38 races he made, never ran more than five for the same team.

Jacobi, however, never qualified for the Indianapolis 500, despite six attempts. He failed to qualify in 1962, 1963, and 1966, did not make an attempt in 1967, failed to qualify in 1970, and withdrew in 1973. In the meantime, Jacobi traveled the country, finding rides and running whatever races he could find. From Pennsylvania to California, Jacobi left his mark every which way. In the meantime, Jacobi kept busy with employment as a carpenter.

It was off to NASCAR in 1975, where Jacobi would remain for the next couple of years. Out of 20 races, Jacobi took three top tens, all in 1975, where he ran part time for Opal Voight. This would be Jacobi’s only part time season in NASCAR.

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Credit to Legends of NASCAR

After that, Jacobi hopped between teams and raced in NASCAR every once in awhile while continuing to race back home and all over. In one of these rides, Bruce suffered one of the most violent NASCAR crashes of the 1970s.

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Source unknown

During last-chance qualifying for the 1977 World 600, Rick Newsom lost control of his car off of turn four and was blindsided by Jacobi, running the #78 Chevrolet for Tom Goff. Jacobi’s car went airborne and rolled violently end over end down the chute. Despite an impact so hard that it ripped Newsom’s engine out of his car and sent it spinning down the track, Jacobi escaped with minor injuries. Newsom was treated for a foot injury.

This crash, in fact, summarizes Jacobi’s career. He was never a very lucky driver. Wife YaDa Jacobi, whom Bruce married in 1969 in a ceremony held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself, recalled an instance where Jacobi was struck by a flywheel at the Brickyard and had to be replaced for the main event, with a young man named Mario Andretti taking over. In fact, according to YaDa, with whom Bruce had three children, there was an instance where Bruce was pronounced dead after a crash at a race track in Pennsylvania, only to give a worker a little kick while being wheeled to the morgue. Yet Jacobi loved racing so much that he would race on a carpenter’s wage. The risks of racing never seemed to faze Jacobi.

Bruce entered Speedweeks 1983 rideless, and decided to head to the speedway to try his luck on picking up a ride. There he came across Bill Meazell, who owned a #05 Colonial Motors/All American Homes Pontiac Grand Prix. Bill needed a driver, as he wasn’t confident in piloting a Pontiac, and the Wednesday before the 500, and only one day before the qualifying races, the two agreed that Bruce would drive the car. On lap 5 of the 50 lap first duel, Bruce was running towards the back on his own when the car broke loose. The exact cause of the crash is unknown, though many drivers reported that it had been extremely windy that day, and that they actually were having their cars lifted off the ground a little. In any case, the #05 spun into the infield off of turn two and went airborne before proceeding to viciously cartwheel through the grass.

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Credit to Daytona Beach News-Journal

The car rolled front over back, back over front, several times through the infield before eventually coming to rest on its wheels near the earth embankment. Jacobi was removed from the car unconscious and was swiftly transported to the hospital with critical brain injuries, likely caused by a partial failure of the roll cage.

Jacobi spent some time in Halifax Hospital before eventually being transported to a nursing home in Indianapolis. He regained partial consciousness sometime thereafter, and would be in this state for four years, his mobility having been severely compromised, though not lost entirely. YaDa Jacobi, who had run a few endurance races herself in the 1960s, was frequently at his bedside, and while Bruce never fully regained consciousness, his condition deteriorated when YaDa wasn’t at his side. “I think we have a much deeper, more understanding relationship now, although it’s hard to describe.”, she told the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Bruce Jacobi passed away on February 4th, 1987 in the Methodist Hospital at Indianapolis, aged 51. Some of Bruce’s racing memorabilia is stored at the Stevens Museum in Salem, Indiana, serving as a reminder of the days when a laborer’s dream to one day race in the top American series could come true.

 

Sources:

“Jacobi Escapes Fire in Charlotte Crash”, May 28th, 1977 issue of The Tennessean

“The wife of gravely injured Bruce Jacobi says her…”, February 23rd, 1983 issue of UPI

“Dying driver was excited about Daytona, wife says”, February 24th, 1983 issue of the Arizona Republic

“A racer’s wife copes with tragedy”, February 22nd, 1983 issue of The Orlando Sentinel

“Jacobi Draws Strength From His Wife, YaDa”, July 4th, 1984 issue of the Daytona Beach News-Journal

“Bruce Jacobi Nearly Dies Of Pneumonia”, February 16th, 1984 issue of the Daytona Beach News-Journal