50 Years of nascar racing ~ Charlotte 1964: Drama and danger, part 1 (Post 18)
By Matt McLaughlin
Editor's note: This article is part of a special reprise of Matt McLaughlin's "50 Years of NASCAR Racing", written and published in 1998 in commemoration of NASCAR's 50th Anniversary celebration that year. Matt has kindly granted me permission to run the entire series. Please, sit back and enjoy as you take a journey back through the pages of history and perhaps relive a memory or two. Many thanks to Matt for his generosity in sharing. God bless you, my friend.
The world was a very different place in early November of 1963. The country's youthful and charismatic president, JFK was still in the White House, though tragically he had only a few weeks left to live. There was a "conflict" brewing in Southeast Asia, but the United States had officially only sent "advisers" to the area. A new band of four chaps with rather unconventional haircuts from Liverpool England, the Beatles, were topping the charts with their first hit, "I Want To Hold Your Hand". Speaking of hits, the newly released Ford Mustang was shattering sales records, though if you really wanted to win at the drag meets, you would order one of the new Pontiac GTO's with the tri-power mill. And Joe Weatherly was getting ready to defend his second consecutive Grand National title. After all, Joe and the boys had had an entire week off between the end of the 63 season and the kickoff event of the 1964 season at Concord North Carolina to rest up.
Weatherly had been bumming rides throughout the 1963 season, but he was all set to do the full year in a red and black factory backed Mercury out of the Stroppe shops for 1964, one of 17 drivers with major factory support from either Ford or Chrysler. The big news was a new powerplant for the Chrysler teams, the barrel-chested, take no prisoners, 426 Hemi. Hemi head engines had actually originated in Chryslers in 1951, but comparing one of those fifties Hemis to the 426 was like comparing a poodle with a bad attitude to a rabid attack-trained pit bull that had just eaten a 10-pound sack of speed. Rumors circulated that the Hemi cars had hit speeds of 180 plus miles per hour on Chrysler's massive test oval, but most people found that hard to believe. Ford was returning with their tried and true 427 engines, and their four horsemen, Fred Lorenzen, Fireball Roberts, Ned Jarrett, and Little Joe Weatherly.
The season kicked off November 10th, 1963 at the nasty little half-mile dirt bull ring in Concord, North Carolina. The track became badly rutted during the event and according to a local reporter of the era, those ruts were knee deep in places. Joe Weatherly was dominating the race when he came up to lap Tiny Lund, who was already 30 laps down. Tiny refused to let Joe past for lap after lap as Ned Jarrett, running in second continued to close in on Weatherly. As Jarrett took the lead a frustrated Weatherly expressed his appreciation by cutting hard into Lund's car, sending it spinning. Lund pitted then returned to the track as Weatherly was trying to retake the lead and slowed up waiting for Joe. When Weatherly tried to get around him, Tiny let him have it, almost sending him out of the track. Weatherly came back and returned the favor. At that point, Bud Moore, who owned Weatherly's cars, picked up a fist sized rock in the pits and threw it at Tiny Lund's car trying to brain him. He missed Tiny but did take out the windshield. Thinking perhaps Tiny, who was anything but little, might be annoyed, Moore armed himself with a crescent wrench for the post-race fireworks. Ned Jarrett took the win and after the race, mobs of autograph seeking fans kept Tiny and Joe separated until tempers had a chance to cool. It was a good thing for Weatherly, who was a couple heads shorter and a half-ton lighter then Tiny.
The next race took place on a three mile road course right in the heart of Dixie, Augusta International Raceway, in Augusta Georgia. Fireball Roberts won the event. The promoter lost money and walked away from his brand new race track. No other race was ever run there and the beautiful facility was left to return to the earth.
[Editor's note: Gone, but never forgotten, the picture below was taken by me, PattyKay Lilley, in September of 2005, when the engraved marble memorial was dedicated and placed in its permanent place, adjacent to the new civic building and library on the grounds of Diamond Lakes Park, site of the Augusta International Raceway.]