A New Champion - and One from NASCAR's Infancy
There is indeed so much to celebrate in Martin Truex’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship.
The champ seems a genuinely nice guy. He earned his place at the top by building a solid track record in lower racing series. His dad also was a racer, but that probably opened fewer doors for him than it did for Richard Petty (for one thing, Dad was from New Jersey). He has a longtime girlfriend who is fighting cancer, and they’ve stuck together through thick and thin.
Then there’s his car owner, who built a team from scratch where many others tried and failed. They’re based in Denver, Colorado (not Denver, N.C., where former Lowes/Charlotte Motor Speedway boss Richard Howard lived), which is about as distant from NASCAR’s core as any owner in recent memory, yet - with a good bit of help from Joe Gibbs - Furniture Row Racing has become a power, and that, too, is a good story.
In fact, Furniture Row and owner Barney Visser is the first owner in this century other than Rick Hendrick (8 championships), Joe Gibbs (4), Jack Roush (2), Stewart-Haas (2) and Roger Penske (1). To find another “little guy” championship team, you need to go back to Robert Yates and Dale Jarrett in 1999 or - if you don’t think Yates was little enough - Alan Kulwicki in 1992.
Barney Visser - the 2017 Championship Car Owner
The last championship owner who seemed to adopt the kind of “my way” approach of Visser, at least in my opinion, was Billy Hagan, who won the Winston Cup Championship with Terry Labonte in 1984.
That gives you some idea of what Visser, Truex and company have accomplished. This kind of thing doesn’t happen often.
I did some rummaging through the statistics at Racing-Reference.info to look for other links between Barney Visser and championship owners from the past, and I don’t know if this one really fits or not, but it interested me enough that I decided to explore the story a bit. Like Visser, this owner came from outside of NASCAR’s core area, but in his case the direction was north, not west. My owner of interest is Julian Buesink (1921-1998) of Findley Park, N.Y., car owner for NASCAR’s second-ever Grand National (Monster/Cup) Champion (1950), fellow New Yorker Bill Rexford.
1950 Championship Owner Julian Buesink
One of Buesink’s auto sales businesses. There also were new car dealerships, but it was a far cry from Rick Hendrick’s empire.
There are great stories about Buesink at the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame website - both he and Rexford have been inducted there - and at Legends of NASCAR. Both had been largely forgotten until NASCAR’s rise in the 1990s, when they briefly saw new limelight before their deaths. Rexford ran most of the GN circuit again in 1951 but switched to what is now ARCA after that and competed there until an early retirement (the drivers who replaced him in two different rides were killed soon after those changes, and he had suffered injuries in a 1951 NASCAR crash; all of that seems to have led him to leave for the business world).
Bill Rexford, right, and Lloyd Moore, Julian Buesink teammates
Buesink likewise eventually switched allegiance to ARCA and local tracks, but while he was in NASCAR, he was a pretty good story.
Long before Hendrick, Gibbs, Stewart-Haas or the other multi-car teams, Buesink was entering multiple cars in NASCAR Grand National events. There were 19 races in 1950, 15 on dirt, 3 on asphalt, and the Daytona Beach-Road Course, which included both. Rexford won the championship with one victory, five top-5 finishes and 11 top-10s in 17 starts, and his teammate Lloyd Moore finished fourth with a win, seven top-5s and 10 top-10s in 16 starts. Another teammate, George Hartley, started eight races, and Jim Paschal made a single start.
Jim Paschal in the #60 Julian Buesink Ford at Macon, Ga., in 1951, where he finished third - kinda dusty, ya think?
The next year, ten different drivers would make a total of 60 starts in Buesink cars.
But here’s the part that’s really weird, at least to us today. Buesink used multiple makes of cars in his stable. When Rexford won the “Poor Man’s 500” on Memorial Day Weekend 1950 in Canfield, Ohio, in a ‘50 Oldsmobile, teammate Moore was third in a Ford. At Hamburg, N.Y., Moore finished fourth driving a Lincoln, Rexford was sixth in the Oldsmobile, and Hartley finished at the back of the field in the Ford. Moore’s single victory came in a Mercury.
It is said that Buesink studied the characteristics of each track and decided what kind of car would run best there. He was “making picks” similar to a horse racing better studying the Daily Racing Form.
Try that in today’s corporate-dominated world of NASCAR.
After his somewhat unusual approach to racing produced less satisfactory results in 1951, Buesink cut back his NASCAR schedule, but with the exception of 1954, he entered at least one race each year until 1963, finishing up by giving an upcoming young South Carolina racer a shot in his Fords. In Buesink’s final NASCAR start, his #52 Ford finished 11th in the Rebel 300 at Darlington, driven by Cale Yarborough.
Cale Yarborough with Julian Buesink’s 1961 Ford
He continued to own cars for another decade, though, including regular front-runners at Stateline Speedway in New York and Eriez Speedway in Pennsylvania, as well as on the ARCA circuit. Western Pennsylvania short track legend Blackie Watt made Buesink’s final superspeedway appearance at Daytona in 1973.
While Yarborough’s car above looks pretty decent by the standards of the early ‘60s, you can’t help but notice something else about Buesink’s earlier racers: they ain’t pretty.
The white #60 is the car Rexford crashed at Canfield in 1951. Note the strap on the door post holding the door closed. Almost looks like Buesink was pulling cars off his lots, painting numbers on the doors, and taking on all NASCAR comers.
Julian Buesink and Barney Visser obviously didn’t go into racing with quite the same visions and goals, but the competitive fire certainly seems to have burned similarly in both. Now each is a champion.
You saw the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship Trophy in Martin Truex’s hands in the first photo with this article. Things have changed a bit since 1950, when this is what Bill Rexford received for his title.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
I’ve always liked Elliott Sadler, but I like him a lot less after his crybaby performance at the end of the Homestead-Miami Xfinity race. Elliott, you’re a race driver - what would you do if you were battling for a top-5 finish in the last race of the year and trying to impress a car owner who’s giving you a big chance? Would you move over for somebody else and give up your position because of points? When did the competitive fire in your gut turn into a toaster with a short?
Kyle Busch, you’re about as bad.
When I mentioned Alan Kulwicki earlier, I didn’t add then that he was one of the few the NASCAR champion owner-drivers (and the last until Tony Stewart’s title in 2011). That’s been a rare achievement - other than for Petty Enterprises, where Papa Lee won three championships and Richard collected seven. The only others in this select club are Buck Baker in 1957 (when he drove for Hugh Babb in nearly 40% of the races) and Herb Thomas, the only driver to collect two owner-driver championships (1951 & ‘53). Today, with the sort-of exception of Carl Long, there are no owner-drivers on the Monster/Cup circuit.
More than 30 different drivers have been NASCAR Grand National/Winston/Nextel/Sprint/Monster Cup champions since 1949, and Martin Truex is the first since Bill Rexford in 1950 to hail from the Northeast.
Congratulations again, Martin.