In Chartered NASCAR There's No Room for Guys Like Texan H.B. Bailey
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series traveling road show alights briefly this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, and - as has been the case for all of the other races held so far in 2018, nobody will have to go home, having failed to qualify for the event.
The obscene cost of Cup racing, plus the obscene charter system (successor to NASCAR’s previous welfare system, the provisional starting positions) have effectively crushed any incentive to attempt to break into the sport at this level.
(Let’s digress a moment and look at the progress being made by StarCom Racing, which - apparently thanks to some encouraging words from Derrike Cope - has actually made the “let’s-break-into-this-party” effort. The team has been rewarded with finishes of 21st (an achievement resulting from not being a “big one” victim at Daytona), 34th, 31st, 35th, 36th and 38th, with one driver change already. These seem to be competent and pleasant people, but the only thing going for them at this point is that they don’t have to out-qualify anybody else to get in the show.)
With or without Jeffrey Earnhardt, the odds are against StarCom.
Non-charter teams get paid much less than charter teams, and generous NASCAR awards all of 10% of the starting positions to them. If you’ve got endless cash to burn, your odds of burning it effectively might be better if you started a competitor to Google. (As Foghorn Leghorn used to say in the Warner Brothers cartoons, “That’s a joke, son.”)
Of all the things NASCAR has done that tick me off - and there are a few - turning Cup racing into a virtually closed society is by far #1. For one thing, it robs the sport of underdog heroes like Alan Kulwicki, whose passing 25 years ago we just marked Sunday. (Read colleague David Nance’s article about Kulwicki if you’ve not done so already.)
For another thing, it robs us of people like H.B. Bailey.
This is what a race driver ought to look like.
Herring Burl Bailey, of Houston, Texas, died of heart failure 15 years ago this month (April 17, 2003) at age 66, a little less than 10 years after his final Cup start but only six years after his final attempt to qualify for a Cup race - in the first such event run at Texas Motor Speedway in 1997. If you include that final year - he did run three races in what is now the K&N West Series - his “big-league” career spanned 35 years (and he started racing nearly a decade earlier).
YET . . . during that lengthy period, Bailey only started 85 Cup races. The most he drove in one season was seven, in 1988.
Bailey near the beginning of his Grand National/Cup career. He was a Pontiac man.
He did have two Top-5 finishes, probably the most meaningful to him being a fifth in the 1972 Southern 500 at Darlington. OK, he was 16 laps behind winner Bobby Allison, but it was still fifth place.
Statistically, Bailey’s best year was 1965, when he started five races and finished in the Top 10 in three of them, including fifth in one of the Daytona qualifying races (back when those were points-paying), sixth in the Southern 500, and eighth at Charlotte’s fall race. He finished 12th in the Daytona 500 and had his only down day at Atlanta, when engine problems relegated him to 32nd.
An aside: In 1965, Grand National/Cup points were awarded based on how much money a race paid, and since Bailey just drove in higher-paying events, his five-start season earned him 29th place in the final standings. Tiger Tom Pistone started 33 races with four Top-5s and eight Top-10s and finished 33rd. Think about that the next you complain about today’s incomprehensible point system.
Bailey didn’t limit his driving to Cup. He was active in the short-lived (but personal favorite of this author) NASCAR Grand American Series of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, winning a race at Nashville and finishing second to Wayne Andrews (another personal favorite) in points for the abbreviated 1972 season.
Bailey’s beautiful and fast Pontiac Trans Am in NASCAR’s Grand American Division.
He even finished 10th in the 1973 Acme Super-Saver 500 at Pocono, listed by Racing-Reference.info as an “unclassified” race, but actually a USAC Stock Car Division event, I believe. He ran a sporadic ARCA schedule as well.
One interesting distinction Bailey holds is that he drove the first stock car to time trial at Indianapolis, during the inaugural Brickyard 400. Even though he didn’t make the field for the race, his time was - briefly - the track record.
Here’s an interesting article by Brock Beard about that incident, about Bailey in general, and about his son, Joe Dan Bailey, who went from being his Dad’s mechanic to working on Cup cars and now is an engineer with Toyota Racing Development. The story was written shortly after H.B. Bailey passed.
Judging from the positive comments about H.B. Bailey following his death, he was respected by the “big guns” of his day, despite his being only occasionally among them. He largely funded his own effort through his business, Almeda Auto Parts, a major Houston area auto salvage facility.
Bailey’s career spanned a lot of NASCAR transition. When he started, cars might well have come from his “junkyard” (although his was purchased from Bud Moore), and - as shown in the photo below - they still had vent windows. When he finished, NASCAR had entered its golden age, and his Pontiac was one of more than 40 cars that failed to qualify for that first NASCAR race at Indy.
Maybe he just quit (and died) too soon. With today’s short fields, he could be out there motoring again, and it would be great to have him back.
The classic H.B. Bailey pix show him with long hair and a goatee, but that was a relatively late development, as this photo shows. The grooming variations didn’t affect his ability to drive a race car.