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Scavenging for NASCAR Goodies

Source: Mark Washburn, Charlotte Observer  

April 05, 2009

It's a combination of archaeology and treasure hunt, only with a high-octane mix: the gathering of artifacts for Charlotte's Smithsonian of Speed.

Items big and small are zooming into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which opens in May 2010.

On the big side are famous cars and a portable race shop.

On the small side is Jocko Flocko.

Jocko made his imprint on the sport in 1953 when he was in eight races. From the passenger seat. A small passenger seat.

Jocko, you see, was a rhesus monkey.

“NASCAR was a different world back then – a bit little serious and a bit little circus,” says Buz McKim, who hunts historic items for display.

As a publicity gimmick, driver Tim Flock was paired with the monkey. Jocko became fascinated with the mechanics of the sport.

Flock's 1953 Hudson Hornet, like other stock cars of the day, had a trap door on the passenger's side. By tugging on a rope during the race, Flock could inspect the wear on his right front tire, the crucial one in a business where making left turns is everything.

Flock was running second on the mile track in Raleigh on May 30, 1953. Jocko managed to writhe out of his harness, intent on working the trap door himself. Monkey see, monkey do. He did. And a speck of gravel flew up and beaned him.

Obeying his instincts, Jocko fled to higher ground – Flock's head.

Flock made for the pits. Jocko was extracted. Flock finished third.

“He said he was the only driver who ever had to make a monkey stop,” says McKim.

Which is accurate. And makes it historic.

So how could you build the museum without something about Jocko? You can't. And the Charlotte Hall won't.

Flock drove for car owner Ted Chester. His family had one of those cymbal-slamming monkey toys they used to remember Jocko. It's headed to the Hall.

Cars and giants of the sport

So are more significant items from the six decades of NASCAR, including Richard Petty's Plymouth Belvedere.

Petty drove the Plymouth to 36 victories, more wins than any other car, including 27 in 1967 when he set a NASCAR record with 10 wins in a row.

The car (a 1966 Belvedere updated through 1967) will be on loan for two years from the Richard Petty Museum in Randleman.

More than a dozen other historic cars will line Glory Road, a wide ramp from the base of the hall to the upstairs exhibit area. The ramp will tilt at different angles so strollers can feel the banking of various tracks – 24 degrees at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, 33 degrees at Talladega in Alabama.

McKim and his comrades are in the last lap of scavenging NASCAR heirlooms. To get items, they've approached some of the biggest families in the sport – Hendrick, Childress, Earnhardt and others.

“You have to go hat in hand. We don't pay for the stuff,” says McKim. “We're finding things we didn't know existed.”

Problems and solutions

Telling the story of auto racing is telling the story of ingenuity, concoction and gizmos.

In the days before head restraints, for example, drivers would end races with neck aches from fighting centrifugal force on turns.

Petty came up with a gadget in 1966 to solve that – an underarm harness with a cord that affixed to the left side of the helmet to keep his head straight up. Others copied the creation and the Hall landed one – driver Charlie Glotzbach's, which used a dog collar in his armpit to anchor the rig.

“We're looking for things that tell a 60-year story,” says Winston Kelley, executive director of the $200 million museum. “A lot of focus on cars and artifacts. And we're focused a lot on the people.”

Prehistoric NASCAR

Though NASCAR's roots date to the late 1940s, the Hall will reach farther back, explaining development of motor transport from the 1880s.

The oldest artifact in the museum will be the rear brake drum and other remnants of a Stanley Rocket, a steam-powered car shaped like a canoe to take advantage of the aeronautics. In 1906, it set the world land-speed record at 127 mph at Ormond-Daytona Beach.

A year later it was clocked at 150 mph when it went airborne and disintegrated. A doctor having breakfast on the veranda overlooking the beach was among those who rushed down to assist driver Fred Marriott, whose eyeball was dangling from its socket. The resourceful physician used a breakfast spoon to put it back. Marriott, who lived to be 85, told that story for the rest of his life – adding he could see better out of that eye than the one that stayed anchored.

Also at the museum will be an item memorializing what is called “NASCAR's Darkest Day” – Feb. 18, 2001, when Dale Earnhardt was killed in the final stretch of the Daytona 500. The inches-thick report on the tragedy will be displayed under glass.