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Curator's Corner / Historic Moments

Billy Wade’s Magical July

In a 10-day period in July of 1964, Billy Wade won four consecutive Cup Series races, all in the Northeast.

For a brief 10 days in July of 1964, Texan Billy Wade blazed like a comet through NASCAR tracks in the Northeast, becoming the first Cup Series driver to win four straight races.

No one before and no one since won his first NASCAR race and then followed it up with three more consecutive victories, a record unlikely to ever be matched. It was as unexpected a performance as it was a remarkable one.

By way of background, Wade got a late start in NASCAR, running four races in 1962 at the age of 32. Although he wasn’t young when he entered NASCAR competition, Wade was a seasoned veteran racer, having amassed three Modified championships and two more Late Model titles on the hardscrabble short tracks near his Houston home.

Billy Wade won all four of his races in this 1964 Mercury owned and prepared by Bud Moore. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

In 1963, Wade joined forces with his first of two Hall of Fame owners from Spartanburg, South Carolina. Driving for Cotton Owens (Class of 2013) as a teammate to David Pearson (Class of 2011), Wade had four top-five and 14 top-10 finishes in 31 starts, winning Cup Series rookie of the year honors that season.

A year later, Wade moved over to drive for Bud Moore (Class of 2011), another Spartanburg native. In their first 20 races together in 1964, Wade posted six top-five finishes, including three third-place results.

Then the magic happened.

The July 1964 NASCAR schedule opened with A.J. Foyt winning the July 4th Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway, followed four days later with a short-track race in Manassas, Virginia, won by Ned Jarrett (Class of 2011).

From there, the NASCAR circuit headed north and everything changed.

Although his car is not in this photo, Billy Wade’s fourth and final consecutive victory was on the Watkins Glen International road course on July 19, 1964. It was also his last victory. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

The first stop on the northern swing was July 10th at Old Bridge (N.J.) Stadium, a 0.500-mile paved track that played host to the Fireball Roberts 200, a race named for the Hall of Famer who had died just eight days earlier from burns suffered in a crash at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

There, Wade qualified on the pole but backed his pace way down so he could go the distance on a single tank of fuel, while others would have to pit. Roberts himself had used the same strategy a year earlier to win the race. Wade’s gamble paid off as he lapped the field, finishing ahead of Jarrett and Richard Petty (Class of 2010).

“I planned to go all the way (on a single tank of gas),” Wade said after the race. “That’s why I let Petty, Pearson and Jarrett go at the start of the race. I knew they couldn’t go the distance on one tank going that hard.”

Driving for Cotton Owens in 1963, Billy Wade won Cup Series rookie-of-the-year honors. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Two days later, on July 12th, the Cup Series moved to New York’s Bridgehampton Raceway, a picturesque 2.85-mile road course. Attrition was brutal as only nine of 24 cars that started the race finished it. Pearson was poised to win, but when the engine let go in his Owens-owned Dodge with 12 laps to go, Wade was able to put Moore’s No. 1 Mercury in Victory Lane for a second consecutive race.

Next up on July 15th was the shortest track on the circuit, the tiny 0.200-mile Islip Speedway on Long Island. There, Wade and Jarrett engaged in a furious battle, trading paint while being the only two drivers to lead the race.

The 300-lap event saw just two lead changes, as Jarrett passed polesitter Wade on Lap 97 and Wade retook the lead for good on Lap 193, holding off Jarrett for the final 108 circuits. “We were both driving to win,” Wade said. “That happens on a short track. Sometimes you have to lean on each other a bit.”

At North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1962, Billy Wade earned his first top-10 driving the No. 24 Pontiac. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

The Cup Series moved to another road course, Watkins Glen International, for the third and final New York race, this one on July 19th. For the third time in four races, Wade started from the pole. Jarrett again was Wade’s toughest competitor, but an engine failure in his Bondy Long-owned Ford took Jarrett out of contention. Wade led 41 laps, including the final 31 to win for the fourth straight time.

“Winning races changes your outlook,” Wade said after the race. “… My spirits are up right now. I’m looking for ways to win now, rather than expecting something to happen that will make you lose. I’ve got a new attitude.”

For the four-race swing through New Jersey and New York, Wade posted four victories, three poles and an average starting spot of 1.5. During the four races that he won, Wade led 55 percent of the laps run. It truly was a remarkable streak. No one had ever won four consecutive Cup Series before and to this day, no one has won their first four consecutively.

But that was end of the streak for Wade.

Car owner Moore skipped the next race in New Oxford, Pennsylvania, before the Cup Series headed back south to Bristol Motor Speedway. There Wade qualified well again, but suffered a race-ending engine failure just 77 laps into the 500-lap race.

After his historic victory at Watkins Glen, Wade competed in 12 more races during the 1964 season, with his best results being a pair of fourth-place finishes at North Wilkesboro Speedway and Augusta Speedway. Wade ended the season fourth in points behind Petty, Pearson and Jarrett.

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I’m looking for ways to win now, rather than expecting something to happen that will make you lose. I’ve got a new attitude.

— Billy Wade

While Wade’s future appeared to be bright, alas, it was not to be.

The Texas racer stayed with Bud Moore for 1965, but Wade’s life tragically ended on January 5, 1965, during a tire test at Daytona International Speedway when a right-front tire failure sent his Moore-owned Mercury into the wall, fatally injuring Wade.

It was a sad ending, as racing deaths always are.

But for a brief moment in time the summer before, Wade made history with his record-setting run.

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Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen

Tom is the Curatorial Affairs Manager at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For more than 25 years, he has been part of the NASCAR media industry.