From the Vault: Rare Photos from the 1957 Season
by Daniel J. Simone, Ph.D. July 23, 2021
NASCAR Hall of Fame adds Pure Oil Artifacts to Permanent Collection; Cotton Claims Big Win On The Beach; Baker Is The Man to Beat Again in ‘57
The NASCAR Hall of Fame recently received a massive collection of artifacts from Pure Oil’s (later known as Unocal’s) involvement with motorsports, an association that began in the early 1950s. The collection consists of more than 30 large boxes of artifacts including correspondence, statistical sheets, and on-and-off the track shots of NASCAR events, as well as Indy car and other racing and promotion-related photos. The majority of the collection, however, consists of NASCAR material.
For now, let’s go back to the 1957 season and take a look at events from the Daytona Beach Road-Course, Martinsville Speedway, and LeHi Speedway.
All of the photos below will be added to the museum’s digital interactives throughout the month.
NASCAR Premier Series Race: Daytona Beach Road-Course, February 17, 1957
The 1957 NASCAR premier season is perhaps best remembered for Buck Baker’s dominance in the No. 87 Chevy
— Daniel J. Simone, Ph.D.
The year 1957 would be the next-to-last time Speedweeks races would be held on the smooth racing surface on Daytona Beach and on paved, public road A-1-A, before the activity moved over to Daytona International Speedway in 1959. Banjo Matthews earned the top starting spot and lined up next to Jack Smith on the front row for the premier series race. Both drivers had trouble, however, as Matthews suffered mechanical problems and finished way back in 41st. Smith, meanwhile, also had issues and came home in 34th.
Their misfortune opened the door for Cotton Owens (2013). The Spartanburg, South Carolina, racer who competed in NASCAR’s inaugural season in 1948, picked up his first premier series and perhaps the biggest win of his driving career, finishing ahead of the 56 other entrants who took the green flag for the 39-lap affair. Rounding out the top five: Johnny Beauchamp, Fonty Flock, Buck Baker (2013), and Marvin Panch.
NASCAR National Convertible Division Race: Daytona Beach Road-Course, February 16, 1957
The short-lived NASCAR National Convertibles Division also competed on the beach during Speedweeks in 1957. Tim Flock (2014) started from the pole and took victory in his Bill Stroppe-owned Mercury, finishing 53 seconds over fellow Hall of Famer Joe Weatherly (2015).
Flock was one of seven drivers to pull triple duty at Daytona that year, competing in the premier series, Modified-Sportsman, and Convertible Division events. In the coming weeks, the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Heritage Speedway will feature a uniform Flock wore during the late 1950s.
NASCAR Premier Series Race, Virginia 500: Martinsville Speedway, May 19, 1957
On May 19th, the NASCAR premier series visited Martinsville Speedway to race in its first of two annual events at the paperclip-shaped track. The legendary track was co-founded by H. Clay Earles, the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame Landmark Winner for NASCAR Excellence; Earles had the track paved halfway through the 1955 season.
In the spring Martinsville race, Buck Baker continued to prove the Chevy 150 was both reliable and speedy. He drove his Hugh Babb-sponsored “Black Widow” from a 14th-place starting spot to the win after frontrunners Tom Pistone and Billy Myers got caught up in a severe crash on Lap 441 of the scheduled 500-lap race. It was Baker’s third victory of the year, and his triumph ended Ford’s eight-race winning streak.
A replica of the Black Widow is currently on display in our “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions” exhibit, which features the first and last championship cars of all three seven-time champions: Richard Petty (2010), Dale Earnhardt (2010) and Jimmie Johnson. The exhibit was guest curated by Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2021).
NASCAR Premier Series Race: Memphis-Arkansas Speedway, July 14, 1957
Marvin Panch posted his biggest season in 1957, taking six wins. Driving for Herb Thomas (2013), he posted win number five on July 14th at the 1.5-mile Memphis-Arkansas Speedway in LeHi, Arkansas. Bill Amick and Fireball Roberts (2014), the only other competitors to finish on the lead lap, took second and third. Baker, however, ran strong again taking fourth place as he continued his successful campaign to become the first driver to capture back-to-back NASCAR premier series championships.
The event also marked the fifth and final time the NASCAR premier series would race at Memphis-Arkansas Speedway. NASCAR’s top division has not competed in the state of Arkansas ever since.