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Curator's Corner / NASCAR 75th Anniversary

The First Strictly Stock Race

The NASCAR Hall of Fame is home to the entry blank from the first NASCAR Strictly Stock race in 1949.

When NASCAR began racing in 1948, the sanctioning body mandated the use of pre-World War II cars for use in its first division, the NASCAR Modified Division (now Whelen Modified Tour).

A year later, NASCAR formed the Strictly Stock Division (now Cup Series) to race new model cars. Why the one-year delay to roll out the new models? Simple: NASCAR founder and Chairman William H.G. France (NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2010), knew that in 1948 new cars were in short supply, as Detroit’s automakers were still in the process of converting factories back to building passenger cars instead of the military equipment they cranked out during the war.

But “Big Bill,” as France was nicknamed, was keenly aware that fans wanted to see races featuring the same cars they drove on the street, so he created the Strictly Stock Division in 1949. As the series name implied, the cars were indeed stock, save for a few minor tweaks allowed.

The grandstands at Charlotte Speedway were packed for the first NASCAR Strictly Stock race on June 19, 1949. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

The first Strictly Stock race was a 200-lapper on June 19, 1949, at the old Charlotte Speedway, which was built near where Charlotte-Douglas International Airport sits today.

NASCAR Hall of Fame, Heritage Speedway Exhibit, artifact on loan courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center

A copy of the official NASCAR entry blank from that first Strictly Stock race in on display in Heritage Speedway on the top floor of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Here are eight facts about that race, many of which were gleaned from that first entry blank.

1. Purse and Points

Among the keys to NASCAR and France succeeding where other promoters and sanctioning bodies failed were two factors: 1. Purses always got paid in full, and 2. There was a points system to determine an eventual national champion at the end of the season. The total advertised purse for the first Strictly Stock race in 1949 was $5,000, with $2,000 going to the winner, $500 to the runner-up, $200 for third and on down to $50 for 15th place. Likewise, the winner got 250 points, second was good for 200 points and third earned 150 points. The 15th-place finisher would earn 4 points. Interestingly, there was no entry fee to compete, but each racers had to pay a $15 mechanical inspection fee.

Fans packed the infield as well as the grandstands at Charlotte Speedway. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

2. The Track

Charlotte Speedway was a rough and dusty 0.75-mile dirt track with deep ruts and bumps. The track opened in July 1948 and hosted several NASCAR Modified Division races in 1948 and ’49. The first Strictly Stock race drew an overflow crowd estimated at 13,000 to 22,500 fevered racing fans.

3. Cars

Only American passenger cars manufactured between 1946-49 were allowed to compete. Jeepster convertibles were allowed to race, but regular Jeeps were not. The 33-car field featured entrants from nine automakers: Lincoln, Hudson, Oldsmobile, Ford, Buick, Chrysler, Kaiser, Mercury and Cadillac.

4. Allowable Changes

Under the heading, “Only the following mechanical changes permitted,” the entry blank listed 31 items. Among the allowable changes were moving the fuel pump to the right side of the gas tank, using any size wheel or tire, as well as any brand of motor oil or gasoline. Water pump impellers could be modified, and racers could use any brand of spark plug or any size carburetor jets.

5. Parts that had to remain stock

Flywheels, camshaft, transmissions, valves, valve springs, radiators and cooling systems had to be stock. Complete bodies, with hoods, doors and all four fenders were required. Headlights had to be removed or covered in masking tape, and doors had to be strapped shut. Also, all mufflers had to be removed, and seatbelts had to be bolted to the floor, not the seats.

Jim Roper ran most of his stock car races with the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) but won the first NASCAR Strictly Stock Division race in June 1949. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

6. The Drivers

Among the 33 drivers entered in the race, six were future Hall of Famers. Red Byron (Class of 2018) was the best of the lot, finishing third in an Oldsmobile owned by fellow Hall of Famer Raymond Parks (Class of 2017). Tim Flock (Class of 2014) was fifth, also in an Oldsmobile, with Curtis Turner (Class of 2016) ninth in a Ford. Buck Baker (Class of 2013) was 11th in a Kaiser, while Lee Petty (Class of 2011) rolled his Buick and had to hitchhike home with his family, including son Richard (Class of 2010). Petty was credited with a 17th-place finish, while future two-time series champion Herb Thomas (Class of 2013) wound up 29th with mechanical woes. There was also one female racer in the field, Sara Christian.

7. The Race

North Carolina racer Bill Blair dominated the action at Charlotte, leading 145 laps until the engine in his Lincoln overheated, resulting in a DNF that dropped him to 12th place in the final results. Blair’s woes handed the lead to veteran racer Glenn Dunaway, who had arrived at the track without a ride but was quickly hired by noted moonshiner Hubert Westmoreland. Dunaway took the checkered flag three laps ahead of Jim Roper, Blair’s teammate, who had driven his Lincoln from Kansas after learning about the race from reading “The Adventures of Smilin’ Jack” comic. But the drama was just beginning.

8. The Aftermath

During post-race inspection, the race-winning Ford owned by Westmoreland was found to have illegal bootlegger springs – heavy-duty rear springs designed to hold the car’s rear end level while holding dozens of gallons of illegal moonshine. NASCAR disqualified Dunaway and gave the victory – and the $2,000 first-place check – to Roper.

Car owner Hubert Westmoreland unsuccessfully sued NASCAR after his car was disqualified in the first NASCAR Strictly Stock Division race at Charlotte Speedway in 1949. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center

Incensed, Westmoreland sued NASCAR in North Carolina court, seeking $10,000 in damages. But a judge ruled in favor of NASCAR, basically saying France and his sanctioning body had the right to establish its rules and enforce them.

Ironically, a little more than one year later, France and Westmoreland were co-owners of the Plymouth that Johnny Mantz drove to victory in the inaugural Southern 500 at Darlington International Speedway (now Darlington Raceway).

Race-winner Jim Roper only ran in one more Strictly Stock race in 1949 before returning home to Kansas, where he would continue to race locally for the next decade or so.

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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.

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