Jim Roper wins inaugural NASCAR event


1949_charlotte

Opened earlier in 1949, Charlotte Speedway would stage the first race in the Strictly Stock series. A total of 33 drivers drove onto the 3/4 mile dirt track that June day,  fully unaware of the pioneering moment about to take place.

For being the top series in the newly formed sanctioning body, NASCAR, the rules set out were fairly straight forward. Cars had to be built in 1946 or later, have no modifications, and they needed to be American-made full-sized sedans. The idea being that the cars raced on the track, should be the same as those sold in the showrooms. In this first race, vehicles from no fewer than nine different manufacturers would take the green flag: Lincoln, Hudson, Ford, Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Mercury, Chrysler, and Kaiser-Frazer.

The Flock Brothers were early fan favourites at Charlotte, with all three starting in the top five. The elder Bob put his ’46 Hudson on the pole, but would retire after only 38 laps with a blown motor, being scored in 32nd position. Arriving at the track without a car to race, Tim would convince a spectator into letting him drive his brand new 1949 Oldsmobile 88. After qualifying alongside Bob in second, Tim would bring the man’s family car safely home with a fifth place finish. Behind the wheel of a ’49 Hudson and starting from fifth, Fonty went on to finish second, taking away a check worth $1000 for his effort.

Petty family patriarch, Lee, started the event in ninth, driving a borrowed 1947 Buick. Having been loaned the car from the owner of a gas station, it was driven down to Charlotte, and after a quick tune-up at a local garage, entered into the race. On the 107th lap, he cut a tire which caused the Buick to flip over and roll several times. Escaping the wreckage without injury, Lee would be credited with a seventeenth place finish, and would be the only driver to crash out of the event.

Also starting the race was Sara Christian, becoming the first female driver to compete in NASCAR history. She would qualify a ’47 Ford in 13th position, driving a car owned by her husband Frank Christian. Midway through the race and during a pit stop, Sara was replaced by Bob Flock, who had retired earlier in the day. Bob would eventually finish in 14th place, exiting the race for the second and final time, with steam pouring out from under the hood of the Ford.

Originally declared the winner, Glenn Dunaway was disqualified after failing a post-race inspection, his ’47 Ford being found to have illegally fitted rear springs. Car owner Hubert Westmoreland would dispute the decision, and in a landmark ruling, the judge sided with NASCAR and upheld their decision. Kansas native Jim Roper, driving a 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan, was declared the official winner and awarded the $2000 in prize money. Roper would make one further start in NASCAR, racing a month later at Hillsboro where he would place 15th.

Charlotte Speedway itself continued to field races until 1957, at which point the track was closed, and shortly thereafter fell into disuse. Glenn Wood won the final NASCAR race held on the dirt, driving a #21 ’57 Ford in the Convertible Series picking up his fourth victory of the year. With plans in hand for a replacement track, Curtis Turner and Bruton Smith broke ground on their new 1.5 mile superspeedway in 1959. Opening the following year, Charlotte Motor Speedway would hold its first NASCAR race, with Joe Lee Johnson winning the World 600.

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