The 1962 Season
Auto Industry Back in Racing--Ford Leads the Way
By Greg Fielden
|Driver Junior Johnson was a victim of the battles between rival Detroit manufacturers.|
In June of 1957, the Automobile Manufacturers Association recommended unanimously that all of its members "disassociate itself" entirely from Stock car racing. The resolution was adopted by the big motor companies after Congressional pressure based on a contention that promotion of speed and horsepower would be detrimental to the safety of the general motoring public of America.
It specified that the "AMA members would take no part or assist in any way automobile races or other competitive events in which speed or horsepower were emphasized. It also recommended that members of the automotive industry not advertise or publicize actual or comparative capabilities of passenger cars for speed, or specific engine size, torque, horsepower or ability to accelerate or perform, in any context that suggests speed."
But the factories had cars to sell, and Stock car racing would sell them. It seemed that the agreement would be violated to some extent by one or all of the manufacturers. By 1959--after one year in which the automobile industry's aid to racing, if any, was not particularly evident--it returned. That was the year the Daytona International Speedway opened its gates, ushering in a new and fruitful era of Stock car racing. NASCAR Grand National racing was all set to surge to a higher level. Media attention jumped tremendously. Spectator interest soared dramatically.
Spectators of auto racing events also happened to buy new automobiles. And therein lay the motives. All along, the AMA considered auto racing a prohibited substance. It didn't require a whole lot of ingenuity for the racing factories to side-step that issue. They merely supplied the hardware and provided the necessary funding on an "under the table" basis. In the Detroit area, this practice was done by "consulting engineers." And presto! The newest and latest cars had a habit of showing up at the race tracks. Big shiny engines appeared in the garage area of some of the better Stock car racers, with nobody having any idea how they got there.
The practice had increased to the point that the AMA ban on racing was being widely ignored, although no one would admit it. On Monday, June 11, 1962, the Ford Motor Company broke with the automobile industry's policy against participation in racing. In a letter to the Automobile Manufacturers Association, Henry Ford II, the company's board chairman and newly elected president of the AMA, said that his firm thought the 1957 resolution opposing such participation "no longer had either purpose or effect." "Accordingly," Ford said, "we are withdrawing from it."
Ford II, whose company acquired a $2 million racing operation as part of its $28 million purchase of the Autolite Company, said, "For a while other member companies endorsed the soundness of the principles stated in the resolution. As time passed, however, some car divisions, including our own, interpreted the resolution more and more freely, with the result that increasing emphasis was placed on speed and racing. As a result," he continued, "Ford Motor Company feels that the resolution has no purpose. We have notified the Board of Directors of the Automobile Manufacturers Association that we feel we can better establish our own standards of conduct with respect to the matter in which the performance of our vehicles is to be promoted and advertised."
|Rex White was one driver who thought the Ford camp should do more racing on track and less talk off track.|
Ford noted that racing accomplishments in recent seasons have sharply boosted Pontiac sales. "We also want to see our cars win races," he said, adding that the industry believes that racing "definitely sells cars." Within a few weeks, Chrysler announced that it would develop "high performance" parts for Stock car racing, but General Motors remained mute. Ford Motor Company absorbed the initial credit for starting the trend toward "open factory participation" on the NASCAR Grand National circuit.
Bill France, Sr. made an announcement of his own--and he clamped down on possible intentions on the part of the factories to produce "out of sight" engines in special limited edition highway vehicles just to get them inside the fences at the race tracks. The engine displacement limit was set at 428 cubic inches, although Ford reportedly had a 483 cubic inch power plant under development. "The ruling was discussed with Ford several months before Ford announced its withdrawal of the AMA," said France. "Ford and other Detroit manufacturers have been most cooperative and interested in helping us establish a realistic engine limit."
Reaction among non-Ford drivers, as expected, was mixed. "Sounds to me like an alibi for Ford's poor showing on the tracks this year," said Rex White. "Ford hadn't won a major race until Darlington's Rebel 300 in May. Fords won the World 600 and the Atlanta 500, but everybody in racing knows it was pure luck rather than performance."
Junior Johnson, a Pontiac chauffeur in 1961, was irked on one occasion when he set fast time in qualifying and a Ford team requested an engine teardown. It happened at Martinsville when Johnson appeared to have won the pole in a record qualifying lap. "Those Ford drivers will do anything to win," steamed Johnson. "They can't beat the Pontiacs on the track, so they try to get at us some other way. I wouldn't mind letting NASCAR inspectors tear my engine down, but why should I be the guinea pig just to satisfy the curiosity of the Ford guys?
"The Ford drivers haven't done anything but run their mouths," Johnson added. "If their cars were as fast as their mouths, they wouldn't have lost a race this season." At Martinsville, Johnson's qualification attempt was disqualified. When he made necessary changes in the engine, he qualified 20th. In the second half of the year, Ford won only three out of 25 Grand National races. It took 17 races from the July 4 Firecracker 250 before they won their first race. However, one of those wins was in the storied Southern 500 when Larry Frank scored a disputed victory over Junior Johnson's Pontiac. Although the results weren't dramatic the ground work was laid for the 1963 season.
The youngest car owner on record emerged in 1962 within the Ford camp. The owner was a 19 year-old out of Asheville, NC--and the owner just happened to be a woman. Mamie Reynolds, daughter of U.S. Senator Robert R. Reynolds, purchased a new 1962 Ford and made her debut in the Southern 500 at Darlington. Darel Dieringer was assigned to drive the car. After qualifying 15th, Dieringer was caught up in a multi-car pile-up in the 184th lap. The new car was crunched and caught on fire. It was destroyed.
|Fred Lorenzen drove a Holman-Moody Ford for the first female car owner, Mamie Reynolds, and won.|
Along the weekly dirt track trail an attractive brunette, Wanda Tallent, of Hickory, NC became one of the best known race drivers in the Carolinas. Her activity was, however, confined to "Powder Puff" derbys, special novice events for women drivers only. Tallent won 18 out of 20 races in her first five seasons at Hickory Speedway. Even with that enviable record, she didn't feel she had accomplished all that much. "Ah, I drive faster on the highway than I do in those Powder Puff races," she once said. "The other women don't like to drive fast or take chances. I usually lap 'em at least once."
Hickory Speedway promoter, Grafton Burgess, decided to spice up the Powder Puff Derby one Saturday night. Unknown to any of the lady contestants, one of the track's hot-shot Sportsman drivers--Bennett Clontz--was dressed in female attire, with appropriate padding, and entered the race. The plot was that, in victory lane, he was to be exposed and disqualified.
"I found out about that, but I wasn't supposed to have," said Wanda. "They put that boy at the rear of the field. So I went back there with him, pretendin' not to know who he was. I didn't want him sayin' he came from last to beat me. That was the hardest race I ever had," she continued. "I was just determined he wasn't gonna pass me. And he didn't." Everything went well with the melodrama, except for the one detail. Bennett Clontz finished second. Wanda Tallent won the race.
Tallent probably had enough talent to eventually get to NASCAR's elite Stock car racing division. She conquered the Power Puff derbies and felt the Sportsman class was the next step up. "A man offered to set me up with a car and pay for my expenses," said Tallent. I'm not scared to drive against the men, but those boys down at Hickory Speedway just drive like they don't have any sense."
Tallent was near-sighted--and poor vision was probably the main reason she never attempted to hit the big leagues. "I can't drive without my glasses," she once said. "That was no big deal against other women. I think most of them drove with their eyes closed."
Photo credits from top: All CMS