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Thread: Article: 1964 Southern 500

  1. #1

    Article: 1964 Southern 500

    Name:  Jim Paschal Plymouth.jpg
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    Nascar is now one of the biggest sports in the US, with each race being televised live, plus pre and post race shows, and daily news shows, to keep its millions of fans fully informed. It has become one of the most successful sports in the world, despite being strictly a national series. But in 1964, stock car racing was still struggling to gain a footing with the mainstream. It had a strong loyal following in certain pockets within several states, but was largely ignored everywhere else. It’d be another 15 years before a Nascar race was given live television coverage, with the 1979 Daytona 500.

    So this lovely little 20 minute piece from the Southern 500 at Darlington was created largely for an uninitiated television audience who had little insight into what it was they were actually viewing. The speed, technology, danger, and battles throughout the race are highly dramatized. Top and average speeds throughout practice and qualifying must have seemed almost unbelievable to the television audience, with Richard Petty running a best lap in qualifying of 137.2mph to set a new lap record.

    Better still is the incar footage, and the spelling out of the safety features each car boasted, which included a padded steering wheel, rollbar padding near the drivers head, and rope operated trap door in the passenger footwell area which the driver could open while racing to view the condition of his most heavily worked tyre. As the narrator explains, “Theres only one seat, contoured to each driver and equipped with a heavy duty seat belt. Airplane type shoulder harnesses are used by most drivers. Everything else that might burn has been ripped out, and theres a portable fire extinguisher in every car”. And my favourite feature: “The only upholstery is an asbestos floor mat”(!)

    There are six different manufacturers entered in the 1964 Southern 500, twice as many as is seen in Nascar today, and 44 cars on the grid. However, Chevrolet had no interest in racing by 1964, so the teams running Chevy products were heavily outclassed privateers. The cars themselves are still based on the origins of a production vehicle, although heavily modified, and the homologation specials released by the manufacturers dictate their performance on the race track. Chrysler products dominate both the race and the results here, taking the top three finishing positions.

    The Darlington track is still a challenge, even in todays homogenised world, but back in 1964 it was a complete monster. The 1964 Nascar Grand National Championship contained 62 races, including the two 100 milers at Daytona that preceded the 500 in February. The schedule included races at super speedways, road courses, mid length ovals, short tracks, and dirt tracks. Dirt tracks made up for 25 of the races. Many teams just took in selected races, and often the prize money on offer dictated where they ran. Darlington was visited twice on the calendar, this particular one being race number 51, with 100K prize money on offer, and the winner taking just over $21,000, a huge amount for the time.

    But this video is fascinating for its innocence as it is its noise and colour. Its interesting to see how Nascar used its limited television coverage to try and win fans, pushing this as being something of a modern gladiator sport. Potential danger and destruction were clearly part of the marketing plan, and something no ball sport could ever hope to offer. As the narrator explains: “Racing used to be a simple thing, take off the hubcaps, paint a number on the door, 'Lets Go!’ Now it takes a crew, equipment, an experienced mechanic, and months of work to build the most powerful racing cars in the world. When the mechanics are done, 44 comfortable production cars are leaned and toughened for battle”.

    In 1964, Nascar received very little air-time, and what they did get would likely have been given a fairly antisocial time-slot, so its fascinating to see them making the most of their opportunity to build the sport into the massive money making machine it is today.

    Here you go, turn the sound up and enjoy:


  2. #2
    Real cars,real men......gotta love it !

    Pete.

  3. #3
    Thats for sure. Looked like they were only wearing t-shirts too when driving those cars.

  4. #4
    Semi-Pro Racer
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    It always amused me when looking at old Nascar pics like the one above, the crew always seem to be wearing white shirts/overalls etc, look at that poor guy under the rear end of the Plymouth covered in black crap already & the race has not even started.

  5. #5
    If you want to read a great book about this era, real the Curtis Turner Bio, "Full Throttle" ,crazy times!

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