1961 NASCAR Grand National Recap

In the 1961 NASCAR Grand National season, General Motors continued winning, taking 41 races in all. Pontiac won 30 and Chevrolet won 11, but Ford won only seven times. Chrysler managed to win four short-track events. Also in 1961, ABC's Wide World of Sports began to televise a number of the major superspeedway races in a tape-delayed format. On Saturday afternoon, a half-hour or so of edited highlights of the 1961 NASCAR Grand Nationals were beamed into American homes. New Fords, Pontiacs, Chevrolets, and Plymouths were performing on a speedy stage in the living rooms of a car-buying public. Pontiacs were winning most of the races aired on tele­vision. Not surprisingly, Pontiac sales showed a brisk increase. Soon, Pontiac ranked third in automobile sales in the United States, a position that could be directly attributed to lofty results on NASCAR tracks. You can learn about these events and more in the following article, from season highlights to the year's final standings, all packed with plenty of photos.

February 24, 1961

Fireball Roberts and Joe Weatherly share victory lane in Daytona's crash-marred Twin 100-mile qualifying races. Lee Petty is badly injured when he sails over the guardrail in the second event. Richard Petty sprains his ankle after soaring over the rail in the opening 100-miler.

Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchampwere involved in a horrifying last-lap crash in the second Twin 100-miler in 1961.
Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp, principles in the historic photo finish at the end of the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959, were involved in a horrifying last-lap crash in the second Twin 100-miler in 1961. After Beauchamp's #73 Chevrolet snagged the rear bumper of Petty's #42 Plymouth, both cars broke through the guard­rail and soared out of the speedway. Petty suffered multiple life-threatening injuries, while Beauchamp sustained less serious head injuries. See more pictures of NASCAR.

February 26, 1961: Daytona 500

Marvin Panch takes the lead 13 laps from the finish and wins the third annual Daytona 500. Panch cruises into first place when teammate Fireball Roberts blows his engine while holding a ­commanding lead.

March 26, 1961: Atlanta 500

Bob Burdick surprises the racing world by winning the Atlanta 500. It is Burdick's first NASCAR Grand National win.

Defending NASCAR champion Rex White, in the #4 Chevrolet, passes Tim Flock's #83 Ford at the Feb. 26 Daytona 500.
Defending NASCAR Grand National champion Rex White, in the #4 Chevrolet, passes Tim Flock's #83 Ford in the early laps of the Feb. 26 Daytona 500. Flock was driving a Ford owned by Texan Jack Meeks in one of his final NASCAR Grand National starts. Flock finished 24th in the 58-car field, while White ran 12th in his self-owned Chevy.

April 9, 1961: Virginia 500

Former USAC champion Fred Lorenzen racks up his first NASCAR win in the rain-shortened Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Only 149 of the 500 laps are completed before rain forces cancellation, but NASCAR officials decide to call the race complete and reschedule another 500-lap race at Martinsville later in April.

May 6, 1961: Rebel 300

Newcomer Fred Lorenzen outdrives Curtis Turner in a frantic last-lap struggle to win the Rebel 300 at Darlington. Lorenzen passes Turner with just over a lap to go to take the win for the Holman-Moody Ford team.

May 28, 1961: World 600

Sophomore driver David Pearson scores his first career win in the second annual World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Pearson crosses the finish line on three wheels after blowing a tire with just over a lap to go. Pearson's victory comes in his first start with crew chief Ray Fox.

Ned Jarrett races in close quarters with teammate Johnny Allen in the Daytona 500.
Ned Jarrett races in close quarters with teammate Johnny Allen in the Daytona 500. Jarrett and Allen, along with "Tiger" Tom Pistone, were all members of the Chevrolet factory team under the guise of Bee Gee Holloway's "independent" operation. Hollo­way had catchy nicknames for his three teams. Jarrett was in the Dash-Dash-Dash Corp. car, Allen drove the Win-Win-Win Corp. Chevy, and Pistone piloted the Go-Go-Go Corp. car.

July 4, 1961: Firecracker 250

David Pearson passes Fred Lorenzen with just over a lap to go and wins Daytona's Firecracker 250. It is Pearson's second win in a row on a superspeedway. The event is taped by the ABC's Wide World of Sports and televised a few days later.

July 9, 1961: Festival 250

Fred Lorenzen drives his Ford to victory in the Festival 250 at Atlanta International Raceway. The event was added to the NASCAR schedule a week earlier when the USAC drivers pulled out of a scheduled Indy Car race at the eleventh hour.

July 29, 1961: Volunteer 500

Jack Smith and Johnny Allen team up to win the Volunteer 500 at Bristol Inter­national Speedway. Allen relieves Smith on the 292nd lap and speeds to victory in the first NASCAR Grand National event on the 1/2-mile oval.

Bobby Johns' Ford slams into the inside guardrail following a spin in the March 26 Atlanta 500.
Bobby Johns' Ford slams into the inside guardrail following a spin in the March 26 Atlanta 500. Bob Burdick, in the #53 Pontiac, leads a pack of cars past Johns. Burdick was the surprise winner of the second annual Atlanta 500. He drove an unsponsored Pontiac with a borrowed rear end, used tires, and an inexperienced pit crew.

August 8, 1961

Curtis Turner announces that "most of the NASCAR drivers" have joined the Teamsters Union and the Federation of Professional Athletes. NASCAR president Bill France says, "No known union member can compete in a NASCAR race, and I'll use a pistol to enforce it."

August 11, 1961

Fireball Roberts withdraws from the Teamsters Union. "The more I thought about it [joining the union], the more I realized that we could possibly accomplish more harm than good for racing." Roberts is reinstated by NASCAR upon his resignation. Rex White and Ned Jarrett also submit resignations and are permitted to resume racing.

August 13, 1961: Western North Carolina 500

Junior Johnson is declared the winner of the shortened Western North Carolina 500 at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway. The race is halted after 258 laps due to a deteriorating track. About 4,000 angry spectators create a mob scene and hold the drivers and team owners hostage in the infield for nearly four hours.

Junior Johnson and Banjo Matthews on the front row for Oct. 1 Wilkes 200 at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Junior Johnson and Banjo Matthews sit on the front row for the start of the Oct. 1 Wilkes 200 at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Rex White, who started third, drove his Chevrolet to victory, leading the final 201 laps of the 200-mile race. The Bud Moore Pontiacs occupied the third row. Joe Weatherly and Fireball Roberts drove ­identical cars in the race. Roberts finished second to White, while Weatherly came home eighth. Pole-sitter Johnson led 118 laps and finished fourth.

August 15, 1961

NASCAR president Bill France bans Curtis Turner and Tim Flock "for life" from all NASCAR racing. Turner and Flock are the only two drivers who refuse to abandon the Teamsters Union project.

September 4, 1961: Southern 500

Rookie Nelson Stacy becomes the 19th different winner of the season by passing Marvin Panch with seven laps remaining to win the storied Southern 500 at Darlington.

September 17, 1961

David Pearson takes the lead on the final lap and wins his third superspeedway race of the year in the Dixie 400 at Atlanta.

October 29, 1961

Joe Weatherly dominates the season finale at Orange Speedway in Hillsboro, N.C., for his ninth win of the season. Ned Jarrett, winner of only one race during the season, is declared the NASCAR Grand National champion. Jarrett beats seven-time winner Rex White by 830 points.

Continue on to the next page to learn the full results of the 1961 NASCAR Grand National season.

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