Today’s NASCAR is a button-down affair where details are choreographed to the minute.
Aside from the occasional “Trouble in Turn 3!”, there’s a place for everything and everything in its place. From safety equipment and protocols to new age societal concerns, it truly is a modern affair.
To say that it was not always so would be an understatement.
Example? OKAY. One of the famous Flock brothers and Hall of Famer Tim Flock drove part of a season with a monkey shotgun.
That’s right, a monkey!
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In 1953, Tim Flock was coming off a championship season and building on a career that would lead him to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. But he was struggling to regain his winning form and missing the publicity that came with it, so his team owner spotted a rhesus monkey named Jocko at a pet store and came up with perhaps the craziest idea ever. of NASCAR.
They designed a seat and harness for “Jocko Flocko”, fitted him with a pilot suit, and Flock ran several races with his new co-pilot. He scored his only victory in 1953 with Jocko on board. It didn’t last, unfortunately. Jocko came loose from his harness during the Raleigh 300, was injured and then had to be euthanized.
Through the dunes!
Daytona’s worldwide reputation for speed was built on the hard sands of its beach in the early 20th century. Mid-century, NASCAR was formed and the famous beach and road course became the hub of Bill France Sr.’s first “Weeks of Speed”.
The two paved lanes of South Atlantic Boulevard were the back stretch, and the wide beach was the front stretch.
As crazy as it sounds today, it worked from 1949 to 1958, although France saw the hotels and houses go up and knew its days on the beach were numbered. This was the catalyst behind his desire to build a major expressway through the city.
Smoke ’em if you got ’em
Midwestern short-track legend Dick Trickle came to race NASCAR full-time in the late ’80s and brought a bad habit with him. His racing cars included a cigarette lighter next to the cockpit and it would light up during caution laps.
That’s right, cigarette breaks.
Dave Marcis’ NASCAR career spanned two or three generations, from the late ’60s to 2002, so he saw many advancements in uniform safety.
Yet at his last race – the ’02 Daytona 500 – he crushed the pedals with wingtip shoes.
Yes, the same shoes Grandpa wore to Sunday services.
Along with its Labor Day weekend Southern 500, which in 1950 became NASCAR’s first superspeedway race, Darlington began hosting a spring race in 1957. Its name: The Rebel 300.
Not enough to shock your modern senses? Try this: When the winner made his way to Victory Lane to collect his trophy, he was joined by a costumed Confederate “soldier” holding the Confederate flag.
In various ways, “Rebel” remained the name of the race – or part of the name of the race – until 1982. The Confederate flag disappeared from official duties but could still be found flying from fan poles here and there – until two years ago, when NASCAR banned the flag from its properties.
A race on rubber
Speaking of the Southern 500’s debut in 1950, Darlington’s original length of 1.25 miles created speeds that teams weren’t ready for. High-speed heavy cars on tires that day was a bad combination, and you know what they say about desperate times and desperate measures.
As cars continued to blast tires, many crew chiefs had to beg, borrow and steal from fans parked in the infield. Legend has it that many fans of that first Southern 500 ended the day with their sedans on blocks. Say what you want about modern ticket pricing, but at least you walk away with all four tires.
Whoa ‘er down
It wasn’t until 1991 that NASCAR instituted a pit road speed limit. If you think the pit lane might seem chaotic now, ask yourself if the cars were going in and out at race speed.
Unfortunately, like other safety advances over the decades, it took a tragedy – the death of a crew member in 1990 in Atlanta – to bring about this piece of common sense.
Prepared for the splash
“Tiger” Tom Pistone raced in NASCAR in the 1950s and 1960s. He was pretty good on dirt and pretty good on asphalt, but took no chances when it came to water.
Tom couldn’t swim and was very afraid of drowning, it seems. Seeing Tommy Irwin crash into Turn 2 at Daytona in a qualifying race in 1960 and end up at Lake Lloyd, he sprang into action.
Tommy became the first runner to supplement his running gear with a life jacket and oxygen tube. Seriously. As Casey Stengel would say, you can look it up!
Arm and Hammer
In the early years of NASCAR, fire was the biggest fear. The greatest loss was Fireball Roberts, who was badly burned in an accident in Charlotte in 1964 and died five weeks later from serious complications.
Fireball’s death led to the advent of fuel cells for gas tanks, which saved countless lives over the following decades. Obviously flame retardant driver uniforms also played a huge role, but before the modern uniform, drivers raced in street clothes – slacks or jeans, T-shirts or button-up shirts, boots or moccasins, etc.
In the 1960s, many began soaking these garments in baking soda, assuming the chemical reaction would help fight the possibility of a fire. Until the god of safety, Bill Simpson, developed flame retardant technology, which was actually considered high tech.
Today, when an alert is triggered, all drivers stop accelerating and slow down. Until just 19 years ago, however, you didn’t have to slow down until you passed the start and finish line. “Racing back to the yellow”, it was called.
It probably shouldn’t have taken this long to consider the worst-case scenario, but it wasn’t until 2003 when Dale Jarrett was shipwrecked in New Hampshire and sat next to the band in his car. paralyzed, as the leaders started Turn 4 towards him, which someone suggested, “there has to be a better way.”
If not better, definitely healthier.