June 19th, 1949 - 2008 : Happy Birthday NASCAR Cup Racing !
On this 59th anniversary of the "Strictly Stock" class' maiden I had hoped to read some celebratory prose here on the Bleacher Report but I suppose Jr.'s win and Road Ringers at the upcoming Infineon contest has rightly captured the fancy of the racing community here.
I waited so long to write my own that I missed my deadline by an hour. Better late than never.
Headline 6/19/49 : Jim Roper declared winner of NASCAR inaugural race amid controversy.
NASCAR, as we now know it, was conceived by a frustrated group of promoters and racers in the Ebony Bar in Daytona Beach, Florida in an attempt to unify and bring organization to a fragmented sport and to counter the National Stock Car Racing Association founded by Bruton Smith.
Officers, officials, rules, purses, insurance and a set schedule were the outcome of this historic meeting.
"Big" Bill France Sr. who spearheaded this movement was chosen to lead the group out of chaos. The rest is history.
Bill France's first political agenda was to create the "Strictly Stock" class to separate NASCAR from the loosely policed "modified" sanctioning bodies spread up and down the East Coast especially in the bootlegging hot beds of the Blue Ridge Mountain plateau.
France boldly chose Bruton Smith's backyard to stage NASCAR's first "Strictly Stock" contest. He and fellow NASCAR officers chose a field on the edge of Wilkinson Boulevard in Charlotte, North Carolina and there they carved out their 3/4 mile clay oval. The challenge to Bruton Smith's NSCRA was delivered in spades.
Needless to say, the race was a huge success with an estimated 22,000 in attendance (later reduced by "Big" Bill to 13,500 when he realized that taxes and purses would be just as huge a success) and provided the original "NASCAR mess" with the disqualification of the first car under the checkered flag.
Apparent winner Glenn Dunnaway and car owner Hubert Westmoreland had interpreted the "Stock" rules to allow modifications of "stock" parts , or some such nonsense (I'm sure that Chad Knauss could explain) and they either spread their '47 Ford's leaf springs or welded a "perch" on the frame to limit wheel travel (think bump stop, wedge or rounds). And of course a huge lawsuit by Mr. Westmoreland ensued.
Consequently Jim Roper, the second driver to cross the finish line, was awarded the victory.
Jim Roper was a Halstead, Kansas racer who ran Sprint Cars and Modifieds all over the Midwest and he had first heard of this ground breaking race from a comic strip in his local news paper. Somehow he convinced the local Lincoln dealer, R.B. McIntosh to provide a brand new Lincoln and funds to make the trip to Charlotte. Once in the Piedmont the team found sponsorship with the local Lincoln dealer, Mecklenburg Motors.
Roper had started 12th in the middle of the pack in his #34 '49 Lincoln Cosmopolitan and finished 3 laps behind with ersatz winner. The Lincoln was overheating at the end of the race but evidently it was a strong ride that day as he finished ahead of future NASCAR stars Curtis Turner, Buck Baker, Jim Paschal, Jack Smith, Lee Petty and the Flock brothers all of whom drove a menagerie of heavy Detroit iron.
It is notable that only 11 or so cars lasted the full course on the rough and tumble dry clay track with overheating the biggest culprit. Also notable, three 1949 Oldsmobiles finished in the top five. What they lacked in horsepower, they made up in endurance and light weight. Oldsmobiles would dominate the standings in the near future.
Jim Roper's victory that day resulted in a percentage of a $2,000.00 prize, the winner's trophy for R.B. McIntosh and an engine tear down that left him stranded far from home. His brief success led to just one more start in a NASCAR sanctioned race, same car different owner, that resulted in a 15th place finish behind a pack of lighter weight cars.
Roper returned to Kansas afterward and ended his NASCAR racing career. He stayed active in Midwest Sprint Cars, Modifieds and officiating at various Midwest ovals around his native Halstead, Kansas. After cracking his spine in a terrible Sprint Car wreck in Iowa he "retired" from competition and became a race car builder, track official and Thoroughbred horse breeder in Texas.
During NASCAR's 50th anniversary celebration in 1998 Jim Roper was feted by the organization at the Texas Motor Speedway and lionized throughout the '98 season. He was gifted with a replica of the trophy awarded to the winner of the inaugural race that hot day in Charlotte as the original was given to car owner R.B. McIntosh and now resides in the Kansas Auto Racing Museum ... (which looks like a pole barn in a corn field ... google that).
Jim Roper died on June 23rd, 2000 but not before collecting a ton of swag for two days work.
Thank you "Alfalfa Jim" and Happy Birthday Winston ... Nextel ... damn, SPRINT Cup Series !
p.s. Jim Roper's 2nd and last NASCAR race was at Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsborough, North Carolina one of the last 3 remaining original tracks from the 1949 season. The race fans in that area are trying to preserve what's left of the track and restore it back to it's 1949 condition. if you want to learn more go here;
p.p.s. I give thanks Al Gore and the system of tubes that he invented called the "internet" for supplying me with endless references alluded to but not copied verbatem in this article.