NASCAR & Auto Racing

Higgin's Scuffs: Controversial Finish? So What Else Is New?

The NASCAR acronym could just as easily stand for the National Association of Seething Controversy And Racing.

From the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing’s very first event in June of 1949 at a track in Charlotte through last Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway in Delaware, finishes frequently have been hotly disputed.

“If you’ve ever seen the World Federation of Wrestling, this is it,” veteran driving star Ricky Rudd fumed in 1991 after a NASCAR official’s ruling about a bumping incident with Davey Allison cost him a victory on the Sears Point road course in California.

Sometimes it does indeed seem that all the sanctioning body needs to be like the comically controversial WFW are metal folding chairs at hand on pit roads and in the garage areas.

As most fans probably are aware, the latest brouhaha involves five-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and a black flag.

Johnson allegedly jumped a restart at Dover with three laps to go on Sunday. As he zoomed into the lead, NASCAR officials ordered him black-flagged for the rules violation.

This dropped Johnson to a 17th place finish while enabling Tony Stewart to win the 400-mile race.

Expectedly, Johnson, his team and fans have wailed mightily.

Here are four other outcome-changing rulings that stand out for me. I’m sure that you readers have many, many others that just as readily could go on such a list

SPRING FEVER: In June of 1949 Glenn Dunaway took the checkered flag ahead by three laps in NASCAR’s inaugural show at Charlotte Speedway, a 3/4th-mile dirt track. Suspicious of the winning Ford’s stability in the bumpy turns, officials ordered a tear-down. They found illegal spreader springs—widely used on moonshine-hauling cars in that era—and Dunaway was disqualified.

His car owner, Hubert Westmoreland, a suspected moonshine dealer, essentially exploded, but to no avail.

Runnerup Jim Roper, a Kansan who had driven a Lincoln to Charlotte for the race, was declared winner of the $2,000 top prize. Dunaway was dropped to last in a 33-car field and got no money.

Westmoreland subsequently sued for $10,000, but Judge Johnson J. Hayes, ‘the hanging judge of moonshiners,” tossed the case out of court.

FATHER KNOWS BEST: Richard Petty appeared to be a winner for the first time in a 150-mile race in June of 1959 at Lakewood Speedway near Atlanta.

However, the runnerup at the dust-choked one-mile dirt track protested that scorers had shorted him a lap.

A recheck showed this to be true, and NASCAR elevated the protester to first place. That was Richard’s very own dad, “Poppa” Lee Petty.

“Sentiment had nothing to do with it for us,” the younger Petty has explained through the years. “Racin’ was our means of making a living, and daddy needed every point he could get toward winning the season championship and its bonus money.”

Turned out that Lee easily took the third of his three titles.

And in February of 1960 Richard became a winner, taking a 100-mile race on the Charlotte Fairgrounds dirt track. He was destined to triumph a record 200 times.

ALL IN THE FAMILY? HA—The yellow flag was flying for the next-to-last lap in the Coors 420 at Nashville International Raceway in May of 1984.

Nevertheless, Neil Bonnett drove right by teammate Darrell Waltrip, the leader, rather than holding position in second place as required by rules.

Stunningly, officials ordered the checkered flag for Bonnett, and he wheeled happily into victory lane. Waltrip, meanwhile, was driven into rage.

“I won the race!” stormed Waltrip. “He can’t pass me while the yellow is out!”

There was no green-white-checker process for the end of races in effect back then.

NASCAR inexplicably stuck by the ruling for 48 hours before negative press reports and furious fans forced officials to relent in Waltrip’s favor.

But damage had been done.

The Bonnett and Waltrip teams, fielded by future first ballot NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson, already disliked each other.

Now the little creek that separated their shops on Johnson’s farm in the Brushy Mountains of North Carolina might as well have been as wide as the Grand Canyon.

DAY OF INFAMY: In what ranks as the most shameful ruling in NASCAR history, officials denied black driver Wendell Scott a victory lane visit on Dec. 1, 1963 at Jacksonville Speedway Park in Florida.

Although Scott was two laps ahead in his No. 34 Chevrolet, second place Buck Baker got the checkered flag and was given the trophy.

Four hours later, after practically every one had left the half-mile dirt track, a “scoring error was discovered,” and Scott pronounced the winner.

It has been strongly rumored for years that officials were concerned about violence in that period of deep racial tensions if Scott had hugged a white beauty queen in victory lane.

To this day Virginian Scott, who died in 1990 of cancer, remains the only African-American to triumph on NASCAR’s major circuit. He remained bitter about the Jacksonville snub all his life.

How times have changed!

Imagine what NASCAR, which has undertaken a diversity program, would give for a black winner now!

With attendance lagging, this undoubtedly would provide a significant boost, similar to that Tiger Woods gave to golf.

Says master promoter Humpy Wheeler, “If a black driver should win a NASCAR race, it would be like discovering oil in your ground.”