1955 Southern 500

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Coordinates: 34°17′50.5″N 79°54′18.4″W / 34.297361°N 79.905111°W / 34.297361; -79.905111

1955 Southern 500
Race details[1][2]
Race 35 of 45 in the 1955 NASCAR Grand National Series season
Layout of Darlington Raceway
Layout of Darlington Raceway
Date September 5, 1955 (1955-September-05)
Official name Southern 500
Location Darlington Raceway, Darlington, South Carolina
Course Permanent racing facility
1.375 mi (2.221 km)
Distance 400 laps, 500 mi (800 km)
Weather Very hot with temperatures of 82.9 °F (28.3 °C); wind speeds of 11.10 miles per hour (17.86 km/h)
Average speed 92.281 miles per hour (148.512 km/h)
Attendance 50,000[3]
Pole position
Driver Bob Fish
Time 178.890 seconds
Most laps led
Driver Joe Weatherly Charlie Schwam
Laps 140
No. 9 Herb Thomas Thomas Racing
Television in the United States
Network WJMX (local AM radio)
Announcers Local radio announcers

The 1955 Southern 500, the sixth running of the event, was a NASCAR Grand National Series event that was held on September 5, 1955, at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina. This race officially spanned 500 miles on a paved oval track. An unofficial 30-minute highlight film of this race would appear on the collector's set of Stock Cars of 50s & 60s – Stock Car Memories: Darlington-Southern 500; which was released in 2008.[4]

Television coverage of the 1955 Southern 500 was impossible due to the then-niche demographics of the burgeoning motorsport. However, the local radio station WJMX made it possible to hear the race from the green flag to the checkered flag.[4] School children who lived in the area could either watch the race live or listen on the local radio because the race took place on Labor Day.[5] Coverage of the race would be spotty outside the Darlington area due to the broadcasting limitations of AM radio. Confederate flags were frequently flown in all parts of the state back then;[6] they were shown alongside the Stars and Stripes.


Layout of Darlington Raceway, the track where the race was held.

Darlington Raceway, nicknamed by many NASCAR fans and drivers as "The Lady in Black" or "The Track Too Tough to Tame" and advertised as a "NASCAR Tradition", is a race track built for NASCAR racing located near Darlington, South Carolina. It is of a unique, somewhat egg-shaped design, an oval with the ends of very different configurations, a condition which supposedly arose from the proximity of one end of the track to a minnow pond the owner refused to relocate. This situation makes it very challenging for the crews to set up their cars' handling in a way that will be effective at both ends.

The track is a four-turn 1.366 miles (2.198 km) oval.[7] The track's first two turns are banked at twenty-five degrees, while the final two turns are banked two degrees lower at twenty-three degrees.[7] The front stretch (the location of the finish line) and the back stretch is banked at six degrees.[7] Darlington Raceway can seat up to 60,000 people.[7]

Darlington has something of a legendary quality among drivers and older fans; this is probably due to its long track length relative to other NASCAR speedways of its era and hence the first venue where many of them became cognizant of the truly high speeds that stock cars could achieve on a long track. The track allegedly earned the moniker The Lady in Black because the night before the race the track maintenance crew would cover the entire track with fresh asphalt sealant, in the early years of the speedway, thus making the racing surface dark black. Darlington is also known as "The Track Too Tough to Tame" because drivers can run lap after lap without a problem and then bounce off of the wall the following lap. Racers will frequently explain that they have to race the racetrack, not their competition. Drivers hitting the wall are considered to have received their "Darlington Stripe" thanks to the missing paint on the right side of the car.

Pre-race summary[edit]

Historical information[edit]

This event commenced during the daytime hours and finished sometime before dusk because the lighting was not available at Darlington Raceway during that era.[8] This luxury would not appear until after the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season.[8] The lights that people would see at the current Darlington Speedway races would be first used at the 2000 Mall.com 400 race (which became the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 from 2001 to 2004 and is currently under the schedule as the Showtime Southern 500). Nearly all the drivers who raced in this event owned their vehicles under their own name instead of relegating control of their vehicle to a multi-car team.[9] The Motor Racing Network would not be established until 1970; they would make national coverage of the later NASCAR races starting in the sport's "modern era." Its rival, the Performance Racing Network, would eventually be founded at a later date by Speedway Motorsports.

Smoking was unrestricted during this race as spectators, crew chiefs, and even drivers were often smoking cigarettes when they were not expected to perform a duty on the track. It would not be until the 1970s when the American Medical Association started to discourage people from smoking due to its newly discovered link with lung cancer. During the start of the post-Winston sponsorship era, smoking cessation programs began to emerge in NASCAR teams and officials (most notably in Hendrick Motorsports when Jeff Gordon starting sponsoring Nicorette).[10] This mentality would also extend to the flammability of the 100% petroleum-based gasoline that all the stock cars had to use from the original 1949 season to the beginning of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.[11] By the end of the 20th century, it became against the rules of NASCAR to smoke cigarettes near the gas pump because ashes from the cigarette could cause the gasoline to turn to fire.

Being the thirty-fifth race of the 1955 season, there would be only ten races after the conclusion of the 1955 Southern 500 in the entire season.[3] This race was the major race of any NASCAR season that came prior to the very first running of the Daytona 500. Once the Daytona 500 was established in 1959,[12] the Southern 500 quickly became another NASCAR event.

Pre-race festivities[edit]

Before the race, each part was individually inspected to make sure that every part is stock (i.e., can be bought at regular automobile shops as opposed to sneaking in "police parts" or parts intended entirely for racing).[4] Sometimes, entire vehicles had to be dismantled in order to find parts that look dissimilar to everyday passenger vehicles.[4] Only roll bars were added for extra safety during the 500 miles of racing. Every car that passed the inspection and was "certified stock" was given a certification ticket on the dash.[4] Having a certification permitted the driver to participate in the event with the full blessing of NASCAR. Intermittent periods of rain hampered qualifying and made the track wet.[4] Eventually, the stopped and the rest of the qualifying session proceeded normally with Fireball Roberts earning the coveted pole position for the race.[4]

On the night preceding the race, a beauty pageant was conducted with Fonty Flock as one of the judges; this tradition would be repeated at the 1956 Southern 500 and at all subsequent Southern 500 races.[4] Out of the numerous contestants that signed up from the Darlington area, Miss Martha Williams (from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina) won the honors of becoming Miss Southern 500 and accepted the ceremonious position that she held during the race.[4]

A marching band was also used as a part of the pre-race festivities.[4] It was unknown whether NASCAR had a pre-race invocation service or not during the 1950s as the highlight film never showed a detailed coverage of the pre-race ceremonies like today's live coverage on television. The singing of The Star-Spangled Banner (which had been the official anthem of the nation since 1931) would be performed but not filmed in the highlight video. NASCAR would become one of the first major league sports where the American national anthem was used since its inception. Even back in those days, it was customary to hear "Gentlemen start your engines" to fire up the racers into a rolling start. Qualifying would take up the whole month just like it does at today's Indianapolis 500 races;[4] regulations made in the "modern era" of the sport (1972–2003) modified the rules so that qualifying would eventually be contracted to one day.

Qualifying results[edit]

Note: Some drivers qualified with a four-lap run (only the first and second qualifying session) and the majority qualified with a two-lap run (the next three qualifying sessions)[13]

Grid No. Driver Manufacturer Qualifying time[13] Speed[13] Owner
1 M-1 Fireball Roberts '55 Buick 2:58.890 110.682 Bob Fish
2 89 Buck Baker '55 Buick 3:00.840 109.489 Buck Baker
3 87 Speedy Thompson '54 Oldsmobile 3:02.020 108.779 Bob Griffin
4 25 Bill Widenhouse '55 Chevrolet 3:02.450 108.522 Sam McCutchen
5 82 Joe Eubanks '55 Oldsmobile 3:04.360 107.398 Phil Oates
6 16 Tim Flock '55 Chrysler 2:56.720 112.041 Carl Kiekhaefer
7 9 Joe Weatherly '55 Ford 3:01.640 109.006 Charlie Schwam
8 92 Herb Thomas '55 Chevrolet 3:01.720 108.958 Herb Thomas
9 8 Billy Carden '55 Buick 3:05.620 106.727 Bishop Brothers
10 78 Jimmy Paschal '55 Oldsmobile 3:06.060 106.417 Ernest Woods

Failed to qualify: Maurice Thompson (#39), Harvey Eakin (#47), Homer Newland (#48), Leland Sewell (#51), Jack Smith (#1), Ted Wright (#01)[13]

In-race summary[edit]

Fireball Roberts earned the pole position at a speed of 110.682 miles per hour or 178.125 kilometres per hour.[3] The average speed of the race (with full racing traffic), however, was 92.281 miles per hour or 148.512 kilometres per hour.[3] Out of the 336 laps, there were eight yellow flag periods consisting of fifty-one laps.[3] Fifty thousand people attended the live event to see sixty-nine cars race (less than half of them finished the race).[3] The two laps led by Bill Widenhouse were the only two for his Grand National career. Joe Weatherly, making only his third career start, put on quite a show as he lead the most laps in the race but ultimately crashed out on lap 317. Russ Graham also spun twice in this race, once avoiding Fireball Roberts's M-1 (who had blown a tire and crashed) and then once a couple of laps later on his own. Graham would eventually finish in 29th place after qualifying 19th.[3]

Regulations made decades after this race would finally standardize the field to forty-three racing vehicles; a far cry from the fairly unregulated form of NASCAR that dominated the 1950s and 1960s.

Vehicles ranged in production year from the 1953 models that were driven by the less affluent teams to the 1955 models driven by wealthy teams like Petty Enterprises. Other notable NASCAR Grand National Series drivers that participated in this event were Junior Johnson, Ned Jarrett, and Lee Petty.[3] All of the drivers competing in this race were American. This race would serve as the "swan song" for Cadillac in the Cup Series. [3]

The infamous crash between Arden Mounts and Don Duckworth is captured within this still image.

Arden Mounts' appearance at this race, where he would crash into Don Duckworth's stalled vehicle, would be captured on highlight films.[4][14] While Bill Champion managed to avoid Duckworth by swerving past, Mounts managed saw the stalled vehicle too late and crashed into him.[4][14] The proper use of seat belts on the cars would have saved the lives of both Mounts and Duckworth.[4][14]

Herb Thomas would end up winning the race after five hours, twenty-five minutes, and twenty-five seconds of racing.[3] He would receive $7,480 ($69,959 when adjusted for inflation) while the total winnings for the race were $28,270 ($264,404 in when adjusted for inflation). Thomas drove a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air during a time where NASCAR was used to test the endurance of the newest passenger automobiles.[3] However, the eventual championship winner would be Tim Flock with 18 season wins and winnings of $37,780 ($353,349 when adjusted for inflation).[15]

An SBC Chevy V8 engine was used in Herb Thomas's race-winning vehicle; the Chevrolets during the 1955 season were lighter than their competitors, giving them better gas mileage and fewer pit stops needed to finish the race. Tire changes were also relatively infrequent on the Chevrolet vehicles during the race; which was another reason why Chevrolets dominated.[16]

Van Van Wey spun four times during the race; eventually resulting him inflicting terminal damage to his vehicle on lap 247.[3] Vehicle manufacturers involved in the race were Studebaker, Plymouth, Chevrolet, Buick, Dodge, Ford, Hudson, Cadillac, Pontiac, and Nash Motors.[3]

More than half of the vehicles used were manufactured by Chevrolet while Nash Motors only had one vehicle in the running along with Studebaker. Sponsors for the drivers in the race included Mercury Outboards, Marion Cox Garage, Schwam Motors, Helzafire (owned by Kentucky Colonel Ernest Woods),[17] The Racing Club, Paper Hangers, and Fish Carburetor.

Lloyd Moore would announce his retirement from NASCAR after this race.[18] Smokey Yunick, Carl Kiekhaefer and Red Vogt were the three most notable crew chiefs to participate in this event.[19]

Dick Beaty would make his NASCAR Grand National Series debut in this race.[3]


Section reference: [3]

  • Start of race: Fireball Roberts started out with the official pole position
  • Lap 5: Tim Flock took over the lead from Fireball Roberts
  • Lap 11: Fonty Flock took over the lead from Tim Flock
  • Lap 12: Issues with the vehicle's rod bearing ended Ed Cole's hopes of winning the event
  • Lap 18: Pop McGinnis had a terminal crash
  • Lap 30: Fireball Roberts had a terminal crash
  • Lap 39: Problems with the vehicle's rod bearing forced Gordon Smith to abandon the race
  • Lap 41: Fuel pump problems forced Tommy Thompson out of the race
  • Lap 44: Bud Rackley had a problem with his vehicle connection rod
  • Lap 50: Transmission issues forced Dick Rathmann to leave the event early
  • Lap 77: Slick Smith blew a gasket in his vehicle; forcing him to leave the race early
  • Lap 78: Steering issues forced Donald Thomas out of the race
  • Lap 79: Elmo Langley had oil pressure issues with his vehicle that ended his chances of winning the race
  • Lap 95: Tim Flock took over the lead from Fonty Flock
  • Lap 110: Curtis Turner took over the lead from Tim Flock
  • Lap 124: Tim Flock took over the lead from Curtis Turner
  • Lap 133: Issues with the vehicle's tie rod caused Curtis Turner to accept a 58th-place finish
  • Lap 137: Jimmy Roland's rear end came off his vehicle; ending his race weekend prematurely
  • Lap 147: Don Duckworth crashed into Arden Mounts (who was four laps behind him).
  • Lap 148: Bill Widenhouse took over the look from Tim Flock
  • Lap 150: Joe Weatherly took over the lead from Bill Widenhouse
  • Lap 184: Dick Beaty and Jim Thompson both had terminal crashes forcing them out of the race
  • Lap 188: Transmission issues forced Gene Simpson to exit the race
  • Lap 190: Fonty Flock had a terminal crash
  • Lap 202: Dick Allwine had a terminal crash
  • Lap 210: The rear end of Clarence DeZalia's vehicle came off; forcing him to leave the event
  • Lap 225: A faulty transmission forced Doug Cox out of the race
  • Lap 231: Fred Johnson developed problems with his tires
  • Lap 235: Vapor lock issues forced Speedy Thompson off the track
  • Lap 247: Van Van Wey had a terminal crash
  • Lap 279: Herb Thomas took over the lead from Joe Weatherly
  • Lap 307: Joe Weatherly took over the lead from Herb Thomas
  • Lap 317: Joe Weatherly had a terminal crash
  • Lap 319: Herb Thomas took over the lead from Joe Weatherly
  • Lap 352: Problems with Jimmy Massey's transmission forced him out of the race
  • Lap 353: One of Bill Widenhouse's wheels became problematic; making him the final DNF of the race
  • Finish: Herb Thomas was officially declared the winner of the event

Finishing order[edit]

Section reference: [3]

† signifies that the driver is known to be deceased
* Driver failed to finish race



  1. ^ "Climate information for Darlington, South Carolina, on September 5, 1955". The Old Farmers' Almanac. Retrieved 2010-10-15.
  2. ^ "Pole qualifying time for the 1955 Southern 500". Ultimate Racing History. Retrieved 2011-02-28.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "1955 Southern 500 information". Racing-Reference. Archived from the original on 2009-07-21. Retrieved 2009-07-09.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Stock Cars of 50s & 60s – Stock Car Memories: Darlington-Southern 500 (DVD). Topics Entertainment.
  5. ^ "September 1955 Calendar Information". Time and Date. Archived from the original on 2009-07-24.
  6. ^ Brunner, Borgna (2000-06-30). "Confederate Flag Controversy". Archived from the original on 27 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-10-06.
  7. ^ a b c d "Darlington Raceway". CBS Sports. Retrieved 2013-05-07.
  8. ^ a b "Darlington Raceway Might Add Lights". Encyclopedia.com. 1999-03-09. Retrieved 2010-03-17.
  9. ^ "Car ownership information for the 1955 Southern 500". Driver Averages. Retrieved 2010-10-24.
  10. ^ "NASCAR Smoking Cessation Program". ESPN. 2006-10-27. Retrieved 2009-08-11.
  11. ^ "NASCAR going green; E15 fuel next season". Speedwaymedia.com. 2010-10-16. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2010-12-30.
  12. ^ Caraviello, David (2008-02-16). "In 1959, first Daytona 500 changed city, sport forever". NASCAR. Archived from the original on 15 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-10-06.
  13. ^ a b c d "1955 Southern 500 (additional qualifying information)". Racing-Reference. Retrieved 2017-03-28.
  14. ^ a b c "Don Duckworth 1955 Crash". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-01-20.
  15. ^ "1955 NASCAR Grand National Championship Points (final tally)". Racing-Reference. Retrieved 2011-12-11.
  16. ^ "Top 5 Greatest Chevy Motorsports Moments: # 1 Darlington 1955". Chevy Hardcore. Retrieved 2018-10-29.
  17. ^ "NASCAR Facts". msgexp.net. Archived from the original on 2012-08-05. Retrieved 2010-04-15.
  18. ^ "Lloyd Moore after the 1955 Southern 500". Insider Racing News. Retrieved 2011-02-04.
  19. ^ "Crew chief information for the 1955 Southern 500". Racing Reference. Retrieved 2017-06-17.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Southern 500 races
Succeeded by