1956 Virginia 500

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1956 Virginia 500
Race details[1]
Race 18 of 56 in the 1956 NASCAR Grand National Series season
A map showing the layout of Martinsville Speedway
A map showing the layout of Martinsville Speedway
Date April 25, 1956 (1956-April-25)
Official name Virginia 500
Location Martinsville Speedway, Martinsville, Virginia
Course Permanent racing facility
0.525 mi (0.844 km)
Distance 500 laps, 262.5 mi (442.4 km)
Weather Temperatures reaching an average of 67.7 °F (19.8 °C); wind speeds reaching an average of 11.16 miles per hour (17.96 km/h)
Average speed 60.824 miles per hour (97.887 km/h)
Attendance 20,000[2]
Pole position
Driver Carl Kiekhaefer
Most laps led
Driver Speedy Thompson Carl Kiekhaefer
Laps 259
No. 502 Buck Baker Carl Kiekhaefer
Television in the United States
Network untelevised
Announcers none

The 1956 Virginia 500 was a NASCAR Grand National Series (now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) event that was held on May 20, 1956, at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia.[2] As the inaugural event for the NASCAR Grand National Series in Martinsville, this race would set a precedent for all other 500-lap races to follow on this newly paved short track.[3]

By the 1990s, NASCAR's top-level series became a media circus that only races at facilities that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.


Martinsville Speedway is one of five short tracks to hold NASCAR races.[4] The standard track at Martinsville Speedway is a four-turn short track oval that is 0.526 miles (0.847 km) long.[5] The track's turns are banked at eleven degrees, while the front stretch, the location of the finish line, is banked at zero degrees. The back stretch also has a zero degree banking.[5]


Five hundred laps took place on a paved oval track spanning 0.500 miles (0.805 km) for a grand total of 250 miles (400 km).[2] The time of the race was four hours and three minutes while there were seven cautions for twenty laps.[2] The average speed was 60.824 miles per hour (97.887 km/h) while the pole position speed was 66.103 miles per hour (106.382 km/h).[2][6]

Compared to the top speed of today's passenger vehicles which is considered to be 99 miles per hour (159 km/h) in most makes and models, these stock cars were considered to be slow. Buck Baker defeated Speedy Thompson by half a lap.[2] Other notable drivers who participated in the race included Arden Mounts, Cotton Owens, Fireball Roberts, Tiny Lund, Paul Goldsmith, and Lee Petty.[2] The winning vehicle was a 1956 Dodge Coronet. Thirty-five American drivers dueled each other with no foreign-born competitors either in qualifying or the race itself.[2]

Most of the stock car owners were independent and had no formal ties to the multi-car teams that would start to form in the 1960s and 1970s. A vehicle made by the Packard Motor Car Company even qualified for the race; eventually finishing in 34th place due to a tire problem.[7] Years later, the Packard Motor Company would be victimized by the "Big Three" automobile manufacturers and would close due to lack of sales.

Twenty thousands fans were on hand to watch the race live.[2] The total winnings of the race was $10,275 ($90,513.07 when considering inflation).[6] Buck Baker received most of the day's earnings with a grand total of $3,100 ($27,308.08 when considering inflation).[2][6]


Grid No. Driver Manufacturer
1 502 Buck Baker '56 Dodge
2 500 Speedy Thompson '56 Dodge
3 92 Herb Thomas '56 Chevrolet
4 75 Jim Paschal '56 Mercury
5 42 Lee Petty '56 Dodge
6 7A Bobby Johns '56 Chevrolet
7 286 Cotton Owens '56 Pontiac
7 X Rex White '56 Chevrolet
8 3 Paul Goldsmith '56 Chevrolet
9 2 Gwyn Staley '56 Chevrolet
10 285 Don Carr '56 Pontiac


  • Start of race: Speedy Thompson started the race with the pole position
  • Lap 8: Piston issues caused Ralph Liguori to become the last-place finisher
  • Lap 25: Jim Rhoades' "road to success" came to a dead end with tire problems
  • Lap 29: Bob Duell had a terminal crash, forcing him out of the race
  • Lap 37: Joe Bill O'Dell had a terminal crash, he was forced to exit the race
  • Lap 69: Tim Flock had a terminal crash, forcing him to exit the race
  • Lap 149: A non-functioning piston crushed Darvin Randhal's hopes of winning the race
  • Lap 156: Transmission issues brought down Ted Cannady
  • Lap 216: Buck Baker took over the lead from Speedy Thompson
  • Lap 222: Herb Thomas takes over the lead from Buck Baker
  • Lap 243: Cotton Owen's race weekend was devastated by a troublesome right front hub
  • Lap 252: Blackie Pitt's vehicle had a faulty right front hub
  • Lap 293: Bearing issues caused Jim Paschal to exit the event early
  • Lap 304: Lug bolt problems ended Don Carr's weekend on the track
  • Lap 338: Speedy Thompson took over the lead from Herb Thomas
  • Lap 356: Pete Stewart's vehicle had a faulty right rear axle
  • Lap 377: Herb Thomas's vehicle had a problematic engine that kept him from finishing the race
  • Lap 382: Buck Baker takes over the lead from Speedy Thompson
  • Lap 436: Bobby Myers developed a faulty right front hub in his vehicle
  • Lap 441: Reitzel Darner developed a faulty right front hub in his vehicle
  • Finish: Buck Baker was officially declared the winner of the event

Finishing order[edit]

  1. Buck Baker† (No. 502)
  2. Speedy Thompson† (No. 500)
  3. Lee Petty† (No. 42)
  4. Paul Goldsmith (No. 3)
  5. Gwyn Staley† (No. 2)
  6. Rex White (No. X)
  7. Sherman Utsman (No. 418)
  8. Billy Myers (No. 14)
  9. Jack Smith† (No. 91)
  10. Ralph Moody† (No. 12)
  11. Harvey Henderson (No. 19)
  12. Tiny Lund† (No. 55)
  13. Bobby Johns† (No. 7A)
  14. Reitzel Darner* (No. 240)
  15. Bobby Myers*† (No. 1)
  16. Fireball Roberts† (No. 22)
  17. Ray Chaike (No. 16)
  18. Pee Wee Jones (No. 9)
  19. George Cork (No. 211)
  20. Herb Thomas*† (No. 92)
  21. Pete Stewart* (No. 209)
  22. Arden Mounts† (No. 18)
  23. Don Carr* (No. 285)
  24. Fred Lorenzen (No. 150)
  25. Jim Paschal*† (No. 75)
  26. Blackie Pitt*† (No. 59)
  27. Cotton Owens*† (No. 286)
  28. Ted Cannady* (No. 32)
  29. Darvin Randahl* (No. 204)
  30. Tim Flock*† (No. 11)
  31. Johnny Allen* (No. 264)
  32. Joe Bill O'Dell* (No. 35)
  33. Bob Duell* (No. 95)
  34. Jim Rhoades* (No. 195)
  35. Ralph Liguori* (No. 6)

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


  1. ^ "1956 Virginia 500 information". The Old Farmers' Almanac. Retrieved 2011-08-26. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "1956 Virginia 500 information". Racing Reference. Retrieved 2011-01-17. 
  3. ^ "Martinsville Speedway History". Visit Martinsville. Retrieved 2014-04-04. 
  4. ^ "NASCAR Race Tracks". NASCAR. Retrieved October 26, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b "NASCAR Tracks—The Martinsville Speedway". Martinsville Speedway. Retrieved October 26, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c "1956 Virginia 500 information". Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet. Retrieved 2012-02-12. 
  7. ^ "Packard Motor Car Company at the 1956 Virginia 500". Driver Averages. Retrieved 2014-04-04. 
Preceded by
Virginia 500 races
Succeeded by