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NASCAR Hall Having A Healing Effect On The Sport

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 21 2015
O. Bruton Smith, owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc., was elected into the NASCAR Hall of Fame this week. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Tami Kelly Pope)

O. Bruton Smith, owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc., was elected into the NASCAR Hall of Fame this week. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Tami Kelly Pope)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – No matter whether it’s the adage “time heals old wounds” or it’s the fact that sometimes history takes a different view of events, there’s little doubt that one person was correct when he said the NASCAR Hall of Fame mends fences.

With Bruton Smith’s and Curtis Turner’s selection to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Tim bugopinionFlock’s induction in 2014, peace has been made between NASCAR and three of the men who were responsible for some of the biggest battles with the sanctioning body in the sport’s history.

Smith and NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. were at odds from the beginning. It was a tumultuous time in stock car racing, just as with any sport in its infancy. Often the drivers never got paid as promoters absconded with the gate receipts before the race ended. France sought to bring order to an often chaotic sport. Smith, who promoted his first race at age 18, wanted to do the same with his National Stock Car Racing Association. His group sanctioned races in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. When he announced plans in 1949 to establish a “Strictly Stock” division that year, many believed France accelerated his plans for the same type series. France’s announcement of a 150-mile Strictly Stock race in Charlotte on June 19, 1949 with a $5,000 purse caught nearly everyone off guard. That was the beginning of today’s Sprint Cup Series, but it also triggered a rivalry between the Smith and France families that continued for decades.

In the early years, Smith didn’t always have a NASCAR sanction on his races and that resulted in the first confrontation between France and Flock. The father of five children, Flock had the opportunity to run in one of Smith’s races for a $500 appearance fee. At the time, France had a policy that if a driver competed in a non-NASCAR sanctioned event he lost his NASCAR points. Flock had already won the 1950 NASCAR Modified championship. He sought permission from France to run Smith’s race. France refused to grant it, Flock ran the race and France took Flock’s modified championship from him.

That same year Smith and France discussed merging their organizations, but before it could be finalized Smith was drafted into the U.S. Army. When he returned he found his organization no longer existed.

Throughout Smith’s career, he and the sanctioning body have often been at odds, but it now appears the hatchet has been buried. So it also seems for Turner and Flock; the two men whom France banned from competing in NASCAR races for life for their attempts to organize the drivers under the Teamsters umbrella.

The issue developed after Smith and Turner built Charlotte Motor Speedway. After the inaugural World 600 in 1960, Turner approached the Teamsters about an $800,000 loan to bail the speedway out of debt. In return for the loan, Turner was to unionize the drivers and get pari-mutuel betting in the sport. In August 1961, the Federation of Professional Athletes was formed. In exchange for $850,000, Turner would lead the effort to unionize stock car drivers. On Aug. 8, 1961, Turner released a statement that said a majority of the Grand National drivers had signed applications and paid $10 initiation dues for membership in the FPA.

The statement made France irate and he replied with his now famous remark that no known Teamster member could compete in a NASCAR race and he would use a pistol to enforce it. France told the competitors prior to a race at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., that before he would allow the union to be “stuffed down” his throat he would plow up Daytona International Speedway and plant corn in the infield. He then levied a lifetime suspension against Turner, Flock and Fireball Roberts for “conduct detrimental to auto racing.”  Roberts resigned from the FPA and was reinstated by France. Turner and Flock were the only drivers who didn’t follow suit. They filed several lawsuits, including one for reinstatement to NASCAR under Florida’s right to work law.

They also sought $300,000 in actual and punitive damages with a request for a temporary injunction. Circuit Judge Robert E. Wingfield dismissed the temporary injunction request on January 13, 1962. A few days later Turner’s attorneys advised him to drop the entire suit. It turned out the Teamsters couldn’t legally make a loan to a company it was attempting to organize.

France eventually reinstated Turner in 1965 at the urging of several promoters and the Virginia native won the inaugural race at Rockingham. He died in a plane crash in 1970, five years before Smith regained control of CMS. Flock never raced in NASCAR again. He went to work for Smith and had employment in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s marketing department until his death from cancer in 1998.

Yes, throughout the decades ill feelings and bitterness occurred, but for three men the peace between them and NASCAR has now been made.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 21 2015
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