1960-1969: The Golden Years of ARCA Racing
TOLEDO, Ohio (October 28, 2009)- In a decade highlighted by talented fulltime series competitors capable of racing against-and becoming-NASCAR's greats, large race attendance and the debut of superspeedway racing on a national stage, the 1960s have oft been referred to as ARCA's golden years. The stars of ARCA's golden decade, along with champions from each of ARCA's 56 years, will be honored at the ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship Awards Banquet in Covington, Kentucky, on Saturday evening, December 5.
From the Series' inaugural race at Dayton Speedway in Ohio on May 10, 1953, to the 2009 Championship race at Rockingham Speedway in North Carolina on October 11, 2009, it's the stars of ARCA that have formed the most memorable racing moments in ARCA's history. In the 1960s, those stars included ARCA Champs such as Nelson Stacy, Harold Smith, Iggy Katona, Jack Bowsher and Benny Parsons. Many of the records that the stars of the 1960s set still remain today, such as Bowsher's record-setting 16 wins in a single season of competition in 1965, Smith's 1961 race season that included two separate strings of five consecutive race victories, Katona's status as ARCA's all-time race winner (79) and Parson's status as the only driver to earn championships in both the ARCA RE/MAX Series and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
A group of ARCA's expert insiders will provide their opinion and analysis for each of ARCA's six decades, beginning with the inaugural 1953 season and ending with 2009. ARCA Insiders include history buffs Ron Drager, the current president of ARCA, Bill Kimmel, Jr., crew chief of the No. 44 Ansell-Menards Fusion driven by Frank Kimmel, and SPEED commentator Phil Parsons, who will serve as the Master of Ceremonies for this year's Championship Awards Banquet.
ARCA Insiders Reflect on the Golden Years: 1960-1969
Nelson Stacy, Harold Smith, Iggy Katona, Jack Bowsher, Benny Parsons Crowned Champs
Ron Drager: President of ARCA:
Ron Drager "Three drivers-Jack Bowsher, Iggy Katona and Benny Parsons-dominated competition in the 1960s. Bowsher won consecutive titles from 1963-1965 in his trademark white No. 21 Fords and set the record that still stands for most victories in a single season-16 in '64. Katona added titles in '62, '66 and '67 to bring his career total to 6 driving crowns, and continued to rack up victories. Parsons was the 1965 Rookie of the Year and drove his yellow #98 Ford Torino to championships in 1968 and 1969 and would become the series brightest star, eventually winning the NASCAR Winston Cup, the Daytona 500 and Emmy awards for his motorsports telecast coverage.
Despite the long shadow of Bowsher, Katona and Parsons, others stood out based on their accomplishments. Charlie Glotzbach won the '64 Rookie of the Year award and finished 5th in points before moving on to NASCAR Grand National competition where he would win consistently. Future 3-time series driving champ Dave Dayton was the 1966 Rookie of the Year. 1961 Series champ Harold Smith amazingly won 5 consecutive races-twice-en route to 15 wins that season. Nelson Stacy added the '60 driving championship, his 3rd, and won the inaugural ARCA event at Daytona. A huge contingent of drivers from the Louisville, Kentucky area flooded the series on the strength of numerous races at Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville and at Salem Speedway. Fans are treated to some of the hardest racing in series history as Parsons, Les Snow, Andy Hampton, Katona, Bobby Watson, Ramo Stott and others bump and grind at Ohio tracks like Dayton, Eldora, Sharon, Lorain, Cloverleaf, Columbus-and a newly constructed ¾ mile oval at the facility in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. The pace is hectic, averaging some 30 races per season-again, without the benefit of sophisticated travel amenities.
The 60s ushered in the era of the superspeedway to ARCA racing as Daytona, Charlotte and Talladega first appeared on the series schedule. When Bill France Sr. brought former NASCAR Official John Marcum's tour to Daytona, he suggested a change in the name of the sanctioning body from the Midwest Ass'n for Race Cars to the Auto Racing Club of America-better reflective of the tour's geographic reach. Thus, in 1964, ARCA was conceived. The 1960s also produced what would become long term associations between ARCA and Flat Rock Speedway and Toledo Speedway, where weekly sanctioned racing remains in place today."
Bill Kimmel, Jr: Crew Chief of the No. 44 Ansell-Menards Fusion:
Bill Kimmel "I have some real vague memories of the early 1960s when the ARCA Series came to the Salem racetrack but my best memories are of the late 1960s when drivers like Andy Hampton, Benny Parsons and Les Snow were racing all of the time. I was really too young to be in the garage area then but my dad had a single cab stake truck and John Marcum said that I was allowed to stay in the pits as long as I stayed up in the bed of the truck and didn't leave. I remember that the truck was big and there were shadows that would come down on the ground so my dad would lean up against the stake truck to take cover from the hot sun and I would get to stand on the bed of the truck and watch them work on his racecar in between races.
It seemed like at that time the ARCA Series raced at Salem Speedway 12 times a year because Frank and I were always full of anticipation and running off to big races at Salem Speedway with our dad. We were really excited when they came. It was bigger than life. I think that's why the Salem ARCA RE/MAX Series races now mean so much to me and Frank both.
Of course, in addition to Salem we ran at the Louisville Mile Fairgrounds all of the time too. I remember dad and Andy Hampton co-driving a race at Louisville and winning. John Marcum was really barnstorming during the 1960s. It seemed like all of the big drivers were from our Southern Indiana/Northern Kentucky area so they raced there a lot. In Kentucky they raced at Campbellsville, Clay City, Salyersville, Richmond, Florence, Moorehead, and others. I remember one particular night dad raced at Clay City, Kentucky on a Sunday afternoon and planned to leave that track and go race at Frankfurt, Kentucky on Sunday night. Les Snow heard us talking about it and decided to go too. Then, Ramo Stott heard about it and he came. This was at a time when a racetrack might get 10 or 12 cars to run the Late Model feature and none of them were the quality of the cars that the ARCA Series had. We had big Hemi motors and things that regular late model divisions didn't have. So, more memorable then that race at Frankfurt that night was the expression on people's faces when three ARCA teams showed up at the race. Another racer asked my dad who was going to win and he said the race would be between Les Snow and Ramo Stott and dad predicted that he or one of the other cars would finish third and boy was he right. Les and Ramo just killed 'em that night in those cars. That's how it was back then. Whatever it took a racer to do to make enough money to get back home, that's what they did. They just don't do thinks like that anymore and I think that is what made ARCA as big as it was in the 1960s. Dad ran the same car at Daytona that he did at the dirt track. It was actually the same racecar. Now things are so sophisticated and specialized that you can't do that.
It was a neat era. A lot of times Frank and I would be in the back of dad's old stake truck and that was how we traveled to races. Actually, I would be in the back of the stake truck and Frank would be in the front seat of the single cab truck because mom didn't want him to be cold. You really don't appreciate what you have unless you've lived through those experiences.
1967 was our first race at Daytona and dad ran 5th so we made like $500. That was a lot of money so on the way home we got to stop and get a room at a hotel. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I thought 'man we made it to the big time'.
The very next year in 1968 we went to Daytona but we couldn't afford a hotel room. When we got to South Georgia mom took a cold rag and would keep wiping dad's face to keep him awake until we made it through the 16 hour drive from Daytona. That's what we had to do because we couldn't afford to stop at a hotel.
We raced all of the time in the 1960s. I was five years ahead of Frank in school and Frank and I would get off school at 2 or 3 and run home real quick so that we could go racing for the weekend. Dad would have the truck parked and ready to take off. We raced Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon and Sunday night. Dad used to race Wednesday night too. I remember coming home from the dirt tracks in the later '60s and in the fall it would get so cold sitting there in the back of the truck. There was always a caravan of trucks leaving the Louisville area at the same time-Dad, Andy Hampton, Jesse Baird, Bobby Watson. We didn't have semis and big transporters like we have today. The vehicles broke down on the road all of the time and we had to take care of each other. That still happens today, you still have two or three of ARCA trucks running down the road together. I think something that John Marcum and Bill France were very good at was taking care of their racers and a lot of people don't see it today like you did then. I think it's tough on Ron Drager because he remembers how Marcum was. If John Marcum saw a competitor in trouble and needed something he would do whatever he could to help them, whether it was financially or bending the rules. I know for a fact that if you needed financial help-motors or something-he would help you. He did it at Daytona for dad once when he was in trouble and needed a motor. Dad paid it back and Marcum was really good about not making you pay back everything at once. We did it a little bit at a time. I think that's why Ron Drager is so loyal to the fulltime series competitors today. The same leadership and morals are still there in the ARCA Series and that's what makes it special. Ron looks out for the people he needs to look out for. That's what John Marcum did. He took care of people. He absolutely would not let people get in trouble. The 1960s was a neat decade of racing and ARCA really grew right then. We didn't see empty seats at Salem Speedway then, ever.
Phil Parsons: SPEED Commentator and Master of Ceremonies for the 2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship Awards Banquet:
Phil Parsons "The 1960s is the decade of ARCA Racing that I remember most growing up. People have no idea what a big deal it was when the ARCA New Cars came around to where we lived. Growing up in Detroit the only thing I remember was going to the races-whether it was Flat Rock Speedway, Toledo Speedway, Mt. Clemons or the mile-track at the Fairgrounds in Detroit, which always produced large crowds. Whenever the ARCA new cars came to our track it was a huge deal. It was like the Detroit red wings playing on your high school's home ice.
Much like the 1950s, the list of people fortunate enough to win in ARCA during the 1960s is impressive. Nelson Stacy won races in the 1950s and his success in ARCA continued into the 1960s. He went on to have a great career in NASCAR as one of the Ford factory drivers.
Iggy Katona was the constant in ARCA throughout the 1950s and 1960s and to have the success he had despite the talented list of people he had to beat in ARCA is just unimaginable. Bobby Watson was one of my heroes growing up and I enjoyed watching him race in ARCA.
I remember Jack Bowsher's era the most from the mid 1960s. His equipment was the nicest stuff out there-just incredible craftsmanship. He helped my brother Benny a lot. Benny ran a couple of races in 1964 and then ran the full schedule and won rookie of the year in 1965. Jack won 16 out of 35 races in 1964 and 13 races in both '63 and '65. What an amazing record to post 42 wins in just three years. There is no telling how many races Jack would have won if he would have stayed in the ARCA Series but he left because he was a Ford Factory driver and they wanted him to race USAC Stock Cars. During the mid 1960s, my brother Benny, Les Snow, Iggy Katona, Bobby Watson and Jack Bowsher all ran each and every race that ARCA contested. The competition was unbelievable. They had more competition in the ARCA Series then NASCAR had. And in addition to the full time ARCA competitors you had people like Bill Clemons and Bill Kimmel who would come in and race select races and who were just as competitive as the fulltime guys. Ramo Stott and Bobby Watson both won more races than Benny did in 1968--the year he won his second championship.
To me, the late 1960s was when ARCA really got noticed because Benny got the opportunity to go to NASCAR. Benny actually ran a handful of NASCAR races while he was still a fulltime ARCA racer. In 1969 he won the ARCA race at Daytona then stayed in the area and ran the exact same car in the Daytona 500, where he finished 7th and was the rookie of the race. This drew a lot of attention to the ARCA Series because people could see that the ARCA drivers could compete against the NASCAR drivers on a national stage. Benny was all set to remain in ARCA but Ford got out of racing in the beginning of the 1970 season and Benny was left without a ride. He was fortunate enough to be hired by L.G. DeWitt and that began his fulltime NASCAR career. Benny's racing career started in the ARCA Series and ARCA has been a very huge part of our whole family for as long as I can remember."
The Stars of ARCA, 1953-2009, will be honored at the 2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship Awards Banquet in Covington, Kentucky on Saturday night, December 5. The banquet is open to the public and tickets are available by contacting Shalene Williams at the ARCA Office (734) 847-6726.