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Bobby Johns
March 22, 1934  -  Miami, FL

Bobby Johns Artwork by Bill Rankin

Bobby Johns is the first NASCAR driver to ever make a competitive lap at Indianapolis. In the early days of NASCAR and USAC, it would not allow it's drivers to race under other racing sanctions. USAC sanctioned Indy, featuring  open-wheel cars.  Even NASCAR's 'Big' Bill France couldn't get into Indy. But when Johns got to take his competitive lap in 1964, France was there beaming from ear to ear. 

Despite two Grand National victories and two Indy 500 appearances Bobby Johns has been largely forgotten by the NASCAR set and some of it may be his own doing.

Thanks to a few close friends Bobby is finally accepting some of the recognition that he should have had years ago and it's wonderful. In 2006 he received the Distinguished Driver of the Year Award from the Living Legends of Auto Racing, based in Daytona Beach, with Club President Ray Fox.

In Bobby's early life his dad, Socrates (known as Shorty to all), was a midget and later roadster racer and Bobby was virtually born into the sport. He grew up in Miami, chased NASCAR national sportsman points in the early 50's and served in the Army stationed at Ft Jackson, SC. Indy was a long time dream for him and he was finally able to put a deal together with Smokey Yunick to drive the odd looking side car car in 1964 but failed to qualify. He did make the 500 in 1965 and '69. In '65 he hooked up in a Ford Lotus with Jim Clarke and qualified 22nd and finished a respectable 7th place. Jimmy Clark in the #82 Ford Lotus won the '65 race. Ford brought the Wood Brothers in for the pit stops on race day, and to have the starter ready to hand over the wall in case anybody stalled. Bobby Johns, Jimmy’s teammate, did have the engine die on his first stop. 1969 found him  back to a traditional Offy machine with the Wagner-Lockheed folks, starting 37th and finished 10th. A memorable two Top 10's in a row.

 

BOBBY JOHNS STORY . . . . . . . . By Marty Little
(Orig. published in the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame PIONEER PAGES Newsletter)

Picture of Bobby in the early day. Courtesy Marty LittleAtlanta’s Peach Bowl Speedway enjoyed a laundry list of top drivers during its 22 - year history and certainly one of those who enjoyed his time at the paved quarter-mile speedplant was Miami, Florida invader Bobby Johns.

This writer had a chance to sit down with Johns at his Miami home recently and relive some of those wonderful days of yesteryear. Johns’ recollection of his early days in racing are still vivid and filled with detail and now, 50 years after the fact, brings a smile to his face with obvious pride.

Just a mention of the two words “Peach Bowl” and Johns took the bait and ran with it. “It was on Brady Avenue in Northwest Atlanta just down the street from Lester Maddox’s restaurant. The way we first started going up there was easy. We’d run at (West) Palm Beach on a Saturday night and decided to go to Macon, Georgia for a race the next night. Keep in mind that all of this was done flat towing with just a tow bar and an old pick-up truck and no Interstate highways. It was just me and Shorty (his father). This had to be 1952,” recalls Johns. “We get up to Macon and on the first lap of the first heat Fireball Roberts crashes me and we’re out for the night. We were kind of mad but we knew that most of those same guys also ran the Peach Bowl so we decided to take the car back to Miami and fix it and go to the Peach Bowl. We had a little ’34 Ford coupe, blue and white with our regular number 7-A on it. It was a Sportsman car with a single carburetor and we ran alcohol for fuel. In those days one of the big differences between a modified and sportsman was alcohol. Only the modifieds could run it but we always ran it anyway. We lost a few races because they said we had to run gasoline but we always asked first, didn’t try to hide it.”

Bobby Johns campaigned this family owned '34 Ford all over Florida, Georgia and the Mid-Atlantic states in 1952-53, shown here following a victory at Atlanta's Peach Bowl. Photo courtesy Mike Bell from Marty Little collection.

 

With their battered little coupe in tow, the father-son team headed for Atlanta to see how they could do against some of the best wheelmen in the business. “The first night at the Peach Bowl we crashed with Gober Sosebee but overall we did very well on that little quarter-mile track. For the first few weeks we ran there we’d come home (to Miami) after the races but that was a long tow and we decided to stay in the Atlanta area. Promoter Roy Shoemaker was always very good to us and let us stay right there in the garage at the track. It was a hot spot as folks were always hanging around there, so it was a good place to be. The big deal at the Peach Bowl in those days was winning the Trophy Dash. Sure everyone wanted to win the feature but you got to keep the trophy dash trophy only if you won it three times in a row. We did that and kept the trophy and I’m still proud of that. It meant a lot then and still does,” Johns related. “Remember in those days we didn’t run quick change rear ends so to change the rear gear ratio we did it with tire sizes. Large, medium and small and that was also how we got our tire stagger. It worked very well. We kept good notes and dad was really fussy about timing the competition so we knew what we had to do to be quick.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Earl Moss #91 leads Bobby Johns #7A at North Wilkesboro in the mid 50's.
This photo is from the Margaret Moss Copper collection.

Not all of Johns racing in the Atlanta area was at the Peach Bowl as he and his dad enjoyed traveling and seeing how they could do against top competition. “They opened a new track in Dalton (Georgia) and Jack Smith started on the pole and I was on the outside. When they dropped the green flag I simply disappeared. Just drove away from those guys. I’m way out in front and accidentally unlatched the seat belt and spun out. I quickly hooked the belt back up and took off again and still won the feature. Funny what you remember years later,” said a smiling Johns.


Bobby Johns in the # 7-A from Miami raced in the Carolina’s and Georgia in the mid 50’s while being
stationed at Fort Jackson in Columbia, SC. His dad (Shorty) came with him to Columbia to maintain
the car. This photo is from the Marty Little collection.

A chance telephone call from Joe Weatherly who was not only a driver but also the promoter at Princess Anne Speedway in Norfolk, Virginia encouraged Johns to come East and try his hand on a different circuit. “We really enjoyed our time at the Peach Bowl and at other tracks in Georgia but thought we’d take up Joe’s offer and see how we could do on the Virginia-Maryland circuit. Joe would make sure I got some deal money everywhere we went up there. They had a nice little circuit of Princess Anne, the fairgrounds in Richmond, Lanham (Maryland) and either Wilson, NC or Wilmington, Delaware. Weatherly looked out for me real good up there.  If the promoters squawked about giving me deal money Joe would simply tell them he wasn’t coming to race either. We had a good deal going and were seldom turned down,” recalls Johns fondly. “I was running for NASCAR Sportsman national points and was the leader early in the season but those guys up in Ohio – Mike Klapak, Dick Linder and the others could race eight times a week (twice on Sunday) and by halfway through the season I knew there was no point in chasing the points any longer. Another Miami guy, Sam DiRusso, and I started to run some outlaw shows using assumed names and made better money than we could with NASCAR. Overall we did OK and finished the season 13th in final NASCAR points that year.”

Just as Johns was planning his 1953 season Uncle Sam came calling and Johns was drafted into the Army. “I took the train up to Ft Jackson near Columbia, S.C. We did eight weeks of basic training and had classes on various things and I could always answer the questions about things mechanical. I knew that stuff. Since the Korean Conflict was in progress I was in no hurry to ship out and they asked if I’d like to be an instructor. I jumped at the chance,” said Johns. “We had an upper shop area and a lower shop area and I had the last two bays of the lower shop area with about 20 students. Although I was only a PFC they made me an acting Corporal and we had a ball. We’d do brakes, engines and all kinds of things on those Army vehicles and of course we’d road test them to make sure they’d hold up under the tough conditions of war. We run them in the woods, through streams etc. and do almost anything except turn them over. Word soon got around the post that if you wanted to have fun come down to our garages,” explained Johns. “I learned a great deal from that experience. It taught me how to get guys working in the same direction toward a common goal and by dangling the carrot with a reward attached you could get positive results. The Army even sent me to school in Atlanta to learn about automatic transmissions. While I never had a chance to use that in the Army, I sure used it later in our auto repair business. If not for the Army I’d never have learned any of those things.”

Bobby Johns and father Shorty with 1956 VhevyThe savvy Johns was not about to put his racing on the shelf completely just because the Army needed his services, so he had his dad put together a car and bring it up to Columbia. “I rented a small garage there in Columbia and dad brought a car up for me and that was our headquarters for the next couple of years. Sometimes I ran as many as three nights a week. I invited the Company Commander to a race at Columbia one night and from then on he was hooked. He didn’t come with us all the time but he was there a bunch and my racing was no problem. Shoot, I got help from the guys in the motor pool, the welding shop, whatever I needed. I had great cooperation from the guys on the post. I did my two year hitch and got out in ’55.”

In addition to his long time GN efforts, Bobby Johns enjoyed taking one of his old cars and running the big track modified and sportsman races. Shown here is Johns' modified '57 Chevy with 421 Pontiac power in the 250 mile Modified Sportsman event at Daytona in 1962. He finished second to Lee Roy Yarbrough. (See same Chevy below before the 421 transplant)

Bobby Johns continued to advance his career over the next seventeen years concentrating on NASCAR’s Grand National (now Nextel Cup) tour. He just missed winning the 1960 Daytona 500 when the rear window blew out of Smokey Yunick’s Pontiac on the final lap but he did score a pair of victories along the way. He took Cotton Owens’ Pontiac to a convincing win in the Atlanta 500 at AIR in Hampton and two years later he wheeled the family Pontiac to his second score at Bristol in the Volunteer 500.

As a youngster Johns first saw the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he was traveling with his dad who raced midgets. It was always a dream to one day run the most famous races of all, the Indianapolis 500. Through his friendship with Smokey Yunick, Johns was invited to try to qualify Yunick’s unorthodox “capsule car” at the speedway in 1964. He was not able to put the Offy powered mount in the 33 car field that year but it opened the door and in ’65 Johns was named as teammate to Jim Clark in a Ford powered Lotus. After starting 22nd Johns brought the mount home seventh in his first start in an Indy car or at the famed Brickyard. He returned in ’69 and ran one of the Agajanian cars to a 10th place finish after starting from the last row.  To this day Johns’ participation at Indianapolis remain one of his proudest accomplishments in racing.

Today, at age 67, Johns remains a workaholic. He awakens each morning at 4 AM and in the quiet of the early Miami morning heads to his thriving tire and wheel business near the Miami International Airport. As a Firestone loyalist in the early 60s Johns got into the tire business and has done very well for himself in the years since. He and long time companion Wanda Tallant enjoy two homes in the Miami area and while Johns will privately and quietly lament his loss at Daytona in 1960 he has few regrets about racing or life. He enjoys today’s NASCAR racing and returns to Darlington each year as a lifetime member of the 76 Record Club. Were the Peach Bowl still around today it wouldn’t take much to get Johns back behind the wheel to do a few laps to relive those good times of the early 50s.                                     Marty Little


1957: Bobby John's 1/43rd NASCAR  '57 Chevy Model
by Patrick Lahanque (France)
(Notice the -A designation)


Marty Little writes: "I love the models but this French built '57 Chevy has the color blue a bit dark but other than that it's really cool. That very car was later converted to a big track modified with a 421 Pontiac for power."


1958: Track champions at Hollywood (Fla) Speedway pose in front of Red Farmer's Chevy coupe. From left - Farmer (Modified), trophy queen, Bobby Johns (Sportsman)(Right) and kneeling Bob Burnett (Novice).   
Photo courtesy of
Bobby Day

1959:

Shorty Johns (left) and son Bobby Johns pose with Smokey Yunick's # 3 1959 Pontiac GN at Daytona in July 1960

(Marty Little Collection)

 

 

 

 

 

1960: Gone with the wind By Mark Aumann, January 9, 2003 (edited)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- With two laps to go in the second annual Daytona 500 on February 14 1960, Bobby Johns had everything in hand except the trophy and the nearly $20,000 first-place check.

That was, until a freak gust of wind shattered the rear window on Johns' 1960 Pontiac, sending his car spinning backwards down the backstretch where it narrowly missed splashing into Lake Lloyd.

By the time Johns regained his composure -- and control of his car -- Junior Johnson, sponsored by the Daytona Beach Kennel Club dog track, located on the back side of the Daytona International Speedway main grandstand, had motored by, leaving Johns a frustrated runner-up by 23 seconds. The Petty family -- Lee and Richard -- claimed third and fourth, the only other cars on the lead lap at the finish.

Johns wasn't the only driver in a bad mood. Fast qualifier Fireball Roberts led the first 19 laps but retired with mechanical problems one-quarter of the way into the race, finishing 57th out of 68 starters. Pole-sitter Cotton Owens, another pre-race favorite, ended up 40th. Jack Smith, who started second, led 14 laps before damaged lugnuts put an early end to his day.

The wind played havoc with the field, causing 14 spinouts and crashes, the most serious being Tommy Herbert's wild ride down the backstretch. Herbert's car flipped several times in the air as Lee Petty drove underneath it and Johnson swerved to avoid it. Herbert was hospitalized with a broken arm and eye injuries.

Tiger Tom Pistone, who led 26 laps, spun into an infield fence on the last lap, hitting hard enough to fracture his nose.

David Pearson made his Daytona 500 debut, finishing 28th.

1960 Daytona 500
1.  Junior Johnson
2.  Bobby Johns
3.  Richard Petty
4.  Lee Petty
5.  Johnny Allen
6.  Ned Jarrett
7.  Curtis turner
8.  Fred Lorenzen
9.  Rex White
10. Emanuel Zervakis

1960: The first Atlanta race was a 300-miler on July 30, 1960. NASCAR legend and Florida native Fireball Roberts won the race. A second race in 1960, the Atlanta 500, was run on Oct. 30 and won by Bobby Johns, also a native Floridian. Johns, driving a Pontiac qualified at 134.596 m.p.h. and averaged 108.408 mph.
Throughout its history, the Atlanta 500 has been the first, or only, win for several drivers. Nebraska native Bob Burdick drove a family–owned Pontiac to his only NASCAR premier-series win on March 26, 1961.

1960: The Buick Test  http://www.fireballroberts.com/buick_test.htm

This is a reprint of a certificate presented to Buick Motor Division Management in 1960 certifying a major 1960 Buick Endurance Test. A standard 1960 Buick Invicta was taken off the assembly line and taken to the Daytona International Speedway. Equipped with special tires and exhausts the car drove day and night, refueling on the go for 10,000 miles without stopping. The car averaged 120.186 MPH. The car set over 10 endurance records for the time. Day and Night drivers included Larry Flynn, Larry Frank, Bobby Johns, Tiny Lund, Ralph Moody, Marvin Panch, and Fireball Roberts. Their names are on the certificate. Buick had hoped to pull off one of the marketing home runs for the year. Unfortunately, General Motors did not allow Buick to advertise this incredible feat because it indicated speed which was a no-no during this time of GM history.  It is signed by Bill France, Sr. who was then President of NASCAR.

Ray Nichels: The list of drivers who piloted cars built by and/or campaigned by Ray Nichels and Nichels Engineering is synonymous with American racing excellence .... they are Bobby Isaac, A.J. Foyt, David Pearson, Johnnie Parsons, Paul Goldsmith, Joe Leonard, Rodger Ward, Don White, Tony Bettenhausen, Pat O'Connor, Paul Russo, Mario Andretti, Roger Penske, Charlie Glotzbach, Bobby Unser, Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, Joe Weatherly, Marvin Panch, Sam McQuagg, Larry Frank, Banjo Matthews, Cotton Owens, Junior Johnson, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Len Sutton, Darel Dieringer, Troy Ruttman, Dave Marcis, Richard Brickhouse, Fred Lorenzen, Richard Petty, Dan Gurney, Ramo Stott, Ernie Derr, Jimmy Pardue, Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, Gordon Johncock, James Hylton, Butch Hartman, Roger McCluskey, Norm Nelson, Ray Elder, Al Unser and Bobby Johns.


During the running of the 1960 Southern 500 at Darlington, Bobby Johns and Roy Tyner made contact
on the backstretch. Johns in the #5 Cotton Owens Pontiac slammed into the pit wall. John’s was fine, but
unfortunately three pit members were fatally injured. They were Paul McDuffie, Charles Sweatlund, and
Joe Taylor
. This photo is from the Marty Little collection.

There is a public AP Wirephoto newspaper article on the crash. Because of the historic significance we will list the publicly available article. HOWEVER, WE WARN YOU THAT THE PICTURE IS GRAPHIC. We apologize if there is a family member or other person that objects to the photo. Here is the Link.

1961:
 

Bobby Johns in his 1961 Ford "zipper top" at Darlington for the Rebel 300 in '61.

  (Courtesy Marty Little Archives)
 


 

July 1962 Daytona Firecracker

1962: Daytona
Well done Slot-Car Model (Above right)
1/18th 60's Convertible Diecast (Below)

1962: Bristol - the Second Win 

4/29/1962

 

Johns wheeled the family Pontiac to his second score at Bristol in the Volunteer 500

 

 

 


 

1964:

Bobby Johns got the Holman-Moody Ford ride midway in the 1964 season after the passing of Fireball Roberts. Here Johns, with his familiar number and colors, is shown running with Richard Petty's familiar #43 Plymouth.  Marty Little collection

 

 

 

 

 

1965: Lorenzen's silver lining   By Mark Aumann

1964 Pont CatalinaDAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The rains came at precisely the right time for Fred Lorenzen, who used a combination of luck and strategy to win the seventh annual Daytona 500.

Known primarily as a hard-charger, Lorenzen gambled that fuel economy would beat sheer speed in 1965.

He and chief mechanic Jack Sullivan decided to run a higher gear in Lorenzen's 1965 Ford, gambling that with only four pit stops, Lorenzen could still hold off the rest of the field, which would have to stop five times.

While pole-sitter Junior Johnson was setting a torrid pace with laps in excess of 170 mph, Lorenzen was forced to draft faster cars in order to keep pace. But Johnson's car blew a right front tire on lap 27, throwing him into the guard rail and out of the race.

 

That made it a three-car battle at the front between Bobby Johns, Marvin Panch and Ned Jarrett. All three pitted on lap 69, putting Lorenzen in front for the first time.

However, once Lorenzen ran low on fuel nine laps later, the trio motored by, with Panch holding the lead on lap 80 when it first began to rain.

Following 32 laps under caution, Johns and Panch resumed their fight at the front. Both stopped for refueling on lap 119, handing the lead back to Lorenzen, who by then held a lap advantage on the entire field.

 

Within eight laps, Panch had pulled up right behind Lorenzen. Heading down the backstretch in a driving rainstorm, Panch tried to make up his lap by passing Lorenzen on the high side but clipped his bumper, sending both cars spinning out of control.

Panch's car spun into the infield while Lorenzen's car clipped the guard rail, righted itself and continued down the track as the caution flag was unfurled. Lorenzen was able to maintain his position behind the pace car for the next six laps before NASCAR officials called the race official at 332.5 miles.

Darel Dieringer wound up second, followed by Johns, Earl Balmer, Jarrett and Panch.

With the victory, Lorenzen became the first driver to win races at all four southern superspeedways. Ironically, Lorenzen had also won the previous superspeedway race shortened by rain.

Defending race winner Richard Petty and other top Chrysler drivers did not run in the 1965 race because of NASCAR's ban of Chrysler's hemi engine.

1966:

 

Bobby Johns at Daytona in his 1966 Chevelle. John Grady photo from Marty Little collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

=====================================
Grand National Statistics

Bobby Johns GN 2 Win Summary
Race
Win#
Date Race Name Track Poles
1 10/30/1960 Atlanta Atlanta

0

2 4/29/1962 Bristol Bristol

0

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn RAF Miles
1956 22 9 of 56 0 0 3 0 1537 0 1,450 25 12.9 15.3 4 1091.3
1957 23 1 of 53 0 0 0 0 335 0 225   23.0 16.0 1 460.6
1958 24 3 of 51 0 1 1 0 894 0 1,625   15.3 12.7 2 834.5
1959 25 8 of 44 0 1 2 1 1911 129 5,950 19 10.4 21.1 4 1440.2
1960 26 19 of 44 1 8 10 0 3695 438 46,115 3 7.8 12.7 11 3815.0
1961 27 14 of 52 0 1 3 1 2674 52 5,010 24 9.7 19.2 9 3084.1
1962 28 13 of 53 1 2 3 0 2745 614 15,863 28 7.2 20.2 3 2976.0
1963 29 12 of 55 0 3 6 0 2433 84 15,915 21 13.8 15.5 7 3382.6
1964 30 12 of 62 0 0 2 0 1806 0 5,700 37 15.2 21.7 2 1858.7
1965 31 13 of 55 0 5 5 0 2696 37 24,929 20 11.2 15.2 7 2940.7
1966 32 11 of 49 0 0 1 0 1419 0 5,245 60 18.8 29.8 1 1236.2
1967 33 11 of 49 0 0 0 0 1279 0 6,405 52 21.7 29.9 2 1301.2
1968 34 7 of 49 0 0 0 0 750 0 5,010 48 22.1 32.0 2 1107.9
1969 35 8 of 54 0 0 0 0 1075 0 5,875 54 19.8 28.8 2 1185.1
14 years 141 2 21 36 2 25249 1354 145,317   13.5 20.5 57 26714.3

Finished in the Top Ten 25% of the time! 1 out of 4 races a Top 10 finish!
Finished in the Top Five
15% of the time!

=====================================

The Indy Years

Indianapolis 500's By Year
Year Fin. St. Car# Car Name/Entrant* C/E/T Qual. Spd. Run/Out Laps Led Winnings
1965 7 22 83 Lotus powered by Ford Lotus/Ford 155.480 Running 197 0 $16,886
1969 10 32 97 Wagner-Lockheed Shrike/Offy 160.900 Running 171 0 $19,841
Indianapolis 500 Career Summary
Starts Total Laps Best Start Best Finish Top 5 Top 10 Races led Laps led Winnings
2 368 22 7 0 2 0 0 $36,727

1964 Indy: Smokey Yunick showed up at the track with one of the most radical cars ever to enter the 500-mile race. Called the Hurst Floor Shift Special, it featured a catamaran-like layout with the driver placed in a pod adjacent to a second pod containing the engine, front and rear suspension, fuel tank, and radiator. The car was practiced by Duane Carter but the driver was to be Bobby Johns. Unfortunately, Johns—the guy who almost won the Daytona 500 with Smokey’s Pontiac in 1960—had trouble adjusting to the car’s handling characteristics and eventually backed it into the turn one wall during practice for the the last day of qualifying. The car was too unique for the Indy folk and was was outlawed and never allowed to compete.



1965 Indy:


Bobby Johns' second and final start in the Indianapolis 500 came aboard this Wagner- Lockheed Offy
powered Shrike as a team mate to Billy Vukovich. Johns started 32nd and brought the car home a very respectable 10th, making both his Indy efforts top 10s. Not bad for a good old stock car boy from Miami.
IMS photo from Marty Little collection. 

=====================================

Florida Drivers

In NASCAR's 56-year history, there have been 128 drivers from Florida, including 31 from South Florida, who have competed in the elite series.

Benny Georgeson from Fort Lauderdale was among the first, competing in NASCAR's inaugural season in 1949.

"You have to talk about Bobby Johns," said Jim Hunter, NASCAR's director of communications. "I can't emphasize enough how good he was. He and his daddy, nicknamed Shorty, lived in Miami and towed their car to the races. They were competitive with the Pettys and Bud Moores on a shoestring budget. Bobby won some races and was always a front-runner."

Johns still lives in Miami, running Bobby Johns Enterprises, a tire/auto parts store that delivers internationally.

Johns lost most of his racing memorabilia in the riots of 1980, but he hasn't lost his memories that include winning the 1960 season finale in Atlanta, a runner-up in the 1960 Daytona 500 and coming in third in the points championship behind Rex White and Richard Petty despite running in 21 fewer races.

"They changed the points system because of me," he chuckled during an interview a month ago.

Later came the Allisons, Bobby and his younger brother Donnie, as well as Red Farmer, who all later moved to Alabama.

In the 1950s, they used to race at several area tracks, including Medley Speedway, Hollywood Speedway, West Palm Beach's ¾-mile track and Stock Island Speedway in Key West.

Among the other great Florida drivers were Dick Joslin, Fireball Roberts, Bill Snowden, Marshall Teague and Lee Roy Yarbrough, all deceased. Now the only driver left from Florida who competes full-time in the elite Nextel Cup series is Joe Nemechek, who got his start at his hometown track in Lakeland.

David Reutimann, now a regular in the Craftsman Truck Series, said he owes his start to Nemechek, whose crew chief at the time was Reutimann's childhood friend, Bryan Pattie.

Reutimann was a third-generation driver who was toiling at the local ranks until Nemechek gave him a one-race Busch series deal at Richmond International Raceway in 2003.

The only catch was Reutimann had to come up with $30,000 to buy the car. At the time, he was making about $20,000 a year. But a family friend came through.

Buddy Smith had just sold some property with orange groves on it and gave Reutimann the check and the chance.

"He said, `All right, let's get this car. I believe in you,'" Reutimann recalled last week. 'I said, `Man are you sure? I can destroy it or we cannot make the race.' "

It rained during qualifying, but Reutimann made the race because Nemechek loaned him his car number that came with enough owner points.

With no testing time in the car, Reutimann started last and finished 16th, last car on the lead lap.

"At that point right there, things kind of changed for me," he said. "Joe started taking me with him and let me go with him and test at the end of the day. That's how I learned to drive on radial tires. He didn't have to do that."

Reutimann now drives for Darrell Waltrip's team. Nemechek thinks his former protegé has the chance to make it in Cup someday soon.

But Allison and Johns both think with no local short tracks South Florida will be hard-pressed to produce future NASCAR drivers.

"It's tough; I don't know what the answer is," Nemechek said of aspiring racers in South Florida, site of what is becoming one of the biggest race weekends on the NASCAR circuit. "Get on a go-kart. Get on something. Got to get out there and get experience. But it takes a lot of money to make it happen.

Personal: Bobby Johns Enterprises  4789 N.W. 72nd Ave.  Miami, Florida 33166  bobbyjohnsent@aol.com

Many thanks to Marty Little of Miami, without whom this page would not be as valuable.
 


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