JIMMY FLORIAN NETS FORD'S FIRST WIN
was considered an upset then and would probably be looked upon
the same way today. Jimmy Florian beat NASCAR legends Curtis
Turner, Joe Weatherly and Lee Petty in a thrilling 100-lap
feature to claim the first NASCAR Winston Cup victory for Ford
on June 25, 1950 at Dayton Speedway.
As memorable as Florian's victory was, he made an equally big
impression on victory lane when he emerged from his car
shirtless -- another NASCAR first.
Florian, who was a 27-year-old mechanic at the time of his big
win, passed away at the age of 75, February 1999 after a battle
with cancer. He was sponsored by Euclid Motors and made a name
for himself around his native Cleveland, Ohio, driving primarily
midget and sprint cars.
Bill Whitley was Florian's closest
friend -- ever since World War II. Whitley, who is currently 77
years old, owned a couple of cars with Florian and knew him
better than anyone. A truck driver in the early fifties, Whitley
is now retired and lives in Winston-Salem, N.C. He recalled that
magical day in 1950, along with some of his other favorite
YOU RECALL FROM THAT FIRST RACE WIN IN 1950: "He did win
that race in a Ford. It was a car originally that belonged to
the chief of police in Detroit and Euclid Ford got a hold of it
and it was a 1950 Ford. The night that he won the race against
(Curtis) Turner, (Joe) Weatherly -- all the big boys were there
-- and he just outdrove them that's all. We talked about that
for years and years and years. I kept telling him there was no
way he could outrun those Oldmobiles with a flathead Ford, but
we had been running on that track seven nights a week in midgets
and sprint cars and it was just a fact that we were very
familiar with it (the speedway) and they weren't. He just
A CERTAIN POINT WHERE YOU KNEW JIMMY HAD THE RACE WON? "With
about 35 laps to go he passed Turner for the last time and
stayed in front. He was about a half lap ahead when the race was
over. I remember a whole lot about it because it was four
o'clock in the morning before we got paid because Turner,
Weatherly, (Lee) Petty -- the whole bunch -- they protested
saying there was no way they could have been outrun with a
flathead Ford. That was the year they came out with the rocket
Oldsmobile engines -- overhead valve engines -- and they were
really tough. But the Ford was just as stock as it could be."
HAVE A POST-RACE INSPECTION? "Oh yeah. They even checked
with Ford Motor Company to make sure it wasn't an illegal
engine. Ford sent a letter back to Euclid Ford saying that the
car was just as legal and as stock as it could be."
WAS A POLICE CAR AT ONE TIME SO IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE FAST, RIGHT?
"In the old days the police cars weren't any different, it was
just designated to the police department but they weren't any
different in the old days. Later on they came out with high
dollar police cars, but back in the forties and the fifties you
just put the name on it and went with it."
THE INTERESTING NOTES TO THAT RACE WAS THE FACT JIMMY ARRIVED IN
VICTORY LANE WITHOUT A SHIRT ON. WHY DID HE DO THAT? "It was
hotter than hell, that's all there was to that. The rulebook
back then...you didn't have any rollbars...you didn't have to
have a seatbelt if you didn't want it and the seat had to be
just like it came out of the factory...a plain old seat and
they're uncomfortable. You couldn't do anything to the car back
then. For ventilation you had to run with the windows down and
that was the main reason why he was shirtless. He thought that
was the greatest because he had all the protection in the world
around him. We ran a midget and sprint car back then and you had
to have something on because you were getting hit by rocks. That
was the main reason for that."
YOUR ROLE WITH JIMMY WERE YOU LIKE HIS CREW CHIEF? "We owned
two or three cars together. I drove a Hudson Hornet back then
and I had another Ford that he drove for awhile. We just swapped
off back and forth. I had an Oldsmobile that he took to
Darlington to run and he put on a show there with it, too. He
came from 69th up to second place in about 40 laps in the first
race they ever ran there before somebody hit the wall and got
tangled up with him. He put that old Ford on the pole at two or
three races. It wasn't just that night in Dayton. He stuck that
thing on the pole at two or three places and got two or three
thirds out of it and two or three seconds out of it."
HAD TO WAIT UNTIL 4 A.M. TO GET PAID WERE YOU CELEBRATING ALL
THAT TIME? "Well, not really. We kind of took it as just an
everyday thing like we expected to do it. You were coming from
down south up north running on a track against a driver that's
running there every night -- seven nights a week and sometimes
in the afternoon. You just can't plan on falling in there and
outrunning somebody like that because Jimmy was a terrific
midget driver. We had one track where out of 75 races he had 71
feature wins. As far as I'm concerned, he just outdrove them.
The car, really, I don't know if it probably would have been a
wagon he would have done the same thing because he was in his
OF GUY WAS JIMMY? "I tell you one thing, he was always
happy. He always had a smile. There was nothing that ever got
him down. Cancer finally brought him down, but I knew him pretty
well. Our telephone bill over a period of 50 years was out of
sight. Even though I lived down here (in Winston-Salem, N.C.)
and he lived up there (Cleveland, OH), sometimes three times a
night he'd call me. That's the kind of friend he was."
HAVE A FAVORITE JIMMY FLORIAN STORY? "There would be too
many. You could write anything in the world about him. As the
nights go by I always seem to dream about him a little bit."
ABOUT JIMMY IS THAT HE RACED EVEN INTO HIS SIXTIES IN VINTAGE
CARS, RIGHT? "We did that every year. We've always done
that. We'd take a sprint car and go somewhere and run oldtimers
races. We did that all the time. As old as he was, with a sprint
car he'd still make some of them look like they didn't belong
there. He was pretty good."
ABOUT YOURSELF? "I drove a truck most of the time when I
wasn't racing. I ran the Grand National Circuit down here in the
fifties and sixties. You'll find me stuck around the record book
in certain places. In the old days I had some 10ths and some
eighths and even one time I think I had a third behind Weatherly
and Ned Jarrett. You don't get very close unless you've got a
lot of money behind you. Even in the old days when the Flock
boys came out, they had a factory deal, and Petty had a factory
HAVE YOU BEEN IN WINSTON-SALEM? "I've been here since about
1957. I came through here. I was on my way back to Ohio from
Florida and I stopped off here because my brother-in-law was
working here. I stopped off here and went to work for Ford for
awhile and started fooling around with racing again. One thing
led to another and I ended up buying one of Rex White's old
cars, his old championship car and I ran that for awhile."
GET TO ANY WINSTON CUP RACES? "No. If you know anything
about old race car drivers, they never will sit in the stands.
I've never sat in the stands in my life. We used to say if you
want to go see the race get on the track so you can see what's
happening up front."
NANCY ROSE (FLORIAN'S SECOND DAUGHTER)
DAD DID RACE HIS WHOLE LIFE, DIDN'T HE? "Yes, all the way
through. That was his passion. That is what he loved. He loved
racing and flying and when he couldn't fly he could still race
with the Vintage Auto Racers. They didn't have an age limit and
he still wanted to go fast. He still had to beat everybody and
be the fastest and that's the way he was until a couple years
before he died."
DID HE STOP RACING? "He raced until he was 70. When he was
72 he sold the car (a vintage auto racing sprint car). He had a
sprint car that he sold to somebody in the northern Ohio area."
GET INVOLVED WITH YOUR DAD IN RACING? "My first job was in
the body shop. This was back in the early sixties and that was
unusual for a girl, but that was my first profession. My job was
working in his garage cleaning and doing stuff. He would paint
and I would just prep the cars, get the bondo on them and sand
them and prime them. Then, he would just do the final finish
coat. We always had vehicles up until the day he died. I think
he had a station wagon and a pickup truck and he always had more
than one car. He was constantly working on stuff."
REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU WENT WITH HIM TO A RACE? "From
the time I was a baby that was all we did. We have pictures too.
We followed him on the southern circuit for a while. We lived in
Massachusetts and then when that circuit was done we went to
Florida and did the Florida and south circuit for a while. Then
we came back up here (to the Cleveland area). I was in
kindergarten so that would have roughly been in the late
fifties. Then we moved around and he mostly did New York, like
Little Valley, and the speedways around the area here. Then he
just mainly did Cloverleaf and the tracks around Cleveland in
the early sixties. I would travel with him at that time and that
was our weekend thing. That's what we did. I can remember when I
was traveling around with him in my early teens and he was
racing for other people. He could go anytime anywhere and not
even have a car. He would just show up and they would put him in
a car when he got there."
IT LIKE TO WATCH HIM RACE AT AGE 68 OR 69? "These VARC
(Vintage Auto Race Cars) cars were exhibitions with just some
heat races. There were no features or anything like that because
these guys didn't have that kind of stamina. They were all my
dad's age, but the races would be mostly held at fairgrounds
that had dirt tracks because they were the old midgets, the old
sprint cars with wheels different sizes."
BORN SHORTLY AFTER HE WON FORD'S FIRST RACE IN 1950, WEREN'T
YOU? "That's right, it was about a week after. He won that
race on June 25 and my birthday is July 9. But the earliest
recollections I have are of getting up at the crack of dawn and
he would pack us up and we would go driving in the car. It was
nothing for us to drive from Cleveland down to Florida non-stop.
That was the regimen. We'd just get up and we'd be up and down
travelling all over the place. We lived in the car. The backseat
was not a seat. There were three of us girls and they just set
it up as a bed because we spent a lot of time in the back of the
HAVE BEEN FUN WHEN YOU WERE LEARNING TO DRIVE YOURSELF. "I
had my first car when I was 11 and it was one of those Jeep's
with a four-speed on the floor. We had 10 acres and lived next
to the airport in Willoughby (Ohio) and our 10 acres ran
parallel to the runway, so we had all this space to just drive.
We would just ride it around in the yard, so I could drive way
before I could reach the pedals. I remember having to sit on the
edge of the seat, I wasn't able to sit all the way back because
I was too small. When I did go to take my driver's test I
remember the instructor said, 'You've been driving a while
haven't you.' It was just natural. I wasn't nervous, I just got
in the car and drove. The thing is all of us in our family drive
with our right and left foot. We don't drive with just the right
foot and that just comes from the way my dad drove. He taught us
the right foot was gas and the left foot was brake and that's
how we all drive. I think if I had to take the test now they'd
JIMMY FLORIAN FAMILY BACKGROUND
Lived in the Cleveland, Ohio area and had four children -- three
daughters and a son. Terri Ritz, his oldest daughter, lives in
Longwood, FL; Nancy Rose, middle daughter, lives in Medina, OH;
Chris Nelson, youngest daughter, lives in Salem, OR; son James
II also lives in Medina, OH.