Teamsters Movement Fails To Take Over Auto Racing

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HIS STORY: Chris Economaki interviews Curtis Turner at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1966. (NSSN Archives Photo)

HIS STORY: Chris Economaki interviews Curtis Turner at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1966. (NSSN Archives Photo)

When the Aug. 16, 1961, issue of National Speed Sport News arrived in mailboxes, race fans were shocked by the front-page headline: “RACE LEADERS BATTLE TEAMSTER INROADS.”

The issue included four stories, along with statements from NASCAR’s Bill France and USAC’s Tom Binford, detailing efforts by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to unionize professional race-car drivers through the Federation of Professional Athletes.

Reports indicated the movement started when NASCAR driver Curtis Turner approached the Teamsters about a loan. Turner was attempting to obtain the money necessary to regain control of Charlotte Motor Speedway, the financially strapped race track he built and was president of until being forced out following the 1961 World 600.

The lead story on page three included: “Quietly and without fanfare, well-known race drivers, headed by Curtis Turner and ‘Fireball’ Roberts, met in Chicago last week with representatives of the Jimmy Hoffa-controlled Teamsters Union. The purpose was to form a union of all professional drivers cutting across NASCAR, USAC, IMCA and other boundaries. Also reported at the Chicago meeting were several Indianapolis race drivers including Paul Goldsmith and Don Branson.”

Later Turner reported a majority of the NASCAR Grand National drivers had signed applications and paid a $10 initiation fee for membership in the federation.

That news didn’t sit well with France.

“No known Teamster members can compete in a NASCAR race, and if this isn’t tough enough, I’ll use a pistol to enforce it,” he said. “I have a pistol, and I know how to use it. I’ve used it before. I am barring union members from races to protect the drivers who do not sign up.”

France suspended Turner, Roberts and Tim Flock for their roles in organizing the union, but Roberts was quickly reinstated when he backtracked and denounced the organization.

Turner said France’s ban against union members was a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. He then outlined what the union wanted: “A pension plan, death benefits, health and welfare benefits and a scholarship fund for children of deceased members. Also strong and meaningful complaint procedures and assurances of adequate safety conditions.”

As it turned out, the attempt to unionize drivers was short-lived and the effort quickly faded away. But later in 1961, NASCAR did form an advisory council that included drivers Rex White and Ned Jarrett.

NASCAR rescinded the lifetime suspensions of Turner and Flock in 1965. Turner returned to driving while Flock continued to work at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but never drove in another NASCAR race.

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Keith Waltz
Keith Waltz has written about auto racing since first joining the SPEED SPORT staff in January 1983. He has worked alongside racing legends Chris Economaki, Darrell Waltrip and H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler during his career.