NASCAR’s Relief Winners

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Chris Economaki Photo

On occasion during NASCAR’s 72-year history, drivers have come to the rescue of their fellow competitors and wheeled a car to victory in relief of the driver who started the race.

Some relief drivers got the call days in advance of the event, while others have relieved their counterparts during the race.

On Nov. 16, 1952, brothers Herb and Donald Thomas teamed to win at Georgia’s Lakewood Speedway. When Herb’s car suffered a broken axle, he stopped his brother, who was running second, and took over driving duties in his Hudson.

Rivals protested and NASCAR officials placed Herb Thomas at the back of the field. He rallied to win the race.

Herb Thomas enjoyed the victory lane celebration, but Donald Thomas was later credited with the only victory of his career. They are believed to be the first and only brother duo to wheel a premier series car to victory lane.

During an Oct. 6, 1957, premier series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Lewis “Possum” Jones relieved Bob Welborn shortly after the halfway point and cruised to victory in the 250-mile race.

The Chevrolet convertible he was driving finished 14 seconds ahead of Jimmy Massey to collect the $3,100 prize.

Massey was on the other end of things when he relieved Ned Jarrett and won a 100-lap event at South Carolina’s Hub City Speedway on May 28, 1960.

The inaugural Volunteer 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 29, 1961, is a race that’s still being talked about. Amid unmerciful summer heat, veteran Jack Smith called on Johnny Allen, who retired from the race when an axle broke on his Chevrolet.

Smith had built a three-lap lead before turning the wheel of his ’61 Pontiac over to Allen.

By race’s end, Allen added another three laps to their lead and had such a cushion that he pitted for tires and fuel in the closing circuits. Allen bested Fireball Roberts to win the race for Smith.

In 1963, Marvin Panch was badly burned in a sports car crash at Daytona Int’l Speedway. Tiny Lund helped free Panch from his burning car and was rewarded with his ride in the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford. Lund delivered by winning the 1963 Daytona 500.

Three years later, Panch was driving Lee Petty’s No. 42 Plymouth at Charlotte Motor Speedway when he received relief from Richard Petty, whose car dropped out of the race, to win the World 600.

“Lee Petty offered me a ride in his car, and I had to take it,” Panch said after the race. “My seat was rubbing right where I was burned in the wreck at Daytona (in 1963). I saw Richard (Petty) standing there, so I let him relieve me.”

On April 27, 1969, Richard Petty called upon James Hylton to wheel his No. 43 Ford when Petty became overheated at Martinsville. Hylton drove the car from lap 399 to lap 447 of the 500 laps before turning it back over to Petty.

On July 20, 1969, Petty assisted David Pearson when he was called upon to drive the No. 17 Holman-Moody Ford at Bristol due to an extremely hot summer afternoon.

On May 24, 1970, Donnie Allison was well ahead of the field in the World 600 at Charlotte when relief was given by Lee Roy Yarbrough on lap 363 of the 400-lap race as heat and fatigue took a heavy toll. Yarbrough finished two laps ahead of Cale Yarborough.

“The insulation in the floorboard came apart and my feet were blistered from the heat,” Allison said that day. “I was sure glad to see Lee Roy standing there to relieve me. Someday, I’ll return the favor.”

Allison’s older brother, Bobby, received help from Dave Marcis on July 19, 1970, when extreme heat was a factor at Bristol. Marcis ran the final 130 laps of the 500-lap race to help secure Allison’s second of three victories that season.

“I was always good with the heat because it never bothered me,” Bobby Allison said. “That day when Dave helped me at Bristol, he was available. A lot of drivers were falling out and my crew wanted me to come out of the car, so I did, and we won it together.”

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