This story originally appeared in the November 2014 edition of SPEED SPORT Magazine.
Decades after their untimely deaths in 1964 and 1970, respectively, Joe Weatherly and Curtis Turner are still talked about for their incredible, hard-charging driving talents and for their party-driven, crazy antics away from the track.
Weatherly, a native of Norfolk, Va., won three American Motorcyclist Ass’n championships between 1946 and ’50. Also in 1950, he won the first modified race of his career, as well as 48 of the additional 83 races he entered that season. Two years later, in 1952, he won NASCAR’s national modified title. With 52 wins in 1953, he defended his crown. The 2014 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee was one of the most talented drivers in stock car racing history.
His first NASCAR Sprint Cup (Grand National) race came on Sept. 1, 1952. He finished 16th in a 66-car field. All told, he won 25 races and two Cup championships (1962 and ’63) in 230 starts before his death on the Riverside, Calif., road course on Jan. 19, 1964.
Weatherly was incredibly superstitious and hated green towels, green cars, peanuts and the No. 13. He refused to race in the 13th annual Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in 1962, so officials changed the name to the 12th renewal of the Southern 500.
The universal superstition also carried over to $50 bills. The day Weatherly died, he unknowingly received two 50s when a friend paid him money owed. They were in his pocket at the time of his death.
Bud Moore, Weatherly’s car owner in 1964, feels the crash may not have been survivable.
“None of the older-type drivers used the harness back then,” Moore said. “We didn’t have a window net then, either. I don’t know for sure if a window net would have saved him. He hit that wall pretty hard.”
Turner was from the Shenandoah Mountain town of Floyd, Va. He spent his teenage years driving moonshine with perfection on dark, twisting roads. He was known for sliding his car in perfect position between lines of pint jars of moonshine without touching any of them.
In 1946, Turner began driving race cars at a dirt track in Mount Airy, N.C., and is believed to have won more than 350 races during his career, including 17 Cup and 38 NASCAR Convertible Series events.
When he was behind the wheel his driving was flawless.
NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief Leonard Wood believes Turner is one of the best drivers in Wood Brothers Racing history.
Turner was banned from NASCAR for life for attempting to form a union in 1961, but was reinstated by Bill France in 1965, hoping to help boost lagging ticket sales. Turner’s return came at North Carolina Motor Speedway, a race he won for Wood Brothers Racing.
“Curtis could drive anything, anywhere,” Wood said. “We were at a road course race at Riverside, Calif., one year and I asked him to sit in the seat so we could make some changes. He put his right foot inside the car on the seat and said, ‘It’s just right.’
“I guess the reason he never complained was because of his great natural gift for driving. I can recall seeing him change lanes so quickly that it looked like he literally picked up the car and set it down right where he wanted in another groove.”
Off the track, Turner made and lost millions of dollars in timber, sawmills, real estate and various businesses, including promoting race tracks in Roanoke, Va., and Shelby, N.C.
His biggest business venture was building Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1960. Poor weather, acres of rock that needed blasting and numerous cost overruns threatened to doom the speedway before it could open. The iconic speedway survived and is one of the greatest showplaces on the NASCAR circuit.
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