Nashville, Tenn. (August 9, 1959) – It took lanky (6-foot-3, 175 pounds) Joe Lee Johnson of Chattanooga eight years to hit the jackpot in auto racing here in Nashville. But he finally did it, and in a big way.The 29-year-old Johnson, who talks just above a loud whisper, had $2,912 in his possession as he towed his 1957 Chevy convertible back to Chattanooga. That was his purse for winning the 300-lap NASCAR late model race before 10,428 paid fans Sunday at Fairgrounds Speedway.
But if Joe Lee and runner-up Larry Frank of Piedmont, S.C., hadn’t been using the same pit crew, it might have been a different story.
Both were running out of gas on lap 180, heading for their only pit stop of the race. Joe Lee, in first place a car length ahead of Frank, coasted into the pits. Frank throttled down but had to circle the track at half-speed until Joe Lee was gassed up and the crew was ready to service Frank’s 1957 Chevy convertible.
That was the difference, Johnson finished a lap ahead of Frank. Their pit stops were almost identical (66 seconds for Johnson, 65 seconds for Frank). But Johnson picked up a full lap when Frank eased around the track awaiting his turn in the pits.
Sunday, Joe Lee had his own way, after pace-setter Rex White of Spartanburg, S.C., lost the lead at 145 laps. Joe Lee took over the lead and relinquished it for only one turn around the half-mile Fairground’s oval during his pit stop. He led for a total of 154 laps, worth $462 in lap money.
It was Joe Lee’s first sweepstakes (hard tops and convertibles running together) win in NASCAR competition this season.
White set a new Fairgrounds’ late model qualifying record in Saturday’s time trials to take the pole position for the third straight time in a NASCAR race there. Sitting on the pole, he beat Johnson to the first turn and led for 145 laps before a pinion grease wheel in his differential blew.
1. Joe Lee Johnson, Chattanooga, Tenn.
2. Larry Frank, Piedmont, S.C.
3. Elmo Langley, Washington, D.C.
4. Lee Petty, Randleman, N.C.
5. Tom Irwin, Purcellville, N.C.
6. Joe Weatherly, Norfolk, Va.
7. Cotton Owens, Spartanburg, S.C.
8. Gene White, Atlanta
9. Bob Reuther, Nashville
10.Bud Crothers, Greenville, S.C.