Tuesday, April 9, 2024

1977 – Brazil Tops Western World


George Brazil waves to the crowd after winning the Western World Late Model Stock Car Championship at Manzanita Speedway. Runner-up Bill Cheesbourg (left) and third-place finisher Tom Bartholomew join the winner on the podium.

Phoenix, Ariz. (April 9, 1977) – It was the kind of race where it took 1 hour and 15 minutes to run 50 laps, five drivers led and only 11 of the starting 26-car field finished.

And George Brazil of Albuquerque, N.M., won it all in a 1976 Camaro. The Western World Late Model Stock Car Championship Saturday night had to be one of the wackiest races ever held at Manzanita Speedway.

It was also witnessed by 8,712 fans, the largest ever to watch a stock car race in Arizona.

Brazil proved that perseverance pays, considering he was in the pits with a broken tie rod right after the green flag flew to start the race and later tangled with race leader Joe Wallace of Kansas City, Mo., on the 12th lap as both spun out and had to restart at the tail of the field.

Brazil’s Camaro was struck by Tom Bartholomew of Waterloo, Iowa, the eventual third-place finisher, as the green flag flew at the start and struck the wall, “bending the tie rod completely in two.” Two other cars involved were unable to restart the contest.

Aided by his father and Phoenix driver Larry Dagley, plus a yellow flag on the first lap of the restart, Brazil made it out of the pits just in the nick of time.

Polesitter Wallace led the first 12 circuits in his 1968 Camaro before he and Brazil, plus two other cars, tangled on the backstretch.

Sonny Easley of Van Nuys, Calif., then took command in his Camaro for the next six laps before he too bit the dust, surrendering the lead to Tucson’s Bill Cheesbourg, a second row starter in a Mustang.

Cheesbourg could only hold the top spot for two laps before giving way to Red Dralle of Evansdale, Iowa, who was driving a superb race, coming from his 12th row starting position to lead laps 21 – 43 on the hard, slick racing surface which put a premium on tire selection.

But Dralle would blow a tire and hit the third turn wall which seemed to gobble up cars throughout the evening. By this time, Brazil had made his way back to the front, had worked his way to second place, and was in the right place and right time when Dralle exited the race.

And that where he stayed for the remaining seven laps, widening his lead over Cheesbourg to the checkered flag and the $5,000 payday.

Following Cheesbourg and Bartholomew to the finish line were Mesa’s Roger Adams and Randy Ogden of Woodward, Okla.

“This is the greatest thrill of my life,” Brazil said after his victory. He is a five-time New Mexico late model champion.

Phoenix’s Wayne Bennett captured the 25-lap semi-main over Mike Gibson. The 15-lap consolation took 40 minutes to complete before Tom Roberson of Cypress Calif., emerged ahead of a hard-charging Kim Jorgenson of Sierra Vista.

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