no photos of the real races exist; this is a photoshop by Fuzzyman
A look at NASCAR’s 1955 short track championship season stats shows something unexpected: Volkswagen is listed in ninth place in the manufacturer’s points standings. That’s all due to a 1955 VW that was entered in two NASCAR late model stock car races and finished in the top ten both times; #6 in the first event and #8 in the second. It took a special exemption by NASCAR’s contest board to allow the 36 hp VW in these 200 lap races against 200+ hp big American stockers, held at the Contra Costa, California quarter-mile dirt track.
The naysayers predicted that the little Beetle’s air-cooled engine would never survive. Or be crushed by the big American cars. Or just left in their dust. They had to eat their words. And some even had to eat the Beetle’s dust.
I ran into this totally coincidentally, perusing a January 1956 Motor Life scan. There was an article about the upcoming stock car season, and how Chrysler was 9again) set to dominate the long tracks and Chevrolet (again) the short tracks. What caught my eye was Volkswagen, at number nine, as well as Jaguar, at number ten (more on that later). That seemed really odd, so I asked my CC super-sleuth, George Ferencz to see if you could dig up any old newspaper stories or pictures. As usual, he came through, with flying colors.
Here’s an article leading up to the first race, on June 5, and the VW gets in the headline. The Beetle was entered by Guido Ginochio of Contra Costa. Veteran driver Jim Graham, who the article identifies as a VW dealer in San Francisco, piloted it.”I feel that the reliability and handling characteristics of the Volkswagen will offset the horsepower advantage of the American cars. It will be easier on tire wear and expect to go all the way without a pitstop.” Graham said.
The article states that NASCAR only gave this exemption to Ginochio’s VW for the Contra Costa track.
Here’s a poor quality photo of Graham “tinkering” with the engine in the VW.
And another article on the upcoming race. Another unusual entrant was Fifi Scott, a young woman. There was a lot of pushback from the other drivers about letting her race, as this was “a man’s sport”, and race car drivers were notoriously superstitious about such things. The article on the left “On Second Thought” discusses the brouhaha over Scott’s entry in the race. She had already driven in a number of midget and “hardtop” races in California.
This article confirms that the VW also raced in a second event for late model stock cars on August 14, this time with 250 laps. Based on the standings, the Beetle came in #8 this time.
Strictly speaking, this was not the first time a VW raced in a NASCAR-sanctioned event, as this photo from 1953 attests. It was at Langhorne Speedway (in Pennsylvania). The 30 hp 1953 VW came in #19 in a field of 35, earning driver Dick Hagy $40.00 in prize money. The other car is a Jaguar XK-120; there were several Jaguars and a couple of Porsches entered, and a Jag came in #6.
Another XK-120, piloted by Al Keller, won the the “International 100” NASCAR race that took place at Linden airport track on June 13, 1954.
These VWs were Herbie’s legitimate predecessors.
I love those old Beetles and love that they were competitive in those races.
I am having a hard time reading those newspaper articles with my old eyes. Was there anything about how Fifi Scott did?
Click on those images, and then click again. That should pop them up to maximum size.
No info on how Fifi made out.
What a fun story, Paul—I’d never have guessed, and it was fun to help a bit. Here’s one more (Oakland paper again), 10 August 1955, so just days before the second race. I figure the novel VW made for good copy:
The NASCAR article mentions Jim Graham had won the Class F crown at the Stockton Road Race in a Beetle, so I looked to see if there were any photos or articles online about that event. I found a two-page spread about the SRR in Motor Trend from July 1962 (the one with the Avanti on the cover) by Pete Biro, though it doesn’t appear Graham was involved by then or anyone else driving a VW, but the cars in this race were mostly sports cars like Corvettes, Jaguars, Porsches, and Maseratis. Impressive a Bug could come out on top if the 1955 had a similar crowd.
On a crowded dirt short-track, a car that can get get good traction and is maneuverable (and doesn’t have to take a pit stop) might do well. In those kinds of races one might never be able to take advantage of the power, as one is traction-limited and because of the length of the straights, top-speed-limited as well.
Very interesting articles. I enjoyed seeing my beloved 1955 Olds; beautiful to look at, very reliable, easy to maintain, and so roomy!
I have many photos of Sebring races from the sixties and seventies when TransAm sedans were trying to establish their performance reputations: Cougars, Mustangs, Camaros, Barracudas.I was very busy with the cars, but a friend took the photos. James Garner, the Smothers Brothers, Jerry Titus, Lance Reventlow and several other celebrities were involved. Good times!
WOW! Back when you could tell what the NASCAR vehicles where instead of having them all look the same like now.
Yes, cars are now the new refrigerators. Boring as batshit.
I’m a European car fan but in the past 5 / 10 years l now look at old Aussie, Yank and Jap cars with a new appreciation.
I’m hardly impressed by any new cars. Only Porsche petrol-cars gives me a thrill.
I despair at what young bloke might like now.
The rumble of a Chev or Merc V8, the insistence of a Ford V8, the come to play of a Subaru WRX, the insanity of a Viper or Audi V10 or the maniacal howl of Porsche Flat 6 all gone. All gone.
Imagine if nascar allowed imports before the cookie cutter era. Road and track cars today would be completely different.
I thought the title was a joke when I saw the #6 and #8 finishes, maybe an off-handed reference to Herbie finishing 1st and 3rd in the same race. Fun article!
Hmmm… One has to speculate on what the result might have been if the Beetle had used a specially prepared “stock” engine (like the US factory teams had in their cars) with say mighty 60 hp…
I’m impressed, Ive driven a stock 55 Beetle it wasnt very fast at all but it could probably lap at maximum speed once it got there without fuel stops,
I’m an Aussie. We had similar here in Bathurst. A Beetle won it’s class and finished respectably.
In my teenage years l gave the cops the slip in a 1200cc Beetles and they had Chrysler and Holden (our GM brand) V8s!!!
Contra Costa dirt track up in Pacheco between Pacheco Blvd and Buchanan Airport with 680 running right over the top of it.
Yes, we had some very eclectic touring car races too – Big Fords (Fairlanes?) little Fords, Minis, Alfa 101/105s and Isabellas, etc…
The results were sometimes equally surprising.
The early VW’s had designed in limited engine power so one could run them flat out as long as you wanted without worry about engine failure etc. .
The early models also had a slightly different steering box that provided an extremely quick ratio .
Of course, on the straights they were left far behind but the fun factor never quits .
In the mid 1950’s there was a race where they ran the pit car, a new Plymouth and it did very well, maybe you could find it and make an article about that too .
Neat article on the Beetle. Growing up in Atlantic Canada we had the Mini Coopers giving fits to Corvettes and Mustangs on the road race courses.although way down on top speed their handling in the corners made it hard for a well driven Vette to pass them in practice.
Nate that pit car was a 6 cylinder Valiant. I believe the track was Talladega,and a driver didn’t have a ride so he put racing rubber on a rental Valiant and went racing. The big boys left it in their dust until they had to come in for frequent tire changes. At the end of the race the Valiant came in first.
For some reason I can’t find information on it on the NASCAR site, seems like they want to bury that bit of their history.