T-bird on the racing trail

The debut of Ford's potent luxury car in NASCAR competition next month has racing's hot-stove league abuzz
January 05, 1959

Auto racing's hot-stove league was abuzz during the holidays over developments at those hotbeds of enterprise, Daytona Beach, Sebring and Indianapolis.

From Daytona came word that the four-seat Ford Thunderbird would be admitted to stock car racing on the NASCAR circuit for the first time, starting next month with the inaugural events on the ambitious new 2½-mile Daytona International Speedway. Three days of racing at the track, February 20-22, will climax the annual Daytona Speed Week.

Bill France, president of NASCAR, said the Thunderbird became eligible when its specifications were filed with the Automobile Manufacturers Association last month. Such registration was not made the preceding year, he said, and since it is required for all competing cars the Thunderbird was barred in 1958.

Veteran NASCAR drivers disagreed sharply over the probable effect of the Thunderbird's appearance.

"The T-bird is designed to be a sports car," said Speedy Thompson, a past winner of the Southern "500." "They're wrong to put it into competition with regular passenger cars. It will kill racing."

"It will help racing," said Buck Baker, a former Grand National champion. "Sure, it will have lots of horsepower, but it won't be the only good car on the tracks. It will give us more variety."

Ford, of course, has never called the Thunderbird a sports car. In its former two-seat dress, however, it could fairly be called a sports-touring car. Today's larger four-seat model fits none of the usual definitions for sports cars, but it certainly has plenty of oomph and, at least on paper, figures to excel in track racing.

Most of the furor over the car is due to the fact that it can be equipped with a very large optional engine, displacing 430 cubic inches, while the standard Ford, weighing not a great deal less, has an engine of 352 cubic inches in its most powerful admissible stock car racing trim.

John Holman, a successful Ford entrant in past years, is preparing a Thunderbird of his own for Daytona and six more for other campaigners. He points not only to the bigger engine but also to the more streamlined body ("We won't have to push so much air around") and the lower center of gravity of the car.

For the last word we turn to Curtis Turner, a heavy-footed and colorful driver.

"The T-bird," he says, "will be just a good car among other good cars."

"What car are you driving yourself, Curtis?" you might ask.

"Why, John Holman's Thunderbird," he answers.

The buzz over Sebring concerns a postponement of the long-awaited full-dress Grand Prix race for the world's best single-seat road racing cars. Originally scheduled to be run on March 22, the day after the traditional Sebring 12-hour world championship race for sports cars, it will now close rather than open the season if all goes well. Application for a date in late November or December has been made to the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile.

"We discovered," said Alec Ulmann, the Sebring organizer, "that the English BRM and Vanwall cars would not be ready in time and that the Aston Martin people would welcome the postponement, although their new car could be ready. We certainly want to have Lance Reventlow's new Formula I car for the race, but we know it will not be finished by March. There are other factors: some opposition in Sebring to racing on Sunday; a complaint from one of the leading drivers that two long races on consecutive days would be too exhausting, the problem of raising the $100,000 or so that it takes to put on an event of this kind—you don't find that kind of money on the street in 10 minutes.

"At any rate we are well along with our financing—some big companies are interested—and we hope to have the playoff for the world driver championship next fall."

At Indianapolis the United States Auto Club, sanctioning body for the Indianapolis "500" and many other track races, decided to retain its present rules governing engine size for championship cars through the racing season of 1962.

PHOTOFORD THUNDERBIRD BOWS INTO NASCAR RACING AT NEW DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY DURING FEBRUARY'S SPEED WEEK

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)