Tuesday, February 14, 2017

NASCAR Legend “Shirtless” Jimmy Florian Dies - February 14, 1999

September 25, 1923 - February 14, 1999 
Jimmy Florian
Born in Cleaveland, Ohio, USA.
He was a stock car, midget and sprint car driver. Florian entered the NASCAR Grand National Division competition in 1950 campaigning his No. 27 Ford sponsored by Euclid Motor Co. Onlookers scoffed that Florian had brought a knife to a gun fight campaigning a flathead Ford against the Oldsmobile “Rocket” overhead valve engines.

Florian paid the scoffers little attention, finishing a respectable third place finish in his first outing in the NASCAR Grand National Division at Langhorne. He then qualified on the pole at Canfield Speedway in Canfield, Ohio and finished 6th. An 8th place finish then followed at Vernon Fairgrounds in Vernon, New York.

On June 25, 1950, Jimmy Florian, the 27 year old mechanic from Cleveland, Ohio did what many thought was impossible. He beat Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, and Lee Petty in the 100-lap NASCAR Grand National event at Dayton Speedway in Daytona, Ohio, giving Ford its first win in the series.

With 35 laps to go, Florian passed Curtis Turner and had established a half-lap advantage by the time the race was over. Turner, Weatherly, and Petty quickly protested. They could not believe that they have been outrun by a flathead Ford. But at 4 A.M., after careful inspection, NASCAR officials declared the Ford was as stock as could be. The win was official. In his 10 starts in the 1950 NASCAR Grand National Division, Florian recorded 1 win, 3 top-5s, and 6 top-10s.

Florian returned to Grand National competition in 1951 driving Don Rogalla’s Oldsmobile in 3 events. He also campaigned his own No. 27 Ford in 6 events recording a fourth place finish on the 1-mile dirt track at Bainbridge Speedway in Bainbridge, Ohio and another fourth place finish at the ½-mile dirt track at Pine Grove Speedway in Shippenville, Pennsylvania. He charted 2 top-5s and 5 top-10s in the 1951 NASCAR Grand National Division.

In 1952, Florian campaigned his own No. 18 Oldsmobile at West Palm Beach and Daytona Beach before swapping to a Ford for Jacksonville, Columbia, Atlanta, and Macon. He picked up 2 top-10s for the season. Florian returned to the NASCAR Grand National ranks for one final event in 1954 driving his No. 15 Hudson at Daytona Beach finishing 37th.

Despite retiring from the NASCAR ranks, Florian continued to race midgets and sprint cars. In his 60’s, he participated in the VARC (Vintage Auto Race Cars) exhibition races. He finally retired from racing completely at 70 years old, selling his vintage sprint car at age 72.

Jimmy Florian passed away after a battle with cancer in February 1999. He was 75
Jimmy Florian at the Dayton Speedway in 1950. ​And while his accomplishment on the race track was big enough news, he generated even more when he got out of car in victory lane bare chested.  NASCAR eventually established a rule that a driver had to at least wear a shirt while driving.  Hence, the nickname “Shirtless” Jimmy Florian.

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