Monday, May 29, 2017

"The Clown Prince of Racing" Joe Weatherly Born - May 29, 1922

May 29, 1922 - January 19, 1964
Joseph "Little Joe" Weatherly
Born in Norfolk, Virginia, USA.
Weatherly won NASCAR's Grand National championships in 1962 and 1963, three AMA Grand National Championships, and two NASCAR Modified championships. He won NASCAR's Most Popular Driver Award in 1961. He was named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998. He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2009 and the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 30, 2015.

He also won three American Motorcycle Association (AMA) nationals between 1946 and 1950, including the prestigious Laconia Classic 100 Mile road race in 1948. In 1998 he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

"Little Joe" began racing cars in 1950 and won the first modified event that he entered. He won 49 of the 83 car races that he entered that season. In 1952 he won the NASCAR Modified National crown, and he again won 49 of 83 car races that he entered. Weatherly won 52 more races in 1953, and won the Modified National crown again.

Weatherly had partial interest in what would later be called Richmond International Raceway from 1955 to 1956. In 1956 he moved into the NASCAR Grand National series. He drove a factory-sponsored Ford car for Pete DePaolo Engineering. For the next two seasons, Weatherly drove for Holman Moody. In 1959, Weatherly recorded six top-five finishes and ten top-tens.

He won two consecutive championships in 1962 and 1963 for Bud Moore Engineering. Moore did not have enough resources to run the full season, so Weatherly frequently "bummed a ride".

Weatherly enjoyed behaving outrageously. He once took practice laps wearing a Peter Pan suit. Moreover, he frequently stayed out partying until the early hours, usually with fellow driver and friend Curtis Turner. This behavior earned him the nickname "The Clown Prince of Racing". In 1956 at Raleigh, while racing in the convertible series, Weatherly's engine blew. With the help of Ralph Liguori pushing from behind, he displayed showmanship to the fullest extent by crossing the finish line while standing in a 'chariot of fire'.

Weatherly died on January 19, 1964, from head injuries sustained in a racing accident at the fifth race of the 1964 season at Riverside International Raceway. His head went outside the car and struck a retaining wall, killing him instantly. Weatherly was not wearing a shoulder harness, and did not have a window net installed on his vehicle, because he was afraid of being trapped in a burning car.

He is one of two reigning champions of what is now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to die during a season as the defending champion and the only one of the two to die during a race. The 1992 Winston Cup champion Alan Kulwicki, who died in a plane crash during the 1993 season is the other.

Weatherly's fatal crash, combined with Richard Petty's crash at Darlington in 1970, eventually led NASCAR to mandate the window net seven years later in 1971. Window nets are used in most stockcar racing series to this day.

Weatherly's grave marker is a sculpture of Riverside Raceway, a checkered flag marking the spot of his fatal crash.

Achievements  & Awards:
1962 Grand National Series Champion.
1963 Grand National Series Champion.
1952 Modified National Champion.
1953 Modified National Champion.
Three American Motorcycle Association championships.
Led Grand National Series in wins in 1961 and 1962.
1961 Grand National Series Most Popular Driver.
Named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1994.
Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.
Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2009.
NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015.

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