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Road America 1956: The story of the track’s first NASCAR Cup Series race

In 1956, Dwight D. Eisenhower was re-elected President of the United States in a year where gas cost $0.23 per gallon, a new car cost around $2400 and Elvis Presley put out his first-ever studio album. Another first took place in the world as Road America, in Elkhart Lake, WI, held its first NASCAR Cup Series race August 12, 1956.

Photo: Tyler Barrick/Getty Images

10,000 people attended the 63-lap event, featuring a 26-car field which included five cars fielded by Pete DePaolo, three cars fielded by Bill Stroppe and three cars fielded by Carl Kiekhaefer.

Kiekhaefer drivers Buck Baker and Speedy Thompson started first and fifth, respectively. DePaolo drivers Junior Johnson and Bill Amick started third and fourth, respectively, while Stroppe driver Tim Flock started sixth.

Johnson and Amick quickly found troubles as each driver dropped out of the race on Lap 1 and Lap 10 respectively. DePaolo teammate Curtis Turner then crashed out of the race on Lap 21 after having brake failure in the final corner.

Turner, Amick and Johnson finished 24th, 25th and 26th, the latter of which was Johnson’s second-career last-place finish.

The three DePaolo drivers were among the 12 drivers who did not finish. Among the 12 drivers were also race leaders Marvin Panch and Speedy Thompson.

Panch led 23 laps driving for Tom Harbison but lost the lead on Lap 35 to Thompson, just before Panch encountered a race-ending rear-end assembly failure on Lap 37.

On Lap 53, Thompson’s engine blew while he was leading, which took him out of the race and gave the lead to Tim Flock.

Flock led the final 10 laps and won by 17 seconds over Stroppe teammate Billy Myers, who finished second.

Flock’s win was the 39th and final career victory of his NASCAR Cup Series career that also included two championships in 1952 and 1955.

After 1956, Flock made 15 NASCAR Cup Series starts and won two NASCAR Convertible Division races in 1957 before retiring in 1961.

Flock came out of retirement for a Winston Legends Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1991, just seven years before his death in 1998.

Flock was posthumously inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2014.

Flock’s teammate, Billy Myers earned two career NASCAR Cup Series wins. Each win came in 1956, including an August 22 win at the 0.4-mile dirt Norfolk (Va.) Raceway where he led 150 of 250 laps en route to his final win.

In 1957 and 1958, Myers made 30 Cup starts and won one NASCAR Convertible Division race for Petty Engineering during each season.

However, in 1958, Myers suffered a fatal heart attack during an April 12, 1958 race at Bowman-Gray Stadium. Myers was only 33 years old.

The bulk of Myers’ racing legacy is at Bowman-Gray Stadium. Billy won the 1951, 1953 and 1955 Modified track championships. His brother, Bobby, who finished 21st in the 1956 Road America as a teammate to Billy, won the 1952 Modified track championship.

Billy’s grandson, Burt, is also tied with Tim Brown for the most Modified track championships of any driver in Stadium history, at ten championships.

The NMPA Myers Brothers Award, which has been given out since 1958 recognize individuals and/or groups who have provided significant contributions to stock car racing, is also named in honor of Billy and Bobby.

Award recipients include the likes of Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Bill France Sr. and Jr., Barney Hall, Darrell Waltrip, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Darlington Raceway and others, including Jimmie Johnson in 2020.

Of the race’s 26 competitors, only Paul Goldsmith (finished fourth), Rex White (finished 11th) and Johnny Allen (finished 17th) are alive, as of July 2, 2021.

Goldsmith won nine NASCAR Cup Series races and earned his final career win in July 1966 at Bristol.

1956 was White’s rookie season in the NASCAR Cup Series. White won 28 career races and the 1960 NASCAR Cup Series championship.

White earned his first win at Fayetteville, NC, in November 1957 and his last win at Atlanta in October 1962. In 2015, he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

In 1962, Johnny Allen earned his first and only NASCAR Cup Series win in a Myers Brothers-sponsored race at Bowman-Gray Stadium.

Among the other notable competitors in the 1956 Road America race were two-time champion Herb Thomas,1962 Daytona 500 winner Fireball Roberts, three-time champion and family patriarch Lee Petty and two-time champion Joe Weatherly.

Buck Baker, who led five laps and finished eighth despite an engine failure on Lap 61, won the 1956 NASCAR Cup Series title driving for Carl Kiekhaefer.

1956 was Kiekhaefer’s second consecutive — and final — championship as an owner. Kiekhaefer quit NASCAR after a falling out with Bill France Sr. over rules modifications that he believed were aimed at his team in the wake of their success. Despite this, Kiekhaefer purchased four Chrysler 300Cs in 1957 with the hope of racing them at Road America in NASCAR’s short-lived road racing division. However, the series was discontinued before Kiekhaefer ever ran any of the cars. Kiekhaefer never ran another race as an owner and Road America never hosted a NASCAR race until June 2010 when the NASCAR Xfinity Series started running at the track.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series Henry’s 180 at Road America will take place July 3 at 2:30 p.m. ET (TV: NBC; Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with qualifying at 11:35 a.m. ET (TV: NBCSN, 12 p.m. ET).

The NASCAR Cup Series Jockey Made in America 250 presented by Kwik Trip at Road America will take place July 4 at 2:30 p.m. ET (TV: NBC; Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with qualifying at 11:05 a.m. ET (TV: CNBC).

Bowman Gray Stadium

LASTCAR/Brock Beard
National Motorsports Press Association

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