Does NASCAR owe speedway builder Joseph a win?

 

The late Melvin Joseph, whose construction company built Dover International Speedway, is shown standing next to the car in a race shop around 1970. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — Oddly, there is only one NASCAR cup series race without a winner.

Only one race with an asterisk and footnote.

Only one that remains a bit of a mystery in the sport’s history.

But if there was a winner, it would belong to Delaware’s racing legend, Melvin Joseph.

The late Mr. Joseph was the car owner. His driver was Bobby Allison.

“It’s the craziest thing ever,” said Ken Adams, grandson of Mr. Joseph.

The race was the Myers Brothers 250 on Aug. 6, 1971, at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Mr. Allison was driving a Holman-Moody Ford Mustang Mach 1. It has Rollins Leasing Inc. and M.L. Joseph Const. Co. painted on the rear quarter panels.

And, it had a big “49” on the door. More on that in a few laps.

The thing was red, light, fast and nimble. Richard Petty’s big, heavy Plymouth Roadrunner was no match at Bowman-Gray.

Mr. Joseph had purchased the Mustang from Holman-Moody for $15,000. The deal came with a spare engine and transmission.

Jeff Droke, a racing enthusiast, wrote an interesting piece in 2013 that said NASCAR’s official bulletin listed Mr. Allison as the winner a few days after the race.

Bobby Allison drove Melvin Joseph’s No. 49 Ford Mustang to a win at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on Aug. 6, 1971. However, NASCAR doesn’t recognize it as a victory in its official records. (Submitted photo)

But, at some point after that, NASCAR said it wasn’t a legal entry in the Grand National series.

At the time, the Grand National series was the name of the top division. It would later become the Winston Cup series and today is known as the Monster Energy Series.

The sport was struggling with a tough economy in 1971. The big manufacturers had pulled support and many races were short on entries so fields were filled with the smaller Grand American Series cars.

Mr. Adams described Bowman-Gray as a little paper clip of a quarter-mile track with sharp corners.

“Bobby decided that you don’t want a bunch of weight in one of those big cars with a .429 (engine) hanging off the front,” said Mr. Adams. “You don’t want a big car because it won’t turn. Bobby said, ‘I’ll go in with Melvin’s Mustang with a little .302 in it and I’ll outhandle them.”

Mr. Petty won the pole and led the first 112 laps. But for the remaining 128, it was Mr. Allison in front.

The asterisk in the NASCAR media guide is followed by a note that reads, “Victory came in a Grand American Division car; did not count as a series victory.”

Mr. Joseph, whose construction company built Dover International Speedway in the late 1960s, never really fussed too much about it, said Mr. Adams, now president of his grandfather’s construction company.

“To him, it wasn’t that big a deal because he knew he had won the race,” said Mr. Adams. “To him, he knew he won the race and he whooped Richard Petty’s butt. That’s all he cared about.

“It didn’t seem to bother him all that much.”

Mr. Joseph cashed the winner’s check of $1,000, and brought the trophy home to Georgetown.

He had wins in other NASCAR divisions, but Bowman-Gray would be his only one in the cup series.

Mr. Allison, on the other hand, has not forgotten.

“I have always counted that win,” said Mr. Allison in the latest edition of the Delaware State News’ “Outside the Oval” magazine.

“I will continue to advocate for Bobby Allison and the Melvin Joseph No. 49 Mustang to have the win recognized again.”

***

If it was counted, Mr. Allison would have one more win than Darrell Waltrip. In NASCAR’s records, both now show 84 wins – tied for fourth all-time behind Richard Petty (200), David Pearson (105) and Jeff Gordon (87).

There were six races in 1971 with combined Grand National and Grand American fields. Tiny Lund won two of them in a Camaro — a Grand American car.

***

Mr. Joseph’s lucky number was 49.

It was used on cars he raced and owned. It was the low-digit tag he had on his personal car.

And it still flies on the orange flags of the M.L. Joseph Construction Co.

His story is quite legendary. At the age of 18, he got his start in business with just a shovel and a dump truck that he purchased with a $300 loan from his grandmother. Mr. Joseph had only a fifth-grade education.

It was in 1949 that he got his first big state construction contract. The same year, he opened a Ford dealership in Georgetown and built the Georgetown Speedway.

In the 1940s, he developed a friendship with John Rollins who had several successful business ventures, including truck leasing, over the decades. Mr. Rollins was the financial force behind the construction of Dover International Speedway.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Mr. Joseph was also racing cars and building a reputation and friendships with people like NASCAR’s Bill France in stock car racing.

There were times when Mr. France would call on Mr. Joseph to haul in some of his cars to race tracks across the South just so fields would be full.

Georgetown Speedway, which still has regular dirt track races in Sussex County about an hour south of Dover, was a NASCAR track in the 1950s.

A few weeks ago, the state of Delaware placed a historical marker at the Georgetown Speedway.

It reads, “Built in 1949 by businessman and auto racing pioneer Melvin L. Joseph, many racing legends got their start at Georgetown’s half-mile dirt oval.

“The Delaware Stock Car Racing Association sanctioned the first race at the speedway on March 18, 1950. The speedway was NASCAR sanctioned from 1953-1957 and from 1959-1963.

“Over the years, the Georgetown Speedway has become well-known across the county for its role in the development of stock car racing.”

Mr. Joseph, who commanded drivers to start their engines at every Dover race through 2005, is said to have convinced Mr. France to bring NASCAR’s top series to Dover. The first race was the Mason-Dixon 300 on July 6, 1969.

Reach editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment