1961 Firecracker 250 (lost ABC footage of NASCAR Grand National Series race; 1961)

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1961firecracker2501.jpg

Junior Johnson ahead of Ralph Earnhardt and David Pearson.

Status: Lost

The 1961 Firecracker 250 was the 32nd race of the 1961 NASCAR Grand National Series. Occurring on 4th July at the Daytona International Speedway, the race would ultimately be won by 1961 Pontiac driver David Pearson, whose 154.294mph speed was a stock car world record at the time. The race also has television significance, as it was the first ABC broadcast of a NASCAR event.

Background[edit | edit source]

The 1961 Firecracker 250 was the third running of the event, with its name a reference to the fact it was held on the United States' Independence Day.[1] It was also the fourth 1961 NASCAR Grand National Series event to be held at Daytona International Speedway,[2] after the Twin 125s and the Daytona 500, which in 1961 occurred on 26th February and was won by Marvin Panch.[3] The Firecracker 250 also has ties to the modern Coke Zero Sugar 400 race, having dropped the Firecracker name in 2019.[1]

Prior to the race, four qualifying events occurred, similar to the Daytona 500's Twin 125s. Fireball Roberts driving a 1961 Pontiac won the first race after leading all 10 laps. His pole time of 157.15mph was enough to win the pole position for the main event.[4][5] Pearson and Panch, the latter driving a 1960 Pontiac, battled for the lead in the second race, with Pearson achieving an overtake on lap 4 to win the race and qualifying second in the race with a pole time of 156.222mph.[6] Joe Weatherly dominated the third race with his 1961 Pontiac, with his 155.4mph speed being enough for third in the main event.[7] Finally, Banjo Matthews in a 1961 Ford overtook Jim Bennett's counterpart to win the fourth race, qualifying fourth in the Firecracker 250 after setting a 155.065mph speed.[8]

The Race[edit | edit source]

With the starting order decided, the 1961 Firecracker 250 occurred on 4th July. The early stages saw Roberts and Weatherly fighting for the lead, with four lead changes by lap 17. However, following lap 80, both drivers began to fall down the pack, eventually finishing 5th and 6th respectively. Instead, a duel for the first position primarily centred upon Pearson and Fred Lorenzen in a 1961 Ford, with Lorenzen assuming the lead from Roberts on lap 81. Eventually, Pearson achieved an overtake on his opponent on lap 99, though faced intense pressure throughout the final lap. Ultimately, Pearson held on by an auto's length to claim victory and $8,050 in prize money.[9] His 154.294mph speed set a stock car world record for the time.[10] Meanwhile, Jack Smith in a 1961 Pontiac finished third, a lap down from the leaders, in a race that featured no cautions.[9]

ABC Coverage[edit | edit source]

Aside from Pearson's stock car speed record, the 1961 Firecracker 250 also proved historic from a television standpoint, as on 8th July 1961, ABC broadcast a one hour highlights package of the race on its Wide World of Sports.[11] Initially, ABC faced difficulties convincing NASCAR officials, including founder Bill France Sr.. In 1960, CBS televised a few races at Daytona prior to the Daytona 500. Despite the broadcast being the first instance of televised NASCAR, it was deemed a disaster, with long-time race commentator Chris Economaki noting the many terrible reviews, and how France Sr. was outraged over the announcers' lack of knowledge about the sport.[12]

Because of the CBS broadcast, NASCAR officials were not willing to let ABC broadcast a race. However, a higher monetary offer and the promise to provide better, more intelligent coverage, helped convince NASCAR officials.[12] For this broadcast, France Sr. recommended that Economaki call the race, which proved to be the latter's major break into sports commentary.[13] Indeed, he contributed greatly towards the broadcast's success and later airings on Wide World of Sports, which often were quick highlights edited to provide a quicker pace for the race. Thus, Economaki would commentate on races, including the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, for four decades,[13] while ABC continued to broaden its coverage of NASCAR over the next few decades. Whereas the 1961 Firecracker 500 was the only 1961 race to be broadcast,[14] ABC broadcast the 1962 race, as well as that Series' Daytona 500 and Southern 500.[15]

Availability[edit | edit source]

While confirmation that an ABC broadcast of the 1961 Firecracker 250 has been achieved,[11] no footage of the race is known to be publicly available.[16] Back in the 1960s, tapes of recorded television events were usually wiped and reused due to the immense cost of storing them.[17] It is believed that the CBS coverage of the 1960 Daytona races was wiped, and it is likely the ABC's coverage of the 1961 Firecracker 250 also suffered the same fate. Nevertheless, there remains the slim possibility that a kinetoscope of the broadcast may still exist, similar to the CBS race.[18]

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Images[edit | edit source]

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Forbes detailing the origin of the Firecracker 250, and its reporting on its 2019 name change. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  2. Racing-Reference detailing the 1961 NASCAR Grand National Series calendar. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  3. Racing-Reference detailing results for the 1961 Daytona 500. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  4. Racing-Reference detailing the results of the first qualifying race. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  5. Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet detailing the main race's start order and results. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  6. Racing-Reference detailing the results of the second qualifying race. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  7. Racing-Reference detailing the results of the third qualifying race. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  8. Racing-Reference detailing the results of the fourth qualifying race. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  9. 9.0 9.1 Racing-Reference detailing the start order and race results. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  10. The New York Times reporting on the race, and how Pearson broke the stock car world record speed. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  11. 11.0 11.1 NASCAR on TV detailing the 1961 Firecracker 250 ABC broadcast. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  12. 12.0 12.1 The Hollywood Reporter detailing the challenges ABC faced when broadcasting the race. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  13. 13.0 13.1 The Hollywood Reporter detailing how the ABC broadcast was Economaki's first major commentary break. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  14. NASCAR on TV noting the 1961 Firecracker 250 was the only 1961 race to be broadcast. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  15. NASCAR on TV listing the 1962 Cup Series broadcasts. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  16. Austin LaPlante's YouTube playlist of NASCAR events from 1949-1971, noting no footage of the race is currently accessible. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  17. Old Time Review detailing the practice of wiping. Retrieved 4 Jan '22
  18. Racing-Reference detailing how a kinetoscope of the CBS 1960 Daytona races may still exist, which might be true of the ABC broadcast. Retrieved 4 Jan '22