Thursday, July 7, 2016

8/29/1954: Ray Duhigg trails first NASCAR race in Kentucky

SOURCE: Getty Images, RacingOne, ISC Archives
On August 29, 1954, Ray Duhigg picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Grand National Series career during the 200-lap race at the Corbin Speedway when his #13 1953 Oldsmobile lost the transmission after 2 laps.  The finish came in Duhigg’s 52nd series start.

Duhigg, a popular short tracker from Toledo, Ohio, made his NASCAR debut on August 13, 1950 when he was just 20 years old.  In what would be the first of “Fireball” Roberts’ 17 series wins, Duhigg came home 23rd in a field of 27 driving a 1950 Plymouth.  Two months later, at the Winchester (Indiana) Speedway, Duhigg scored his first Top 5, a 5th, then ran as an owner-driver through the 1951 season.  From there, Duhigg made most of his starts in the Plymouths of Julian Petty and J.O. Goode.  He set a new career-best of 3rd with Petty in 1952, then matched it four more times in his career - twice more with Petty, and twice with Goode.  One of the 3rd-place runs, which came at North Wilkesboro, was perhaps Duhigg’s gutsiest performance.  Four months earlier, he’d broken his neck when his car tumbled violently at the treacherous Langhorne (Pennsylvania) Speedway.  The finish added to his remarkable consistency: heading into the 1954, he’d finished inside the Top Ten in 20 of his 42 starts, nearly one of every two.


Ernest Woods joined Grand National competition during the 1953 Southern 500, where his driver Emory Lewis finished 46th in a field of 59.  Woods expanded his team to two Oldsmobiles in 1954, signing Tim Flock, whose previous car owner Ted Chester closed his doors at the end of 1953.  The #88 Flock ran at the Daytona Beach-Road Course that February was the first NASCAR stock car equipped with a two-way radio.  Unfortunately, it also had illegally soldered carburetor screws.  Flock took the win, but was disqualified and classified last, handing the win to Lee Petty.  Disgusted, Flock left the sport for nearly a year, handing his ride to brother Bob before Buck Baker took over in April.  Baker scored two victories at the half-mile dirt tracks of Wilson (North Carolina) Speedway and Morristown (New Jersey) Speedway.

While Woods’ new #88 team was performing well, the #13 team struggled.  Woods released Emory Lewis in May and replaced him with Kentucky native Joel Million and rising star Jim Paschal.  Still, the team was without a win and had finished no better than 6th with Paschal at the Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds.  To make matters worse, Baker left the Woods team that summer and reunited with Bob Griffin, who had fielded cars for Baker from 1950 through the first part of the 1954 season.  Baker’s first race back with Griffin would be the inaugural race in Corbin, Kentucky.  For that race, Woods moved Paschal into Baker’s #88.  The #13 needed a driver.  Woods picked Ray Duhigg.


Heading into Corbin, Duhigg had made nine of the first 29 races of the 1954 season.  Twice he drove in place of Baker in Bob Griffin’s #87 Oldsmobile, but both times mechanical issues left him one spot short of a last-place finish.  His best runs once again came with J.O. Goode.  Duhigg racked-up two Top Fives and four Top Tens in Goode’s Plymouths, including a season-best 4th at the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Speedrome on July 11.  Both Goode and Duhigg had been off the track for more than a month when Duhigg was tabbed to drive Woods’ #13 at Corbin.

The Corbin race, held at a half-mile dirt track in south-east Kentucky, was the first and only Cup event held in the state until the Kentucky Speedway was added to the schedule in 2011.  While qualifying results for the race are as yet unknown, the pole went to Paschal in Woods’ #88.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be another rough day for the team.  Duhigg’s transmission failed after 2 laps while Paschal blew a gasket on Lap 29.

20th-place went to Jimmie Lewallen, who had also raced with Julian Petty and J.O. Goode, but this time drove for 1952 Lakewood (Georgia) Speedway winning car owner George Hutchens.  Behind Paschal in 18th was the Lincoln of Bub King, a native of Corbin, who that day chose his home track to make his 35th and final Grand National start  Rounding out the Bottom Five in 17th was Georgian owner-driver Gober Sosebee, who earlier that year at the Central City (Georgia) Speedway scored his second and final Grand National win.

Corbin was to be Duhigg’s only last-place finish.  He made just three more Grand National races, the last of which a career-best matching 3rd during the Daytona Beach-Road Course on February 27, 1955.  Tragically, just eight months later on October 9, Duhigg was killed in a crash during the MARC Racing Series (now ARCA) event at the Salem Speedway in Indiana.  He was 25.

*This was the first last-place finish for the #13 in a Grand National race since May 16, 1954, when Joel Million’s 1953 Oldsmobile, also owned by Ernest Woods, crashed after 22 circuits of the 200-lapper at the Martinsville Speedway.  It would not finish last again until June 29, 1957 when Peck Peckham’s 1956 Chevrolet lost the clutch on the opening lap of the darkness-shortened race at the Piedmont (North Carolina) Interstate Fairgrounds.

21) #13-Ray Duhigg / 2 laps / transmission
20) #90-Jimmie Lewallen / 12 laps / fuel pump
19) #88-Jim Paschal / 28 laps / gasket
18) #10-Bub King / 34 laps / shocks
17) #51-Gober Sosebee / 43 laps / engine

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