Thursday, March 30, 2017

9/22/63: Jimmy Massey, The Martinsville Bridesmaid, finishes last in one-off for Petty Enterprises

PHOTO:  Getty Images, RacingOne
On September 22, 1963, James “Jimmy” Massey picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR Grand National career in the Old Dominion 500 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #43 Petty Enterprises 1963 Plymouth was involved in an accident on the first of the race’s 500 laps.  The finish came in Massey’s 46th series start.

Born December 1, 1928 in Mebane, North Carolina, Massey made his NASCAR debut August 20, 1955 at the one-mile paved Raleigh Speedway and finished a strong 10th in the 29-car field.  The #04 1955 Chevrolet he drove belonged to Hubert Westmoreland, who also owned the car Glenn Dunaway drove to NASCAR’s first last-place finish at Charlotte (following a disqualification for illegal rear shocks) on June 19, 1949.

The Massey-Westmoreland duo ran strong the rest of the ’55 season.  The driver picked up his first Top 5 in his fourth start at Langhorne, finishing 5th, then three rounds later finished a season-best 3rd at the Memphis-Arkansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile dirt oval.

The next year, Massey made a sterling debut in NASCAR’s short-lived Convertible Series, driving another Westmoreland car to a 2nd-place finish in his series debut at the one-third-mile Champion Speedway in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  Finishing one spot in front was Bob Welborn, who three years later won the first Dayton 500 pole.  The finish was the first of six consecutive Top Five finishes culminating in his first win at Columbia on May 26.  Two more wins followed by season’s end, earning him 8th in the season standings.  Back on the Cup side, he also turned in strong runs for Welborn, finishing 9th at Hillsboro, then drove to an 11th-place finish at Martinsville for Julian Petty.

In 1957, Massey became the first driver other than team founder Glen Wood to drive for the fabled Wood Brothers team.  His debut came in the fall race at Martinsville, driving a #11 Ford alongside Glen in the primary #21.  When the checkered flag fell, Massey stunned once more, leading seven laps before once again following race winner Bob Welborn to the finish line.  Glen finished 13th.  The Wood Brothers also fielded Convertible Series entries for Massey, which resulted in still another 2nd-place finish at Martinsville on August 11, 1957.  This time, race winner Bill Amick bested him by more than a lap.

Reminiscent of Kyle Larson’s streak of near-misses between his two wins, Massey’s runner-up finishes became legendary.  On April 10, 1960, during another Cup Series run for the Wood Brothers, his #21 Auto Sales & Body Co. 1958 Ford paced the Virginia 500 for 26 of 500 laps, leading as late as the 383th circuit.  But once again, Massey was the bridesmaid, left a full quarter-lap behind Richard Petty.  The finish sparked its own song, “Massey’s Run,” written and performed by Martinsville-area musicians Doug and Telisha Williams.  You can give it a listen at Bench Racing From The Volunteer State at this link.

As the song’s lyrics go, Richard Petty won his second career race that day, and his first of fifteen at Martinsville.  Massey, unfortunately, would never finish that well again.

Perhaps, then, it was fate that Massey got his own opportunity to race as Petty’s teammate at Martinsville in 1963.  That year, Massey was making his return to Cup competition after missing the previous two seasons.  He again began the year with Hubert Westmoreland, this time driving a #96 Chevrolet.  In his first race back at Richmond, Massey came home a strong 8th, and at the tight Hickory Speedway on September 5, he finished 4th behind Junior Johnson, G.C. Spencer, and, once again, Bob Welborn.  Richard Petty, meanwhile, was also looking to break through as Grand National Champion, having scored the first 12 of 14 wins, but unbelievably trailing Joe Weatherly for the championship.

As with Massey’s debut for the Wood Brothers, Petty Enterprises entered two cars at Martinsville, but this time Massey would drive the team’s flagship #43 with “The King” in #41.  As readily-identifiable Petty is with the #43, he didn’t run all his races in that number, nor did he win all 200 with it.  In fact, earlier that same season, team engine builder Maurice Petty drove the #43 once that year at Columbia, where Richard took the win in #41.  Jim Paschal made six starts in the #43, winning in his third start with the team at famous Bowman Gray Stadium.   At last, Massey would have an opportunity to overcome the near-miss in 1960, driving for the team that beat him.

Petty bested Massey in qualifying, though not by much – the former started 9th while the latter rolled off 13th.  But on the first lap of the race, something went wrong.  Though there is no record of what happened, it appears from the results that both Massey and 35th-place finisher Jimmy Pardue were involved in accidents on the opening lap.  Under today’s rules regarding multi-car accidents, the finishing order would revert to the car’s positions the previous lap, the lowest ranked taking the poorer finish.  For a first-lap wreck, the order would revert to the starting order.  However, 13th-place starter Massey is ranked behind 22nd-place started Pardue.  It’s unclear whether this is an oversight or an indicator of a different rule in place at the time.  Regardless, the order ranking Massey last on is confirmed in Greg Fielden’s “Forty Years” book series.

Finishing 34th that day was Jack Anderson, making his third career start for owner-driver Emanuel Zervakis.  33rd-place Bobby Keck was originally one of two DNQs for the race, his #57 Ford sent home along with Possum Jones’ #05 Pontiac, but Keck replaced Lee Reitzel in his #93 Ford.  Reitzel, finishing his third year in competition, would make just one more Cup start at North Wilkesboro the following week.  Rounding out the Bottom Five was Spray, North Carolina driver Perk Brown.  Active on the circuit since 1952, the Martinsville race was the 28th and final of his own Cup career.

1963 proved to be Richard Petty’s third runner-up points finish in four seasons, bested by a performance so consistent by Weatherly that he only needed three victories to Petty’s 14.  While Petty would break through with his first of seven titles in 1964, and ultimately scored his 200 wins, Massey made just one more start that season, having never gone to victory lane.  He finished his career November 10, 1963 in the season opener at the Concord (North Carolina) Speedway, finishing last after another first-lap accident.

After racing, Massey became a mechanic and owned the Pleasant Grove Esso service station in North Carolina.  He passed away on August 21, 2015 after an accident at his home.  He was 85.

To date, the Wood Brothers have only scored two Cup victories at Martinsville – one with Cale Yarborough in 1968 and another with David Pearson in 1973.  Massey’s two runner-up finishes are among just 10 the team has scored at the short track.  This Sunday, current driver Ryan Blaney looks to give the team its first Top 5 finish at the track since April 24, 1994, when Morgan Shepherd came home 5th.

*This was the first time the #43 finished last with a driver other than Richard Petty since November 5, 1961, when Maurice Petty had a fuel tank issue after 16 laps at the Concord (North Carolina) Speedway.  No driver other than Petty would finish last in the #43 until March 27, 1994, when Wally Dallenbach, Jr.’s STP Pontiac had engine issues after 131 laps of the TranSouth Financial 400 at Darlington.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #43 in a Cup Series race since July 7, 1962, when Richard Petty’s 1962 Plymouth had an early engine failure at the Columbia (South Carolina) Speedway.
*It was also the first last-place finish for the #43 in a Cup Series race at Martinsville.  The number wouldn’t trail there again until April 24, 1988, when Richard Petty’s engine let go after 31 laps.
*Drivers failing to complete the opening lap at Martinsville was a common occurrence in 1963.  Prior to Massey’s run, the last time it happened was September 24, 1961, when Joe Jones’ #77 1960 Ford lost an engine.  The next time after Massey was April 26, 1964, the following spring, when Billy Wade’s #1 1964 Mercury did not start.  With the exception of Jimmy Hensley’s relief driver role for Dale Earnhardt in 1989, every Cup driver has completed at least one lap of a race at Martinsville since April 22, 1979, when Dick May’s #19 Belden Asphalt Chevrolet lost the engine.

36) #43-Jimmy Massey / 0 laps / crash
35) #54-Jimmy Pardue / 0 laps / crash
34) #20-Jack Anderson / 13 laps / head gasket
33) #93-Bobby Keck / 26 laps / oil leak
32) #14-Perk Brown / 41 laps / bearing

*Barber, Wayne G. “Sad News – Justin Wilson & Jimmy Massey,” Race Chatter on or 1380 AM or 95.1 FM, August 25, 2015.
*Bruce, Kenny. “Driver James Massey Passes Away At 85,”, August 24, 2015.
*Toomuchcountry (username). “Massey’s Run,” Bench Racing From The Volunteer State, October 23, 2012.
*Wood, Jordan. “Jim Massey Was The Start Of Something Big For The Wood Brothers,”, August 26, 2015.

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