250 Independents gave young NASCAR players a chance in 1973

  • In 1973, Raymond Williams hosted the “Independent 250”, NASCAR’s first, last, and only outlaw race.
  • It was only open to drivers called Independents who earned NASCAR points and who owned the cars they drove.
  • The goal was to establish that the structure of NASCAR’s portfolio was short-term independent drivers, including Dave Marcis (pictured above, right), who often finished mid-pack due to tight budgets.

    Raymond Williams saw racing on NASCAR ovals as a way to get rich quick, qualifying for the 1970 Daytona 500 in a rental car with no prior racing experience.

    He soon dubbed himself Captain America with a paint scheme to match. But when he crossed swords with a bona fide American industry leader in the form of NASCAR founder Bill France, Williams found himself on the outside looking in.

    Disillusioned with purse money along with many of his fellow independent drivers, in 1973 Williams hosted the “Independent 250,” the first, last, and only outlaw NASCAR race. It was only open to drivers called Independents who earned NASCAR points and who owned the cars they drove.

    jd mcduffie nascar driver

    Independent racer JD McDuffie thought he had a chance against fellow independent racers in NASCAR.

    single raceGetty Images

    Getting into the 3/8-mile Trico Speedway (now Orange County) near Rougemont, NC looked like a who’s who of some of the most famous drivers in NASCAR at the time: Dave Marcis (pictured above), James Hilton, Bill Champion, JD McDuffie, Ed Negre, Elmo Langley, Walter Ballard, Richard Childress, Henley Gray, Bill Dennis and Cecil Gordon, among others.

    The goal was to establish that the structure of NASCAR’s portfolio was short-term independent drivers, who often finished mid-pack due to tight budgets and lack of major sponsorship or factory affiliation.

    “I was crying for all these people,” Williams said of his motivation. “I can’t think of anyone in the world who works harder, more hours, and makes less money than the racers.”

    Only Langley and Hilton have won the Grand National out of more than 20 drivers who gathered at Williams’ pub in Chapel Hill the night before the “Independent 250”, which was held on November 24 after the Winston Cup season finale. The Independents, sometimes known as “strumbos”, who often strumped themselves and their cars, were ready to race.

    “I feel like I’m obligated to lose it all,” said Gabi Thomas, an eight-season Grand National veteran. “I think everyone else feels the same way. And if that’s the case, it will be the first time in years that we’ve done that.”

    James Hilton

    Independent racer James Hilton won at Talladega in 1972.

    single raceGetty Images

    According to Gerald Martin, the squadron of veteran drivers on the tiny bowl really put together a great race. Raleigh News and Observer. What the crowd saw was the old man, Langley and Bambione, advancing side by side, lap after lap, personal pride dictating not to give either of them an inch. There was Ed Negri, the lumberjack from Kelso, Washington, coming out of turn four, with his foot in the carburetor. ​, Dodge smokes and everyone is wondering when he’ll be unglued.”

    The eventual winner was Cecil Gordon, although according to Marsis there was an unresolved scoring row. Unfortunately, due to gray overcast skies, cold weather, and Williams’ lack of experience as a promoter, not to mention the lack of name drivers like Richard Petty and Bobby Allison, Gordon only earned $500 due to a relatively small crowd.

    “Money doesn’t matter to me,” Gordon said, clutching the winner’s trophy. “I won a race today.”

    Cecil Gordon NASCAR Daytona 1968

    Cecil Gordon won the Independent 250 in 1972.

    single raceGetty Images

    The following year, Williams leased the Trico track for an entire season, in an effort to get the merchandising business suspended. But rains and low turnout for late mathematical form entries took their toll. According to Fred Daniel, another local promoter, NASCAR has slipped appearance money to late model drivers from North Carolina and Southern Virginia to encourage them to race elsewhere.

    Williams was closing the gates at Trico for the last time after another downpour when a bolt of lightning hit the chain-link fence. He said, “He got that living shit out of me.” Lying on his back in the mud, Williams decided to abandon the promotion of the race two months before the anniversary of the Independent 250. When Marcis heard the story, he laughed and said, “It was Bill France who got him there.”

    Orange County Speedway NASCAR

    Today, the track that once hosted the Independent 250 is named Orange County Speedway.

    Jonathan Ingram

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *