By Vincent Delforge, special to KickinTheTires.net
This has not happened often in the history of the current ARCA Menards Series West, three times to be precise. But after drinking champagne on New Year’s Eve, the drivers had to come to their senses to participate in the opening race of the NASCAR Pacific Coast Late Model championship.
Respectively on January 1, 1957, 1958 and 1961. Common to its three races, their location in Gardena, California. On the Gardena Stadium, a dirt quarter mile, in 1957 and 1958 and on the Gardena Ascot Park, a half-mile dirt track, in 1961.
The misfortunes of some make the happiness of others
On Tuesday January 1, 1957, the sky was clear, but it was cold when the start was given for a race of 150 laps. Chuck Meekins, the poleman takes advantage of his position to keep the leadership ahead of Eddie Gray. Bill Amick and Parnelli Jones leading the hunting party to a good distance.
Gray at the wheel of the Chevrolet engaged by Chuck Green is literally glued to Meekins’ rear bumper. He made several attempts to overtake him but in vain. Finally, he lost patience and on the 65th lap he forced the pass. The result is final, the two men finished in the barrier and were forced to give up.
Jim Reed, behind the wheel of a Ford, who started the race in the middle of the pack, didn’t ask for so much! He inherited the first position and kept it until the end despite a right front tire whose outer side was badly damaged and which threatened to give up the ghost. He finally crossed the finish line three car lengths ahead of George Seeger’s Ford. One more lap and Seeger won the race! Amick, Bud Vaughn and Jones round out the top-five.
A rocket on the track
January 1, 1958 was a Wednesday and the 150-lap race began in the evening. Jones took pole position but missed out on his qualifying race and will have to start from 19th and final position in the main event.
He achieved a real feat by going up one by one his opponents. His Ford entered by Vel Miletich decked out with the famous No. 97 literally flies on the track. By wanting to resist it, several of its main competitors will force their mechanics or spun. This is the case of Scotty Cain, Meekins, Ron Hornaday or even Gray to name a few. Jones goes so fast that the flagman does not have time to wave the checkered flag at the end of the 150th lap… Regardless, Jones crossed the finish line on the 151st lap with a lead of almost a half lap on Lloyd Dane.
Cook sickens his opponents!
In 1961, January 1 was a Sunday. The main 100-lap race takes place early in the afternoon in difficult conditions. The ground is still wet from the night when the 20 drivers take the start of the main race. Jim Cook took pole position with his No. 0 Dodge Dart 1960 entered by Floyd Johnson.
He also won the trophy dash with ease, aided by the track conditions which favor only one lane due to the ruts caused by the cars. He will not leave any hope for his opponents. Taking advantage of his first position, he will quickly flee, and it is with more than one lap in advance that he will cross the finish line ahead of Lloyd Dane.
2022 is the 62nd consecutive year without West Series running on January 1. That won’t change tomorrow. Indeed, for many years, the season traditionally begins between the end of February and mid-March. For 2022, that is March 11 in Phoenix, AZ at Phoenix Raceway. There we meet for the start of the 69th season of the fabulous ARCA Menards Series West!
NASCAR and ARCA are not alone in having races take place on New Year’s Day once upon a time. Formula 1, the Winter Heat, and various Sprint Car races have also been held on January 1.
But, for now, I wish you all a Happy New Year in 2022!
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Vincent Delforge / Racing-Reference.info