News & Media


Retro Racing: White mastered the Martinsville run in 1960

October 28, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

Martinsville Speedway has always been a place where drivers need equal amounts of patience and aggression. With the slowest corners on the circuit, you need a car that can accelerate quickly. But use up your brakes too early and it'll be a long, frustrating day.

At the same time, single-file short-track racing requires a driver to sometimes stick a bumper to the back of the car he's racing in order to complete a pass. It's the kind of racing that can sometimes lead to short fuses and quick tempers, especially with 40 cars all following nose to tail, lap after lap.

"You had to think about those brakes, every turn, for 500 laps, and not push on them. That's hard to do, especially when you're trying to catch a guy and get by him."

--REX WHITE

Rex White knows the feeling well, having won twice at Martinsville. In fact, White was victorious in the 1960 Old Dominion 500 by being gentle on the brakes and rough on Joe Weatherly's left rear quarterpanel.

More than 50 years later, White still remembers the last few laps of that race like it was yesterday. White's Chevrolet was stuck like glue to the back of Weatherly's Ford, lap after lap, until White finally made his move with nine laps remaining.

"It came down to the end," White said. "I was running faster than Joe, and I kind of helped him out of the way a little bit and ended up winning the race.

"Joe's comment after the race -- and there wasn't any kind of cussing or anything -- was, 'Rex, you shouldn't have done that.' And that was the extent of it. If it was reversed, he'd have done the same thing to me. You had to get a fender on them to get by them."

And five decades later, the key to winning races and championships hasn't changed all that much: keep yourself in contention all day, then use any situation to your advantage.

White went on to win the 1960 championship and finished second to Ned Jarrett in 1961. Weatherly won back-to-back titles in 1962 and 1963 before being killed in a crash at Riverside at the beginning of the 1964 season.

White said he never remembers having any problems with Weatherly after that Martinsville race. That was just how you raced.

"I knew Weatherly back in '52, '53," White said. "I worked for Frankie Schneider and knew Joe well. I knew how he thought about racing and there wasn't any problem with it."

Just like today, White said having enough brakes at the end of a race at Martinsville was critical, especially in the days when there weren't special brake ducts and high-tech brake linings.

"They were stock ceramic brakes," White said. "We didn't have disc brakes, we had the drum brakes. And you had to think about those brakes, every turn, for 500 laps, and not push on them. That's hard to do, especially when you're trying to catch a guy and get by him.

"You had to measure the brakes every lap and not use them up, to have them for 500 laps. Because when you run out of brakes, you're done. You're not going to be competitive at all. So you've got to make them last. It was the whole thing."

White won 28 races, all within a five-year span beginning in 1958. He grew up in Taylorsville, N.C., and suffered from polio as a child. He used to sit behind the wheel of his family's Model T Ford and dream about racing cars, something that came to fruition in 1954 when relatives scraped together $600 to buy him a car.

He won the track sportsman championship at West Lanham Speedway in Maryland, and two seasons later, made his NASCAR debut. Eventually he moved to Spartanburg, S.C. Despite his early association with Ford, White is best known for his gold and white No. 4 Chevrolets.

White excelled at close-quarters racing on bullrings, with many of his victories coming at Martinsville, Winston-Salem and North Wilkesboro.

"I ran good at Martinsville because I ran a lot of flat race tracks," White said. "So I was a little bit better. I won more races on flat tracks."

White grabbed a huge advantage in the 1960 championship when the two drivers chasing him -- Richard and Lee Petty -- were disqualified during the inaugural race at Charlotte for driving through the infield after missing the entrance to pit road. Back then, NASCAR took away all of a team's points, so White ended up beating the King by some 3,900 points in the final standings.

However, White also knows the feeling of losing one by just a few points. One year earlier, White lost the short track championship to Californian Marvin Porter by seven points. He said he enjoyed the pressure of going head-to-head for the trophy -- one reason why he's fascinated by this year's Chase.

"The tougher it is, the better I like it," White said. "Like today, five points means a lot. A point could mean a lot probably in this championship."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.