News & Media

Retro Racing: Consolation races offered one last chance to make Daytona 500

February 17, 2012, Mark Aumann,

Back in the day, consolation races offered one last chance to make Daytona 500

Now that owners' points, a championship provisional or even an under-the-table arrangement guarantees you a starting spot in the Daytona 500, it's impossible for someone like Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Carl Edwards to miss the show.

But in the early years of the race, there were no guarantees. And some of the sport's biggest stars -- including Fireball Roberts, Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson and Curtis Turner -- were forced to run what were called "consolation races" to earn entry into the 500-miler.

Johnny Allen, circa 1961, after subbing for Jack Smith in the Volunteer 500 at Bristol. Allen took over for Smith on Lap 292 and led the rest of the way. Smith gave up the seat after heat from the floorboard burned his right foot.


Greenville, S.C., native Johnny Allen, now 77, remembers the consolation races at Daytona. He was involved in two of the four that were held between 1959 and 1962: 10-lap sprint races that gave drivers one last chance to make the 500 field.

"After they qualified so many cars, the rest of you had to run them," Allen said via cell phone Thursday while traveling from Indiana to Daytona Beach for this year's race. "In '59, there were two qualifying races -- one for the hardtops and one for the convertibles."

Twenty cars ran the inaugural consolation race as Jack Smith beat Tim Flock by a car-length, with Turner third and Roberts sixth. Meanwhile, Allen's No. 8 Chevrolet refused to start, placing him in the 59th -- and last -- starting position on the 500 grid.

While Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp battled to a photo finish for the victory, Allen felt like the real winner after driving all the way up to 11th, good enough for a $400 payday. The 48 positions he made up on the track remains a 500 record.

"There were no cautions so a lot of it was a survival thing," Allen said. "We stayed out of trouble and I don't recall if we even changed any tires."

Allen didn't need the consolation race to make the field in 1960. In fact, if not for losing a lap after a slow late-race pit stop, he might have been able to improve on his fifth-place finish.

Turner edged Jarrett to win the consolation race that year -- and both carried that momentum into the 500. Turner raced from 53rd starting position to finish seventh. And Jarrett was even better, starting 54th and finishing sixth -- tying Allen's year-old record.

When his car had mechanical issues in the 1961 Twin qualifer, Allen wound up back in the consolation race, finishing fifth behind Johnson. Again, it didn't seem to hinder Allen in the slightest once the green dropped for the 500. He moved from 47th to eighth, finishing four laps behind winner Marvin Panch.

"Daytona was always good to me," Allen said. "I had some good luck there. I was only involved in one wreck, and that was a sportsman modified race."

The final "last chance" Daytona consolation was held in 1962, with Florida native Bobby Johns edging Buck Baker in a side-by-side duel to the flag. Since then, NASCAR has used qualifying speeds to complete the field after the conclusion of the dual qualifying races.

However, consolation races returned to Daytona for a five-year span in the 1980s, consisting of cars which didn't make the 500 field. Lake Speed, Tim Richmond, Blackie Wangerin, Connie Saylor and Randy LaJoie received the checkered flag but the races were considered exhibitions and the victories didn't count in the standings.

Allen's favorite NASCAR memory came courtesy of another consolation race -- this one at Atlanta in October 1960. The engine blew in Allen's Chevrolet no more than a handful of laps into practice, and the team didn't have a spare. On top of that, Allen was broke.

"Rex White said he had one in his shop in Spartanburg, so me and one of his crewmen got in a pickup and drove up there and got it," Allen said.

They worked all night to put the engine in Allen's car. On Saturday morning, Allen ran well enough in the consolation to earn a 37th-place starting spot in the 500-mile race. But not knowing how much wear and tear the engine had on it, Allen decided to go for broke.

He passed everybody but winner Bobby Johns -- beating Jim Paschal to the start/finish line by 2 feet for second place. And the $7,475 he won "bailed us out for the year."

Allen earned the nickname "Crash" for a number of spectacular accidents. He cleared the guardrail and crashed into the scoring tower at Darlington in 1960. Two years later at Darlington, he flipped over after hitting oil on the track and wound up upside-down with the car on fire. At Atlanta, Allen suffered a broken nose and several broken bones when his car went airborne after leaving the track.

"Those don't do much for your reputation," Allen said. "Some of my teammates laid that on me after the crew got tired of fixing the cars.

"Back then, your cars were stock cars, and all of the car owners I drove for except one -- Holly Farms -- pretty much had one car and a low budget. When you wrecked them as bad as I did, you pretty much put them out of business."

Allen even crashed in his one Cup victory, at Winston-Salem in 1962. He and White had been dueling for the lead all day on the narrow, flat quarter-mile at Bowman Gray Stadium. Coming into the last turn, Allen had the lead and only had to pass a lapped car to get the victory. Or so he thought.

"I dropped down under him and thought, 'There's no way Rex can beat me,' " Allen said. "I thought I had it made, as long as I was careful. I knew Rex wouldn't spin me out.

"All of the sudden, I hear this engine revving higher than normal out of my left ear and can kind of see his fender. He's got two wheels on the grass and two wheels on the race track."

It was at that point Allen realized he only had one option: Stand on the gas and hope for the best.

"At Winston-Salem, the start/finish line is down toward the first turn," Allen said. "And as flat as it is, you have to back off before then to make the corner. But he had me in a position to where if I had backed off, he would have beaten me because he could lean on me going into the corner. So he wasn't worried about it.

"It didn't take me long to sum up the situation. I said, 'there ain't no way he's going to beat me.' So I didn't lift until I crossed the line. And it took me up into the guardrail and ripped the right front of it."

Johnny Allen crashes and flips over the wall in this six shot sequence during the Dixie 400 race on June 30, 1963, at Atlanta International Raceway in Hampton, Ga. (Getty Images)

Definitely more than a small consolation for Allen, who remained in racing after his final Cup start in 1967. He won a late-model track championship at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in 1971 and eventually opened up a tire and wheel shop, catering to the racing industry, before retiring.