Beltsville, MD – Independents’ Day

Daytonas annual Firecracker 400 for Grand National cars used to be billed as Americas Largest Independence Day Celebration back in 1966 when it was still run on the 4:th of July. That event was still 2 weeks away the night I saw my favorite NASCAR race ever a race that could have been billed as INDEPENDENTS DAY, even though it was run at night.

The magnificent ½-mile asphalt Beltsville Speedway in Maryland ran its regular show of NASCAR Modifieds and Late Model Sportsman cars on Wednesday nights back in 1966. Many of our Richmond area favorites ran their Modifieds there every Wednesday. It was only fitting that the first of two 1966 NASCAR Grand National races scheduled for Beltsville would be scheduled for a Wednesday night also.

My buddy, Frank and I had graduated from Richmonds Thomas Jefferson High School just five days before the Beltsville 200 was set to be run. We both had summer jobs before we’d start college in September. Mine was at the Dave Cody & Associates wholesale automobile parts warehouse on Roseneath Road, just down the street from the Mooers Field NASCAR ghost track in Richmonds Scotts Addition. I spent each day unloading tractor trailer loads of tangled tail pipes.

We were unable to convince either set of parents to allow us to make the 125-mile drive to Beltsville Speedway, but my dad agreed to drive and take us. It would be his first Grand National race with us veterans of several years experience. He had, however attended several Modified races with us at Richmonds Southside Speedway.

We rushed home from our new summer jobs and met my dad for the trip up north. I think my mom may have fried some chicken for us. We’d be running tight on time, especially since we’d have to navigate the always horrible Washington, DC area traffic.

The auto manufacturers were still fighting with NASCAR in 1966. Chrysler had returned with a reduced 405 cubic inch hemi following its 1965 boycott. Now it was Fords turn. Ford racing boss, Jacques Passino had pulled the factory Fords from NASCAR competition in a dispute over running dual overhead cam engines. We knew there’d be no factory Fords at Beltsville but had no idea who else would be racing. There was no internet for NASCAR to post an entry list that we could look over.

On a tight timetable with no tickets in hand we headed from Richmond to Beltsville. We experienced our first excitement passing an Interstate 95 rest stop at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Dad was forced out of his lane and almost wrecked by a truck carrying a 1964 Ford Grand National car. The car was numbered 90 and the truck said Swansboro Motor Company.

Hot damn! It was the Junie Donlavey truck from Richmond making a then rare foray to a Grand National race. Lettered on the roof was the name Sonny Hutchins villain every Friday night at Southside Speedway in his Donlavey Ford Modified to our hero Ray Hendricks Chevy. But, on this night we could pull for a local at the big Beltsville show.

Back then you used to go up just outside DC and cross the Potomac River and get on what was called the Baltimore-Washington Expressway . The Donlavey truck had long since disappeared from our view. My dad was a stickler for observing the posted speed limit. We urged him to drive faster, but to no avail. Our eyes were glued to our watches.

We finally reached the Beltsville, Maryland exit and made our way toward the track. It was located on an absolutely gorgeous piece of land where the United States government maintained an agricultural and animal experimental test station. The houses that would be built later were not yet in sight. After their construction, Beltsville mandated mufflers on the race cars and built gazillion foot high noise fences all to no avail. The new neighbors didn’t like the noise and had the wonderful place closed.

But on that June 15, 1966 night, noise was not an issue. We got our grandstand tickets and took our seats. These were the days of practice, qualify and race. I think qualifying was underway.

To this day I remember the woman who sat down in front of Frank. Thank goodness my dad had gone to the concession stand and didn’t hear the conversation. She had one of those huge, towering 1960s beehive hairdos with a straw hat perched atop that heavily lacquered assemblage.

In his nicest voice, full of southern charm, Frank asked the lady if she might remove her hat so we might see. Well, this damned Yankee lady answered with a nasal twang that we boys ought to mind our own business. At that point, Frank, who had a deep bass voice and was a paid singer in several Richmond church choirs, abandoned the guise of civility. He said, Madam, there is an old southern expression Up Yours! She took off the hat.

Now we were rocking and rolling!

Only two factory cars showed for the Beltsville 200. Qualifying on the pole was Richard Petty in the #43 Petty Enterprises Plymouth from Level Cross, North Carolina. The Spartanburg, South Carolina duo of David Pearson wheeling the #6 Cotton Owens Dodge claimed the outside pole. Tiger Tom Pistone put his 64 Ford in the 3:rd starting spot.

It was the car that earned the 4:th starting position that mystified us when we first saw it. The car was an ugly looking little 1965 Chevelle. It had not been painted yet for the race and the body looked like it did when it was recovered from a flood. On each side of the ugly duckling car a white adhesive tape #2 had been affixed to the maroon doors.

One of NASCARs rule changes allowed cars with smaller engines to carry lighter overall weight. This little Chevelle was owned by J.D. Bracken and was powered by just a 327 cubic inch Chevy motor, same as our Modifieds at Southside, except they were fuel injected. Driving the little Chevelle in its first outing was a driver we knew. Bobby Allison had won our Virginia 400 at Southside in a Modified he towed up from Alabama.

Now we had two cars to cheer for the little underpowered Allison Chevelle and the Sonny Hutchins/Junie Donlavey Ford. Sonny had a good run qualifying the Donlavey #90 in 8:th place. Hed last 54 laps before differential problems an issue that affected 7 cars that night.

 Junie Donlavey built this #90 Ford Fairlane in his Richmond, Virginia shop for Sonny Hutchins to campaign.  Photo by Frank Buhrman on 8/15/14 at annual Eastern Museum of Motor Racing Cruise-In at Latimore Valley Fairgrounds, PA.

An unusual thing happened when the green flag dropped on the two factory Chrysler rides to begin the race. As the cars accelerated at the start/finish line, the drive shaft was torn out of Pearsons red & white #6 Cotton Owens Dodge and went bouncing down the front straight as Pearson coasted to the pits. Hed retire for good on lap 33 after a brief return.

In an unusual display of power for a driver who usually made a show of it Richard Petty hustled to a commanding lead and began lapping cars. He was in a class by himself. He might finish with a ten lap lead at the pace he was running. Richard must have still been upset with NASCAR after sitting out most of 1965 and wanted to show his stuff.

Then it happened. The lap number was 71. It was something neither Frank nor I had ever witnessed. Coming out of turn two and accelerating down the backstretch, the engine of the #43 Plymouth, with its commanding lead, ERUPTED into a ball of smoke, scattering engine pieces and hiding the backstretch from view!

Suddenly, we were watching a NASCAR Grand National race with NO factory cars on the track. INDEPENDENTS DAY began!

Assuming the lead was Bobby Allisons ugly little unpainted #2 Chevelle. We screamed our approval until we were hoarse. Would we get to see a Chevy win a Grand Nationalrace? The answer was no. On lap 174, the J.D. Bracken entry, making its first outing, suffered the same mysterious differential issue that had waylaid so may other cars.

The little Chevelle would soon be painted and before NASCARs annual summer Northern Tour concluded, it would win at Oxford, Maine and Islip, New York. It would also claim the return July race at Beltsville. But WE SAW IT FIRST!

Bobby Allison in the #2 Chevelle, shown here at Nashville. (If Buddy, Frank, could find photo of the Chevelle in its Beltsville base paint dark/rust red with adhesive tape numbers, I’d be happy share it here.)

Never in our wildest dreams could we imagine that the best racing was yet to come, but it was.

Independents Tiny Lund, driving the Lyle Stetler two-year-old 1964 #55 Ford and James Hylton in his year old, pale yellow 1965 Dodge #48 went to war. They demonstrated what NASCAR wanted, but never got when it said, Boys, have at it!

For the remainder of the Beltsville 200, those two good ole boys beat and banged and slid and put on a show like I had never seen before and have never seen since!

I didn’t know you could broad slide a Grand National car on asphalt, but Tiny Lund could. Lap after lap, the 1963 Daytona 500 winner slid his car on the outside of Hyltons #48. Every lap, just before the start/finish line, Lund would straighten up his car coming off turn 4 and cross the start/finish line just ahead of Hylton.

And that’s how it ended. Hylton on the inside and Lund on the outside beat and banged their way through turns three and four on lap 200. Lund pulled ahead coming to the line just in time to take the win. No fan was using their seat. We had stood for every single lap of the Lund/Hylton slugfest.

Tiny Lund at speed at Jacksonville Speedway, and James Hylton posing at Daytona. Two of the best independents, and they had a chance to show that at Beltsville.

It was racing at its finest. It was better than anything we expected to see. It was INDEPENDENTS DAY !

The final NASCAR results say Tiny won by a margin of two feet. I’m not convinced it wasn’t closer. But it was the best battle of NASCAR stock cars I have ever witnessed.

The top-5 finishers of the Beltsville 200 are an amazing collection of independent drivers. Hank Thomas, the Winston-Salem Bowman-Gray modified driver finished in third place. John Sears drove the pre-Benny Parsons L.G. DeWitt ride to 4:th and Tennessees G.C. Spencer was 5:th in Henley Grays Ford. What an eclectic collection of talent in that nights NASCAR Top-5!

Even our Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control officer, Worth McMillion posted a top-15 finish. The Amelia, Virginia driver wheeled his brother, Als Pontiac to 11:th place, just ahead of Charlottes Buddy Baker.

I never again expect to see such a race, such a show, so much excitement as two underdogs battled tooth and nail for the victory.

Tiny is dead and James is amazingly still driving*. Only the racing ghosts roam today where the magnificent Beltsville, Maryland Speedway once stood.

NASCAR can open all the 1½ -mile cookie cutter tracks it desires, but there’ll never be a more thrilling race than the one put on by the independents at that beautiful ½-mile asphalt speed plant on INDEPENDENTS DAY.

*Editor’s Note: After this article first was written, sadly, James Hylton passed away on April 28, 2018.

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Dave Fulton

More of Dave Fulton’s articles ( Here )

(Editor’s note: This story is published with the permission from the author! It has appeared previously at,

Photo Credit (cover): Memories of Beltsville Speedway on FB


  1. There are few stories that bring back better memories than this one, Dave. Thanks, Bernth, for showing it again, possibly to some new fans who might not understand why we love the NASCAR of old the way we do.

    1. We had some great racing adventures together, didn’t we, pal? Wish I could remember more about the Bill Bogley Gold Trophy race at Old Dominion Speedway in Northern Virginia that attracted a who’s who of Late Model Sportsman drivers like Harry Gant, Red Farmer & Sam Sommers. None could ever catch Virginians Hendrick, Hutchins, Hensley, Ellis.

  2. How many times did I smile and close my eyes and remember close races I had seen on similar tracks…and I am still smiling and thinking. And I will be smiling and thinking for a long time
    All I can say, Dave, is thank you so much for this wonderful trip down memory lane with you…


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