The Rise and Fall of the NSCRA

In the late 1940s, the NSCRA was one of the most popular stock car sanctioning bodies in the southeast.

By Eddie Samples
Posted in Feature Stories 3/26/10

So here it is in the middle of the racing season at Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta in 1951.  Buddy Shuman had won the 100 mile event on June 24, and had leap-frogged over Jack Smith to move into second in the point standings, chasing Ed Samples for the NSCRA’s 1951 crown.

Samples had won the NSCRA (National Stock Car Racing Association) title in 1949, while Shuman was the champ in 1948 and 1950.  Smith lost by a hair in 1950.  So could this have been his year?

Well, they will never know.  The next race at Lakewood, which was also under the direction of Sam Nunis Speedways, which had a 15-year lease on the track with the city of Atlanta, is a NASCAR event.  It is the first time ever NASCAR has solely held a race at Lakewood.

So, does anyone know what happened to the NSCRA?

We do know this.  Before the war, the first points champion was Georgia Racing Hall of Fame member Roy Hall in 1941 under the sanction of the AAA (American Automobile Association).  This older, established group spent most of their labors on the Indy-type car racing as opposed to stocks.  After the war, they didn’t reenter the stock car field until the early fifties.

Bill France, Sr. times a car during qualifying at an early stock car event. France was a promoter under the NSCRA banner before he formed NASCAR in 1947.

Driver turned promoter Bill France Sr. and others promoted under the NCSCR (National Championship Stock Car Circuit) for the 1947 season.  At the end of that season, France incorporated his National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing (NASCAR) in the state of Florida on February 21, 1948.

The NSCRA had been incorporated in the state of Georgia on March 27, 1947.

But if you raced of any consequence in 1948, it was with NASCAR or the SCSCA (South Carolina Stock Car Association), which was newly formed by Buddy Davenport and Joe Littlejohn, promoters who did not join up with France, though they attended those famous pre-NASCAR Daytona Beach meetings in December of 1947.

The NSCRA did run a schedule at limited tracks in 1948, mostly in North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.  Buddy Shuman was crowned champion for their first full season.  But, in 1949, the NSCRA re-fired with a vengeance under promoters such as Bruton Smith, Sam Nunis, Weyman Milam, Alf Knight, Gene Wilson, Harold Hill and others to form one of the most dominant organizations of its kind.

Buddy Shuman, Bill Holland and Ed Samples during the 1950 NSCRA season. Holland was the defending Indy 500 champ. Shuman won NSCRA titles in 1948 and 1950.

The NSCRA was formed by the southern race drivers with an eye towards bettering the racing game from the standpoint of the driver, spectator and promoter, as quoted from a national magazine.  It has some 250 members, not all drivers.

The president of the organization was Delmar Jones, who was also the head of the Georgia Bureau of Investigations and a non-driver.

NASCAR and the NSCRA bumped heads more than once over the next three years as they battled for territorial ground.  France would regularly schedule races at the old Charlotte track in the same time slots as Bruton Smith’s NSCRA races in nearby Concord.

Through newspaper interviews, Smith more than once accused France’s scheduling of races in Charlotte a direct, intentional disregard of his own efforts of NSCRA races at Concord.  The NSCRA had been shown as the top drawing card in stock car automobile racing.  Included in their ranks were drivers such as Jack Smith, Ed Samples, Gober Sosebee, Bob Flock, Jerry Wimbish, Al Keller, Billy Carden, Buddy Shuman, Red Byron, along with newcomers Curtis Turner and Speedy Thompson.  Bill Holland, the defending Indianapolis 500 champion, became a regular on the NSCRA circuit in 1950.

So what happened?  James Kelly, who helped promote in the North Carolina area, remembered some things.

“I know too many hands were in the barrel,” he said.  “We had some great promotions throughout the southeast.  We were sanctioning at Concord, North Carolina and Florence, South Carolina, Harold Hill in Columbus, Weyman Milam in Macon and Atlanta as well as Sam Nunis.  We had Alf Knight and Gene Wilson in Chattanooga and on and on.

“But somewhere in the middle of the ’51 season, there came much discord in the ranks down in Atlanta, and the next thing we know the whole organization is busted up.”

Georgia Racing Hall of Fame member Ed Samples is awarded the 1949 NSCRA championship title by promoter Sam Nunis.

“Sometimes too many people in charge can only hurt you,” Kelly added.  “I know twice we had races scheduled under the NSCRA, once in 1949 on September 10 at the Concord track, only to find out those drivers went to Ashville.  Another time, on March 26, 1950, we had a big event at the Florence, South Carolina track but the NSCRA drivers ended up in Atlanta.  We just had too many conflicts.”

Palmer Bell from Chattanooga explained it this way:

“NASCAR was no stronger than we were.  They also were new.  But France had been around and was a businessman extraordinaire and knew how to smother out the competition.”

“If it had been Sam Nunis against just France, that would have been a different story,” Bell added.  “But France was able to snuff out the smaller promoters with local competition or through buyouts or drivers, owners, or promoters.  He played tough, but all is fair in a capitalistic society, especially in racing.”

After the breakup, Weyman Milam, one of the original members of the NSCRA, began promoting races at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta and also the new weekly night races being held at the quarter mile made in front of the grandstands at Lakewood Speedway, all under NASCAR.  Alf Knight took over promoting in Macon with NASCAR, and Sam Nunis kept running Lakewood with either NASCAR or AAA events.

Billy Carden mentioned the other day about the subject of the NSCRA:

Roscoe Thompson won the April 1, 1951 event at Lakewood Speedway in this Ford. The car was sponsored by Alf Knight and Gene Wilson, promoting NSCRA events in Chattanooga.

“I don’t remember exactly what did go on with that.  I do know there was a problem with a disappearance of the season’s point money, but that was taken care of.  I know France had the suggestion of naming NASCAR our name (NSCRA) back at their meeting in late ’47, but knew we already had it incorporated.  When we dispersed, NASCAR didn’t hesitate to adopt our drivers, some of the best in the country.”

“Bill France had a year jump on the NSCRA with NASCAR, plus he was only one entity governing from one central location,” former driver Jack Smith told us.  “The NSCRA had a strong support link in Sam Nunis, but just too many weak factions over the years wore thin.  Nunis was packing the house at Lakewood.  Maybe we just needed more Lakewoods.  But you have to remember France had some good tracks plus the backing of Raymond Parks, and had the Flock brothers he could billboard.  Tough combinations to beat.”

Regardless of what happened, for several years the name of the NSCRA made a huge dent in the southern racing circles, and brought attention from all.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the March 1999 edition of the Pioneer Pages magazine.

Eddie Samples is a racing historian and writer, and is the son of champion stock car racer and Georgia Racing Hall of Famer Ed Samples.

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