Remembering The Career Of W.M. Fulmer

Mike Bell

By Mike Bell
Posted in Columns 9/23/11

In August of 2007, Walter “W.M.” Fulmer of Saluda, SC passed away at the age of 71.  The former Marine Korean war veteran was born in Martinez, Georgia and was involved in racing most of his life.

W.M. Fulmer started racing in the late 1950s when they reopened the fairgrounds race track at Greenwood, SC.  They ran flatheads and in-line six cylinders.  On a very limited budget, Fulmer did quite well.  His father-in-law, Lewis Maw, promoted Greenwood and Newberry Fairgrounds until the overheads took over.

Fulmer went to the overheads but almost died trying.

W.M. Fulmer, seen here in 2006, started his career out as a driver before becoming a car owner. Photo courtesy Mike Bell

While racing at Newberry in a newly built car, Fulmer was racing side-by-side with another car as they came down the front stretch.

A slower car was running in the middle of the groove, so Fulmer took the low line, while his rival moved to the outside of the slow car.  At the last moment, the lapped car moved low, causing wheel-to-wheel contact with Fulmer’s racer.

Fulmer’s car was sent barrel rolling down the front stretch.  Fulmer said that as the car was flipping, gas spilled all over the inside of the racer.  Somewhere, there was a spark and all hell broke loose, as the entire car was engulfed in flames.

Curious memories Fulmer had about the wreck is the fact that you can’t hear in a fire, and everything seemed to going in slow motion.

Wayne Long was a big rival of Fulmer’s.  Long ran to the car and used a big knife to cut the seat belt, and then drug Fulmer out of the car.  If not for his rival, Fulmer surely would have burned to death, or at least been more seriously injured than he was.  He stayed in the hospital for some time, but when he did return to racing, it was as a car owner, not a driver.

He promised his wife, Carolyn, that he would not drive again.  But he could not give up racing.  Fulmer owned and ran race cars for years after that.  One of the more notable drivers that drove for him was Haskell Willingham.

From left to right, Buddy Reid, Curtis "Crawfish" Crider, Tom Reid and W.M. Fulmer pose with the famed Rocket 88 Chevrolet, the first Chevy to ever win a NASCAR event. Photo courtesy Mike Bell

The black and orange Chevrolet that Fulmer brought to Dawsonville’s Mountain Moonshine Festival each year was a car he knew for years, but wasn’t able to purchase until about 1990.  The car won two features at Greenwood Fairgrounds Speedway in 1952.  The late Jessie Moore won a feature with the car in September and Curtis “Crawfish” Crider won the other as the last race of the season at Greenwood.

For years, Crider thought he had won the championship at Greenwood with the car because that was what it said on the trophy.  But there were two races to determine the championship.  The late Joe Riddle won the first and Crider won the second, but Riddle had accumulated the most points in both races, making him the champion.

Years later, after Fulmer restored the car, Crider gave him the trophy.

The car was originally built by the Reid Motor Company of Abbeville, SC.  One of Mr. Reid’s sons told us that his father would only let them build a race car if they advertised the car dealership n it.  Reid Motor Company was a Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealer, so the car with the Rocket 88 on the side was a Chevrolet.

It was a true Chevrolet, as it used a Chevrolet engine.  The problem with the early Chevrolet sixes was the oil system, which was a splash system and did not use an oil pump.  With increased compression ratios and high RPMs of a race engine, hat kind of system would not last one evening in racing.  But the father wouldn’t let them use anything else, so it’s a true Chevrolet.

Most Chevrolets running in the early days of NASCAR ran a GMC engine, which used an oil pump.  That is where we came up with the idea that this car was the first true Chevrolet to win a NASCAR race, scoring a NASCAR Sportsman division win at Greenwood, SC in 1952.

As a side note, Fulmer’s father-in-law, Lewis Maw, was the first racing promoter to give Humpy Wheeler a PR job.  Wheeler, who would later become the famed promoter at Charlotte Motor Speedway, had been playing ball at South Carolina, messed up his knee and could no longer play ball.  He wanted to stay in sports, so he took up journalism.

Maw was running the two fairground tracks with an organization called the Dixie Auto Racing Club (DARC).  He needed someone to write up stories for the newspapers and also a program that was printed each week.  He hired Humpy and the rest is history.

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the Sept. 2007 edition of the Pioneer Pages magazine.

Mike Bell is the CEO and historian for the Georgia Auto Racing Hall of Fame Association, Inc. (GARHOFA)

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