December 28, 1921 - May 14, 1986
Late Than Never
Nelson Stacy didn't quite set the world of NASCAR on fire, but he
certainly added a welcome spark. A veteran of World War II, the
Kentucky-born Stacy spent his time in the war driving a tank while
serving under General Patton.
After making but
one NASCAR start in 1952, Stacy seemed content to drive in the
"lesser", but just as challenging, ARCA Series. (Back then, ARCA was
known as the Midwest Association for Race Cars (MARC) until the
series changed its name in 1964. We'll use the ARCA name for
In fact, the
word "content" may be quite fitting in this instance, if you
can consider Stacy's three consecutive ARCA Championships
(1958, 1959, 1960) as "contentment".
clearly demonstrated his prowess in the ARCA Series, Stacy
returned to the NASCAR circuit in 1961.
Now, if you've
paid attention so far, you may have been doing a little math. For a
man to have been of age to serve in WWII and then only begin making
waves in NASCAR in 1961... you may have figured out that Nelson
Stacy didn't really start his "real" NASCAR career until just before
the age of 40. Born December 28, 1921, he was often referred to as
"Grandpa Nelson Stacy" by his peers, and was a grandfather, to boot.
He was also
known by the nicknames "Bull-necked Nelson Stacy" and the "Bull
Fighter". (Note: During Speed Weeks 1998 here at Daytona
I stopped to see an ARCA car on display at a supermarket. Of course
I mentioned Nelson. The guy with the car showed me a decal on the
car that said "El Toro". He said the decal was in honor of Nelson.
WOW! Bill Stacy)
And there aren't a lot of pictures around where you'll
find Nelson Stacy smiling. He looked like he meant business from the
word Go. (Note: I lived with Nelson and Mary on Tomoka Farms Road
one summer. I told Nelson I wanted to drive a race car, I was 16
years old. Nelson said, "Put $10,000 on the table and I will build
you a car." He was no nonsense & of course, I had about $20 to my
name, and I won that off of Nelson playing chess the night before.
No race car! Bill Stacy)
Age wouldn't be
a factor for the nearly 40 year-old NASCAR rookie in 1961. The Ford
driver from Cincinatti, Ohio racked up eight top-ten finishes and
notched his first career NASCAR Grand National race in the Southern
500 at the track "Too Tough to Tame"; Darlington Speedway. The
driver Stacy beat to the line in that race was also the only other
driver on the lead lap in that event,
Panch just happened to be subbing for another driver known all too
well for his expertise at Darlington,
that year, while finishing a decent 16th in the championship points
standings. Had Stacy not been a past champion of another racing
series, he would have likely taken NASCAR's 1961 Rookie of the Year
Stacy never ran for a NASCAR championship, he was often in the
thick of the action. He
followed up his auspicious 1961 debut with three wins in only
fifteen Grand National starts in 1962, recording another
victory at Darlington in the Rebel 300 (again beating a
second-place Marvin Panch), and notching additional wins at
Charlotte and Martinsville. He added another
four top-ten finishes along the way.
1962 would end
up being Stacy's banner year, though. He did achieve a career-best
14th place in NASCAR Championship points in 1963, but had no luck
finding the Winner's Circle.
become a factor for Nelson Stacy, and he competed in only two more
Grand National events with one start each in 1964 and 1965. He
officially retired following a 24th-place finish in the 1965
All told, Stacy
drove in only 45 races in NASCAR's top tier, but clearly made the
most of his short Grand National career.
- Don Falloon
"Grandpa" Nelson Stacy and the Boy Scouts
can't be re-written, and all of the research in the world won't make
a great story better. That said, I'll close my Nelson Stacy
biography with a great story by
Steve Samples of Jeff Gordon Online:
In an era when
major league baseball players, NFL greats, and NBA superstars charge
upwards of $20 an autograph at impersonal signing sessions with long
lines, it's refreshing to see NASCAR's good 'ol boys still signing
for free, talking to kids, and generally making themselves available
to the public. Sure, there are times when drivers have to leave to
catch flights and excuse themselves from such activities, but most
NASCAR drivers are genuinely nice guys who will accommodate race
fans when they can. The nice guy tradition isn't new to the sport-
it started a long time ago.
Before the 1962
World 600 a boy scout group in Charlotte contacted the speedway and
requested the presence of a NASCAR driver at their weekly meeting.
The boys in the troop had made their preference known. They wanted
Fireball Roberts, and if they couldn't get Fireball they would take
David Pearson. The "Pontiac Pack" as it was known in those
days, made up of Roberts, Pearson,
and others, was the dominant force in racing. On the big tracks,
they frequently qualified three to six miles an hour faster than the
Fred Lorenzen and Nelson Stacy, the Plymouth of
Richard Petty, and the Chevrolet of
Ned Jarrett. Kids identify with headline makers and clearly
the Pontiacs were making headlines.
for the local boy scout troop, Roberts and Pearson had commitments.
Speedway executives began calling car owners everywhere, trying on
short notice to recruit a "star" to appear at the meeting. When just
about everyone had said, "Sorry our guy is booked", the phone rang.
It was the office of
They had a driver named Nelson Stacy. Otherwise known as "bull
necked Nelson Stacy," or "Grandpa Nelson Stacy," as Nelson did not
begin his NASCAR career until his mid-forties, and was indeed a
grandfather. Stacy was a first rate Grand National driver (as
Winston Cup was known in those days). He had won the Southern 500 in
Darlington the year before and could handle a race car with the best
of them. Unfortunately Nelson hadn't made any headlines that season
and the scouts were less than excited when they found out someone
called "grandpa" was going to be their speaker. None the less they
all showed up hoping to meet a real NASCAR driver and were loaded
with questions for the aging chauffeur.
arrived he introduced himself to the kids who began to shower him
with racing questions. "Have you ever passed Fireball Roberts?" one
youngster asked. "Once I think, but he was in the pits," Stacy
replied. "Well what about this week, you think you could pass
Fireball just one time, for us"? the inquisitive scout asked. "I
don't know," Stacy replied, "he's awfully fast, but I'll sure try."
The session ended with autographs for everyone and a commitment from
Nelson to run as hard as he could on Sunday.
On race day the
scouts sat together watching their new found hero with hopes he
would finish the race, and maybe even pass the famous Fireball
Roberts, even if the pass took place when Roberts was in the pits.
The race began with the Pontiac pack leading the way, but soon the
powerful Pontiacs began to fall out. The Fords driven by Stacy and
Fred Lorenzen moved closer to the front. As the race passed the
halfway point it looked as if there might be an upset but several
makes of car were in contention. Educated fans were simply waiting
for the Pontiacs to take over. Despite their edge in horsepower it
was not a day for Pontiac. Stacy rocketed to the lead as if he were
shot out of a cannon and Lorenzen moved to third. As the laps ran
down the scouts began to look at each other. Was it possible an old
man, a guy over 40, who they had never heard of, could beat not only
Fireball but the entire field? Indeed it was. Nelson Stacy won the
World 600 that year, one of four victories in a short career, and a
group of boy scouts had finally met someone who could pass Fireball
Roberts. The celebration began in victory circle but ended in the
stands with a screaming group of boy scouts that had just witnessed
what they thought was a genuine miracle!
I met Nelson
Stacy once following that day. The occasion was after a race at
Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. Searching diligently for my
boyhood hero Fred Lorenzen, I came upon Stacy standing next to his
car in the pits. The year was 1963. It took four and a half hours to
run 500 laps at the little half mile oval in those days, and Stacy
looked exhausted. Realizing he was Lorenzen's teammate, I approached
him for an autograph. "Mr. Stacy would you sign this for me?" I
asked. He looked back and smiled. "Would you give me a dollar for my
autograph?" he said in a serious voice. "Yes sir," I replied,
reaching into my pocket and pulling out a crumpled dollar bill. As I
reached to hand it to him, he chortled. "No, you keep your dollar.
I'll be glad to sign your program," he said, laughing so hard I
thought he would fall over.
Stacy passed away several years ago. He spent his final years in
Florida where he owned a car dealership, complete with a big yellow
sign with a red 29, just like his Holman-Moody Ford. If he was
around today I would have a hard time envisioning Nelson Stacy
charging $20 for an autograph. But maybe, just maybe, at those
autograph tables, he could bring himself to charge a dollar.
01/07/10 10:13:08 -0600.