Open main menu

The 1961 Dixie 400 was a NASCAR Grand National Series (now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) event that was held on September 17, 1961, at Atlanta International Raceway in Hampton, Georgia.

1961 Dixie 400
Race details[1]
Race 46 of 52 in the 1961 NASCAR Grand National Series season
Layout of Atlanta International Speedway, used until 1996
Layout of Atlanta International Speedway, used until 1996
Date September 17, 1961 (1961-September-17)
Official name Dixie 400
Location Atlanta International Raceway, Hampton, Georgia
Course Permanent racing facility
1.500 mi (2.400 km)
Distance 267 laps, 401 mi (705 km)
Weather Temperatures reaching of 69.1 °F (20.6 °C); wind speeds of 15.9 miles per hour (25.6 km/h)
Average speed 125.384 miles per hour (201.786 km/h)
Attendance 30,000[2]
Pole position
Driver Smokey Yunick Racing
Most laps led
Driver Banjo Matthews Matthews Racing
Laps 167
No. 3 David Pearson John Masoni
Television in the United States
Network untelevised
Announcers none

Seven automobile manufacturers from the United States would demonstrate their fastest stock car vehicles in an attempt to impress new vehicle sales on Monday. Homologation rules during this era only allowed drivers to bring vehicles that are street-legal and driver to the track directly by the competing driver(s). A filming of a full-length feature Hollywood film entitled Thundering Wheels was a part of the festivities planned for this racing event in addition to a 210-minute performance by some of the legendary performers from the Grand Ole Opry.[3] Local beauty pageant personality Linda Vaughn was chosen to be the queen of the 1961 running of the Dixie 400.[4]


Atlanta International Raceway (now Atlanta Motor Speedway) is one of ten current intermediate track to hold NASCAR races; the others are Charlotte Motor Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Darlington Raceway, Homestead Miami Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and Texas Motor Speedway.[5] However, at the time, only Charlotte and Darlington were built.

The layout at Atlanta International Speedway at the time was a four-turn traditional oval track that is 1.54 miles (2.48 km) long.[6] The track's turns are banked at twenty-four degrees, while the front stretch, the location of the finish line, and the back stretch are banked at five.[6]

Race reportEdit

Fireball Roberts would immediately awe the spectators during solo qualifying sessions driving at speeds up to 136.924 miles per hour (220.358 km/h) in order to clinch the pole position. In contrast to these amazing speeds, the average speed of the race was 125.384 miles per hour (201.786 km/h). While Fireball Roberts, Nelson Stacy and Banjo Matthews would dominate the earliest parts of this event, the closing moments were a constant struggle between Junior Johnson and David Pearson.[2] These drivers had the monopoly on the first-place position throughout the race; tying with the 1960 Atlanta 500 with the least amount of lead changes.

In this 267-lap racing event, the duration between the first green flag and the checkered flag was approximately three hours and eleven minutes. There were 42 qualifying American-born drivers on the grid out of the 46 who originally qualified for this event.[3] Tommy Irwin would suffer from a bad piston in his vehicle that prevented him from starting the race; he was credited as the last-place finisher. Lee Reitzel would be the lowest-finishing driver to complete the entire event while Banjo Matthew's faulty engine prevented him from finishing in the "top ten." Thirty thousand people would eventually see David Pearson defeat Junior Johnson by a time of five seconds.[2] Fred Lorenzen's engine blew, spewing oil on the track. Lorenzen's car is spun into a concrete retaining wall and Fireball Roberts narrowly missed him. Dave Mader was not so fortunate in trying to avoid Lorenzen; his car spun into a steel guardrail, knocking him unconscious.[2]

NASCAR originally made a bad judgment call and declared Bunkie Blackburn the winner. The reason behind this bad call was that one of David Pearson's laps were never officially counted; they decided to re-mark it as official. Most of the spectators had left by the time that Pearson was given the actual win, making this race very controversial to both Blackburn and Pearson alike.[4]

The transition to purpose-built racecars began in the early 1960s and occurred gradually over that decade. Changes made to the sport by the late 1960s brought an end to the "strictly stock" vehicles of the 1950s.

Individual earnings for each driver ranged from the winner's share of $9,330 ($78,224 when adjusted for inflation) to the last-place finisher's share of $200 ($1,677 when adjusted for inflation). The total prize purse for this event was $39,960 ($335,032 when adjusted for inflation).[7] Six notable crew chiefs would take part in this race, including Ray Fox, Bud Allman and Shorty Johns.[8]


Grid No. Driver Manufacturer Speed[9] Owner
1 22 Fireball Roberts '61 Pontiac 136.294 Smokey Yunick
2 29 Nelson Stacy '61 Ford 135.042 Dudley Farrell
3 8 Joe Weatherly '61 Pontiac 135.000 Bud Moore
4 28 Fred Lorenzen '61 Ford 134.487 Holman-Moody
5 3 David Pearson '61 Pontiac 136.778 John Masoni
6 24 Darel Dieringer '60 Pontiac 135.287 James Turner
7 94 Banjo Matthews '61 Ford 134.220 Banjo Matthews
8 72 Bobby Johns '61 Ford 134.220 Shorty Johns
9 27 Junior Johnson '61 Pontiac 133.887 Rex Lovette
10 4 Rex White '61 Chevrolet 133.581 Rex White

Failed to qualify: Tony Lavati (#66)[9]


Dave Mader and Jesse James Taylor would retire from NASCAR Cup Series competition after the conclusion of this event.[10]

Finishing orderEdit

Section reference:[2]

  1. David Pearson (No. 3)
  2. Junior Johnson (No. 27)
  3. Fireball Roberts (No. 22)
  4. Jack Smith (No. 47)
  5. Richard Petty (No. 43)
  6. Johnny Allen (No. 14)
  7. Ned Jarrett (No. 11)
  8. Bob Welborn (No. 46)
  9. Woodie Wilson (No. 51)
  10. Marvin Panch (No. 6)
  11. Banjo Matthews* (No. 94)
  12. Bobby Johns (No. 72)
  13. Jim Paschal (No. 44)
  14. Emanuel Zervakis (No. 85)
  15. Tiny Lund (No. 30)
  16. Joe Weatherly (No. 8)
  17. Ken Rush (No. 59)
  18. Rex White (No. 4)
  19. Nelson Stacy* (No. 29)
  20. Darel Dieringer* (No. 24)
  21. L.D. Austin (No. 74)
  22. Herman Beam (No. 19)
  23. Ed Livingston (No. 68)
  24. Lee Reitzel (No. 93)
  25. Buck Baker* (No. 87)
  26. Bill Morgan* (No. 32)
  27. J.C. Hendrix* (No. 78)
  28. Elmo Langley* (No. 96)
  29. Bunkie Blackburn* (No. 9)
  30. T.C. Hunt* (No. 10)
  31. G.C. Spencer* (No. 48)
  32. Bob Barron* (No. 71)
  33. Doug Yates* (No. 23)
  34. George Alsobrook* (No. 99)
  35. Ralph Earnhardt* (No. 5)
  36. Fred Lorenzen* (No. 28)
  37. Dave Mader* (No. 90)
  38. Tubby Gonzales* (No. 80)
  39. Herb Tillman* (No. 86)
  40. Jesse James Taylor* (No. 15)
  41. Curtis Crider* (No. 62)
  42. Tommy Irwin* (No. 2)

* Driver failed to finish race


Section reference:[2]

  • Start of race: Fireball Roberts officially started the race with the pole position; Tommy Irwin had to leave the race due to a problem with one of his pistons
  • Lap 3: A bearing came loose off of Curtis Crider's vehicle
  • Lap 10: Engine problems managed to bring Jesse James Taylor's race to a screeching halt
  • Lap 28: Fred Lorenzen took over the lead from Fireball Roberts
  • Lap 36: Nelson Stacy took over the lead from Fred Lorenzen
  • Lap 46: Oil pressure issues ended Herb Tillman's day on the track
  • Lap 47: Engine problems managed to relegate Tubby Gonzales to the sidelines
  • Lap 51: Dave Mader had a terminal crash
  • Lap 52: Fred Lorenzen had a terminal crash
  • Lap 53: Joe Weatherly took over the lead from Nelson Stacy
  • Lap 57: Banjo Matthews took over the lead from Joe Weatherly
  • Lap 62: Ralph Earnhardt's vehicle developed problems with its transmission
  • Lap 63: A problematic piston managed to take George Alsobrook out of the race
  • Lap 65: Oil pressure issues effectively eliminate Doug Yates out of the event
  • Lap 200: Bobby Johns took over the lead from Banjo Matthews
  • Lap 203: A troublesome piston forced Bill Morgan to leave the race due to safety reasons
  • Lap 209: Buck Baker couldn't cope with a problematic engine, forcing him to finish in a miserable 25th place
  • Lap 211: Nelson Stacy took over the lead from Bobby Johns
  • Lap 238: Darel Dieringer had a terminal crash; forcing him to exit the event prematurely
  • Lap 243: Nelson Stacy managed to blow his engine while racing at high speeds
  • Lap 244: Banjo Matthews took over the lead from Nelson Stacy
  • Lap 262: Banjo Matthews managed to blow his engine while racing at high speeds
  • Lap 264: Fireball Roberts took over the lead from Banjo Matthews
  • Lap 266: David Pearson took over the lead from Fireball Roberts
  • Finish: Fireball Roberts officially became the winner of the event


  1. ^ Weather information for the 1961 Dixie 400 at The Old Farmers' Almanac
  2. ^ a b c d e f 1961 Dixie 400 racing information at Racing Reference
  3. ^ a b Dixie 400 Entries Pour into Atlanta at Star-News (Google News Archive Search)
  4. ^ a b AMS' last September race cause for late celebration at
  5. ^ "NASCAR Race Tracks". NASCAR. Archived from the original on October 12, 2010. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  6. ^ a b "NASCAR Tracks—The Atlanta Motor Speedway". Atlanta Motor Speedway. Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  7. ^ Racing information for the 1961 Dixie 400 at Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet
  8. ^ 1961 Dixie 400 crew chief information at Racing Reference
  9. ^ a b Qualifying information for the 1961 Dixie 400 at Racing Reference
  10. ^ NASCAR retirements after the 1961 Dixie 400 at Race Database
Preceded by
1961 untitled race at California State Fairgrounds
NASCAR Grand National races
Succeeded by
1961 Old Dominion 500
Preceded by
Dixie 400 races
Succeeded by