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Hitting on all cylinders

For Ned Jarrett, moving to Camden and to Bowani Racing provided his Hall of Fame driving career with

Posted: November 12, 2015 10:29 a.m.
Updated: November 13, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I photo/

NASCAR HALL OF FAME member Ned Jarrett (center) shares a story and a laugh with fellow Hall of Fame enshrinee Bobby Allison (left) and his brother, Donnie Allison, on Tuesday at the Camden Archives and Museum.

Turning for his Camden home proved trickier than turning for home in the 1965 Southern 500 for Ned Jarrett.

After winning the Darlington Labor Day weekend race by what remains a NASCAR record 14 laps -- with the late Buck Baker finishing a distant second -- Jarrett looked forward to a peaceful, uneventful evening with his wife, their two sons and daughter in their Kirkover Hills residence.

As they made their way to the house though, the Jarrett clan was met by what seemed like half of Camden milling around in their front yard or, on the usually peaceful street. In a post-race celebration which Jarrett thought would end in victory lane earlier in that afternoon continued into the night as his fellow Camdenites came out to greet and congratulate their friend, neighbor and racing idol.

Standing beside the car which he drove for Camden-based car owner Bondy Long and the Bowani Racing team in 1964 and which, earlier Tuesday morning, Long drove to the Camden Archives and Museum for a free exhibit which will run until Jan. 31, Jarrett smiled as he recalled the scene when he returned to Camden following his historic Southern 500 romp.

“It was unbelievable,” he said in describing the scene that evening. “We didn’t expect it and had had no idea when we drove back from Darlington. All of those people … They had a banner, it must have been 40-feet long, that they had already made up congratulating us on winning that race. 

“That was something that will stay with you forever; it was such a special thing. It was totally unexpected.”

The Southern 500 triumph was the pinnacle of the 1965 racing season for Jarrett and Bowani Racing, named after the Long brothers: Bondy, Walter and Nicky. In just their second year together, the team won the Grand National --- now, Sprint Cup --- Series with 13 victories from 54 starts with Jarrett behind the wheel of the Ford Galaxie. 

The team and Jarrett were dominant from the early races to the season finale at the 100-mile race at Dog Track Speedway in Moyock, N.C., a race which would end in Jarrett’s 13th trip to victory lane. In between, there were dominating victories with a 22-lap victory in a 100-mile race at Spartanburg Speedway in February joining the one-sided win in Darlington as Jarrett finished with 38,824 points to outdistance runner-up Dick Hutcherson, who won nine times and accumulated 35,790 points.

The Long-Jarrett connection came seven races into the 1964 Grand National campaign after the Boykin-based Bowani Racing Team enlisted James Hylton, Marvin Panch and Jo Schlesser who split time behind the wheel for the first six races with Schlesser coming home with the only top 10 finish among that trio of drivers.

Call it luck or being in the right place at the right, time but Jarrett came into Long’s garage in 1964 after having won eight races in 1963 and six in 1962 as a team owner/driver.

If there is such a thing as a match made in heaven, this one came with a mix of grease, oil and gas thrown in along with a recommendation from Bobby Isaac, who drove 26 races for Bowani in 1963 with three top five and seven top 10 finishes to show for it.

“First of all,” Jarrett said of how he came to Camden and Bowani Racing, “Bobby Isaac was a very good friend of mine. We grew up together and I had raced against him early in our careers. Bobby was one of the first drivers that Bondy had.

“(Isaac) was in a Plymouth which they had bought from the Pettys (Maurice, Lee and Richard) and the Plymouths, back in those days, were not the fastest race cars. Bobby came up to me in Daytona said, ‘What do we need to do? Those Plymouths are not going to get the job done for what Bondy, his family and everybody want to do.’”

At the time, Holman-Moody was a performance arm of the Ford Motor Company in Charlotte. The Holman-Moody team was advertising a 1963 Ford which was turn-key and ready to race. The asking race was $4,945. Jarrett did not hesitate in giving Isaac a tip which he would relay to Long.

“I said, ‘Tell your people to go up there and buy one of those cars. It’s the best thing they can do,’” Jarrett said.

Taking Jarrett’s advice, Long made the trip to Charlotte and bought the Ford and brought it back to their shop in Boykin, which is now home to Pear Tree Farm. It also cemented a friendship between the two men which has lasted through the years and has withstood the test of time.

“That sort of opened the friendship, I guess you would say, with Bondy and I,” Jarrett said.

Eight months later, Jarrett was approached by the Ford Motor Company asking if he would be willing to move to Camden and manage the Bowani Racing Team while driving the number 11 Ford. It was an offer too good for Jarrett to pass up given his new-found friendship with the team owner and the rest of the crew.

“I jumped at the idea,” Jarrett said of moving to Camden from his native Newton, N.C. “I liked Bondy and I liked his crew. They were good country people and I grew up in the country and in a small town. We just pooled our resources. I had the Ford deal and he had a team and they were willing to run all the races.”

Having the financial and technical wherewithal was a big deal at a time in which NASCAR teams did not have multi-million dollar corporate deals as is the case today. As an independent driver for his own team, Jarrett’s running a limited schedule was the norm rather than being the exception.

With Ford’s money and Bowani Racing’s skill set, Jarrett had no choice other than to join forces with them on a full-time basis.

“Back then, you couldn’t make money running all the races,” Jarrett said of not having a full team or, a sponsorship funding. “(Bowani Racing) was committed to doing that. That’s what I wanted to do and that’s what Ford wanted us to do; that was to try and win a championship.”

In 1964, Jarrett had 14 wins with 40 top five and 45 top 10 finishes with Bowani Racing. He would finish second behind Richard Petty in the Grand National standings with Petty’s 40,252 points besting Jarrett’s 34,950 point total.

With a dream of a Grand National championship, Jarrett and Bowani were in sync in the race to unseat King Richard in 1965.

After a season-opening second in Riverside, Cal., Jarrett finished fifth in the 1965 Dayton 500. Then came back-to-back wins in races in Spartanburg and Weaverville, N.C. The pieces were coming together nicely. By the time the circuit returned to Darlington for the Southern 500 -- Jarrett was third in the spring race -- the team was clicking along nicely but nobody would have expected to see the sight they saw at the Lady in Black in the final days of summer.

While the final distance was a mind-boggling 14 laps after the 364 laps were completed, Jarrett “only” led 62 laps. While winning by the equivalent of 19.25 miles, Jarrett said being that far in front comes with a different set of pressures.

Boredom, he said, was not an issue that day.

“I’ll tell you, we were praying every lap to make that thing last,” he said with a laugh.

“Obviously, being that far ahead, others in the field had to have problems and it just so happened that every car in the field had problems that day.”

When Jarrett said every car, he meant every car the number 11 Bowani Racing Ford included. “Our car was overheating but we managed to nurse it to the end,” Jarrett said.

With other cars making lengthy pit stops in order to make changes in order to finish or, at least, get back on the track, Jarrett was out for what might have seemed like a pleasant Sunday afternoon drive. Nothing, he said, was further from the truth.

“Sometimes it is not as comfortable being that far ahead as it would be if you were battling someone for the lead,” he said of his mind set as the laps dwindled down. “You don’t have time to think about what might go wrong with the car. Or, you might say to yourself, ‘Don’t goof up and don’t go into that corner too hard and hit the wall.’

“Things start going through your mind because you have plenty of time for it to happen. You’re better off racing somebody where you don’t have time to think about all those negatives. We were able to hold it together from a mind standpoint as well as bringing it to the end and winning the race.”

At the time, NASCAR did not have in-car communication between the crew chief and the driver. Any information which the driver needed to receive from the pits came on a chalkboard held by a crew member telling the driver everything from when to pit to the lap number to how many laps were left in the race.

That day in Darlington was also unique in the fact that Jarrett was the only Ford left standing as the laps began to mount up. During the latter stages of the race, a Ford representative made his way to the Bowani pits to make sure they knew what was on the line as it pertained to the auto giant.

“The Ford Motor Company person came down to our pits. We were the last hope that they had to win that race,” Jarrett said of the additional pressure coming his way. “It was going to be embarrassing for an independent team to beat (Ford) when they had teams that they were sponsoring and had spent a lot of money on.”

The Ford rep told Long and the crew to bring Jarrett in and cool the car off since the race was well in hand. Long did as he was advised and wrote on the blackboard for Jarrett to bring the car onto pit road. Jarrett ignored the request.

“I chose not to,” he said of his decision not to pit that late in a race in which he said he did not know how large his lead was until he hit the finish line. “Something more powerful than the Ford Motor Company told me to stay out there and keep running so, we did.”

Jarrett drove in nine more races for Bowani in 1966 before a back injury sustained in a race in Greenville forced him out of the drivers’ seat at the age of 33. The other two drivers who Long hired that year were Mario Andretti and Dick Hutcherson for one race each.

Bowani Racing competed in just 11 races in 1966 as Ford boycotted NASCAR events because the sport’s governing body would not allow Ford to use its single overhead cam engines. Ford gave its teams Mustangs and told them, in Long’s words, ‘Y’all go drag racing until we settle our deal with NASCAR.’”

During the boycott, Jarrett took the time to retire which led Bowani to hire Hutcherson who was followed into the seat by Bobby Allison, A.J. Foyt, Bud Moore and Swede Savage, the team’s final driver before closing its doors in 1968.

In a career at the track which spanned 206 races from 1963 to 1968, Bowani Racing sent out 29 winners with 114 top five and 134 top 10 finishes. The team had its car sit on the pole on 26 occasions. Never, though, were the times as good as when Jarrett was behind the wheel.

A member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Jarrett enjoyed his best days in Camden and with Bowani Racing. He won 27 races in the 11 car while earning more than $150,000 before his career-ending back injury. His 1965 Grand National Series championship made him the first Ford driver to win a title driving in NASCAR’s premier division.

It was a time which Jarrett cherishes to this day and not just the racing aspect, either. It was the people and being surrounded by men cut from the same competitive cloth which led to many a memorable day both inside and out of the car.

“It was the greatest experience I had in racing,” he said as several members of Bowani team milled about the large crowd on Tuesday. “It was the most secure position that I had ever had because before that, I had basically been doing it on my own on borrowed money, which was very stressful. Then, to come here and they actually paid me a salary to manage the team and paid me a normal driver’s fee which, back in those days was 40 percent; it helped me to get out of debt from the money I had borrowed up to that point.

“It was just a great group of people to work with. We all had a common goal and that was to go out and try to win races and win a championship.”

 

(The exhibit entitled, “Camden’s Moment in NASCAR History: The Bondy Long Story” will remain on display at the Camden Archives and Museum, located at  1314 Broad Street, through Jan. 31. The exhibit is free and open to the public. For more information, please contact the Camden Archives and Museum at 425-6050.)


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