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A ‘Long’ racing history

Camden archives celebrates return of car No. 11 as new exhibit opens

Posted: November 12, 2015 6:29 p.m.
Updated: November 13, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

Bondy Long drives up to the Camden Archives and Museum in car No. 11, the 1964 Ford Galaxie in which Bowani Racing’s Ned Jarrett drove 12,963 laps. Long borrowed the car he and his team once owned from current owner Don Snyder in Springfield, Ohio.

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From down Broad Street, those gathered at the Camden Archives and Museum on Tuesday morning could hear the roar of an engine as Bondy Long stepped on the gas of the 1964 No. 11 Bowani Racing Ford Galaxie which Ned Jarrett drove into victory lane on 14 occasions in NASCAR’s Grand National (now, Sprint Cup) Series.

A chorus of cheers and more than a few well-wisher pulling out their cell phones to save the moment greeted Long as he stepped out of the car with a relieved look on his face. Long and Jarrett’s arrival kicked off the archives’ newest exhibit, “Camden’s Moment in NASCAR History: The Bondy Long Story,” which will remain on display through Jan. 31, 2016.

During the 1964 season, Jarrett logged 12,693 laps behind the wheel of the car. A weary Long, sporting a black and gold Camden Bulldogs windbreaker, got a little taste of what his Hall of Fame driver went through just to get the car to Camden in time for the celebration.

Borrowing a trailer and his sister’s truck, Long and Allen Wooten embarked on a round-trip journey of better than 1,100 miles to and from New Springfield, Ohio, to pick up the restored No. 11 car, now owned by Don Snyder, who lent the vehicle to Long for the exhibit.

“It was 10 and a half hours up there and 12 hours back and I’m telling you, I’m still tired,” Long said with a laugh, as if recalling every turn and bump he and Wooten endured along the way. “I don’t look forward to the trip back, either.”

Originally, Snyder offered Long the use of the car for a month. But the former owner of the Ford said he would need it for just the opening day of the exhibit.

The exhibit kickoff comes on the 50th anniversary of Bowani Racing’s having won the Grand National Series title with Jarrett behind the wheel of a team named for Long and his two now deceased brothers, Walter and Nick Long. At 25, Bondy Long was thought to be the youngest owner in NASCAR’s premier racing series and, undoubtedly, the youngest owner to field a championship team.

The team itself was based in a Boykin garage which is now home to Pear Tree Farm. But the Bowani Racing name could still be seen coming through the coats of paint applied to the top of the garage since Bowani shut its doors for the final time in 1968.

Tuesday, Long was joined by former team members J.P. Berthelette (the crew chief), Danny Massalon, Tommy Granger, Wooten and Jarrett for a celebration which also included the two main members of the Alabama Gang: Hall of Fame driver Bobby Allison and his brother, Donnie.

Bowani is the story of the little team that could. A mere afterthought when the team began in 1963, other teams in the circuit started paying attention to what the gang out of Boykin was doing after Jarrett, who came aboard and moved to Camden after being named as the driver and manager of the operation during the 1964 campaign, finished second in the points race.

In 1965, Bowani’s competition wanted to know what the crew was doing and had to look up to the operation which won the Grand National Series crown with Jarrett winning 13 times -- including the Southern 500 by a record 14 laps -- and beating Richard Petty for the title by more than 3,000 points.

While able to find the 1964 Ford which his team worked on and was on display in the NASCAR Hall of Fame when Jarrett was inducted in 2011, Long said it has been a futile effort in trying to find the whereabouts of the team’s 1965 ride.

“That car,” Long said while nodding to the 1964 Ford which he drove from Camden City Hall to the archives, “is almost exactly the way we raced it. I was surprised with all the original stuff that’s still in there. I think somebody in Concord, N.C., restored it and did a great job. It has a 427 engine in it and I would say between 560 to 580 horsepower. That car, because it’s not as streamlined as cars are now, probably went 170 (miles per hour.) That was about the top speed for this car. This is a perfect restoration here; it’s a beautiful car. It’s lettered up just like it was in ’64. I’m glad to see it, I know that.”

Bowani’s heyday came from 1964 through 1966, but when Jarrett suffered a back injury from a wreck when his car flipped during a race in Greenville in 1966 and was forced to retire, the team was forced to find somebody else to drive.

Dick Hutcherson moved into the driver’s seat after Jarrett and drivers such as Bobby Allison, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti also took spins behind the wheel for Bowani Racing.

It was Hutcherson who, like Jarrett, moved to Camden while driving for Long. Bringing up his name took Long on a nostalgic journey to what was the beginning of the end for a team which did not know the word tired.

 “I remember when we came back from Riverside (Calif.) and Dick Hutcherson wrecked the car and we thought we were going to have a new car for Daytona which was only two weeks later,” Long said of a story which spoke volumes as to the Bowani team. “The car manufacturer said, ‘We’re not going to have a car for you in time, so you’re going to fix up the old car.’ Our whole crew, we worked on that car for seven straight days and everybody slept in their cars outside the shop or they slept on the shop floor. We would send people to town to get something to eat. That’s what it took. We went down there to Daytona and did really great with the car, too.”

There were other similar instances when Bowani team members left a track with a car wrecked in practice on Saturday, took it someplace away from the track, worked all night and were back just in time for the next day’s race.

“We raced in Chattanooga and then drove to a race in Birmingham (Ala.) after we bashed the whole back of the car in Chattanooga,” he said. “There was a park right by the track in Birmingham. We took a cutting torch and cut it all up and rebuilt the bent stuff back up. We replaced the whole front end and just replaced everything. We missed qualifying because we were working on the car and had to start at the rear of the field and then we won the race. That’s what it takes.”

By 1968, without factory backing, Long and Bowani decided to get out of stock car racing with the team owner returning to his roots in drag racing.

“At the end of that year, I said it was time to quit. It was time to move on and do something else,” Long said of Bowani Racing’s final days. “But this is probably the biggest thing in my life. You’ll never work as hard as you worked on one of these back then.”

But, Long said, it was fun while it lasted and on Tuesday, gathered together just a few miles down the road from their old garage, Bowani Racing was back in business if only to share their stories with friends, fans and guests. For that, among many other reasons, was what made this day in Camden a special one for Bondy Long.

“I think it’s just great,” he said as Donnie and Bobby Allison passed by him after arriving in Camden for the occasion. “We’re just looking forward to seeing everybody and we’re glad to have to have everybody associated (with Bowani) and who are still living here in one spot at one time. That’s, really, what I like. I see them occasionally, off and on, one at a time but to have everybody here like this is great.”

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