Bailey Recalls Early Days of NASCAR

April 30, 2016 at 8:45 PM


Don Bailey

            From dirt-track jalopies to the beach at Daytona, DuBois’ Don Bailey saw it all during his 1948-57 experiences during the early days of NASCAR racing. Despite his skills behind the wheel, Bailey told a turnout of 32 people at the DuBois Area Historical Society that his crew was successful, “Because we had the better car.”

            Bailey, now 88, related how he started driving racing cars in local jalopy races, two years after he graduated with the DuBois High School Class of 1945. He found his inspiration from his brother-in-law, Jim Brubaker, who owned an Indianapolis-type car.

           “We knew how to set up the chassis,” he said about entering a car that consistently finished in the top three. “They are doing the same things now, only far better and with more horsepower.”

            By 1950, Bailey had moved on to stock-car racing participating in races twice a week. At the end of the 1951 season he was ranked among the top 100 drives and he was invited to participate in a 100-mile national championship.

           The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) was founded in 1948. Bailey joined the circuit and competed until 1958. He raced against the top drivers of his time period including Lee Petty, father of Richard Petty.

           His best season was 1952 when he finished fourth in the nation among 1,100 drivers. That year was his only full year on the circuit with marriage and the need to support a family taking away from his racing time.

            “It was fun, but there was no money in it then,” said Bailey. “In 1951 you got $50 if you were a big winner. Four hundred dollars was the most I ever got from  one race. The year I was first in Pennsylvania and fourth in the nation, I earned $1,435.”

            Auto racing then, as it is now, is dangerous. Bailey said his worst wreck was at Langhorn when his car rolled over a bank. Nothing left of the car was useable. Although the medical team at the site bandaged Bailey “all over” he did not suffer any injuries.

            “We always had our car competitive,” Bailey recalled. “It was a Chrysler six-cylinder. My goal was to be there for the last lap; otherwise you were not in the race. It is the same goal I had driving on the highway.”

             Bailey and Deacon Litz, and Benny Gordon are the only DuBois natives who competed in professional race driving.

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