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Excerpt from The Superspeedway Boom - 1959-1964

NASCAR vs. The Teamsters Union


....Before the first World 600 on June 19, 1960, there were $500,000 in debts outstanding (at Charlotte Motor Speedway). At the eleventh hour (track President) Curtis Turner came up with enough money to place in an escrow account to cover the $106,000 purse. It is assumed that Turner pulled one of his famous -- or infamous -- transactions in order to cover the posted awards.

A crowd of 35,462 showed up for the first World 600. Ticket Sales were enough to cover the immediate loans for the racing purse, but a long line of creditors were standing outside the speedway office demanding to be paid.

It was reported that shortly after the inaugural World 600, Turner approached the Teamsters Union for an $800,000 loan to bail out Charlotte Motor Speedway. William R. Rabin, an accountant and lawyer, was hired to set up the books for Charlotte Motor Speedway. More importantly, Mr. Rabin was a confidante of big monied people including Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. Rabin was instrumental in persuading each creditor to give the Speedway management more time to solve its financial problems. He also acted as a liaison between Turner and the Teamsters in their original discussions. In return for the $800,000 loan, Turner was asked to unionize the drivers as part of the deal. Turner did a little 'feeling around' in the driver ranks, but later abandoned the idea of the union.

Within 12 monhts, Charlotte Motor Speedway was slowly -- but steadily -- working its way out from under the pile of debts. But not nearly fast enough appease the creditors and strike a harmonic note among stockholders. Turner was ousted as President in early June of 1961, and Bruton Smith resigned as Vice-President. Smith was retained temporarily as "promotion director".

The board of directors held a pre-race meeting to which Turner was not invited, a practice not entirely legal under North Carolina law. He was dismissed in a "stormy" meeting the following day. Turner did not contest the fact that he had not been invited to the board of director's meeting.

He chose an alternate method, which he hoped would get the speedway that he had built back in his hands. He went back to the Teamsters and this time, he agreed to round up the NASCAR stock car drivers. The Teamsters were prepared to spend heavily, if necessary, in their efforts to unionize professional athletes in all levels of the sporting industry.

During the week of August 7, Turner and other racing people were in Chicago to talk with leading Teamster officials Nick Torzeksi, who was directly involved with the organizing of the professional athletes, and Harold Gibbons, administrative aide to Hoffa.

Quietly and without fanfare, several leading race drivers from the NASCAR and USAC ranks met and formed the Federation of Professional Athletes. The purpose, they said, was to form a union of all professional drivers cutting across NASCAR, USAC, IMCA and other boundaries. Targeted benefits for members were:

1- better purses

2- pension plans

3- more adequate insurance coverage

4- a scholarship fund for children of deceased members

5- upgrading facilities for drivers at the speedways, including shower areas and lounge facilities.

Reported at the meeting were Fireball Roberts and Tim Flock of NASCAR, and Paul Goldsmith of USAC. Don Branson of USAC had been invited but did not attend. Unconfirmed reports named 1956 Indianapolis 500 winner Pat Flaherty and 1952 AAA champion Chuck Stevenson among those most interested in the FPA.

John Marcum, President of the Midwest Association of Race Cars, predecessor of ARCA, was offered the job of vice-president of the FPA. After several days of personal deliberation, Marcum turned down the offer. Turner told Nick Torzeski and Hal Gibbons that he would lead the efforts to organize the stock car drivers. In return, Turner would get $850,000 -- plenty of cash to bail Charlotte Motor Speedway out of bankruptcy.

Turner set up his home base in the Nissen Building in Winston-Salem, N.C. He released a statement on August 8, 1961: "A majority of the drivers on the Grand National Circuit have signed applications and paid initiation dues of $10 for membership in the Federation of Professional Athletes."

The proverbial mess hit the fan when NASCAR President Bill France heard that one. "No known Teamster member can compete in a NASCAR race," France fired back. "And I'll use a pistol to enforce it."

The Grand Nationals were scheduled to run a race at Winston-Salem's Bowman Gray Stadium on August 9, 1961. Bill France hustled up to Winston-Salem and met with the drivers in a vacant building not far from the track. There, he made his pitch.

"Gentlemen, before I have this union stuffed down my throat, I will plow up my two-and-a-half mile track at Daytona Beach and plant corn in the infield. To prove his point, France promptly suspended Turner, Flock and Roberts who had participated in union work. The suspensions were for "conduct detrimental to auto racing" and essentially, they were "for life".

France also declared, "Auto racing is one of the few sports which has never had a scandal. We'll fight this union to the hilt."

Turner counteracted with a prepared written statement which was distributed to most of the drivers, all of the signed members and many of the daily newspaper and racing tabloids. Turner's written statement, in its entirety:

"I would like to explain some of the needs for the Federation of Professional Athletes.

First of all, this is not the Teamsters Union. The FPA is a union of its own, affiliated with the Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America. The entire staff is made up of people from racing, elected and goverened by you, the members. Our affiliation with the Teamsters Untion means we gain the support of an organization or 1,700,000 members, their experience, finances and other forms of aid.

PRIZE MONEY: As racing grows, the promoters are requiring drivers to be present for two and in some cases three weeks in advance of a race. This means $15 per man per day, or for two weeks, $210 Five to a crew means over $1,000 per crew. Assuming 50 cars in the race: $50,000. At Daytona, you wear out one set of tires in practice. There's another $11,000. Then you need a minimum of six tires to start the race. That's another $16,500. Damage to cars will average $50,000. Your entry fee is $25 or another $1,250. This makes a total of $112,250 (actual cash money put up by the owners and drivers) -- not to mention pit passes, driver's physicals, car registgration, etc. This is only figured on 50 cars and the figure is low. So the drivers are spending approximately twice as much as they can win (if they come in first) while the promoter is charging admission for your practice and time trials.

We feel the drivers should get 40% of the time trial money.

Stop false advertising of purse, such as prize money for Continental Lincoln, Imperial Chrysler, Cadillacs, etc. Eliminate double totals of accessory awards as you can not win both Champion and Autolite awards, and the same goes for Firestone and Goodyear. However, both are included in the advertised purse. This is just a small part of what we intend to do for you.

PENSIONS: Pensions are almost unheard of in professional sports, and yet they are one of the greatest needs. Professional athletes are old before their time by virtue of the pressing pace of their profession demands. Because of this great need for security when the athlete reaches the age considered "old" for his profession, a liberal pension program ranks high on the objectives list of the Federation of Professional Athletes.

DEATH BENEFITS: Death benefits have been discussed by sports associations for as many years as there have been professional sports. Yet, no real answer gas been found for this problem. Associations at their best have no collective strength, unity of purpose or enough money to get the job done. The insurance program currently offered is totally inadequate and serves no other purpose than a burial. Families of fatally injured athletes are often hard put to meet this expense, much less being able to keep their home and pay due bills. Very often families have to be split up because of a fatal accident. It is for these reasons and a host of other needs equally important that Death Benefits are another major goal earmarked for you and your family by the Federation of Professional Athletes.

HEALTH AND WELFARE: Health and Welfare benefits go hand-in-hand with Death Benefits inasmuch as they greatly affect the family budget in time of illness or accident. The Federation of Professional Athletes has placed these benefits high on the collective bargaining agenda. The Health and Welfare program includes a negotiated schedule of hospital and medical benefits for professional athletes which will lessen the financial burden on Federation members when accident or illness strike them or their dependents.

SCHOLARSHIP FUND: A scholarship fund for children of deceased members will also become part of the objectives of the Federation. This program is a mainstay in the Federation's plans to bring social benefits to Federation members as well as improved economic conditions.

COMPLAIN PROCEDURES: Complaint Procedures have been absent too long in associations dealing with professional sports. Strong and meaningful complaint provisions will be clearly spelled out by the Federation of Professional Athletes in all contracts. SAFETY: Adequate safety conditions are another problems which has been neglected in many professional sports because of the lack of unity and central strength. Since many sports always contain the element of danger, safety conditions and safer and more adequate equipment will be given special attention by the Federation.

Because we want to give you this help, Bill France says, "I'll use my pistol, I've done it before and I'll do it again."

Last week he stated he would plow up all his tracks before he would let a union come in. I believe he would have to check with his creditors and stockholders before doing this.

You have our permission to sign any papers that he may dictate to you to sign. There are of no value and you are still members of the FPA and in good standing.

We want to help you, and we will. Ten years ago, NASCAR was paying $4,000 for a 100-mile Grand National. You could build a race car for $3,000. Today, they are still paying $4,000 while it costs $6,000 (to build) a race car and NASCAR membership has increased from $5 per year to $20.

France states the drivers don't realize the money invested in these tracks. I know, because I built the best one in the nation and paid the largest purse, and I also realize a field of race cars represents over a half million dollars while damage to the race tracks is a small percentage of damages to race cars.

Bill France knows we are right. He's already begun to make you more promises.

Drivers all over America are continuing to sign up in the Federation of Professional Athletes. We are rolling.

If you are not already a member, sign the attached membership application and mail it to Curtis Turner, 231 Nissen Building, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Yours Truly,
Curtis Turner.

One item not included in the prepared statement by Turner was the intention of the Federation of Professional Athletes to include pari-mutuel betting on auto races. Turner stated that the pari-mutuel betting had been given a 14-month temporary approval in a southern state -- he declined to say which one -- and that betting would start "in a matter of weeks", as soon as the proper equipment could be installed at the track site. He further stated that approval for pari-mutuel betting in a midwestern state was expected in the near future.

Bill France, no amateur at power plays, issued a prepared statement of his own:

"A recent newspaper story suggests that I might be some rootin', tootin', shootin' cuss, waving a pistol and itching to shoot up anyone who might disagree with me.

Honest, I'm nothing like that. But I am an American who believes our constitution and our laws -- and that bearing of arms to repel invasion is a part of our great American Heritage.

For 14 years I have had the honor and responsibility of heading, as President, the building of a house called NASCAR -- the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc. in Daytona Beach, Florida.

In the center of that house, I have collected a staff of fine people devoted to the expansion and improvement of the great sport of auto racing by building public respect and interest in the sport, and by guiding and helping the people who take part in that sport.

In one wing of that NASCAR house, we have gathered a large group of business people who are something more than just business people when it comes to the sport of automobile racing. They are the promoters -- the people who promote and build the sport by tremendous investments of lands, monies, work, sweat and thought, to build and run modern, safe race tracks and plants for the presentation of auto races. They put up the purses and the many other very substantial costs of preparing and presenting race meets -- and when the whims of weather and other uncontrollable circumstances permit, and the public responds to their expensive advertising and publicity selling each race meet, they are able to pay their bills, get some return on their investments and with luck -- some profit. Too often, weather, other circumstances, and lack of public response produce sad losses instead of hoped-for profits. It is a terribly risky business that relatively few people undertake; those who do take those risks generally do it for the love of the sport more than for the dubious profits. One of our big jobs in NASCAR is to help the promoters do a good job of building, maintaining and operating their tracks for good, safe racing, with fair purses and proper regard for the safety and well being of our contestants, and with the maximum comfort, safety and gratification of our racing fans. The growth of our sport bespeaks some success in our efforts.

In the other wing of our NASCAR house we have our contestants -- the greatest group of people engaged in building, maintaining and driving the greatest groups of racing autos ever collected under one banner -- NASCAR!

Our big job for our driver, owner and mechanic members of NASCAR consists of setting-up, modifying and keeping up-to-date, and enforcing fair and effective rules, regulations and sepcifications governing classes of auto racing with maximum safety, and fair, balanced competition for fair, guaranteed purses.

Further, NASCAR pioneered in developing and providing the Benefit Plan that has always given its members the "best break" in the sport in the event of injury at the race track; NASCAR's administration of its Benefit Plan has saved countless lived and limbs for its membership, and has eased many of the pains of race track casualties.

NASCAR's rule books and specification sheets are read and interpreted identically for all contestants by trained officials who are qualified for their assignments. Outstandings members of the sport and of the automobile industry have contributed generously and effectively over the years to the building of these rules and theor proper application. Appeals and grievance procedures under the directing of outstanding national commissioners, have been fairly and effectively applied over the years.

Points funds have been set up and administered to afford proper honor and recognition as well as payments to our contestants.

Cooperation and recognition of the automotive industries in support of our sport has been built up by NASCAR.

And when bigger and better ideas and plans for the benefit and betterment of our sport and the folks in it are developed -- NASCAR will continue to be up front and working sincerely and effectively for them, with years of experience and achievement to build from.

For 14 years, we in NASCAR have been working and striving for the growth and improvement of the great sport of auto racing and the great number of nice folks who have graced our rolls as members -- promoters, drivers, car owners and mechanics -- trying, and usually succeeding, in balancing their various needs for their respective progress in the sport. We honestly feel that ours is a record of solid achievement and progress for our members and our sport.

And when out of a clear blue sky, in a period of growth and progress in the sport, I am suddenly confronted with the fact that a few of the boys who have grown to stature and respect in the sport as NASCAR members, and with the help and support of NASCAR over many years which have been good and profitable for them, engage in activity which is disruptive -- and actually poisonous to the sport -- I hope it's not too hard to understand why I might be a bit mad.

I'm not quite sure yet, if it's just plain foolishness, stupidity or avarice that makes these boys get associated with movements which can only hurt and degrade our sport and injure the people and organization that helped them grow.

But I do know that organized gambling would be bad for our sport -- and it would spill innocent blood on our race track -- I'll fight it to the end! And with the help of all decent auto racing people and their fans, we will lick it.

And I know and believe that trade unions have a good place in the American way of life. However, the kind those boys are working with can't do anything but hurt racing, and all the nice folks who have been building our great sport.

Bill France, NASCAR President

On Friday, August 11, 1961, Fireball Roberts resigned from the union. "I drove slowly from Charlotte this morning and took the long way by Lake Lure and I thought this thing over from all angles," Roberts said. "I'm withdrawing my support from the union and am resigning from the Federation of Professional Athletes. It's as simple as that.

"I don't know for sure what the motives of other FPA officers were," Roberts added, "but I assume they were the same as mine. My motives are clear. I simply wanted to better the positions of race drivers, car owners, myself and racing in general. I can see now that by affiliating with the FPA with the Teamsters, we could possibly accomplish more harm than good for racing. The Teamsters people have implied that to force this issue there might be injunctions and litigations which might disrupt all racing in the South. If that happened, there might be a lot of individuals who would be hurt very badly. Personally, I could live five years without getting behind another wheel, but there are several on the racing circuit who aren't that fortunate. I feel if I do anything to hurt the least man in racing, I will be doing a disservice to my fellow drivers who have been my friends for 15 years. And I will have no part of that." Roberts was reinstated by NASCAR later that same afternoon.

The verbal sparring between Curtis Turner and Bill France continued. "I understand that Bill France has been talking about pistols and threatening my life and Fireball Roberts' life," said Turner. "I guess Fireball decided he didn't want to get shot, but I still think he's with us."

Turner brought up the subject of expenses and purses again. "It costs more to go race today," he said. "Traveling expenses are greater, you have to may the mechanics more. Motel fees are going up every year. Everything has gone up but the purses."

"Ten years ago, Darlington was paying $25,000 for its Southern 500," France countered. "Today, the purse is nearly $100,000."

One of the first steps NASCAR took during the dispute was to form a Grand National Advisory Board. This panel would be made up of two drivers, two NASCAR officials, two car owners and two promoters. The Advisory Board will evaluate the rule book, race entry regulations, prize money payoffs and make a comprehensive study of pension plan possibilities.

In September, 1961, defending NASCAR Grand National champion Rex White, resigned from the FPA. "I joined this union and I've been thinking about it ever since. Drivers have legitimate beefs and the drivers want a fair deal and more money. Let's get this Advisory Board France has appointed decide what's good for racing. I'll admit the union offer of a retirement plan sold me, but from now on, I'll think a week before I sign anything else."

Ned Jarrett, point leader in the 1961 NASCAR standings, turned in his resignation, too. "I signed the union paper, but I didn't consider everything," said Jarrett. "A lot of us drivers have beefs but this was going about it in the wrong way."

With virtually all of the NASCAR drivers back in Bill France's fold, Turner and Tim Flock -- the only two who held their positions in the union effort -- were unforgiven by France's sanctioning body. They were suspended from NASCAR for "life".

Turner and Flock filed a number of lawsuits. One was to be reinstated in NASCAR under the Florida rights to work law. And the biggie -- a $300,000 suit for actual and punitive damages along with a request for temporary injunction.

Circuit Judge Robert E. Wingield dismissed the temporary injunction on January 13, 1962. "While the testimony was being given," Flock said years later, "the judge was up in his chair reading comic books. We didn't have a chance."

Only days later, Turner was advised by his attorneys to drop the entire suit. The clincher was the Teamsters union could not have made a loan to a company they were attempting to organize. Turner and Flock were left out on a limb. France held his guns and kicked Turner and Flock out of NASCAR.

Big Bill France and NASCAR had prevailed in the ultimate challenge. In the summer of 1961, Curtis Turner and Tim Flock fought the NASCAR law -- and the law won.




Curtis Turner attempted to organize a driver's union, but lost his driving privileges for four years.