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PRESERVING RACING'S HERITAGE...GREG FIELDEN


By Van Cox


Most will agree that no professional sport is blessed with any richer heritage than that enjoyed by automobile racing. Sure, some of the stick-and-ball sports may have an edge in years. But motor racing -- and especially stock car racing -- has come a very long way in a relatively short period of time. Indeed, the evolution of big league "It really parellels the evolution of the automobile itself," observed noted racing historian Greg Fielden. "Just as the automobile increased in popularity, so did auto racing. And just as passenger cars became more sophisticated, so did race cars."

A Charlotte, NC native who now makes his home in Surfside beach, SC, Fielden has long been recognized as one of the world's most knowledgeable experts on the subject of auto racing history. A veritable walking encyclopedia of motorsports, facts and figures roll on his tongue with the speed and accuracy of a computer.

Fielden has written and published the widely acclaimed "Forty Years of Stock Car Racing" series of hardcover books, which covers a detailed account of each and every NASCAR Winston Cup race from 1949-1993. His other offerings include "Rumblin' Ragtops", a book on NASCAR's Convertible Circuit in the 1950s, "High Speed at Low Tide", a detailed review of stock car racing on the shores of Daytona Beach from 1936-1958, "Real Racers", his latest historical effort, and "The Stock Car Racing Encyclopedia", which came out in early 1997.

Fielden's works are the most accurate assemblage of racing information ever compiled. They contain race reports and box scores of every NASCAR Winston Cup event, not to mention countless vintage racing photos.

Diehard race fans find the reading most enjoyable, while memorabilia enthusiasts view the Fielden chronicles as high collectibles. The books also provide an invaluable source of reference material for those who make their living in racing, including many of the regular auto racing writers.

"I did the books to give something back to the sport I love," Fielden explained. "The sport has given me so much enjoyment that I felt I had to give something back.

"My publications are my offering to the racing enthustiast. I hope everyone enjoys them as much as I have researching the sport."

The likeable Fielden has been hooked on racing since attending his first contest at Denver Colorado's Lakeside Speedway at the age of five.

"My family moved around quite a bit when I was young, " Fielden said. "I found out at an early age that the back seat usually followed the front seat, and I was the lone occupant of the back seat. But we moved back to the Carolinas in the early '60s. I saw Bobby Isaac race at Weaverville on a weekly basis, and he sort of became my hero. I watched him move up through the Modified and Sportsman ranks into what was then the Grand National division. That really enhanced my interest in big time NASCAR racing."

As that interest began to grow, Fielden -- who describes himself as someone who "never could throw anything away" -- began to amass a stockpile of racing information. Any extra money he came by was used to buy magazines, programs, periodicals, old newspapers, etc. He was able to put together a personal library that today affords him the luxury of doing most of his research in-house. "I guess the oddest thing I have is a magazine article published in 1906 entitled "Mile a Minute Madness"," said Fielden. "It reported the time when automobiles had recently topped the 60 mph barrier."

Over the years, the remarkable journalist has covered motorsports for regional daily newspapers and several of the weekly racing trade publications. In addition to the print media, Fielden has found a place in broadcast journalism. He has worked as a statistician and historian consultant for major networks and a number of cable stations.

"I got involved in the electronic media back in '81," Fielden stated. "Bill Hennecy asked if I'd like to work in the broadcast booth during one of the radio broadcasts at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Everything went really well with that; and I was fortunate to meet Ken Squier, who helped me hook up with CBS Sports. It's grown from there. I have met many auto racing announcers and reporters and consider some of them my closest friends. I'm happy to remain behind the scenes. I don't need a lot of recognition."

Though he doesn't seek acclamation, it has come readily for Fielden -- especially now that more and more racing enthusiasts have become familiar with his published works. While the first volume of "Forty Years of Stock Car Racing" was not released until 1988, the gifted author actually began work on the project some 16 years earlier.

"Yeah, I started working on it back in 1972," he recounted. "Originally, I intended to compile a list of the top five finishers in every NASCAR Winston Cup race. But in doing the required research, I realized that there was a whole lot of history from sixth place on back. Those individuals contributed as much to the growth of the sport as the winners did. I uncovered a lot of interesting information that couldn't be reflected in the statistical accounts. So I came up with the present format.

"My books are not a PR sheet. They tell the story devoid of so much of the butter-flavored hype you see today. Sometimes the depths of despair are tremendous human interest stories. And things said in the heat of a competitive moment are neat to reflect on. This is not a gathering of glowing prose press releases.

"I tell people that I didn't write the books. They were written by the drivers, owners, officials, mechanics, team members, and individuals who helped build stock car racing."

Fielden proudly admits that his book have been well received. His personal favorite is "High Speed at Low Tide", published in 1993. "It is probably my best book," he observed. "Unfortunately it was a short run and they have been sold out for about three years. I was so wrapped up in it that from the time I wrote the first word until I finished was just about three months." Fielden says a similar flurry produced the recently published "Real Racers" in about the same amount of time. "Jim McLaurin of the Columbia State neswspaper, did a nice piece when it came out last year," Fielden said. "He said it must be a labor of love. I thought about it for a second, then told Jim that it was more like a labor of anger. Just the way the current lot of publicity specialists turn a deaf ear on the individuals who performed before the Modern Era. They way some people have treated the heores of our sport is an abberation. I am amazed at how many people ignore anything that happened before 1972, the beginning of the dreaaded term The Modern Era."

As you might expect, researching decades of history can be tedius. Facts can be so elusive. In the early days, maintaining accurate records was not a priority. And some of the records that were kept did not survive the test of time.

In some cases, different sources of information give different accounts of the same event. That is when good judgement comes into play.

"In those instances, you consult as many sources as possible," says Fielden. "Then you make a judgement call which ever way the scales are tipped. I'll be the first to admit that I've been wsrong before, and I'll be wrong again. Being wrong isn't a crime unless you refuse to correct it. Anything worth reporting is worth reporting correctly. Sometimes, I wish NASCAR had that philosophy."

Fielden's research has uncovered quite a few inconsistencies in NASCAR records. For instance, one race had totally disappeared off NASCAR's official ledger. In another case, Herb Thomas received credit for a victory that was actually won by his brother, Donald. In another case, NASCAR officially gave out 10 driver victories for the eight official races they sanctioned in 1949.

"There are a lot of gray areas in racing history," said Fielden. "Many times it's just a matter of interpretation..

A favorite point of contention with Fielden concerns six short track NASCAR Winston Cup races held in 1971 that allowed Cup cars to race head-to-head with smaller pony cars such as Camaros and Mustangs. Grand American cars won three of those races.

"Tiny Lund won two of the races in a Camaro and Bobby Allison took the other one in a Mustang," said Fielden. "But because they were in Grand American cars, they weren't credited with an official victory. Nobody, according to NASCAR records, ever won those races.

"Therefore, the 1971 NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National season consisted of 48 wins, but there were only 45 victories accounted for. So, in essence, three races didn't have a winner. You can't have a race without a winner! NASCAR officially recognizes the two Camaro wins as victories for Chevrolet and the Mustang win officially counts as a Winston Cup win for Ford. If NASCAR is going to give the victories to the manufacturer, for goodness sake they have to give the guy who drove the car a win as well. Heck, Lund and Allison won three of those races. They should get credit for their finish position. It seems pretty simple to me. As it is now, the numbers just don't add up across the board in the official records."

Fielden has also found cases in which some drivers were given credit for winning a race even though the event carried no championship points. "There were a couple of races in 1949 that were not even sanctioned by NASCAR -- they were sanctioned and operated by Sam Nunis Speedways, Inc. -- but NASCAR has given driver victories for those races. That's why they have 10 winners in eight races that first year."

Despite his seemingly limitless racing knowledge, Fielden is refreshingly modest. He often compares himself to Dave Marcis.

"I'm a lot like Marcis in that I don't have a big sponsor," he laughed. "Our publishing company is very small and it is impossible to compete with the big corporate giants who put out all the slick glossy annuals. We do feel we offer something a little different. For the people who are interested a meat and 'taters account of the rich history in NASCAR, we feel we have done a credible job."

Fielden hopes to update his Forty Years of Stock Car Racing series later this year. And he has just completed the manuscript for a book on the history of Charlotte Motor Speedway, which is scheduled to be out in the spring of 2000. Also on the conveyer belt is an update of the Stock Car Racing Encyclopedia, due out in the fall of 2000.