Many people remember world class photographer Hugh Morton for his majestic scenes from the North Carolina coast and his beloved Grandfather Mountain. Others recall his portraits of North Carolina governors and other state leaders. Still others, like me, like to recall his sports photography.
It was 43 years ago, on October 10, 1971 that Morton traveled to Charlotte for a NASCAR race. Collection volunteer Jack Hilliard takes a look at that event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
My dad was an avid sports fan and a voracious newspaper reader; so I grew up with several North Carolina daily newspapers. The little line of 8-point- type enclosed in parentheses proclaiming “Photo by Hugh Morton” was familiar as I looked at the sports sections each day. Pictures of UNC football and basketball were items to be clipped out of the paper and placed in special scrapbooks and on bedroom bulletin boards. Although I didn’t know him yet, Hugh Morton became a “special friend.”
It wasn’t until 2008, when I started volunteer work at the North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library, that I discovered Morton’s sports portfolio was far more than football and basketball pictures. There were baseball, golf, swimming, tennis and track pictures. And then one day in early 2011 we found pictures from the Kentucky Derby and a NASCAR race. Elizabeth Hull and I were able to identify which Derby and which race Morton had photographed, and I did a “View to Hugh” post on the Derby on May 4, 2011.
It’s now time to recall that NASCAR race that Morton photographed.
Rain covered the area around the Charlotte Motor Speedway in the early morning hours of Sunday, October 10, 1971. The National 500, the 42nd event of NASCAR’s 48 race schedule for 1971 seemed in doubt. The rain continued as the 12:30 PM race time approached, so a delay was in order. Finally, one hour and fifty-five minutes later, at 2:25, the rain let up, and the race was underway, to the delight of the 52,000 race fans who had braved the weather. The drivers ran five unofficial laps to help dry the track, then the first 10 official laps were under caution. Only one lap was completed under green, before the yellow caution flag was out again as driver Jim Vandiver scraped the wall.
Pole sitter Charlie Glotzback remained in the lead when the real racing got underway and led the first 11 laps. Then on lap number 12 Buddy Baker took over the lead for the next 12 laps as the sun came out for the first time. Baker and Glotzback swapped the lead back and forth until caution came out again on lap 120 when Earle Canavan crashed his car which caught fire. Morton was there to capture the image of the burning car.
Following that yellow flag, crowd favorite Richard Petty took over the lead on lap number 126. At that point it appeared to be a four-car race between Petty, Glotzback, Bobby Allison, and Bobby Issac. At one point, Issac and Petty dueled for several laps as Morton snapped away.
On lap 158, Bobby Allison, another crowd favorite, took the lead but for only 8 laps as Glotzback recaptured the lead on lap 166. 11 laps later, Allison took over the lead again on lap 177. Of course no one knew it at the time, but that lead change would be the final one of the day. As the race approached the 350 mile mark, dark clouds began forming at the South end of the one and one-half mile track and minutes later rain returned. On lap 237, NASCAR’s official starter Johnny Bruner, Jr. surprised the drivers and the crowd by flying the white flag instead of a yellow caution or a red rain delay. The white flag meant that Allison was on the final lap of the race and would win if he could maintain his lead which at that point was 5 seconds over Glotzback. Allison took the checkered flag on lap 238 completing only 357 miles of the 500 mile race. His 126.140 miles-per-hour speed earned him $19,450 for his day’s work. It was his 9th win of the ’71 season; however, Richard Petty would go on to win the 1971 NASCAR championship.
I recall a Julia Morton “View to Hugh” comment from May 7, 2010 when she said “I remember how anxious Hugh was to have Stock Car Racing declared a sport.”
Morton’s image of the Richard Petty—Bobby Issac duel at the Charlotte Motor Speedway that opens this blog post is one of the header images for the web site North Carolina Miscellany. The press banner says “World 600” but the date on the slide mount reads “Oct 71.”
A closing note from Stephen
I made a last-minute discovery while assembling this blog post for Jack. Hugh Morton was in “campaign mode” at The National 500, so there are not that many images of the race itself. In a recent post about the “Governor’s Down-East Jamboree” I dug behind the making of an informal group portrait that included Chapel Hill mayor Howard Lee, photographed in mid September 1971. In doing so I discovered that Hugh Morton attended that event as one of several unofficial candidates for the Democratic Party primary for 1972. The National 500 NASCAR race was less than one month after the jamboree.
There are 23 black-and-white negatives listed in the Morton collection finding aid (35mm folder 2.5.1-3-11 and 120 format folder 2.5.1-5-6) described as “Hugh Morton at National 500, TOR Speedway, 10 October 1971.” That information likely comes from one of the negative frames in which a person is reading a race program that is folded in half. The person is looking at the page that probably reads at the top “CHARLOTTE MO,” while the page facing the camera reads “TOR SPEEDWAY: We’ll fix the finding aid to read Charlotte Motor Speedway, soon.
Most of these negatives depict Hugh Morton wearing suit and tie, posed with different individuals and small groups. There are, however, a few scenes from pit row: two 35mm frames made while a pit crew services A. J. Foyt’s car #27, and one frame on the 120 film of Bobby Isaac’s car and pit crew during a pit stop. A frame adjacent to the Isaac exposure is a scene of the Mohawk/toupee shot shown above.