In this era of NASCAR growth and expansion into new territory, one of the sanctioning body's divisions has struggled to maintain ties to its grassroots beginnings. Although NASCAR has announced it will no longer sanction the Goody's Dash Series after this year, the division leaves the sanctioning body's umbrella with a storied history--including its start at a drag strip, of all places.
Monzas, Vegas, and Pintos were commonly used during the early days ofthe Goody's Dash Seri
The Goody's Dash Series traces its roots to North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in 1973 when a group of local racers, led by Charlie Triplett, J.V. Reins, and Roger Hamby, began racing on a road course owned by former Grand National (now Winston Cup) team owner Bill Ellis. Ellis, a Wilkes County businessman who fielded a car for Marvin Panch and others in the '60s, was the proprietor of a drag strip and an adjacent road course near North Wilkesboro and is credited with promoting the first unofficial races of the series.
"Bill Ellis came up with the idea to start with," recalls Triplett, who still lives in North Wilkesboro. "He wanted to run it in conjunction with his drag strip on a road course deal, and he'd run a couple or three races and then things happened and he decided that he didn't want to do that. Then a lot of the guys around the area, including myself, J.V. Reins, Richard Mash, Dean Combs, Roger Hamby, and Rolen Johnson, along with guys from Taylorsville and Lenoir and surrounding counties, we all got together and started talking and decided to see what we could do.
An earlyrulebook touted the primary goal of the series--inexpensive racing.
"So we had a meeting at a Goodyear store (in North Wilkesboro), and we decided right then and there that we would organize this Baby Grand thing. We called them Baby Grand National cars."
The Baby Grand National Racing Association, Inc. (BGNRA) was formed June 26, 1973, and Triplett--the first president of the series--says the name stemmed from the cars' resemblance to the Grand National cars of the era, as paint schemes and numbers often matched those from Grand National cars. Although R.J. Reynolds, through its Winston brand, had already begun providing sponsorship for NASCAR's top division, now called Winston Cup, the division was referred to as the Grand National Division until the early '80s.
Initially, the Baby Grand series was organized as a small touring series for American-made, four-cylinder, compact sedans, with teams primarily competing in cars they built themselves using parts from salvage yards and backyard garages. The intent was to keep the cost of the series as manageable as possible; hence the series' slogan, "The Poor Man's Way to Race," was at the heart of all decisions.
Hamby, who went on to win Winston Cup Rookie of the Year honors as a car owner for Sterling Marlin in 1983, got his start in racing by building Baby Grand cars to sell to fellow competitors. "Back in those days you could get a car ready to race for about $10,000," recalls Hamby, "and we'd sell them complete, or put a rollcage in them or whatever. Some people were building their own, but very few were. I'd say we 'caged about all the cars and that's basically how I got started.
Solid, long-term sponsorships were a rarity in the early days of theGoody's Dash Series. D
"We built everything: We built Datsuns; we built Opals. About anything that would come across the assembly line with a four-cylinder motor, we'd build it. We'd get them to hull the car and take out the seats and take everything out of it and bring it to us. Then we'd put rollcages and screw jacks in it. We'd go as far as they wanted us to go with it.
"It was just a cheap way of racing, and those boys that raced back in those days, they'd go get an old junk car for $100 and we'd put a rollcage in it for--I think I charged $825 for the rollcage and screw jacks--and all he had to do was fix up an old motor. Basically, if they did it themselves, they could go racing for $3,000 to $3,500, and you just can't do that stuff today."
After a couple of years of racing as an independent organization, Triplett and others realized the series needed a new direction and turned to NASCAR to become the sanctioning body.
The Goody's Dash Series has been a part of Daytona SpeedWeeks forseveral years.
"We approached NASCAR because I felt like we needed somebody who could give us a little bit more exposure," says Triplett. "We met with Pete Keller, who was over the Sportsman Division (now Busch Grand National) back then. We met with him at Hickory and then we made the trip, me and J.V. Reins and a couple of other guys, down to Daytona to the main office and verified it and made it official."
In 1975, the organization began its inaugural season as a NASCAR-sanctioned touring series, crowning North Wilkesboro native Dean Combs as its first official driving champion at year's end. Combs, who has remained active in the series as a team owner, is considered the "Richard Petty" of Dash racing, winning 60 races and five championships as a driver.
"When it first started, we didn't have templates," recalls Combs of that first season under the NASCAR sanction. "We didn't have anything but basically motor-tech, so there wasn't near as much to control as there is today. But (NASCAR) did a good job. We'd have, gosh, 40 cars show up for about every race, and it was competitive--real competitive. There weren't many times that people just ran off and left the field. Most of the time it was a race. It was a good show."
Just as organizers had hoped, the series began to blossom under NASCAR's guidance.
"In 1976, we really started running a lot of good races," says Combs. "We ran Rockingham, Atlanta, Darlington, and Dover. We've been to Texas (World Speedway), Pocono, and most of your short tracks around, and the series really did well for a while."
Combs did quite well himself, winning the series championship in 1975, '76 and '77.
As the series progressed into the '80s, racing technology changed, but one of the most significant occurrences to happen in all of NASCAR came in the Dash Series. In 1980, Combs, who began racing in the series driving a Ford Pinto and then a Chevrolet Vega, made the switch to the Datsun 200 SX, marking the first time a foreign make ran a full season in a NASCAR series. Combs went on that season to become the first driver in the history of NASCAR to win a series championship in a foreign-made car.
The Iron Duke
However, a NASCAR rule change a couple of years later allowed the first production motor--the Pontiac Iron Duke--into the series and brought what Combs and his peers believe to be the first significant rise in costs. The four-cylinder engines prominent in the series up until then were costing teams in the neighborhood of $600; the Iron Duke increased the price of engine development to as much as $22,000, according to Combs.
"General Motors came in and gave probably five or six people a motor and everybody else had to buy everything, and it just really hurt the series," says Combs. "They got down to where they wouldn't have but 10 or 12 cars at the racetrack. It went from basically a hobby to a full-time job of maintaining your car, just night and day, trying to keep up with that Iron Duke motor to be competitive."
Prior to Pontiac entering the series, part of what made racing in the Dash Series unique in its early days, and set it apart from Winston Cup racing, was the limited amount of factory support, which required teams to become more innovative with their cars and engines. That innovation also seemed to disappear with the allowance of production parts into the series, according to Combs.
"I think we were more innovative, because the big boys like Junior Johnson were running a lot of factory stuff and basically not into innovation as much as we were," says Combs. "We were having to make all of our stuff, (because) we didn't have anything. We couldn't buy anything across the counter. I think that really helped us and helped the series and helped me in knowledge of racing."
Still, the introduction of Pontiac's Iron Duke engine did what many of the pioneers of the series hoped would never happen: It took the sport away from the salvage yards and put it into the hands of manufacturers, which drove up the cost of racing.
"We were hoping to keep everything the same, because we always called it 'Poor Man's Racing,' where you keep everything stock," says Triplett. "What we were doing was trying to keep the cost of racing down. And it did real well for 5, 6 years, maybe 10. I can't remember how long we kept the limit on the stock engines, but then Pontiac decided that they would get in it. Then they started booking races at Daytona and Charlotte and Darlington and Rockingham, and then the cost of everything started rising. Then it just kept escalating, and after a while all the original guys just sort of had to fade out of it."
With stable sponsorships basically unheard of in the series, teams were faced with two challenges: They had to compete at a higher level, and they had to pay their own tabs in the process.
"We never had that many good sponsors in the Dash Series," says Combs. "We just never picked up the immaculate deals. I had the deal with the Datsun people in Richmond, Virginia, and they basically paid all the bills and paid me a percentage to drive the car. That was probably one of the best deals to come along at that time, but I felt like we had done a lot for the Dash Series through our progress just by racing, because we tried to stay a step ahead of everybody. And we did it with just good ol' country boys who just loved racing. They didn't get a dime for it. Just buy them a bologna sandwich, and have a cooler with drinks in it, and head down the road. That's just the way we did it. We raced back then."
A Price Too High
The next major blow to hit the Goody's Dash Series came in 1998 when NASCAR made a change from a four-cylinder engine to a V-6, opting not to make the full jump to a V-8 engine, which would have allowed teams to purchase old or used Winston Cup or Busch Series parts. With a V-6 engine, teams were forced to buy all new parts and engines--or leave the series.
Dean Combs and son Michael celebrate a win at Richmond in 1981.
"It was a lot better racing when it was four-cylinders," recalls Hamby, the former Dash and Winston Cup team owner. "I think if anything, the six-cylinders definitely hurt the series. It put a lot of people out of racing when they did that, because the motors cost so much money it was unreal."
With the growth of NASCAR from a regional sport to the mainstream sport it is today, the smaller Dash Series has become an innocent bystander in the sanctioning body's quest to grow the sport.
"I don't think NASCAR got behind it (in recent years)," says Combs. "They never really did their job--that's my honest opinion. They just kind of let it do its own thing. Like when we got Goody's for a sponsor, shoot, they didn't give us anything. They might have put about $10,000 in the championship, just nothing. Then they go to Daytona and give the Busch Series more in one race than what they give us all year, just deals like that.
"We were just a throw-in for NASCAR for a sponsor. In other words, NASCAR says, 'Well, you come in and we'll give you the Permatex 300 (a Busch race at Daytona) for a $150,000 sponsorship and we're just going to throw the Dash Series in for $10,000 for extended advertisement.' That's the way they did us. And then as NASCAR has progressed in the last, say, 10 years, they just kept shoving it aside. They just didn't have time to mess with it. They had people over it that we called, but it just seemed like when you called NASCAR and talked to the people that are supposed to be over us, they just weren't interested. It was like they were just down there to get their check from NASCAR and to heck with us. I think that was the main fall of the series, is that NASCAR never did its job."
"NASCAR is for NASCAR, and if there is a dollar around, they want most of it," says Hamby. "They weren't making any money on the Dash circuit and that's why they're dropping it. It's just money. That's the bottom line, and that's why NASCAR is dropping it."
For Triplett, the series' first president, the possible end of the Dash Series is something he doesn't like to think about, but through his experiences with NASCAR over the years and with the demand for the sport on a nationwide level, he says he understands the "changes that have to be made."
"It was something else, and it is sad when I stop and look at the souvenirs or collectables that I've got from the past," says Triplett. "It's sad that it's going to happen this way. But it's like NASCAR said, changes have to be made."