JoeWeatherly, nicknamed The Clown Prince of Racing, was one of the pioneers of NASCAR and two-time champion of America’s most popular racing series. He won NASCAR Grand National Series in 1962 and 1963.
Weatherly recorded 230 starts in NASCAR' major division between 1952 and 1963, winning 25 times. He lost his life in an accident at NASCAR's race in January 1964 at Riverside International Raceway.
Joe Weatherly was successful motorcycle driver
Three-time motorcycling champion
Born in May 1922 in Norfolk, Virginia, Joseph Herbert Weatherly started his racing career while he was in high school, discovering motor cycling. When he returned from the army, he started to compete in the motorcycle racing. Before he became a stock-car driver, Weatherly won three titles in the American Motorcycle Association Championship between 1946 and 1950.
Racer, track owner and promoter
In 1950, he started to compete in the modified stock-car racing. Two years later, Weatherly won the NASCAR Modified National title after he has won more than a half of the races that year. Joe in great style defended his crown in 1953 and became involved in the business of buying grounds suitable for racing. Together with his old friend Paul Sawyer, they became the owners of the track which later will become well-known Richmond International Raceway.
NASCAR superstars Joe Weatherly and Curtis Turner
Debut in NASCAR Grand National
It was in 1956 when Joe Weatherly entered Grand National, NASCAR’s top league, driving a Ford for Peter DePaolo Engineering. In the following year, he began to drive for Holman-Moody and his results were more than variable. He was either at the top or he was retiring, something that was usual for Weatherley for much of his career.
Little Joe rides a donkey prepared for NASCAR race
Over the years, his results started to improve. In 1959 established himself as the one of the NASCAR’s top drivers. That year he finished in Top 5 on six occasions and had ten Top 10 finishes. His popularity was growing, not only because of his racing achievements but because his outrageous behaviour thanks to which he earned the nickname "The Clown Prince of Racing".
Most popular driver and two consecutive titles
He was voted most popular racer in NASCAR in 1961, a year before he won the first title. Driving for Bud Moore, Weatherly in 1962 scored nine victories and earned a place in the history. Anyway, that wasn’t the end as Joe in the following year proved that he is not one year wonder. Weatherly defended his title in one of the closest NASCAR seasons ever. He won only three races in 1963 and had 35 Top 10 finishes but even that was enough for the another crown. Interestingly, NASCAR’s greatest Richard Petty had 14 wins in his books that year but ended as a runner-up.
Joe Weatherly before the fatal crash at Richmond
Fatal crash at Riverside
The season of 1964 started well for Joe as was at the top of the championship after four races. The next event was at Riverside International Raceway and sadly that was the last race in Weatherly’s life. In the accident in which he lost control of his car, Joe's head hit a retaining wall half way through lap eight on the back stretch. Poor champion was killed. Weatherly did not have a window net installed on his car and wasn’t wearing a shoulder harness because he was afraid of being trapped in a burning car.
Video - Weatherly's fatal crash at Richmond, 1964
25 victories in NASCAR career
During his NASCAR career, Joe Weatherly started 230 races, scored 25 wins and had 153 Top 10 finishes. In 1998 he was voted one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers while in 2009 Weatherly was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. Finally, in January of 2015, Joe was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
He was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Norfolk, with a grave marker shaped as the Riverside International Raceway, with two crossed chequered flags showing the place of the fatal crash.
Weatherly was one of the most popular NASCAR drivers