Western New York state resident Lloyd Moore is the last of the ’49ers.
Not the gold-rush ’49ers – at age 95, Moore is about 100 years too young for that.
Nevertheless, Moore is a pioneer of sorts. He raced cars in the Strictly Stock series – predecessor of modern-day NASCAR – in its very first year of competitive racing.
Talking with Moore is like chatting with your grandpa or a longtime neighbor. He instantly puts you at ease with his friendly manner and makes you feel like a member of the family. And despite the passage of time – over half a century since he first took to the track – Moore’s memory is crystal clear as he recalls the series of events that led to his start as a racecar driver.
“Of course, we had jalopies around here,” he said of his humble beginnings. Lloyd was working as a garage mechanic and racing jalopies on local dirt tracks when a nearby resident asked him for a favor. “Bill Rexford wanted to borrow my helmet, and I asked him what he was going to do, and he said he was going to drive for Julian Buesink in NASCAR.”
Buesink owned a car dealership in the area and was preparing to launch a NASCAR team. “Well, that was a good start,” recalls Moore. “I was working at the Studebaker garage in Jamestown. Julian had a used car lot up the street. One noon hour, I walked over there and Julian’s brother-in-law was there, and I told him to tell Julian to stop down at the garage sometime. Just a couple of days later, he comes wheeling in and he says, ‘I hear you want to drive a racecar,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I do.'”
Julian told Lloyd that he was getting ready to field cars at an upcoming race in Pennsylvania. “They were going to Heidelberg (Penn.), and he said, ‘If you want to drive, that’s a good place to try it.’ So we drove down there and tried to qualify, but the car wasn’t exactly what it should be. I got in the race and it went along pretty good. When it was all over, I took sixth place.”
That race was the seventh race of the inaugural Strictly Stock season in 1949, making Lloyd the oldest living former NASCAR driver in the world.
With a bit of a chuckle, Lloyd adds that he was victim of “one of the worst things that could have happened” in his first NASCAR race: “A woman beat me out by one spot.”
Indeed, Sara Christian finished the Heidelberg race in fifth, one position ahead of Lloyd. The winner that day was a young driver whose name also might be familiar – Lee Petty, father of Richard and grandfather of Kyle. Moore remembers him as the best driver he ever competed against. “There were a number of good drivers, but Lee Petty is the one I kind of looked up to.”
Moore was 37 years old when he started competing, a farm owner and father of a young family that eventually grew to include six daughters. But he had been bitten by the racing bug and was determined to compete as often as the constraints of time, money, and responsibilities back home would allow. “I went on to race at a number of different tracks in the north here, through the central states, and in Florida,” Moore said. “I wound up down there at Daytona Beach and at a number of racetracks throughout the state.”
Racing off and on for the next several years, Moore competed in a total of 49 Strictly Stock and Grand National events, earning 13 top fives, 23 top 10s and one victory. His lone win came on October 15, 1950, at Funk’s Speedway in Winchester, Ind.; at the time, Lloyd was driving a 1950 Mercury owned by Buesink.
“We did a lot of traveling,” said Moore. “We did night traveling as well as daytime. But we drove our cars to the track. Now, they have big vans that haul all the cars. We used to drive our cars and they had the number on the side, and that wasn’t too good if you passed a police officer,” he laughed.
Eventually, the balancing act between racing and family demands became too hard to sustain, and Moore was forced to hang up his helmet for good. “I started in about 1950, and I had about five years of it. I had a big family, and we lived on a farm with animals, so I couldn’t spare myself,” said Moore, who still lives in the Frewsburg, N.Y. house that his father built in the 1890s. “I had too many things going on here. At the end of five years, I just called it quits.”
Of course, it wasn’t as financially feasible then, either; being a racecar driver didn’t pay much in the early days, especially when compared to today’s purses. The idea of a pension plan for drivers has been bandied about for years… but Moore is not a supporter. “When a driver gets what they get for one of those races (today), I don’t know that it’s necessary to have a pension plan. When they can get a million bucks for a win, that’s a lot of dough, especially compared to what I got.”
Another difference between racing 50 years ago and today is the cost and availability of gasoline and other natural resources – a topic which Moore thinks about often. “As far as the gas situation, why waste all the gasoline and the tires and everything when some people can’t even afford transportation?” he wonders. “But, I don’t think they would cancel any of the races on that account.”
Like any race fan – especially one whose involvement in NASCAR dates back to the beginning – Lloyd has his favorite and not-so-favorite drivers. “Anybody that drives a Ford, I’ll go along with that,” says the lifelong Ford fancier. “Carl Edwards, I think, is an all-around jolly person. He’s good for the sport. I like to see when he wins a race, he’s really happy.” And the back flip? “There’s nothing like it. I get a kick out of that. I kind of go for that.”
On the other hand, Lloyd has reservations about some of today’s biggest NASCAR stars. “Something I don’t really get into is Junior,” he said, noting, “He’s had a lot of family trouble. I’m not really a fan of Jeff Gordon either, but he’s done good and he’s in a good position for the ‘shoot-out’, you might say.” And Tony Stewart? “I think if he’d race more with his hands and feet than he does with his mouth, he might get somewhere,” Moore quipped.
The world’s oldest living NASCAR driver also has a bit of advice for the guys in charge of the sport. “I’m just a teeny bit disappointed in NASCAR,” he admits, “the way they’ve played it like Hollywood. If I had charge of it, I would make each driver put on a plain suit. They’ve got advertising on their cars – why do they need it all over their clothes? It looks kind of silly to me. I guess maybe the fans like it, but I don’t. They don’t need to decorate themselves up like Christmas trees.”
Moore also voiced concerns about the way races are broadcast on TV these days: “There’s too much monkeying around before the race. They schedule a race for three o’clock, and when you turn it on, you get a whole hour of just baloney. I guess they have to have a certain amount of advertising, but an hour of it before a race – that’s too much.”
“But it’s a good sport,” he continued. “I watch it. We have television. Well, I’ll watch maybe the first 10 laps, and then the sandman comes,” he laughs. “I don’t like the long races. You can go take a shower and wash your feet and come back and it’s still the same.”
Hey, NASCAR, is anyone listening?
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