Race Weekend Central

Potts’ Shots: Rules On Roof Numbers

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An e-mail from Greg Barber in Boulder, Colo. poses a question…

*I noticed in the photo accompanying in last week’s column that the car on the outside had a number facing the grandstand. In NASCAR, the numbers face to the inside. Why is there a difference?*

Very good question, Greg. When I first became involved in race officiating in 1961 at the old Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville, I made it my business to study and learn our rule book (good idea for a race official, don’t you think). That book said that numbers of a specific size and in contrasting colors to the car had to be placed on both sides of the car, and of a larger size on the top of the car. It also stated that the numbers on top must face the outside of the car.

That made sense to me, because the fans were on the outside, and the scorers were up high on the outside of that quarter-mile (later third-mile) mostly flat track.

Then when the Midwest Association for Race Cars (to be changed to ARCA in 1964) came to town, I noticed that their top numbers faced to the inside. I theorized that it was because they ran on larger tracks, many of them banked, and having the numbers in that configuration made them more identifiable in the turns.

A look through their rule book confirmed that they were, indeed, required to have the numbers pointed that way. Later, I learned that their rules closely mirrored the NASCAR regulations. On my first trip to Daytona, I asked a NASCAR official about it, and he agreed that it made the numbers easier to read on the banking, but added some more information.

Scorers for NASCAR races were located on the inside of the track, usually 15 feet or more above ground level, and the orientation of the numbers made it easier for them if two cars were running side-by-side.

Now, I’m sure, the question will arise as to why local cars, like those at Louisville, were allowed to run with MARC (and later ARCA) with “improper” numbers. In the early days, that organization wasn’t the big traveling show it is today. It was common for them to show up at a track with 16 or 20 cars. Local cars, provided their technical specifications fitted the rules, were allowed to run and fill out the field.

This photo, from a MARC heat race at Salem in 1963 reveals much of how the concept of roof numbers was developing at the time.

The front row in the accompanying photo of a MARC heat race at Salem in 1963 is a good example. On the pole is Jim Cushman in a 1963 Plymouth, a MARC regular, with the top number facing inside. Outside of him is Jerry Norris, a regular at Louisville, in a 1962 Ford with the number facing outside. If anybody’s interested, the second row is made up of Dudley Stacy (1) in a 1962 Chevrolet and Dick Freeman in a 1962 Mercury.

I’ve said before that John Marcum didn’t stand on ceremony when it came to putting on a good racing program. Did the traveling stars get whipped by the locals occasionally?

Well, I can attest that it happened at Louisville pretty often, and our boys even gave a pretty good account of themselves at places like Salem and Dayton.

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