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 Brownie King

Born: January 31, 1934
Home: Johnson City, TN

Brownie King (January 31, 1934 - ) is a former NASCAR driver from Johnson City, TN. He competed in ninety-seven Grand National and twenty-four Convertible events in his career.

King never recorded a win, but did finish in the top ten (9th) in the 1957 points. He earned 16 of his twenty-seven career top-ten finishes in that year, including a career-best 5th place effort at Columbia. He would match that effort at Hickory Speedway in 1959.

Following a short 1960 season, in which he only earned one top-ten, King competed in just one race in 1961 before retiring from the sport.

NASCAR veterans soak up anniversary celebration By Jeff Birchfield - Sports Writer

Published July 30, 2011

BRISTOL — Paul Lewis can still remember the excitement at the start of the first NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway on July 30, 1961.

Behind the wheel of the No. 1 Chevrolet, the Johnson City driver started 18th and finished 11th in the inaugural Volunteer 500. A brutal day for both man and machine, Jack Smith won the race, but with relief driving help from Johnny Allen.

For Lewis, however, his most vivid memories were right before the green flag waved.

“I remember the thrill of starting the race, the first time on this race track,” he said Saturday while participating in Bristol Motor Speedway’s 50th anniversary celebration. “Getting a race track in East Tennessee, I was sitting there with anxiety, appreciation, the whole nine yards.

“I can imagine what it must be like to sit in a race car now with all the people around and the layout of this place. I would be just as anxious to start now as I was back then.”

Lewis and fellow Johnson City racer Brownie King signed autographs and posed for pictures with a 1958 Chevrolet they both raced for local car owner Jess Potter. The car, which was carefully restored by Potter’s son, Gary, featured a sparkling white paint scheme and was adorned with orange No. 32 numerals.

Other parts of Saturday’s BMS Fan Appreciation Day included monster trucks on display, Joey Logano’s Nationwide car, along with a show car trailer which featured large video game screens. Local politicians and business leaders also took part in the celebration, but for many fans, the highlight was hearing stories from the local racing legends.

King, who finished one spot behind Richard Petty in the 1959 NASCAR Convertible point standings, made his first Bristol start in October 1961, driving a Ford Thunderbird to an 18th place finish. It was only the beginning for King, who captured the track’s Sportsman division championship a year later when the track hosted weekly races.

In addition, he was the winner of a prestigious 400-lap race which featured cars from both the Sportsman and Modified ranks.

“I enjoyed running up here every week,” said King, now 77. “This place had some smooth asphalt, which was nice compared to the old rough dirt tracks I had been racing at. I remember Hillsborough, N.C., had a dirt track which got rough and West Memphis, Ark., had a mile-and-a-half dirt track real rough and nasty. They would have to stop the race and put down some calcium chloride to hold down the dust so we could finish the race.

“To come to such a nice track so close to home, that was awesome.”

Lewis, 78, also made a name for himself outside of the Cup Series at Bristol. He won back-to-back pole positions for Late Model Sportsman races at BMS in 1971-72, and held the overall track record at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” for six years.

“This was always a race driver’s race track,” he said. “From the standpoint of being able to run fast, you have to be good setting the chassis up with the torsion bars, sway bars and shocks. If the setup doesn’t work, it only takes a little bit to get way behind.”

Starting out as a youngster on pit road, Potter’s first memories of Bristol were polishing his dad’s race cars along with brothers, Mike and Ronnie. He recalled how some of the top people in the sport at that time like Lee Petty and Cotton Owens commented on how the Potters’ car was always the best-looking machine on the track.

Potter finally got his turn behind the wheel at Bristol in 1979, driving a Chevrolet Nova with the familiar No. 32 on its doors.

“I do remember when it was asphalt, it was a pretty awesome track,” Potter said. “The entertainment of running so close at Bristol, not just the beating and banging, that being so competitive made it fun. You had to always concentrate so hard because you would be up on a wreck in no time.”

All three men have been involved with the local Racers Reunion organization over the past two decades. Much of the mission was to get more recognition for the local pioneers of the sport.

Each of them said it was special being invited to partake in the track’s 50th anniversary celebration.

“I really appreciate what the people at Bristol have done as far as asking the local competitors and fans to come,” Potter said. “It’s neat to meet the people who were at the first races back in ’61. For them, to see the cars that competed in that era and to meet drivers like Paul and Brownie who were in those first races, it’s great for me to see that.”

Lewis is the only driver from the Tri-Cities area ever to win a Cup Series race and the last driver from East Tennessee to do so until Knoxville’s Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 this year.

Although Lewis has been to the speedway many times over the past 50 years, he still has a hard time believing how the facility has grown.

“You look around this thing and it’s hard for me to comprehend how it would turn out like this,” Lewis said. “You have to give credit to all the people who have brought it up to what it is. This track is a credit to racing as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t take a backseat to anywhere. There are few venues which can put on a show like this place does.”

It is a sentiment shared by King, who remembered the banks weren’t as steep when the track was first built.

“I just can’t believe that old race track that they had, they made it look like it does now,” King said. “The banking was only around 15 degrees. To have a place like it is, to hold 160,000 people, it’s every bit as good as the Daytona 500.”

Notes: The Thompson Metals Monster Truck Madness took place at the speedway Saturday night, following the Fan Appreciation Day.

Eight trucks highlighted by Grave Digger, Samson, Spiderman and the Bristol-based War Wizard took part in the event, which was a combination of both racing action and freestyle jumps.

It is the third year which Thompson Metal Services have sponsored the event, and seeing monster trucks crush cars is a great way to get out the message of recycling according to company president Dean Kerkhoff.

“It doesn’t get much better than that,” Kerkhoff said. “We get the cars when they come out of here. We get them cut up and get them gone where they need to be.”

Johnson City Press

Brownie with young fans at Bristol

Brownie King '58 Chevy

1957 Brownie King flip at Darlington


Brownie King Interview with Racers Reunion.com


Danger zone: Brownie King took many chances to pursue racing career
By JEFF BOBO Published March 22nd, 2007

JOHNSON CITY - Anyone who doubts whether Johnson City NASCAR pioneer Brownie King loved racing doesn't know the gamble he took to compete in the 1960 Daytona 500. He ordered a brand-new 1960 Chevrolet from a local dealership for $2,800. The car arrived two weeks before the race, and King proceeded to gut the interior, weld in a roll cage, and rebuild the motor. He finished the race car just in time for the race, but the real trick was how he paid for it.

"The salesmen at Sherwood Chevrolet talked me into buying a brand-new '60 Chevy, but they had to order it," King said. "The salesmen told me they'd help me make up the money for it, and when it came in they didn't help me with a dime. So I went through GMAC and financed the car through them. That car cost about $2,800. I didn't tell GMAC I was turning it into a race car. The dealership paid me back for some of the parts I didn't use like the wheels and tires and back seat, so I ended up borrowing about $2,000 on the car, and then borrowed another $800 from the bank for racing parts. That was a lot of money back then, especially when you only made $35 a week on your job."

He towed his new race car from Johnson City to Daytona with a tow bar and a 1955 Pontiac - just he and his wife and their 2-year-old son. He had no pit crew and no help. "It was a big gamble, but I didn't think nothing about it," King said. "All I was interested in was going racing."

At the beginning of the race several spark plugs fouled out, and he got lapped 17 times as the car sputtered around the track. Then the engine started firing on all eight cylinders again, and he never lost another lap. But a near miss almost cost him the car that he owed so much money on. "They had a 15-car pileup as you came off the second turn, and one car went into the lake, and one car got cut in two," King said. "I hit a driveshaft lying on the track and heard a big thud, and during the caution I pulled in and asked Jess Potter to look at my tires. He looked at them and said They're OK,' and I went back out, but it never felt right again. After the race the first thing I did was look at that right front tire, and I could see the inside of the wheel was bent, and the tube was bulging out like you was blowing bubble gum. I thought, Oh Lord. I was driving like that with all that money owed on that race car.'" After finishing in 30th place, King brought that car back to Johnson City, sold it and got enough back to pay off his loans.

King began his racing career at a time when NASCAR was still in its infancy. Racetracks of the 1950s were primitive, cars were truly "stock," and their idea of driver safety was a lap belt and a leather football helmet. King got started racing by accident when he was 20 years old in 1954. He and fellow Johnson City racer Jess Potter had fixed up a 1932 Ford into a race car and took it to a NASCAR Modified race in Asheville, N.C., but their driver never showed up. "Jess looked at me and said, Boy, one of us is going to have to drive this car,'" King said. "I said I'll drive it.' I was wanting to drive anyway. You had to belong to NASCAR to drive, though, so I ran up to the NASCAR trailer, paid $10 for my license, and when I ran back down there with the license in my hand, Paul Goldsmith was sitting in the car.  "They were getting ready to start the race, and Jess said, Here he comes.' So Paul jumped out, and I jumped in." King started at the back of that 30-car field and worked his way up to a fifth-place finish, and after that he was hooked on racing. That '32 Ford Modified car saw quite a bit of action after that initial race. One night he was running late for a race at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Potter had to work, so King was towing the race car by himself, and his tow truck motor blew. He got a tow to the track by a passer-by and was running very late, and made it onto the racetrack just as the green flag fell. "I took off right behind them, and had my helmet laying there beside me and didn't have my seat belts on either," King said. "I took off and caught the ones on the tail end, and someone wrecked, so I was able to get my helmet on during the yellow, but didn't get my belts on. We started that race again, and boy I was doing good. I was passing cars left and right - each turn I'd pass one or two, and I'd pass one or two on each straightaway. All of a sudden them tires got hot, and the front end just went straight ahead when I went into the turn, and I hit them sawed-off telephone poles they'd made the wall out of."

He said the car climbed up to the top of the poles and nearly flipped, but the wall hooked the top of the car and knocked it back down on its wheels. Because he wasn't wearing belts, King slid across the seat and the gear shifter cut a gash in his leg down to the bone. "But when I looked up, the motor was sitting on top of one of those poles, still running up a storm," King said.

By 1956 King and Potter were ready to race in the NASCAR Grand National series, which is now the Nextel Cup.  They fixed up a wrecked Chevrolet into a race car and ran 15 Cup races beginning at Columbia, S.C., on May 5, 1956. That night he was baptized into NASCAR's premier division by a couple of the sport's all-time legends. "Curtis Turner and Joe Weatherly were getting ready to lap me," King said. "They were leading the race side by side. I laid over to the inside so they could go around me on the outside. Well, one of them went around me on the outside and the other went around me on the inside, and they kind of closed me off going into the turn. They kind of turned my two front fenders in a little bit, bounced off each other, and just kept on going."

The next year was King's most productive in the Cup series, as he started 36 of the 53 races, with 18 top-10 finishes and a ninth-place finish in the point standings. That was the first year he raced in Daytona on the old beach course. One of the oddities of the Daytona beach race was how much drivers relied on their windshield wipers. "I had a water jug where I could pump water with my foot onto the windshield, and we had them wipers fixed where they'd really wipe good," King said. "We started that race, and water would come off the back of them other cars where the tires pulled that water up out of the sand. All that water filled my windshield, and I couldn't see where I was at. Them windshield wipers, instead of wiping, just stood up in the air and started quivering. They didn't even touch the windshield, and I couldn't get a drop of water out of that thing. Finally I stuck my head out the window so I could see up there in the turn where we slowed down. Once we slowed down the wipers started working and cleaned the windshield off. It was all right after the first lap. We got all the water out of the sand on the first pass by."

King was pretty active in the NASCAR Convertible series of the late 1950s and earned several top-five finishes in races and championship points standings. Racing was more of a hobby for King than a profession. He worked full time for an auto supply company, and then went on to work as a salesman at the Sherwood Chevrolet dealership for 40 years. He worked at his job all day, worked on the race car all night, and raced all weekend.

By 1960 his career shifted away from the Cup racing and more toward the local weekly series. He won 14 out of 21 races at Sportsman Speedway in Johnson City in 1960 and his second track championship. In 1961 he had a bad accident in Johnson City and sat out most of the season, but came back in 1962 and won the Bristol Motor Speedway weekly racing Sportsman Division championship and overall track championship.

His final appearance in the Cup series was in 1961 in the second race at the newly constructed Bristol Motor Speedway. He retired from driving in 1963, having started 97 Cup races. "That wreck in '61 helped me make my mind up about retiring," King said. "My back was hurting around that time. I didn't have any factory backing, and I was raising kids. I loved racing, but I decided if I got crippled up or killed I couldn't provide a living for them, and that would interfere with their well-being. I never regretted retiring young. I was only 29, but a lot of guys I raced with ended up getting killed, and I figure if I hadn't quit I probably would have been killed too."


NASCAR Grand National Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1956 22 15 of 56 0 0 0 0 1994 0 925 41 22.9 18.1
1957 23 36 of 53 0 1 16 0 5756 0 5,589 9 18.3 14.1
1958 24 24 of 51 0 0 5 0 3926 0 3,205 35 21.2 14.7
1959 25 18 of 44 0 1 5 0 3247 0 1,875 30 18.2 18.2
1960 26 3 of 44 0 0 1 0 410 0 465 113 26.7 18.3
1961 27 1 of 52 0 0 0 0 442 0 250 183 28.0 18.0
6 years 97 0 2 27 0 15775 0 12,309   20.1 15.8


NASCAR Convertible Series Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1957 23 1 of 36 0 0 0 0 136 0 0   26.0 33.0
1958 24 8 of 19 0 1 2 0 1367 0 1,537 8 19.9 13.4
1959 25 15 of 15 0 1 5 0 2255 0 2,528 5 17.3 15.5
3 years 24 0 2 7 0 3758 0 4,065   18.5 15.5



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