Born in Spartanburg, SC -
February 6, 1920
Departed on Aug. 29, 2005 and resided in Ormond Beach, FL.
Epton started his adult life as a carpenter in South Carolina
but was lured away by stock car racing.
Epton scored his first race at a
South Carolina short track in 1946, a full year before NASCAR was
organized. Later he went to work for NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.,
then moved here to help build the Speedway.
Epton worked as NASCAR's chief
scorer for 40 years while holding a position at the Speedway for
some 30 years. Epton retired in 1988.
Funeral Service for Joe Epton, age 85, of Ormond Beach who passed away
Monday, August 29 at Kindred Hospital in Green Cove Springs, FL will be
held Thursday, September 1st at 9:00 am at Central Baptist Church with
Rev. Doug Harrell officiating. The interment will immediately follow the
service. His family will receive friends on Wednesday, August 31st from
5:00 to 7:00 pm at
Lohman Funeral Home Ormond.
Mr. Epton was
born on February 6, 1920 in Spartanburg, SC and began attending stock
car races at the fairgrounds track in Spartanburg at a young age. Mr.
Epton struck up a friendship with the legendary driver/promoter Joe
Littlejohn who staged the Spartanburg races, and soon Mr. Epton was
working for Littlejohn in a variety of positions, including chief
scorer. Mr. Epton met Big Bill France, the future founder of NASCAR,
through Littlejohn in 1946 when Mr. France was returning to his home in
Florida after working on the crew of the car which had just won the 1946
Indianapolis 500. Mr. France promoted stock car races throughout the
Southeast and was in need of someone who understood racing and could
handle scoring efforts for his racing circuit. Mr. Epton jumped at the
chance to be paid for what had been his hobby and he was hired on the
spot for $25.00 per race. Mr. Epton became NASCAR’s chief timer and
scorer in 1947 with the formation of the sanctioning body, and he held
that position until 1985. His contribution to the sport helped bring the
world of electronic timing and scoring to what it is today. During his
tenure, Mr. Epton probably attended more NASCAR races that anyone
covering literally thousands of events from New York to Florida to Utah
and all points in between. He was known as one of the best-liked
officials who counted many of the drivers as friends. He was always in
the pit area prior to the races, chatting with competitors and crews
alike. Mr. Epton’s amazing memory never dimmed. He could recall races
and facts from 60 years ago with ease and his quick wit made for
entertaining storytelling of racing’s bygone days. Mr. Epton was a
member of Central Baptist Church, a charter member of the Ormond Elks
Club, past member of the Daytona Beach Quarterback Club, and a former
Director of the Living Legends of Auto Racing. His large stature and
ready smile will be missed by all who knew Mr. Joe Epton.
He is survived
by his loving wife of 61 years, Juanita “Lightnin”, his son
Joe Epton Jr., wife Peggy, and their daughter Casey of
Ormond Beach, FL; his daughter Joan and husband Don Maxwell
of Daytona Beach, FL, their 3 children and 6 grandchildren; his daughter
Brenda and husband Fred Lockman of Moore, SC, their 8
children and 17 grandchildren, and great grandchild.
In lieu of
flowers remembrances may be made in his memory to Central Baptist
Church, 142 Fairview Ave., Daytona Beach, FL 32114 and Living Legends
of Auto Racing, P.O. Box 290854, Port Orange, FL 32129-0854.
may be shared with the family online at
www.lohmanfuneralhomes.com. Arrangements are under the careful
Lohman Funeral Home Ormond.
SOUTH DAYTONA -- Joe Epton, NASCAR's first
chief scorer, and racing pioneer Ray Fox had a running feud about the
outcome of the 1969 Talladega 500, the inaugural stock car race at
took that race away from (my driver)," Fox said after a ribbon-cutting
ceremony Tuesday at the Living Legends of Racing Auto Museum. "I won
that race, but they gave it to somebody else."
The friendly "argument" between long-time racing
buddies came to an end Tuesday morning when Epton, 85, died at a rehab
facility in Green Cove Springs.
Fox looked to the floor and wiped away a tear when
given the news.
The two men had been friends and adversaries since
the 1950s, when NASCAR's biggest stock car race was held on Daytona's
Epton was the last member of the sanctioning body's
original circle of officials. William H.G. France founded NASCAR in
December 1947, according to NASCAR historian Buz McKim. The family-owned
company sanctioned its first race in 1948.
"Joe was the last of an era, the last of the original
group of NASCAR employees and officials going back to its formation in
1947," McKim said. "You have to remember, Mr. France just had a skeleton
staff back then. . . . Joe was there from Day 1. His name is at the
bottom of NASCAR's first payout sheet from Feb. 15, 1948. You can't get
any earlier than that."
Epton, who started his adult life as a carpenter,
actually had dual titles working for France. In addition to his scoring
duties with NASCAR, he also helped build then maintain Daytona
"I like to tell people that the Speedway wasn't there
when I first saw it," Epton said two years ago in The News-Journal. "It
was just woods the first time I came to Daytona Beach. "I helped Bill
Sr. build the place."
The first thing I did after I moved down here was
build ticket offices, you know, for grandstand sales. I helped set the
guardrails and helped operate the track for 30 years."
Epton's wife, Lightning, continues to work at the
Speedway ticket office, a job she's held since the track opened in 1959.
Epton was NASCAR's chief timer and scorer from 1947
until his retirement in 1985.
"Joe Epton was a true pioneer in our sport, a 'go-to'
guy for me and my father," NASCAR vice chairman Bill France Jr. said in
a statement. "He made enormous contributions to NASCAR for a long period
of time. He was well-respected throughout the industry. He will be
served with Fox on the Living Legends board of directors (far
right, front) for many years. Fox is president of the old-timers club
(yellow shirt, next to Epton).
Following the inaugural 500-mile race at the
then-Alabama International Motor Speedway in 1969, they were on opposite
sides of the competition fence.
Epton scored Richard Brickhouse the winner and Jim
Vandiver, driving Fox's No. 3 Dodge, as the runner-up.
Fox argued his point without satisfaction that day.
"As I've said for years, I won the race; Joe gave it
to somebody else," Fox said. "But still, we were friends, very good
friends for many, many years."
Lohman, Ormond Beach, is in charge.
knows the score
-- As told to Godwin Kelly
I guess you
can say I was part of NASCAR when they formed it. Bill France Sr. was an
extremely smart man, probably the greatest man I ever knew.
We've said many prayers for Bill France Jr. the last
two years. He's had his share of health problems. You wonder how Bill
Jr. has survived with what he's had to deal with the last two years. I
don't know. He's made it somehow. That just shows you how tough he is.
He's going to continue to make it, too, because he's one tough
I like to tell people that "the Speedway wasn't there
when I first saw it." It was just woods the first time I came to Daytona
Beach. I helped Bill Sr. build the place. The first thing I did after I
moved down here was build ticket offices, you know, for grandstand
sales. I helped set the guardrails and helped operate the track for 30
I started working for Bill Sr. just a year after
World War II. I was originally from South Carolina. I came down here
with a guy named Joe Littlejohn. Joe owned a half-mile dirt track in
Spartanburg, S.C., and Bill Sr. would promote races up there twice a
I helped a guy score the races, and after a few years
Littlejohn said to me, "Epton, I'll give you $20 if you want to score
races." And I did that for a couple of years. I got $20 for every race I
For many years that's what I made at the racetrack.
Bill Sr. came along and I went to work for him.
When I first started with Bill Sr., well, he's like I
am today -- broke. But I believed in the man. That's why I moved here in
1958 to help build the Speedway.
We had about 42,000 people show up for the first
Daytona 500. I could not believe the size of that crowd. It seemed so
big to me.
I retired in 1988 from both my jobs at the Speedway
and NASCAR. I liked my jobs in racing, but I would have liked to have
made more money. People who are doing the job I did now are making big
My daughter scores one car for one team and they pay
her much more than I got paid for scoring the whole field. Not only
that, but they pay her expenses. It's quite a deal these days.
I couldn't imagine this sport getting so big, not
even when Bill Sr. opened Daytona International Speedway. I still don't
believe how much this sport and the track have grown.
-- As told to Godwin Kelly
Scorer Joe Epton with Sara Christian:
Women also raced in the good old days. In 1949, her rookie season, Sara
Christian of Atlanta competed in the first NASCAR strictly stock (now
Winston Cup) race at Charlotte Speedway. She qualified 13th for the
200-lap race -- one place above Sam Rice, a pre-war winner of the
Daytona beach race. She drove a ‘49 Oldsmobile, prepared by her husband
Frank, to a 13th place finish in a field of 33.
In September 1949 Sara started 21st in a field of 44 at Langhorne, PA.
She finished sixth and Curtis Turner invited her to join him in victory
lane. Sara ran six of the eight strictly stock races in 1949 and
finished 13th in the point standings. Her best finish was fifth in the
October race at Heidelberg, PA. It is the only top five NASCAR finish
for a woman. Sara also
had two top ten finishes and was named Woman Driver of the Year in 1949.
From: Cotton Owens Garage
7065 White Ave.
Spartanburg, S. C.
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- There's a magic barrier in all sports: the 4 minute
mile in track, the 60 home runs in baseball, and the 200 mile lap in
In 1954 Roger Bannister broke the record for the mile by turning in a 3
minute 59.4 record run. Since then 6 other people have cracked that
magic barrier, but the name of Bannister still stands in the record
books as the man who did it first.
In 1961 Roger Maris hit 61 home runs eclipsing the record of 60 homers
established by Babe Ruth in 1927. Maris now holds the record, but
oldsters will always remind us that Babe Ruth got his runs in fewer
In auto racing, as in track, the distance and challenge never change.
The qualifying record at Indianapolis is 171.953 miles per hour for the
sleek, specially-built championship race cars.
But the magic goal has always been to run a 200 mph lap on a closed
course. Drivers have been tantalizingly close. Last year Charlie
Glotzbach moved the record up to 199.446 in a qualifying run at the then
new Alabama International Motor Speedway in Talladega, Alabama.
Charlie's car was the new Dodge Charger Daytona,
probably the most aerodynamic stock car ever built. It featured a low,
pointed nose and had a high safety stabilizer mounted on the rear. It
was quickly nicknamed "the winged thing".....and when Charlie won the
pole, it became "the good winged thing".
The stage was set. This is where the magic barrier would probably be
broken. The 2.66 mile tri-oval track with its 33-degree banking showed
promise of a great future.
On March 24th Buddy Baker was at Talladega for a series of engineering
tests on transmission durability. He drove test car #88, and it seemed
possible that this all-out driver might break the 200 mile barrier. If
he did he'd make history, but that history would always be subject to
question unless the timing was official.
The rain out of the Atlanta race forced postponement of three other
NASCAR Grand National races this week, and the officials were available.
Chief NASCAR Timer and Scorer Joe Epton brought his timing
equipment to Talladega....just in case.
The odds weren't good. Like the song says: "When it's a rainy night in
Georgia, it seems like it's raining all over the world". Last week more
than 10 inches of rain fell on Alabama. On Monday it rained some more.
On Tuesday morning there was another thunderstorm. The track was not
only wet, but any rubber which had been embedded in the track was washed
away. A washed down track is traditionally slower.
But the skies cleared, the sun came out and patches in the track started
drying out. But it took a full dry track for tests
such as these. Noontime came and went, and by mid afternoon the track
looked fit. Epton and his observers and Epton's clocks were in
First runs were good for testing, but looked bad on the clocks. The
speeds started at 194 and then moved up to 198.5 as Baker "looked for
the groove" and the pit crew kept adjusting to get the right chassis
Buddy Baker, 29, the 6'5" son of one of stock cars most colorful
drivers, Buck Baker, was ready and relaxed. He'd shot skeet the
afternoon before and expected to go fishing later in the day. He loves
the outdoors and this was a holiday.
the 30th lap, Joe Epton let out a whoop. The time was 47.857 and
the speed was 200.096. Buddy and his Dodge Charger Daytona had done it.
The barrier was broken and they flagged Buddy in to tell him the good
news. His name would now go into the world record books as the first
driver to break the magic 200 mile per hour lap barrier.
The crew, the engineers, officials and Goodyear Tire crew went wild.
History had been made, and they were all part of the scene. A stock car
racer -- their kind of racer -- had done it.
But after a few minutes of celebration, things returned to normal. The
engineers took over. The test was to go on. Buddy said: "you better keep
watching, maybe I'll do it again."
Engineer Larry Rathgeb reminded Buddy that he was here for a test, not a
race. "Just get out there and give us some
good, hard steady laps and forget about racing. You've already got your
record, so now help me get my test done. Then we'll all go fishing."
Buddy climbed back into the car and started methodically circling the
track in "his groove". Joe Epton and his crew of observers kept
watching the clocks. It was obvious that Baker was still deadly serious
about running hard on every lap.
The numbers on the clocks flicked away. All laps were close at 200 miles
and two more were over. One was at 200.330 and a lap time of 47.807.
Another was 200.447 and 47.773 seconds.
Not only had the 200 mile mark been broken, but Buddy had bettered on
three separate occasions. Now he settled down and ran steadily. That was
his job. Today he was a test driver, not a racer.
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