jaws exhausted and ears fatigued from endless stock car racing trivia
sessions, leave your friends with this one and walk away.
What driver won the first NASCAR-sanctioned races at
Talladega, Michigan and Dover?
After two days of begging, and a Mounds candy bar thrown
in as a bonus, you might tell them it was Ken Rush.
At the brand new Talladega Superspeedway in '69, on the
Saturday afternoon before the first Grand National race (which would
become Winston Cup), NASCAR's Grand Touring cars staged a 200-mile
event. Rush, driving a yellow Camaro, won by nearly a lap.
A few weeks later, Michigan Speedway opened. Again,
NASCAR ran its Grand Touring cars on Saturday. Rush won by more than a
In the summer of 1970, Dover signed its first NASCAR
sanction. Once again, Rush streaked to victory on Saturday. Richard
Petty won the race on Sunday.
Rush also won at South Boston, Virginia, that year. Then
came a horrifying accident at Flemington, New Jersey, which led to the
end of his career.
was a half-mile dirt track," Rush recalls. "After the first few laps,
you couldn't see out the windshield for all the mud. I was coming
wide-open, and Stan Styers spun in the middle of Turns 3 and 4. I didn't
see him until I hit him, and I drove straight into him, head-on."
Rush lost 12 teeth and suffered a broken sternum and a
"They worked on me in the emergency room until about 3 or
4 o'clock in the morning," Rush says. "Finally, they rolled me into a
hospital room. I smoked back then, so I reached over and got a
cigarette. I lit it and puffed, but nothing happened. I threw it away
and got another one. Same thing happened, and then I realized my lip was
cut all the way through and when I puffed, the air was going through my
lip. I had to hold my lower lip together in order to puff the
Today Rush, 70, and wife Patsy live in High Point, North
Carolina. How did it all begin?
"Bob Welborn and I became friends in 1950. He was already
racing, and helped me get started. Then Jim Paschal helped me get into
the Late Model division."
Rush started racing in 1955 and won track championships
at Bowman Gray Stadium and the Greensboro Fairgrounds. In 1964, he won
the Modified championship at Bowman Gray.
"We were a wild bunch, sometimes about half human,
especially at Daytona," Rush says. "In 1957, crew chief Paul McDuffie,
Red Jones, myself, and two other guys, I can't remember their names,
were down on the beach in this new Chevrolet station wagon. It belonged
was driving. We'd go down the beach at 70 or 80 mph and cut the steering
wheel. On the hard sand the vehicle would spin around and around like it
was on ice. Somebody said, "Let's try it at 100." I pegged the needle
out of sight and cut the steering wheel. The station wagon didn't go 40
feet until it threw the right rear tire off. When that happened, here we
go turning over and over. We ended up way out in the ocean. I was the
only one who got hurt. It about knocked a hole in my head, and I nearly
"Red Jones had a bottle of whiskey. He said the law is
coming, and he stood on the roof of the car and threw the bottle as far
out in the ocean as he could.
"They pulled me to shore as the police arrived. I looked
back at the ocean, and in the moonlight you could see this bottle of
whiskey bobbing up and down with the waves, following us ashore.
"The policeman asked if we'd been drinking. He was
standing at the edge of the water. Somebody was trying to persuade him
we hadn't had a drop. Then the whiskey bottle hit his boot."
Welborn heard about what happened and went to the
hospital to check on Rush. The nurse told him he couldn't stay but a
minute. "This man has a serious brain concussion," she said.
Rush said Welborn told the nurse, "Lady, he may have a
head concussion, but he ain't got a brain."
Looking back on his career, Rush says there is one thing
he would change if he had control over such matters. "I would have been
born in 1971 instead of 1931. That way, I believe I would have something
to show for my racing career. I won a lot of races that paid $200 or
less for first place. Sixty percent of that would go to the team owner.
"Race drivers today make a lot of money," he says, "but I
don't believe they have the fun we did."
Look Back at Talladega's History - Ken Rush, The First Champion
history of every great racetrack begins with its first champion. While
others may reach victory lane more times or earn bigger paychecks, one
will always be the envy of other drivers because they were the
first. For Talladega Superspeedway, Ken Rush is the original.
Prior to the first
Talladega 500, now the AMP Energy 500, there was the ‘Bama 400, a Grand
Touring race held on Saturday, September 13, 1969. The entry sheet read
like a car collector’s wish list; Camaros, Mustangs, Firebirds,
Javelins, Darts and Cougars, 40 in all, started the race.
Ken Rush, a veteran of the
sportsman and modified ranks, was one of the drivers competing on the
newly opened 2.66 mile tri-oval. He was NASCAR’s 1957 Rookie of the Year
and a two-time Bowman Gray Stadium champion (1964 & 1966), but nothing
could have prepared him for the high banks of Talladega.
“I thought I would never
get to the end of the straight-aways, especially that backstretch,” said
While much of the talk
during the weekend focused on concerns over tire wear, Rush said he had
no such worries.
“I remember that really
well. The tire situation really didn’t bother me at all. We were there
to race. My car owner Johnny Wheeler said we were going to run and we
did. We never even changed tires. We ran 400 miles on the same tires.”
the green flag waived on the ‘Bama 400, Rush didn’t push his 1968 Camaro
very hard. He laid back in the pack until lap 97 when he sprinted out to
the lead. He held that position for the remaining 54 laps to finish with
an average speed of 156.271 mph. His prize for first place? A hardy
“I always like to say I
was born 40 years too soon,” Rush lamented. “You know when we were
racing, we did it for fun. You just couldn’t make any money racing back
then. But we sure had fun.”
While Rush raced for fun,
he also made history as the first champion of Talladega
Obituary for Mr. Samuel Kenneth "Ken" Rush
Samuel Kenneth “Ken” Rush, 80, passed away Monday, October
17, 2011 at High Point Regional Hospital. He was the loving
husband of Patsy (Hodgin) Rush to whom he was married for 59
celebration of life funeral service will be 2:00 p.m.
Friday, October 21, 2011 at Cumby Family Funeral Service,
1015 Eastchester Drive, High Point, NC 27262 with Ken Clegg
officiating. Burial will follow in Deep River Friends
Meeting Cemetery. A visitation will be held 6-8 p.m.
Thursday at the funeral home.
Rush was born September 14, 1931 in Randolph County, a son
of the late Ernest and Effie (Kinley) Rush. He was the owner
and operator of Ken Rush Garage and was of Baptist Faith.
Rush was an avid racer, starting his career in 1952 at
Bowman Gray, becoming a NASCAR Champion in 1969 of the grand
touring series, and finishing in 1972. He was later inducted
into the Guilford County Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.
his spare time he enjoyed hunting, fishing, gardening, and
spending time with his grandsons and great grandsons.
addition to his wife, Mr. Rush is survived by a daughter,
Debbie Rich and husband, Mark of High Point; two grandsons,
Chris Beeson and wife, Shelly of New London, NC, and Matthew
Rich and wife, Julie of High Point; two great grandsons,
Connor Beeson and Austin Rich; four sisters, Cleo Myers and
husband, Frank of Archdale, Peggy Hill of Archdale, Ann
Poarch and husband, James of Valdese, NC, and Mary Lou
George of High Point; two sister-in-laws, Jackie and Donna
Sue Rush; and several cousins, nieces and nephews. He was
preceded in death by two brothers, Harold and Ermon Rush;
and a sister Paraleigh Welborn.
Deep River Friends Meeting
5300 West Wendover Avenue
Point, NC, 27265