By Ben White
Drivers Lee Petty and Buck Baker proved they were the top championship contenders of the 1958 NASCAR Cup Series season, winning a combined 10 of 51 races over the course of the year.
As the season began, Detroit’s Big Three automakers were not convinced stock car racing was the great marketing tool for selling their inventories that NASCAR founder “Big” Bill France had been touting.
The manufacturers were pulling out of the sport, leaving drivers to also become team owners, and the top stars weren’t seeing the dollar signs they had hoped for.
Those who helped start the sport, such as Herb Thomas, Tim Flock, Fonty Flock, Marshall Teague, Frank Munday, Curtis Turner, Hershel McGriff and others, had collectively won 152 of the first 277 races from 1949 to 1956. None of those drivers won a race in 1957. New faces were racing to the front, and fans were leaving for other sports.
France needed a new star, someone who would put people back in the grandstands. Glen “Fireball” Roberts proved to be the answer. To France’s surprise, the 29-year-old native of Daytona Beach, Florida, only entered 10 races in 1958 but made six visits to Victory Lane. His biggest win that year came on July 4 at North Carolina’s Raleigh Speedway with earnings of $32,218, which was a small fortune for that time.
Among those also going to Victory Lane that season, Lee Petty won seven races to set the stage for his second Cup Series championship while driving his own 1957 Oldsmobile.
Fifteen drivers won Cup Series races in 1958 with Junior Johnson and Roberts each scoring six victories. Petty was best in championship points to earn his second crown.
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NO. 1 AT THE BOX OFFICE: TOUCH OF EVIL
MOVIES TO WATCH: VERTIGO AND FORBIDDEN PLANET
NO. 1 SONG: “JAILHOUSE ROCK” BY ELVIS PRESLEY
GALLON OF GAS: 30 CENTS
POP CULTURE: WESTERNS SUCH AS GUNSMOKE, WAGON TRAIN, HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL AND THE RIFLEMAN WERE BIG HITS ON TELEVISION.
Lee Petty, driving his own Petty Engineering Oldsmobile, relied on consistency at the front of the field to score seven victories and claim his second NASCAR championship. The native of Level Cross, North Carolina, is known as the first NASCAR driver to rely on racing alone as his livelihood. He kept his cars clean and away from crashes on the track to keep repairs down. His smooth driving style had him in contention throughout his 50 starts.
A reported crowd of 15,000 fans saw the lead change hands eight times among seven drivers before Fireball Roberts claimed the victory in the July 4 Raleigh 250 at North Carolina’s Raleigh Speedway. Driving Frank Strickland’s No. 22 Chevrolet, Roberts passed Buck Baker for the lead on lap 194 and never looked back. His margin of victory was more than a lap of the one-mile paved track.
Lee Petty drove the No. 42 Petty Enterprises Oldsmobile to seven victories and 44 top-10 finishes en route to his second series championship.
Former Charlotte city bus driver Buck Baker won three times with 35 top-10 results in his own No. 87 Chevrolet.
1958 Season Recap
DATE | LOCATION | WINNER
Nov. 3 | Champion Speedway | Rex White
Feb. 23 | Daytona Beach and Road Course | Paul Goldsmith
March 2 | Concord Speedway | Lee Petty
March 15 | Champion Speedway | Curtis Turner
March 16 | Wilson Speedway | Lee Petty
March 23 | Orange Speedway | Buck Baker
April 5 | Champion Speedway | Bob Welborn
April 10 | Columbia Speedway | Speedy Thompson
April 12 | Hub City Speedway | Speedy Thompson
April 13 | Lakewood Speedway | Curtis Turner
April 18 | Southern States Fairgrounds | Curtis Turner
April 20 | Martinsville Speedway | Bob Welborn
April 25 | Old Dominion Speedway | Frankie Schneider
April 27 | Old Bridge Stadium | Jim Reed
May 3 | Greenville-Pickens Speedway | Jack Smith
May 11 | Central Carolina Fairgrounds | Bob Welborn
May 15 | Starkey Speedway | Jim Reed
May 18 | North Wilkesboro Speedway | Junior Johnson
May 24 | Bowman Gray Stadium | Bob Welborn
May 30 | New Jersey State Fairgrounds | Fireball Roberts
June 1 | Riverside International Raceway | Eddie Gray
June 5 | Columbia Speedway | Junior Johnson
June 12 | New Bradford Speedway | Junior Johnson
June 15 | Reading Fairgrounds | Junior Johnson
June 25 | Lincoln Speedway | Lee Petty
June 28 | Hickory Speedway | Lee Petty
June 29 | Asheville-Weaverville Speedway | Rex White
July 4 | Raleigh Speedway | Fireball Roberts
July 12 | McCormick Field | Jim Paschal
July 16 | State Line Speedway | Shorty Rollins
July 18 | Exposition Speedway | Lee Petty
July 19 | Civic Stadium | Jim Reed
July 25 | Monroe County Fairgrounds | Cotton Owens
July 26 | Wall Stadium | Jim Reed
Aug. 2 | Bridgehampton Raceway | Jack Smith
Aug. 7 | Columbia Speedway | Speedy Thompson
Aug. 10 | Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville | Joe Weatherly
Aug. 17 | Asheville-Weaverville Speedway | Fireball Roberts
Aug. 22 | Bowman Gray Stadium | Lee Petty
Aug. 23 | Rambi Race Track | Bob Welborn
Sept. 1 | Darlington Raceway | Fireball Roberts
Sept. 5 | Southern States Fairgrounds | Buck Baker
Sept. 7 | Fairgrounds Speedway Birmingham | Fireball Roberts
Sept. 7 | Sacramento Fairgrounds | Parnelli Jones
Sept. 12 | Gastonia Fairgrounds | Buck Baker
Sept. 14 | Richmond Raceway | Speedy Thompson
Sept. 28 | Orange Speedway | Joe Eubanks
Oct. 5 | Salisbury Speedway | Lee Petty
Oct. 12 | Martinsville Speedway | Fireball Roberts
Oct. 26 | Lakewood Speedway | Junior Johnson