Darlington Legends: Bowani Racing Takes NASCAR by Storm
Photo Cutline: Ned Jarrett (second from left), with Bill France, car owner Bondy Long, and Fred Lorenzen. Jarrett and runner-up Dick Hutcherson traded the points lead five times during the 1965 season before Jarrett prevailed. (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)
By: Jim McLaurin
DARLINGTON, S.C. (Jan. 13, 2009) – Astronomically, a meteor is a bright, swiftly-moving object that catches our attention as it briefly blazes across the sky. It also pretty well describes Bondy Long's career in NASCAR racing.
"When '65 rolled around, they were watching us," the native of Camden, S.C., said. "Donnie Allison said that they didn't pay any attention to us when we started, but after awhile everybody wanted to know what we were doing."
What Long and his teammates at Bowani Racing did in the mid 1960s was to blaze a path across the NASCAR firmament that, if brief, was indelible.
As the owner of the team named for himself and brothers Walter and Nicky, the 25-year-old Long was likely the youngest owner in the history of stock car racing's premier series. He was certainly the youngest to ever win a championship.
And the record that his driver, Ned Jarrett, set at Darlington in the 1965 Southern 500 will likely stand for as long as they make left turns.
Jarrett, on his way to a 13-win season and the second of his two Grand National (now Sprint Cup) championships, won the Labor Day classic by a whopping 14 laps (or 19.25 miles ahead of the second-place car). It is still the largest margin of victory, length-wise, in NASCAR history, and both Long and Jarrett count it as the biggest day in their respective careers.
Not bad for a self-described "young kid."
From 1963-68, cars owned by Long entered 205 races and won 29 of them. Jarrett was behind the wheel of Long’s cars for 27 of his 50 career wins. In the 1965 championship season, Jarrett finished in the top five in 41 of the 53 races he entered, winning 13 of them.
In 1964, Jarrett won 14 races (15, counting the season opener while driving for another team), and might have won the championship, but Ford was going through development problems with valve springs. Jarrett finished back in the pack often enough to put him second behind Richard Petty in the final standings.
How did it all come about? How did a youngster own a NASCAR team in the first place, much less one capable of winning a title?
First of all, Long’s mother was married to a Du Pont (yes, those Du Ponts), and Long was a racing nut.
His first love was drag racing, but his mom suggested that, as long as he was racing, it might as well be for money instead of trophies.
"I told her she ought to check NASCAR out, and she went down to Daytona and talked to Bill France (Senior)," Long said. "She did, and said, 'I'm impressed.'"
Holman-Moody was the big Ford dog in those "factory team" days, and John Holman and Ford’s Jacques Passino came to Camden.
"They said they'd supply the cars and the parts and so much a race for 15 races -- if you'll run Fords and let Ned drive. That's how that started," Long said.
Jarrett moved his family to Camden, where the team was based, and everything clicked. Long may have been the one to sign the checks, but he had no illusions about who was running the show.
"We got very lucky there. Ned had an office down at our shop," Long said. "I told him, I don't want to run this thing; I just want to work on the cars. I asked him if he minded, and he said, 'Not at all.'
"If I'd have had to answer the phone, I'd never have been able to do what I wanted to do."Which brings us back to Labor Day, 1965. Jarrett was running well enough to win, Long said, but it was one of the hottest Southern 500s on record, and the cars were
dropping like flies. It was not until Fred Lorenzen and Darel Dieringer fell out that Jarrett took the lead for good, with 39 laps left.
"We were on pins and needles, watching everybody else self-destruct," Long said. "We wondered, 'are we next?' every lap. We kept our fingers crossed."
But Jarrett’s Ford held together, and that night the entire town of Camden turned out to celebrate with the team.
"Ned always said it was his biggest win, and I'd say it was our biggest, too. We won two Atlanta 500s, but that race at Darlington, being in close proximity to Camden… I mean, that's your home court. It felt so good to win that race."
Unfortunately, Bowani was a short-lived phenomenon. After Jarrett took the title in 1965, Ford pulled out of racing when NASCAR approved Chrysler’s big "hemi" engine, giving the automaker a huge advantage in horsepower. Then, Jarrett was injured early in 1966 and decided to retire.
The team soldiered on, with Dick Hutcherson winning two races in 1968, but without the factory backing, Long left NASCAR and returned to drag racing.
But, he said, it was sweet while it lasted.
"We were there," Long said. "Everybody wanted to know what we were doing. They paid attention to us."
Be a part of history when Darlington Raceway celebrates 60 years of racing in 2009. Tickets to the 2009 Southern 500®, as well as the NASCAR Nationwide Series Diamond Hill Plywood 200 are on-sale now. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Darlington Raceway ticket office at 866-459-RACE or online at http://www.darlingtonraceway.com/tickets/.