22/8/1919 - 16/10/1995
Jimmie Lewallen was one of NASCAR's earliest pioneers. He finished in the top ten in points standings from 1953 to 1955 and though he isn't credited with any wins in NASCAR, Jimmie did most of his racing in the Modified and Sportsman series, where he won dozens of races. Jimmie Lewallen died 27 years ago, he was 76
Born and raised in High Point, North Carolina, Jimmie Lewallen started racing motorcycles in 1934 before switching to cars in the late 30's while helping to distribute "spirits" to those in other areas of the state and especially High Point, NC. Early moonshine running went hand in hand with racing. He competed on the old one-mile dirt track in his hometown in 1940 before going off to war.
He entered the army in 1941 and between then and 1945 he fought in the ETO (European Theater Operations). He was at the Normandy landings and served in Europe, Africa and the Middle East Campaigns. He received the Bronze Star Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal & Bronze Star Attachment (Triple), World War II Victory Medal, the Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII and several Battlefield Commissions. He was wounded twice.
After returning home from the war, he went to work at a local Machine Shop and continued to race at wherever a track could be found. On October 12, 1946 a meeting was held at the Rex Hotel on Peachtree Street in Atlanta Georgia. "Big Bill" France, Red Vogt, Buddy Shuman, Jimmie, Raymond Parks and others were in attendance. This was the meeting that actually "formed" NASCAR. There were 12 or 13 people present when it was formed. Bill France offered him a chance to "buy into NASCAR" for $500.00 and he turned him down. He said, "it would never amount to anything".
Part of the appeal of the automobile to the average southern Piedmont boy, both before and after World War II, was the mechanical abilities that they had picked up in both the war, and in their own back yard. These backyard mechanics often worked late into the night, until they got their cars into shape from racing. Drivers frequently ran two or three races a week, requiring mechanical knowledge to keep the car running well.”
Jimmie Lewallen was one of these shade tree mechanics. His son Gary remembers helping his father, working late into the night. "We’d work 'till one, two, three o’clock in the morning trying to get the car ready for the weekend, having to do it about every night after school. It was a family deal.” These drivers and their families put their heart and soul into racing.
Jimmie Lewallen was one of the original drivers that competed in the first race that was sponsored under the NASCAR banner at the old Charlotte Speedway. Lewallen finished 16th in that race winning $25 for his efforts in a 1946 Ford.
France and his group ran the 1948 season as a test year for the company by running strictly stockcars and a modified series. The actual first season of strictly stockcar racing occurred in 1949. Jimmie raced "officially" from the inception of NASCAR. The France family says it started in 1960 on the "Grand National Circuit", the "Sportsman" Circuit and the "Modified" Circuit. The GN circuit is now the Busch series but then it was the "CUP" series.
He went on to compete in 139 Cup races through 1960. Though he is not credited with any Cup wins, he finished second four times. Jimmie did most of his racing in the Modified and Sportsman series, where he won dozens of events.
In 1950 he won the Modified Championship at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC.
In 1953 Lee Petty Engineering running in the NASCAR Grand National Division expanded and ran a Dodge Diplomats for Jimmie at Palm Beach Speedway, finishing second to Petty. Both cars were prepared in the Randleman, NC Petty engineering shops.
Jimmie's NASCAR career spanned some 12 years and from 1953 through 1955 he finished in the Top Ten in the points standings.
He continued racing professionally in North and South Carolina as well as Virginia in the Late Model Stock and Modified Divisions until 1975.
He was a co-founder of the Old-Timer Racing Club.
Jimmie lost his battle with cancer in 1995.
With thanks to Gary Lewallen, Jimmie's son.