Grover Clifton Spencer
9/7/1925 - 20/9/2007
G.C. was born Grover Clifton Spencer in Owensboro, Kentucky. While serving in the US Navy, he was the head mechanic in a Naval Fire Department at a base in Norman, Oklahoma. G.C talked his Chief Officer into letting him take the fire trucks out once a week on the asphalt road that ran around the base to blow the carbon out of them. He would take them out and run them wide open around the road, “assuring the carbon was blown out of them.”
After getting out of the Navy, Spencer ran his first race in Evansville, Indiana on Easter Sunday, 1946. Driving a 1937 Chevy Coupe called the Jitney, he pretty much just drove around, getting the feel of driving a race car for the first time. As it turned out, over half the field crashed, blew up or dropped out for some reason or another and Spencer wound up with a second place finish. After he realized his pay for second place was $275.00, (remember, this is 1946), he said “this is what I want to do.” So G.C. was bitten quickly by the racing bug and started driving weekly with his #7-11.
Back in his hometown of Owensboro, there were the Clemmon brothers who built a modified stock car called the Flying Saucer. When Spencer was put in the cockpit of the car, it wasn’t long before he was winning regularly. If it was a short track oval in the late 40’s thru the 50’s, G.C. has more than likely run on it. He made the weekly trek from his Kentucky home to the old 1/3 mile dirt at Nashville every night for 12 years, hitting the Tullahoma Speedway, Boyd’s Speedway in Chattanooga and the mile dirt at the Fairgrounds in Nashville along the way. Spencer would venture out of the Tri-State area to race at tracks like Winchester and Salem, Indiana also.
In one open-comp race at Nashville in 1957, Spencer started on the pole and led almost every lap until he blew a tire about half way through the race. The last stock car race on the mile track at the Nashville Fairgrounds in 1957 had a star studded field ready to do battle. With such hot shots like Jack Smith, the Flock brothers, Bob Reuther and Nero Septoe, it seemed that a tight race was in store for everyone. What they didn’t count on was G.C. Spencer taking the pole in the Flying Saucer modified and then leading 24 of the 25 laps to win the championship crown. The following year, he came back after the track was changed from the one-mile dirt to a 1/2 mile asphalt to challenge the field for his title. After taking the green flag, he only got three laps in when his car blew up, ending the chances of retaining his championship status there.
G.C. said his most memorable race was in 1948 at Rooster Lake Speedway in Paris, Kentucky where he took home the laurels along with the $1,000.00 first place money after running 300 grueling laps around a dusty, dirt track. At one point in a five state area, G.C. Spencer dominated the short track racing world for four years. He once won 13 features in a row at Metropolis Speedway in Illinois driving a 1935 Chevy Coupe powered by an Oldsmobile 88 engine. Metropolis paid a percentage of the gate for the purse. When he first started running there, he was banking anywhere from $250-$275 for a feature win. By the time he ran his last race there, with dwindling crowds, his purse for taking the feature was $20.00. He also taught the guys a lesson at the Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, KY where he once took the checkered flag eleven times in a row. Although he preferred dirt racing over asphalt, Spencer enjoyed running the modified’s on either surface.
Running an outlaw track (non-NASCAR sanction) as a member of NASCAR would get you a fine and a possible suspension in the early days. But G.C. used to run at Sportsman Speedway in Johnson City (a non-NASCAR track) on Saturday night so he would have enough money to get to the NASCAR sanctioned Asheville/Weaverville Speedway in North Carolina on Sunday evening.
For 12 years, after practically ruling the sportsmen and modified ranks, G.C.’s resume boasted of over 200 wins in the stock car ranks. Running a race schedule that sometimes included four nights a week in four different states while sleeping on the tailgate of the pickup truck and eating bologna sandwiches so he would have enough money to race, the Flying Saucer stock car was finally outlawed. Having nothing left to prove in the modified and sportsmen ranks, it was at this time that G.C. decided to step up to the NASCAR Grand Nationals in 1958 when he was 33 years old.
His first race in the Grand Nationals was on September 1st in the Southern 500 at Darlington and was not a good introduction into the Big Leagues. Tying the doors shut with a piece of rope, using the plastic liner out of an old Army helmet for a crash helmet and a belt from a pair of pants for a seat belt, he ended up with DNF and earned $315.00. In 1959, Spencer entered 25 events as a unsponsored independent where he had 1 top five, 2 top tens, and 8 in the 11-20 finish. But the worst part this year was that he had a dismal 14 DNF’s. With $2,835 in winnings for the year, racing was not going to be easy for the gentleman from Kentucky who by now was living in Inman, South Carolina. From 1960 to 1962, Spencer ran a total of 99 races. Competing against the bigger teams such as the Petty’s, Wood brothers, Bud Moore, Holman-Moody and Ray Fox. G.C. still did fairly O.K. since he was the driver, owner, sponsor and pit crew. Although he had no wins, he garnered 11 top five’s 21 top tens and 26 in the 11-20 place. As an independent he didn’t have much going for him. He did have a fairly decent tire deal with Goodyear, but his engines were acquired from junk yards. Not surprisingly he had 41 DNF’s during this time.
In 1963, a so-so deal with Chevrolet helped Spencer out. Running as a teammate to Junior Johnson, Chevrolet would give G.C. some parts to race with. This enabled Spencer to win his most money so far in one season. With 4 top five’s and seven top ten’s, G.C. took $12,420 in winnings in 1963. His best money season would be three years later in 1966, the year he finished 2nd to Marvin Panch in the World 600 at Charlotte. With six top five’s that included 3 second place finishes, two of them the World 600 and the First Union 400 at North Wilkesboro, and two more tope tens, Spencer pocketed $25,675.
Leading up to the 1971 Alabama 500 at Talladega, G.C. had competed in 349 NASCAR Grand National races where he had 53 top fives and 127 top tens. G.C. says his favorite track was always Charlotte. He won more money at Charlotte than any other track and finished in practically every position except first to capture that elusive checkered flag.
When asked who was the toughest to compete against on the track, G.C. said it wasn’t so much as drivers being too tough to beat, it was the fact that they had better equipment than he had. He did say that Richard Petty was a pretty hard driver, but Junior Johnson was the toughest. “Junior didn’t believe there was any place to run except up front!”
When 1977 rolled around, G.C. was prepared to retire as a driver. After the last race of the season, the Atlanta 500 at Talladega, G.C. hung up his helmet as a driver. He still owned a couple of cars for a little while with such drivers as Connie Saylor, John A. Utsman and former Bristol Speedway owner Gary Baker driving for him. But in 1983, he sold out everything he had left to Morgan McClure in Abington, VA. Going to work for them as Crew Chief. In 1986, when G.C. was old enough to collect Social Security, he left McClure to live a quieter life.
Today, G.C. and his wife live in Gray, Tennessee where he can tell you just about anything you want to know about antiques (and the old NASCAR day’s, of course). If you ever want to talk racing with G.C. Spencer, make it a point to come to the Racers Reunion that is held every May at the Big Burley Tobacco building in Johnson City, Tennessee. You’ll never find a nicer, more pleasant guy to talk shop with and G.C. sure loves to talk shop when it comes to stock car racing.