Joseph Herbert Weatherly, AKA “Little Joe”, was one of the first stars of NASCAR. His career spanned from 1952 through 1964 and during that time he drove in 230 events. He scored 19 poles and 25 wins. Weatherly’s interest in racing didn’t start with stock cars, however. As early as high school, he developed an interest in motorcycles, later earning three American Motorcycle Association Championships.
In 1950, Weatherly began racing stock cars and won the very first modified event he entered. Little Joe had served some time in the US armed forces in WW II and was wounded when a German sniper’s bullet struck him in the face, leaving him with some mean-looking scars and the loss of two teeth. But Little Joe had a forever fun-loving sense of good humor. He didn’t let his appearance get him down. He became known as “The Clown Prince of Automobile Racing”.
Weatherly loved to be mischievous and was known for his outrageous behavior. He was a prankster on and off the track. He loved wearing wild clothes and partying late into the night. He once drove his practice laps wearing a Peter Pan suit. Little Joe may be remembered as a fun-loving prankster and clown, but he was a force to be reckoned with on the racetrack.
In 1962 and 1963, he won back-to-back championships for Bud Moore Engineering. In ’63, the Bud Moore team didn’t have the resources to finish the season, so Little Joe “bummed” rides in other teams’ cars. He found a way to hold on to the championship. The 1961 Firecracker 250 is a great example of Little Joe’s inventiveness. During the race his Pontiac started popping out of gear. He refused to pull into the garage and lose his place in the race. Instead he twisted himself around in his seat, holding the shifter in gear with his right leg and using his left foot to work the accelerator and brake pedals. He finished sixth that day. Joe Weatherly was definitely the driver to beat in the 1960’s.
He died on January 19, 1964 when his car struck a retaining wall. It was the fifth race of the season at Riverside International Raceway and as a final joke, he has “Riverside Raceway” on his headstone.
Born: May 29, 1922
Birthplace: Norfolk, Virginia
Died: January 19, 1964 (aged 41)
Cause of Death: racing crash
Awards: Named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers
1961 NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award
192 Grand National Champion
1963 Grand National Champion
1952 and 1953 NASCAR Modified National Champion
3 American Motorcycle Association championships
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Statistics
230 races run over 12 years.
Best Cup Position: 1st – 1962, 1963 (Grand National)
First Race: 1952 Southern 500 (Darlington)
Last Race: 1964 Motor Trend 500 (Riverside)
First Win: 1958 Nashville 200
Last Win: 1963 Hillsboro