Inaugural Talladega runner-up Jim Vandiver remembered

1 Comment

Former NASCAR driver Jim Vandiver is being remembered after passing away Thursday in Charlotte, N.C.

Vandiver, of suburban Huntersville, died Thursday in a local hospital, where he had been since Monday after complaining of chest pains. He was 75.

Vandiver raced part-time on the NASCAR Grand National and Winston Cup circuits from 1968 through 1983. In 85 career starts, he had 19 top 10 finishes, including five top-five showings.

The most notable finish of Vandiver’s career was runner-up in the inaugural Talladega 500 on Sept. 14, 1969, at what was then called Alabama International Motor Speedway (now known as Talladega Superspeedway).

Several of NASCAR’s top drivers elected to bypass that race out of safety concerns that tires on the race cars could not sustain speeds closing on 200 mph, according to a story Friday by veteran motorsports writer Tom Higgins in the Charlotte Observer.

But Vandiver and a number of replacement drivers agreed to compete and the race went on as scheduled, with Vandiver, in a Dodge owned by legendary Raymond Fox, finishing second to race winner Richard Brickhouse.

Vandiver dominated that race, leading 13 times for 102 laps. Brickhouse took the lead with 10 laps to go and rolled to a seven-second advantage at the checkered flag, something that Vandiver never accepted, believing there was a scoring error due to the number of cautions in that race.

“I won that race,” Vandiver said, according to Higgins’ story. “I had Brickhouse down almost a lap.”

Tommy Vandiver told Higgins that his brother maintained that viewpoint for the rest of his life.

“If Jim was alive right now, he’d insist he won that Talladega race,” Tommy Vandiver told Higgins. “Jim and Ray Fox protested the finish, but it wasn’t upheld.

“It was tough to take, but on the other hand, through the years we had a lot of good times in racing and made some great life-long friends.”

Tommy Vandiver also related to Higgins a humorous incident involving himself and his brother during a Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in the 1970s.

A trio of sheriff’s deputies were waiting for Jim Vandiver after the race to hand him a summons in a civil matter once the race was over.

Late in the race, Tommy Vandiver held up a pit board with the word “LAW” written on it.

“As the race ended, Jim spun his car in Turn 3, hustled from the cockpit, scampered up the banking and disappeared over the rail.

He thus evaded the officers,” Higgins wrote.

“By the time the deputies realized what was going on, Jim was headed back home to Charlotte,” a laughing Tommy Vandiver remembered and told Higgins.

In addition to his brother, Jim Vandiver is survived by sons Emory and Rhett and daughters Shannon and Nicole Bryan, as well as a sister, Lillian Hoopaugh.

A viewing and service for Vandiver will take place Monday  afternoon at Huntersville United Methodist Church.

A private burial will take place at Northlake Memorial Gardens.

Follow @JerryBonkowski