February 2, 2010
By Allen Madding
On June 29, 1952, Indianapolis, Indiana’s Dick Passwater started his first NASCAR Grand National event driving Frank Arford’s No. 77 Oldsmobile in the Motor City 250 on the one-mile dirt Michigan State Fairgrounds race track. Passwater would record a sixth place finish. Passwater wheeled Arford’s No. 52 DeSoto at Playland Park Speedway, the half-mile dirt track at South Bend, Indiana for the 200-lap NASCAR Grand National event in July finishing 5th. Passwater recorded six starts for the season in 1952 charting one top five and three top ten finishes.
Passwater and Arford teamed up again for the 1953 NASCAR Grand National season. Passwater finished sixth on the Daytona Beach 4.1-mile course in February driving the No. 77 Oldsmobile. A fourth place finish followed at the half-mile dirt Harnett Speedway at Spring Lake, North Carolina in March and a ninth place finish in the Wilkes County 200 at North Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
Passwater’s moment in the sun came at the three-quarter mile dirt Charlotte Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina. Passwater would lead a mere three laps of the 150-lap event in Arford’s No. 78 Oldsmobile but they were the laps that counted. Passwater won the event collecting $1,000.
A fourth place finish in the Richmond 200, a fifth at Central City Speedway in Macon, Georgia, a fourth place finish in the 200-lap event at Hickory Speedway, a sixth at Martinsville, a fifth in the Raleigh 300, a sixth at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, and a ninth place finish in the Southern 500 marked a seemingly amazing year for Dick Passwater. But, the death of his car owner in a crash while attempting to qualify for the International 200 at Langhorne, left Passmore without a car. He fielded his own car for the Southern 500 before fading from NASCAR Grand National competition.
During the 1953 NASCAR Grand National Division season, Dick Passwater accumulated 14 starts, one win, six top five and 11 top ten finishes.
On June 3, 1956 Passwater competed with the ARCA Series at Dayton Speedway in Dayton, Ohio for a 300-lap event on the half-mile track. Passwater finished 16th.
Passwater then went absent from the world of stock car racing until re-emerging on October 20, 1963 driving the No. 24 Ford in the Centennial 400, a 400-lap ARCA race at International Raceway Park at Ona, West Virginia where he finished 16th.
Passwater raced a Studebaker GT Hawk in USAC competition in 1964 and 1965 that he had purchased from Andy Granatelli. The car had been previously raced at the Bonneville Salt Flats utilizing Studebaker’s R3 304.5 cubic inch V-8 supercharged engine. Passwater finished a disappointing 31st in the Yankee 300 on the 2.5-mile road course at Indianapolis Raceway Park in the No. 33 Studebaker after losing the brakes halfway through the event. He took the Studebaker to ARCA competition for the 250-mile event on the one-mile dirt oval at Michigan State Fairgrounds at Detroit finishing ninth on September 6, 1964.
In an interview years later, Passwater was quoted as saying, “the car went like blazes down the straights, passing everything, but was a bear in the turns. This is where the opposition caught me.”
Passwater returned to USAC Stock Car competition in 1965 campaigning the No. 33 Studebaker. He garnered a 10th place finish in the Yankee 300 on the 2.5-mile road course at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Broken suspension sidelined him on lap 18 of the 67 lap USAC event on the three mile road course at Greenwood Roadway at Indianola, Iowa in June scoring a 16th place finish. Disappointment followed in August at the Milwaukee Mile at West Allis, Wisconsin where he placed 36th. The final USAC Stock Car even of his racing career came on September 7, at The Indiana State Fairgrounds 1-mile dirt oval for the USAC State Fair Century where Passwater finished 27th.
Rumor has it that Passwater removed the Studebaker R2 engine prior to the 1965 season and replaced it with a Pontiac engine painting the engine black and bolting the Studebaker valve covers over top of the Pontiac valve covers.
Passwater and partner Del Amy launched Elegant Motors in the 1970s manufacturing replicas of 1935 Auburn 856 and 898 Speedsters.
The 1953 Oldsmobile 88 No. 77 that Passwater drove for car owner Frank Arford in NASCAR Grand National competition is on display at the R. E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing, Michigan.
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