Bill Wimble
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Bill Wimble

 

           Bespectacled Bill Wimble was a Lisbon, New York, dairy farmer who lived near the St. Lawrence River and developed into one of the nation’s top short-track racers and a two-time NASCAR National Sportsman Champion.  And he was also instrumental in saving the life of another driver from a fiery Daytona International Speedway crash and recognized for that heroic action, as well.  

           Wimble was just 18 years old in 1951 when he drove in his first race at Canton, New York’s St. Lawrence Speedway in a 1936 Ford coupe that he and his brother bought for $50. 

           He then claimed his first victory in 1952 at a track in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and he won his first track championship in 1955 at the half-mile asphalt Airborne Park Speedway in Plattsburgh, New York Speedway.

           In all, Wimble won 14 track titles at eight different dirt and asphalt tracks, plus five New York State NASCAR Championships and two Connecticut State NASCAR Championships.

           In 1957 the cool and calculating Wimble began driving the No. 33 red, white and black Modified coupes and coaches that were owned by Dave McCredy, a Chevrolet dealer in Sherburne, New York.  And for the next 11 years he won more than 200 races on dirt and asphalt tracks in the United States and Canada and also claimed the 1960 and 1961 NASCAR National Sportsman Championships, which is today’s NASCAR Nationwide title.

           However, Wimble’s greatest accomplishment may have taken place on February 15, 1963, while he was at Daytona International Speedway to participate in “Speed Weeks.” 

           He and fellow Modified driver Ernie Gahan witnessed a horrifying testing accident as Marvin Panch’s 427-cubic-inch Ford-powered Maserati GT Sports Car suddenly hit the high-banked fourth-turn wall, then flipped onto its roof and slid down the banking into the infield.

            When the car came to rest it was fully in flame and Wimble and Gahan ran to the scene.  In the meantime, part-time NASCAR Grand National (Cup Series) driver DeWayne “Tiny” Lund, Steve Petrasek – a Firestone Racing Tire engineer – and mechanic Jerry Raborn jumped into a station wagon and raced down the track’s apron to the upside-down Maserati.

           The rescuers lifted the burning car so that Lund could pull the conscious Panch to safety before it exploded.  Panch suffered serious back burns while Wimble, Gahan and Petrasek were treated for minor burns to their hands and legs.  Lund and Raborn escaped unscathed.

In true storybook fashion, Panch requested from his hospital bed that Lund drive his factory-sponsored Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford Galaxie in the Daytona 500 and the popular 6-foot 4½-inch replacement led a five-car Ford sweep of the 5th Annual Daytona 500. 

           The five men who rescued Panch each received the Carnegie Bronze Medal.  But in a strange twist of fate later in 1963 Gahan pulled Wimble to safety after he was involved in a fiery wreck on the one-mile New York State Fairgrounds dirt track in Syracuse, New York.

           Wimble loved racing so much that he would work at his farm until noon on Friday and then drive 330 miles to Stafford Speedway in Connecticut to compete.  And during 1967 he won championships at Utica-Rome, Albany-Saratoga and Fonda Speedways in New York.

           He was also a dominate force at Fonda where he won 43 races and five (1960, 1961, 1963, 1966 & 1967) track titles.  But he saw his career come to an end in 1968 when – with just a couple of races left in the season and having already clinched the track’s championship – he was involved in a bad backstretch accident at Lebanon Valley (N.Y.) Speedway. 

           After spending the off-season recovering from his injuries, Bill Wimble – the “Flying Dairy Farmer” – quietly announced his retirement from racing at the age of 36.