Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sam McQuagg

Sam McQuagg was born on November 11th of 1937 in Columbus, Georgia.

Sam McQuagg was just a construction worker but then he decided to do something more exhilarating in his life so he bought half interest of a 1934 Ford in 1956 and started racing at local dirt tracks. Local fans say Sam was almost unbeatable at the Valdosta 75 Speedway.

In 1962, McQuagg entered his first NASCAR Grand National Division (Sprint Cup) event driving his own #62 Ford at Valdosta 75 Speedway. McQuagg qualified 9th for the race, but a blown motor dropped him to a 12th place starting position. That was his only race that year.

1964 was a year that McQuagg only raced five races in the Grand National (Sprint Cup Series) Division. He drove in J.L Thomas’s #71 and #72 Ford’s. In the five races he ran four of them were recorded as a DNF (Did not finish) and the other race was a 12th place. At Valdosta that year Sam won 37 of the 39 races he ran.

In 1965 McQuagg had 5 top tens in the 14 races he entered with about 5 teams which earned him the Rookie of the Year honor on the Grand National (Sprint Cup) level. Sam was involved in one of the most violent and memorable wrecks in NASCAR history. During the 1965 Southern 500 at Darlington Cale Yarborough tangled with then race leader McQuagg in the first turn. Yarborough spun, and then vaulted over the guard rail; he rolled 6 times down the 40-foot embankment landing in the parking lot. When the car landed, Cale got out, climbed the bank back to the track, and waved his arms to let the 50,000 fans at the race know he was fine.

In 1966 Dodge noticed Sam’s accomplishments in his small Ford team, so they hired him to their factory #98 Ray Nichels team. At Daytona that July he came out of the box with a spoiler on his Dodge Charger; it was the first spoiler that had ever been used on the NASCAR circuit. Sam won the Firecracker 400 that year in a car sponsored by a newlywed Georgia couple with a total of $13,500 in winnings for his only win of his career; Sam McQuagg Jr. recalls that after that race his father and mother went a bought themselves a new 1966 Dodge Charger. The flag that waved over McQuagg’s head as he crossed the finish line is now hanging on his grandson’s wall. That race was also the first time a motor home was brought into the Daytona infield. He made 15 more starts that year with 4 top fives and 7 top tens with a finish of 15th in points.

In 1967 Sam drove for Bud Moore, Don Robertson, Cotton Owen, and many more car owners. He had a chance to drive for the Wood Brothers, but they told him he would have to run Firestone tires. He was dedicated to Goodyear due to them giving him his first set of tires, so he declined and Cale Yarborough got that ride. At Darlington that year Sam was involved in a violent wreck on lap 81; McQuagg went over the guardrail and flipped many times before landing back on his wheels. Sam got aggravated at the frequency of his wrecks so he scaled his schedule back to just local tracks. In all of 1967 Sam ran 14 races, and had 3 top-5 finishes.

In 1970, he became the company pilot for the W. C. Bradly Co. in Columbus, Georgia and unofficially retired from racing.

McQuagg decided to come back after his leave of absence for three starts in 1974. He drove for Hoss Ellington in the #28 Pylon Wiper Blades Chevy, he had a 7th place finish at Darlington and an 8th at Talladega. His last start was at the 1974 World 600.

Out of 8 years in NASCAR’s top series, McQuagg garnered 62 starts, 1 win, 9 top-5s, and 21 top-10s.

In 1997 McQuagg retired as a commercial pilot after 27 years of flying.

McQuagg was inducted into the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in 2008.

He died of cancer on January 3, 2009 at the age of 73 at St. Francis Hospital. He and his wife Joy had recently celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary.