Strange But True: Photo Finish

The Florida Stock Car Championship race of January 16, 1952, was one of the most exciting auto races in history. No race of any kind ever had a more spectacular finish.

There were 34 drivers lined up, at the start of the race, ready to go 50 laps around the Opa Locka Speedway. The last two drivers were Alan “Rags” Carter, driving a Dodge, and Edwin “Banjo” Matthews, in a Ford.

The cars moved slowly around the track. Bob Verlin, the official starter, waved his yellow-and-green flag, and the 34 contestants began to zoom forward.

Rags and Banjo were experienced drivers. As the race progressed, they moved past the other cars until Banjo was in the lead, and Rags was coming on fast. With five laps to go, Rags was right behind Banjo, the bumper of his Dodge almost touching Banjo’s Ford.

Rags realized that if he was to pass Banjo, he had to go around him on the outside, a dangerous move. The track was slippery there, and besides, driving on the outside meant he had to cover a greater distance. But there was no other way. Jamming his foot on the accelerator, Rags swung wide, coming perilously close to the crash wall.

As the fans came to their feet, roaring, the two drivers fought it out. They were almost exactly even as they moved into the final lap. Then Rags tried a very old racing trick. He had seen a slower car driving around the inside edge of the track. If he could force Banjo behind that car, Banjo would be blocked off.

Rags steered his Dodge slightly to the left toward the inside of the track, forcing Banjo to ease off in the same direction. Banjo tried to keep going straight ahead but it was no use. Rags kept nudging him to the inside. The two cars raced side by side, bumping up against each other. Banjo would have to “thread the needle” between Rags and the slower car. With a burst of speed he got through, still deadlocked with Rags as the cars turned into the home stretch.

Suddenly Rags’s right rear wheel scraped and caught the crash wall. His Dodge went spinning into Banjo’s Ford, which also began to spin, going across the track and onto the infield grass.

Rags was out of control, flipping into the air. Then his front wheels caught in the wall, ripping the whole front axle off the Dodge’s frame. The car came down on its steel top, skidding ahead–across the finish line! Only the roll bars and the safety belt saved Rags’s life.

Rags Carter had crossed the finish without a front axle or wheels. And he had come in while skidding on his car’s roof, back end first!

From The Giant Book of Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.

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2 Comments

  1. sooo…did rags win then?
    or did racing already have wierdly specific rules..like car must be rubber side down to finish back then?
    i seem to recall something similar happening and the dude still getting a dnf…but i really cant recall where

    • My reading of the story is that Rags did win.  I think if he hadn’t, Liss would have noted it.  Also, this is a regional race in 1952 which tells me there wasn’t a whole lot of money at stake and thus fewer stupid rules.

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