Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Talmadge "Tab" Prince, Dublin, GA.
Prince pulls ahead just moments before his
Death At Daytona
Tab Prince loved fast cars. He sold them. He drove them. He died in one of them. Thirty two years ago in the biggest race of his life, Talmadge Prince was killed in one of the 125 mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500, at the time the fastest race in the history of the eleven year old track. The life of the Dublin car dealer ended in a furious and hellish moment of death, death at Daytona.
Talmadge "Tab" Prince, who was born in 1937 in Athens, Tennessee. He attended the University of Alabama before going into business. In the fall of 1969, Prince left his electronics business in Decatur, Alabama to go into the car business in Dublin. Prince continue to maintain other business interests in Huntsville, Alabama, Atlanta, and in the state of North Carolina. He joined with Bill Hodges to form the partnership, Hodges and Prince, which sold Plymouth automobiles on their lot at 309 East Jackson Street. The partners sold used cars on their 245 East Jackson Street lot. It has been said that Prince had patented some type of electronic device which provided him with the funds to do what he loved to do, race cars. During his short stay in Dublin, Tab Prince called an apartment at 302 Ramsey Street home.
Prince purchased his Charger Daytona from James Hylton of Inman, South Carolina, in January of 1970. Hylton, the 1966 NASCAR Rookie of the Year, had enjoyed early success driving Dodges, but decided to switch to Fords in 1970. Prince had driven in small track races for ten years, but had never driven in anything like the Daytona. Unlike modern day race cars which are built from scratch, NASCAR racers took a stock chassis and body and made the necessary modifications to make the car go faster than the average car on the road. NASCAR regulations required that at least five hundred models of an automobile be produced to qualify the car to be a stock car. The requisite number of cars had to be produced before September 1st of the previous year. Competition between Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors was fierce. Each tried to build a faster car than the other. Tremendous sums of money were spent and lost in an effort to sell sports cars to those who could only dream of racing in a Grand National race.
Chrysler introduced a new and improved Charger in 1968, which had a powerful hemi engine, but was aerodynamically flawed. Changes were made again in 1969 to improve the car. The most visible change was the use of a nose cone on the front and a winged stabilizer on the rear of the car. Their Plymouth counterparts were dubbed the "Superbirds." The Daytona sold for $4200.00, but cost Chrysler more than fifteen hundred dollars for every one they sold. Actually none of the 1969 Charger Daytonas ever wound up on the race track. The car that Prince bought from Hylton began its life as a 1968 Charger, was modified to become a Charger 500, and modified again to become a Daytona. All five hundred ofthe 1969 Daytonas were sold. The company had orders for twelve hundred in the first three weeks after the car became available. Nearly seventy percent of the cars are still in existence today and are highly sought by muscle car collectors.
After Fords captured both races at Daytona in 1969, Chrysler was looking to get back to victory lane in 1970. The lead drivers that season were Richard Petty, the King of stock car racing and Pete Hamilton, his teammate, both of whom who drove Plymouths; and Bobby Isaac and Buddy Baker in Charger Daytonas. In March of 1970, Baker became the first NASCAR driver to attain a speed in excess of two hundred miles per hour. The nose cone, flush window fastback roof, and winged stabilizer made the superbirds the most aerodynamic cars on the track. Some experts estimated that it gave the Charger a five hundred yard advantage per lap on the super speedways. The superior design led to what had to be Chrysler's greatest year in racing. That year the Daytonas and the Plymouth Superbirds won an incredible thirty eight out of forty eight NASCAR races.
Cale Yarborough, driving his Wood Brothers Mercury, captured the first of the twin 125-mile qualifying races. Yarborough took advantage of pit strategy to beat Isaac in his Daytona. Superbird driver Pete Hamilton, the eventual winner of the main race, fell out of competition early on. Prince qualified for the second race with a speed of 165.562 miles per hour. Charlie Glotzbach, who was lucky to be alive after being nearly shot to death in a quarrel with an employee, and Buddy Baker, both driving Daytonas, took command early in the race.
Then, suddenly and without warning, on the twentieth lap of the race as Prince's number 78 Daytona was entering the high banked first turn of the Daytona super speedway, Prince's hemi engine blew. Oil gushed onto the track. The car started sliding sideways. Bill Seifort, of Skyland, North Carolina, was behind Prince. His car, too, went into a spin. The nose of Seifort's car struck Prince's car just behind the driver's side door. Seifort was traveling at an estimated one hundred and ninety miles per hour. Prince never had a chance. Prince's car burst into flames. In another micro instant, a third car, driven by Tommy Haliford of Spartanburg, South Carolina, smashed into the pileup.
Prince was killed instantly. His neck was broken. His spinal cord snapped. Seifort, who suffered cranial and cardiac concussions, was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Seifort survived the crash. Haliford escaped any serious injury, despite the fact that his car was totaled. After a thirteen lap caution period, Glotzbach went on the win the second qualifying race.
What nearly became a major controversy was averted when track officials successfully overcame allegations that they had failed to alert drivers of the presence of engine wreckage, debris, and chunks of tire rubber on the track for extended periods of time during the qualifying races. Track officials admitted that a four-foot long piece of tail pipe was left on the back straight of way, but they denied it had anything to do with Prince's accident.
Prince's death cast a pall over the crowd that Thursday and for the rest of the race week at Daytona. Twenty seven people have lost their lives at the Daytona raceway. Prince, who was killed thirty two years ago today, was only the second man to be killed in a race at Daytona. He was the first to actually be killed in a Grand National Race - in those days the qualifying races at Daytona were actual races and counted toward the points championship. Prince was the first of three men killed in the qualifying races and the second of six men, including the legendary Dale Earnhardt who was killed a year ago during the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, to be killed in a Grand National Race at the greatest of all car stock car tracks, the Daytona International Speedway.