Living Legends in Southern Virginia
Story by Ginny Wray | Photos by Mike Wray
Tucked in a garage in Henry County is a piece of racing history. It is the 1937 two-door Flat Back Ford that Brice “Spider” Stultz drove on the old beach course in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Feb. 25, 1955. And Stultz, now 87, is believed to be the only beach-course driver who still owns the car in which he raced. There are some aspects of the race that he does not remember, but there others that he recalls vividly.
At that time, Stultz was friends with Martinsville Speedway founder Clay Earles and Bill France, founder of NASCAR. In 1955 they asked him to come to Daytona, where he had visited but not raced. He towed his Ford with a 1946 Dodge six-cylinder pickup, he recalled in a 2003 interview posted on the Living Legends of Auto Racing (LLOAR) website.
Between that interview and a recent one, Stultz’s experience that February day in Florida can be pieced together. “We drove all night long to get there” but arrived too late for the time trials for the Sportsman’s race, said Stultz, a lifelong resident of Fieldale. So when the cars lined up on the 4.35-mile track that encompassed black-top road and hard-packed beach sand, he was placed in the 83rd position — almost the last one in line, he said.
He had bought the No. 24x six-cylinder Ford in 1953 in Ridgeway. It ran well in Daytona, Stultz recalled. “… I was able to pass whoever I came up on and would pass them right and left. We started in the back; slow cars started in the back and my car ran well and I did not have any trouble passing,” he said.
His car had run 100 to 110 mph on the black-top part of the track, but it was doing about 55 to 60 mph when it hit the sand going into turn 1, he said. “It got up to No. 12 when I got on soft sand and couldn’t stir out of it,” Stultz said. “Thirty-nine cars passed me while I was sitting there.”
“Those pictures on the wall there are exactly what happened. It was exciting there for a few minutes. The race was over and it was the last lap that I got hung up,” he added.
Those photographs show Stultz’s No. 24x stuck off the side of the track. The track itself was hardened sand, he said, but the race cars kicked up some of the sand, creating the soft bed on the side that snagged the cars. Once that happened, there was no budging them.
The photos show at least six other cars met the same fate and ran even further off the track. To the right in the photos is Stultz, surveying the scene. He finished the race in the 49th spot.
Stultz fared better in the Modified competition at Daytona, finishing 19th when the race ended early due to a fiery crash, according to a 1994 Martinsville Bulletin article.
The Daytona photos and scores of others surround Stultz in his office and garage. Each tells a story about Stultz’s racing career and the early years of the sport itself. There is Glen Wood’s first race. Martinsville Speedway’s first race after it was paved. Stultz on the motorcycle he drove in the Army. And many, many more.
THE BEGINNING OF A LEGACY
Stultz believes he inherited his passion for cars from his father, Brice M. Stultz III, and shared it with his brother, James.
“They were both Model T men,” recalled “Spider,” who was given that nickname by his grandfather when he first saw the newborn baby. “ ‘His hands look like spiders,’ ” his grandfather said, and the name stuck, even through Stultz’s service in the Army and beyond.
Stultz graduated from Fieldale High School and Hargrave Military Academy. He served in the Army from 1950 to 1951, and spent the next 22 years working at Mitchell-Howell Ford in Martinsville, where he was the service manager. He left the dealership in 1972 and opened Motor Imports in Collinsville, which closed recently.
During his youth, Stultz said racing was a fad. He recalled Earles and France coming to see Stultz at the Ford dealership and taking him to the nearby House’s Restaurant for coffee, race talk and with a visit with the long-time area waitress known as “Red.”
Stultz got his driver’s license at age 14 but area tracks wouldn’t let him race until he turned 18. He bought his first race car, a 1939 Ford, for $35 in 1947 and drove in his first race around that time in Danville.
He was off and running. He has lost track of how many races he ran and how many he won. But he quickly names speedways such as Morris, in Henry County; Draper; Bowman Gray in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Danville; Greensboro Fairgrounds; Lynchburg; and Starkey, outside Roanoke. He also raced on the “big track” at Daytona.
“I went so many places, I don’t know,” Stultz said, searching his memory for even more names. “I stayed broke all the time buying gas. The old car always looked good. It would run good if I could get the brakes (working) and get up there, but I couldn’t always” do it.
In a shop on Bridge Street, Russell Davis “fixed the transmission so you could go to 90 (mph) before you had to come out of second (gear),” Stultz recalled. Everyone else had to shift gears at 60-65 mph, he added. “You could pass cars like you wouldn’t believe,” he said. “It was a big help,” but Davis never shared his secret of what he did to the transmission.
Stultz quit racing after 1955 because he didn’t have the money to race each weekend and because his wife, Alma, wanted him to get out of it, he said, adding that she likely didn’t want to see him get hurt. The Stultzes now have been married for more than 60 years.
But Stultz did not walk away from the sport entirely. He operated the scoreboard in the first Daytona 500 held at the “big track” in 1959 and did the same at the Martinsville Speedway in the 1960s and 1970s along with his brother and nephew, Bob Stultz.
Several years later, Bill Magnum returned the 1937 Ford that had run on the beach to Stultz after finding it in a junk yard in Danville, Stultz said he believes. After that, the car sat next to Motor Imports for about 14 years until 1999 when Stultz decided to restore it.
Paint and body work brought the car back to life. The shining black racer with white lettering touts, “Stultz Special; Brice and Alma Racing.” It has the name and date of the Daytona beach race, and eight stickers on the windshield from the Living Legends of Auto Race Beach Parade held in Daytona Beach, which Stultz took cars to for several years. It also states that the vehicle was built and maintained by Rodney Hatchett and Daniel Morrison.
Stultz said he added a passenger seat to the car. “Everywhere we went everyone wanted to ride in it,” he added with a laugh.
He also still maintains two Ford Flat Backs in operating condition. One, a 1938 model, is a replica of the ’37 Ford, built because he couldn’t find another 1937 Ford body, he said. It bears the name of his son-in-law, the late Virginia State Trooper Ralph Carroll, who especially treasured the car. The other is a 1940 Ford coupe.
Rodney Hatchett of Snow Creek and the late Benny Arnold helped Stultz build and restore the vehicles, he said. In 1994, Stultz was recognized by the Daytona-based Living Legends of Auto Racing. He was honored with a brick in the Walk of Fame because he raced on the old beach course. His appointment is a lifetime honor because he is the only known beach-course driver who still owns the car in which he raced.
In 2009, Stultz, labeled a “Saturday Night Hero,” was honored during the 17th annual LLOAR reunion with an award bearing his name and likeness in a pencil drawing that hangs in Motor Imports. “It’s in honor of the service and accomplishments one has made over their racing career and more importantly, to preserve the history of racing,” said Jack Anderson, a past recipient of the honor who presented the award to Stultz, according to a 2009 Martinsville Bulletin article. Stultz was remembered with such past honorees as Red Farmer, Bobby Allison, Donny Allison and others.
AND NOW …
These days, Stultz is enjoying his retirement and acknowledges that the sport has changed over the years. “It’s such a different sport, so much faster,” he said. But back in his day, Stultz said his favorite driver was Curtis Turner, his distant cousin. “There was nobody like Curtis behind the steering wheel,” Stultz said.
Stultz also said he was “too young to be scared” during any of his races, and his favorite memory of racing was at the Danville Speedway. That is because his brother was there, along with a lot of his friends who egged him on. “Things went well,” he added. But, he said, the Daytona beach race is his most memorable, and it created his legacy in the sport of racing.