Little Indians

1961 Cannonball Compact

by Mike Matune | 07/01/2015 4:45 PM

Daytona International Speedway

February 19, 1961


The late 1950’s saw Detroit’s big three enter the compact car market. Pontiac’s entry would be the Tempest. A departure from typical Detroit fare, the car would be equipped with a curved driveshaft, a rear mounted transaxle and fully independent suspension via swing axles. NASCAR, looking to cash in on Detroit interest in Compacts, developed a racing series for the cars called the Cannon Ball Compact Division.

It is believed the Tempests competed in only one Cannonball event, at Daytona on February 19, 1961. The race was won by Lee Petty in a Valiant with the Tempests finishing as follows:

Driver Start Finish Car Number
Fireball Roberts 1 2 22
John Rogers UNK 4 52
Perk Brown 8 8 45
Ralph Earnhardt 9 9 8
Ned Jarrett 13 12 11
Cotton Owens 17 UNK 16

The Tempest was originally released in only four door and wagon configurations, the two door was not released until the following Summer. This accounts for a four door race car. Jim Wangers remembered that considerable efforts (and overtime) were required to make the February grid following the cars’ introduction in Fall 1960 as a 1961 model. The racing cars featured a 200 HP four cylinder engine prepared by Smokey Yunick with a three speed transaxle. A period publication talks about the “gearbox” being a limiting factor.

We are always interested in any documentation available, i.e. photos entry lists, results lists, remembrances, programs, etc.

Ralph Earnhardt of the Earnhardt family racing dynasty drives his Pontiac Tempest entry in the Cannonball Compact race. He finished ninth.

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