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Johnson City racing legend to be honored before Food City 500

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Apr 10, 2018 at 7:14 PM

Bristol Motor Speedway will honor Johnson City racing legend Brownie King in pre-race ceremonies for Sunday’s Food City 500.

King made 97 starts in the NASCAR Cup Series and finished fifth in the 1959 Convertible Division standings, just one spot behind Richard Petty. He was also the 1962 Sportsman Division track champion at Bristol Motor Speedway when the track hosted a weekly racing series.

Now 84, King is just one of 19 drivers to race in the final NASCAR Cup Series race on the old Daytona Beach course and in the first Daytona 500 on the 2.5-mile superspeedway. He was honored at the 2017 Daytona Back to the Roots celebration with the Pioneer Award.

But it’s even a greater feeling to be recognized at the track he called home.

“It means a lot to me to be honored by my local track,” King said. “I always enjoyed driving that track, although it didn’t have the high banks back then. In 1962, I accumulated enough points where I won both the Sportsman track championship and the overall track championship.”

Outside of racing, King worked in service and later sales at the Johnson City Chevrolet dealership for 40-plus years. In 1976, he opened B&B Auto Repair in Johnson City with Brad Teague, for whom King served as a crew chief after hanging up his helmet. Teague had become friends with King in 1965 and he credits King for giving him his break in racing and being meticulous with his work.

“You liked for him to work on the car because he made sure everything was checked out,” Teague said. “No matter what Brownie did working with a car, whether it was a race car or a street car, it was done right.”

King was also a scratch golfer; he’s made six hole-in-ones and won the club championship at Pine Oaks Golf Course in 1968 and 1977. The family’s athletic tradition continues to this day as his great granddaughter, Kenzie Birchfield, is currently the starting pitcher for the Cloudland High School softball team.

BEHIND THE WHEEL

King got interested in racing as a teenager and started hanging out and working on cars at Jess and Clyde Potter’s garage in Johnson City. After saving his money, he and Jess Potter bought a 1932 Ford and made a race car out of it — which they towed to Asheville-Weaverville Speedway. When the driver they hired didn’t show up, King lied about his age so he could get a NASCAR license and race the car himself.

He was a natural behind the wheel, finishing fifth out of 36 drivers. Just months later, he won his first race in Richlands, Virginia. King made his NASCAR Cup Series debut in 1956 at Columbia, South Carolina, where he finished 18th, one spot ahead of three-time champion Lee Petty.

King posted two top-five and 27 top-10 finishes in his NASCAR Cup Series career and finished ninth in the 1957 points standings. Still, he said the competition he faced at Bristol on a weekly basis was as tough as running against the top drivers in NASCAR. His biggest win at Bristol was a 400-lap race that featured both Sportsman and Modified cars.

“I raced against a lot of good drivers both around East Tennessee and in NASCAR,” King said. “In East Tennessee, there were some real good race car drivers like Bill Morton, Gene Glover and the Utsman brothers. If they’ve had factory backing, they could have won some NASCAR races.”

King drove a 1958 Ford the year he won Bristol’s Sportsman division championship. Morton won the Modified crown in a yellow 1936 Chevrolet that King remembers well. King later won 14 of 21 races one season at Johnson City’s old Sportsman Speedway. 

As far as his favorite race track, it was definitely Bristol.

“It has always been the perfect half-mile race track,” he said. “Back then, the banking was only about 15 degrees compared to the 30 or 36 it is now. There was plenty of room to race on and if your car was good enough, you could pass anywhere you wanted to on it.”

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