On Wednesday afternoon, the 2019 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame was announced. 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup champion Alan Kulwicki became a Hall of Famer 26 years after his death. Car owners Jack Roush and Roger Penske are in, along with racer Davey Allison and champion Jeff Gordon. With Gordon and Kulwicki in, the only retired NASCAR Winston Cup champions left are Tony Stewart (a lock for the class of 2010), Bobby Labonte and 1950 NASCAR Grand National champion Bill Rexford. Labonte and Stewart will be in there within 5 years. Rexford is another story.
Bill Rexford, a native of Conewango Valley, Cattaraugus County, New York, was born on March 14, 1927. A racer as a kid, he raced as a teenager at local tracks in Western New York, including the Penny Royal Speedway in Leon. (For perspective, Penny Royal has not existed for 58 years.) After working for his father’s Chevrolet dealership and serving in the United States Navy, NASCAR executive Ed Otto found Rexford’s talented driving impressive. In 1949, at age 22, Rexford moved to NASCAR in their inaugural season.
Working with owner Julian Buesink of Findley Lake, New York, Rexford competed in three races in 1949. They were three 200-lap races at Langhorne (Puke Hollow), Hamburg Speedway (one of his local tracks) and Heidelberg Speedway in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Buesink and Rexford started 23rd at Langhorne, finishing 14th in the #59 Ford. He finished the race 23 laps down. Afterwards, he finished fifth at Hamburg Speedway and third at Heidelberg. The race at Heidelberg, he raced Lee Petty hard for the win in a 1949 Ford.
In 1950, Buesink and Rexford switched to Oldsmobile, racing 17 times in the 19 races of the 1950 season. In the first four races, he had a rough start, finishing 29th at Daytona Beach, 13th at Charlotte, a 22nd finish at Langhorne and 9th at Martinsville. However, the fifth race, located at Canfield Speedway. Now driving the #60, Rexford raced Curtis Turner in the “Poor Man’s 500”, a 200-lap race on the half-mile dirt track. He took the win in front of 11,000 people after Turner’s engine blew on lap 133. Al Gross, a former stunt driver, broke his back in a lap 9 crash.
Rexford started in the first 14 races of the season in 1950. He finished in the top 10 in eight of the races. He would end up skipping North Wilkesboro on September 24 and Martinsville on October 15. At Vernon, Rexford and Buesink finished 6th, followed by 3rd at Winchester. In the season finale at Occoneechee, Rexford only finished 26th, but won the NASCAR championship that year. After winning the 1950 championship, Rexford participated in only 16 more races from 1951 to 1953. His final race was a 200-lap dirt race at the Monroe County Fairgrounds in Rochester, New York on July 3, 1953. That day, he drove a Chevrolet to a fifth place finish behind an Herb Thomas win.
Afterwards, Rexford jump from series to series, including the forerunner of ARCA, MARC. After a couple colleagues were killed driving, Rexford and his wife packed up for Arizona where he ran a trucking company. Rexford died on Mach 18, 1994 and unfortunately was not able to see his time in the various racing halls of fame in New York and the nation.
Ultimately, NASCAR’s Hall of Fame may not get to Rexford any time soon. His numbers do not stand out statistically. Red Byron, the 1949 champion, was mostly his equal, but the difference is Byron was the first champion. Mike Joy noted on SiriusXM Radio Wednesday that a Veterans Committee should be formed to deal with those who are in the past and deserve the right to be inducted. That may be the ticket to Rexford’s induction.