Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Epton always knows the score
By GODWIN KELLY
DAYTONA BEACH — Joe Epton started his adult life as a carpenter in South Carolina but was lured away by stock car racing.
Epton scored his first race at a South Carolina short track in 1946, a full year before NASCAR was organized. Later he went to work for NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., then moved here to help build the Speedway.
Epton worked as NASCAR´s chief scorer for 40 years while holding a position at the Speedway for some 30 years. Epton retired several years ago.
“I guess you can say I was part of NASCAR when they formed it. Bill France Sr. was an extremely smart man, probably the greatest man I ever knew.
We´ve said many prayers for Bill France Jr. the last two years. He´s had his share of health problems. You wonder how Bill Jr. has survived with what he´s had to deal with the last two years. I don´t know. He´s made it somehow. That just shows you how tough he is. He´s going to continue to make it, too, because he´s one tough character.
I like to tell people that the Speedway wasn´t there when I first saw it. It was just woods the first time I came to Daytona Beach. I helped Bill Sr. build the place. The first thing I did after I moved down here was build ticket offices, you know, for grandstand sales. I helped set the guardrails and helped operate the track for 30 years.
I started working for Bill Sr. just a year after World War II. I was originally from South Carolina. I came down here with a guy named Joe Littlejohn. Joe owned a half-mile dirt track in Spartanburg, S.C., and Bill Sr. would promote races up there twice a year.
I helped a guy score the races, and after a few years Littlejohn said to me, “Epton, I´ll give you $20 if you want to score races.” And I did that for a couple of years. I got $20 for every race I scored.
For many years that´s what I made at the racetrack. Bill Sr. came along and I went to work for him.
When I first started with Bill Sr., well, he´s like I am today -- broke. But I believed in the man. That´s why I moved here in 1958 to help build the Speedway.
We had about 42,000 people show up for the first Daytona 500. I could not believe the size of that crowd. It seemed so big to me.
I retired in 1988 from both my jobs at the Speedway and NASCAR. I liked my jobs in racing, but I would have liked to have made more money. People who are doing the job I did now are making big money.
My daughter scores one car for one team and they pay her much more than I got paid for scoring the whole field. Not only that, but they pay her expenses. It´s quite a deal these days.
I couldn´t imagine this sport getting so big, not even when Bill Sr. opened Daytona International Speedway. I still don´t believe how much this sport and the track have grown.” -- Joe Epton