Billy Wade, (also known as Wade Lavender) was a NASCAR race car driver who was born on the 28th of February 1930 in Houston, Texas. Before entering into the NASCAR Grand National Division he was well known for competing on the Texas short tracks.
During the ten years, driving his #53 open wheel modified car, he competed on these tracks and he won three Texas Modified Championships. He then started to compete in the late model division and won two late model championships. By this time he was ready to move up to NASCAR competition and his first NASCAR Grand National Division event was on the 18th of February 1962 when he made his debut in the Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Raceway driving the #1 Ford for Luther Costales. He started in 45th position and moved up the field to finish 18th. His next race was on the 15th of April at the North Wilkesboro Speedway where, driving the #24 Pontiac for James Turner he finished in 10th position, gaining his first career Top 10 finish.
His second Top 10 finish came just one week later, on the 22nd of April when he finished in 8th position at Martinsville Speedway. His final race for 1962 came on the 23rd of April at the Bowman-Gray Stadium at Winston-Salem. In 1963 Billy was signed up to drive the #5 Dodge for Cotton Owens and he really came into his own, showing his talent for driving. For the 1963 season Billy raced in thirty one of a possible fifty five events, earning himself fourteen Top 10 finishes and four Top 5 finishes.
He recorded his first career Top 5 position on the 7th of April at Atlanta Rural Fairground, (now Atlanta Motor Speedway), Richmond, North Carolina. When the Series returned to Atlanta Motor Speedway on the 30th of June for the Dixie 400 Billy, starting in 18th position raced to the front, battling with Junior Johnson for supremacy. Billy led for seventeen laps before worn tyres forced him to drop back but he still finished at a respectable eighth position. On the 4th of August at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, racing in the sixth annual Nashville 400 event Billy finished in second place behind Jim Paschal and ahead of eventual season champion, Joe Weatherly. This was a brilliant season for Billy and earned him the coveted NASCAR 1963 “Rookie of the Year” honours. Billy started the 1964 season in the same way he ended the 1963 season. Billy recorded a third place at Augusta International Raceway and after recording a tenth place finish at Speedway Park in Jacksonville Florida Cotton Owens and Billy went their separate ways. Billy was quickly approached by the Bud Moore Engineering team and he started driving their #1 Mercury, taking the car to three third place finishes at Richmond, Weaverville and Birmingham and a further ten Top 10 finishes out of a total of thirty two races run for the team. On the 10th of July at Old Bridge Stadium, Old Bridge, New Jersey Billy struck gold, he qualified for the pole position and went on to win the race. Two days later at the following event at Bridgehampton Raceway, Bridgehampton, New York on the 12th of July he qualified in third place and went on again to the victory lane. The next race was at Islip Speedway, Islip, New York on the 15th of July, again Billy qualified on the pole and went on to take the chequered flag yet again. Three in row! But this was not the end of the victories, on the 19th of July at Watkins Glen International, Watkins Glen; New York Billy again qualified on the pole position and went on to victory lane again, making it four straight consecutive wins, making Billy the first driver to have four consecutive NASCAR Grand National races. He gained his fifth career pole of the season at Harris Speedway in North Carolina. He competed in only thirty six of the possible sixty two events and he recorded four wins, twelve Top 5’s, twenty five Top 10’s and five poles, finishing fourth in the championship final point standings. Tragically, Billy was killed during a tyre test at Daytona International Speedway on the 5th of January, 1965. He was just thirty four years old. With such an outstanding beginning to his career it makes you wonder just how far he would have gone if this tragedy hadn’t happened. He left a wife and young family.
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