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Legendary racer leaves Halifax County

 

For a number of years, enthusiasts and historians of NASCAR Modified racing have searched for the famous XL-1 (Experimental Lincoln Number One), a pink and white 1937 Ford Coupe that for close to 15 years was the terror of many East Coast racetracks hosting Modified stock car races in the late 1950’s and early 1960s.

The car was owned by Pennsylvanian Don House and a number of racing’s well-known drivers including the late Don MacTavish, Wally Dallenbach, Lee Roy Yarbrough and Joe Kelly have driven the car.

 

Unknown to many people, the well-known car has been in Halifax County through the past several decades. For about the last 10 years, what remains of the historical racer has been perched on a rack adjacent to a junkyard of old and used car parts at the Elmo residence of former racer and car builder Ned Stebbins.

About two weeks ago, former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner Ray Evernham acquired the car from Stebbins and hauled it down to his shop near Charlotte, N.C. Evernham, a former competitor on the Northern NASCAR Modified circuit, plans to restore the car and display it in his museum which houses a number of rare collector cars.

“Ray is real worked up about this thing,” Stebbins said.

“He (Evernham) is interested in the car mostly because it came from up his way. He wants to restore it back to the way it was and put it in his museum. He said he would take it around to special races and show it if there were tracks interested in it.”

Stebbins said he is glad to see a piece of racing history being preserved.

“I was really proud to see that thing go away from there, knowing what they were going to do with it,” Stebbins remarked.

A little over a week ago, Evernham invited Stebbins to visit his shop and museum and see his collection of cars.

“When I got back home, I told my wife, Venetia, I feel like I’ve been in another world,” Stebbins said.

“I really did. He invited me to come back anytime I wanted to come to see the car and see if they were doing it right.”

Stebbins admits a part of him wishes that the car could have been acquired and restored by someone from the county that would keep the historical racer here.

“Everybody I saw just wasn’t interested in it,” he pointed out.

“If you look at it, to many people it’s just a pile of tin. Still, he (Evernham) saw something in it.”

The car’s Halifax County history

While there are a few people who may remember having seen the XL-1 racer in action on the northern tracks, racing fans in Halifax County remember seeing the car as the No. 360 owned by the late John Chandler of Halifax. The car was fairly regular winner in NASCAR Modified races at South Boston Speedway during the early 1960s.

During that time, Stebbins worked on the car for Chandler.

“Don was running the car down here at South Boston Speedway one night, and he got with John and John bought it,” Stebbins recalled.

“John had that car probably 10 years. After I quit working for him (Chandler), he took all of the running gear out from under the car and left it sitting in the honeysuckle. Bill Mangum (a longtime racing enthusiast and member of the Virginia-Carolinas Early Dirt Racer’s Association) went down and found it and bought it. Then, Bill called me and let me have it. I think what Bill really wanted was for me to fix it back up myself.”

The car stayed at Stebbins’ residence for many years.

“I put it up off of the ground, and that’s where it sat until I put it on the side of the road up on a pedestal,” explained Stebbins.

“Then, everybody got to see it. People that knew about the car flipped out over it because there is a lot of history surrounding that car.”

Stebbins pointed out that one of the big things about the car was that it handled well on the track.

“These people down here knew how to build a motor that would run well, but they couldn’t get the car to do right,” Stebbins said.

“John told me that Cal Johnson (a former NASCAR Modified racing champion and one of the drivers who drove the car for Chandler) told him that car would practically drive itself because it was set up so well.”

No cars like it remain

With the departure of the famed XL-1 to Evernham’s car collection, there appears to be no more of the original old Modified coupes remaining in the county. Stebbins had several of them at one time, but all except what remains of the famous XL-1 racer have been gone for a good while.

“A guy in Reidsville, N.C. cleaned me out,” Stebbins said.

“I had a bunch of them down there (in the junkyard). He was going to fix them up. Garland Ricketts is driving one of them right now (in the Legendary Flathead Ford Racing Association). It (Ricketts’ car) came out of my junkyard. I sold it to the guy in Reidsville, N.C. and Garland got it from him.”

Stebbins, who was involved in racing for 35 years and won the South Boston Speedway Street Stock Division championship in 1983 with friend Jerry Dodson of Paces driving his car, says the few remaining original Modified coupe racers in the county disappeared during the last decade.

“Here lately, over the last eight or 10 years, they have been going to the junkyards as fast as people would find them in the woods,” Stebbins pointed out.

“They’re gone. There’s nothing like that left, at least none that I know of.”

Stebbins has one old racecar remaining at his place, but it’s not a car like the famous XL-1.

“I’ve got an old (Chevrolet) Chevelle, but it’s just a piece of a Chevelle I raced,” explained Stebbins.

“That’s all I’ve got. I’m going to keep it. I took the roll cage and everything out of it and put it into another car because it was beat up so bad.

“It wouldn’t mean anything to anybody else but me because I know what it was,” he concluded.

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