Smokey Purser holds two racing distinctions that will never be equaled. He was the first driver to be officially disqualified and the first driver to take a provisional start.
Purser was born in Lumber City, Georgia. He arrived in Daytona in 1919 and soon became known about town as a colorful character. He worked as a mechanic on a dredge boat and referred to himself as a sea lawyer. But most of the cases that Smokey handled were filled with illegal liquor. He occasionally traveled from Florida to St. Louis, dressed as a priest, with a car full of moonshine. On other runs he drove a car with "Fresh Florida Fish" painted on the side and a few dead fish in the back.
Despite his reputation as a bootlegger and a gambler, Smokey had a soft heart. Every Thanksgiving he took food to a Daytona orphanage, and one year he bought and installed ten new pews in a local church. But on a race track, he was entirely different.
Oldtimers say that after one race, as Smokey accepted the trophy, an inspector wanted to see the engine. When he opened the hood straps, Smokey slammed the hood shut, reached under the glove compartment, and pulled out a pistol.
"Well, it looks like this car is legal," said the inspector. Years later Smokey corrected the story: "The pistol wasn't in the glove compartment. It was in my wife's purse!"
In July 1938 Smokey became the first driver to be officially disqualified under the emerging NASCAR rules. The first five finishers had to submit their cars to a post-race teardown to ensure that the cars were strictly stock. Instead of stopping to accept the trophy, Smokey took the checkered flag, sped up the beach, and disappeared for three hours. When he finally appeared at the inspection station, he was disqualified. It seems the officials thought Smokey had altered his car during those three hours. Notwithstanding the disqualification, in the minds of the fans Smokey had won the race.
Purser finished second to Roy Hall on March 2, 1941 and won the March 30 race. Qualifying for the July race was rained out, and Smokey took the first provisional. In just 30 laps he passed 30 cars but went out after breaking a piston.