Sixty years after Jim Dozier’s auburn track career ended, he can still remember the nuances of the track he ran on.
Dozier remembers it specifically enough to recreate it in a drawing on an empty manila folder. He clicks with a pen and outlines a rectangle in black ink, marking the perimeter of what would become the football field at Jordan-Hare – then known as Cliff Hare – Stadium, before putting an oval around it to define the shape of the venue. to mark.
“Back then, the track actually started here,” he says, moving his pen a few inches outside the north end.
The strokes and twists continue. There is an oval for stands in the midfield; a semicircle denoting a portion of the south side of the track that actually extended below the stadium’s stands.
That was a particularly noticeable spot for competitors because of the shade it provided during races on measurement days. It would be vital to Dozier in May 1961 at the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Men’s Track & Field Championships. During his Auburn Tiger Trail inaugural speech in March, Dozier considered it “the best track meeting ever held at Jordan-Hare Stadium.”
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Dozier summed up the day in two and a half minutes; a recount that included everything from an underdog win, a brand new car, and a celebration of an Auburn coach legend—all of which took place on a track many in the younger generations may not even have known existed.
“I don’t know if we ever had an SEC track meeting again at Jordan-Hare Stadium,” Dozier said, “but this was a special day.”
Auburn’s outdoor track and field teams have called the Hutsell-Rosen track home since 1970, but they already competed on a dirt track in Jordan-Hare 30 years earlier. Their time spent with the football team also correlated with the first 11 years in which the SEC moved its outdoor athletics championships from Legion Field in Birmingham.
In 1959, the conference began rotating host sites among members, making Auburn the third school ever to host an SEC Outdoor Championship. The win — a 56-55 win over LSU on May 13, 1961 — put it in rare company as LSU (1959) and Tennessee (1967) are the only three programs to ever win an SEC Outdoor Championship on their home circuits.
Regardless of the day’s outcome, its ending would already be special, as Auburn had considered it “Wilbur Hutsell Day” in honor of the Tigers’ track coach.
Hutsell became the Tigers’ first-ever track coach 40 years earlier, working as a coach, trainer and athletic director on the Plains before retiring in 1963.
According to a preview of the 1961 Auburn Plainsman’s Track Championship, Hutsell’s all-time Auburn teams were 133-25 in double encounters. He never had a losing season.
“The fact that we won the game was kind of icing on the cake,” Dozier said.
Corky Frost, who took hurdles on the 1961 Auburn team, remembered Hutsell’s ingenuity. The man who started Auburn’s track program usually built his teams without many grants. He would take physical education classes to recruit athletes and even started what has become an Auburn Homecoming tradition – The Cake Race – in 1929 to help find runners for his program.
Frost, as well as Dozier and shot put and discus thrower Richard Crane, took Auburns only three scholarships from 1961. But they were joined by football players Jimmy Morrow, Gary Ray and Joe Leichtnam, as well as walk-on Ron Whaley on the track team, while the rest of the roster was made up of athletes with partial scholarships.
The Birmingham News predicted that the team would finish behind both LSU and Alabama before the finish, but the day brought a perfect storm of factors for the Tigers.
Both LSU and Alabama were missing some key figures. LSU high hurdler Dickie Durham missed the championships with a hamstring injury. He had hit the congressional mark on the high hurdles that year in a double encounter.
“I could have beaten any of those guys,” Durham said at the time. “I’m not bragging. Look at the record book and see for yourself.”
Alabama long jumper Charlie Moseley also failed to qualify for the meet, and Crimson Tide’s Billy Jennings instead finished with Frost for fourth in the wide jump. The Birmingham News estimated that Durham and Moseley had about five and four points on the board for their squads.
Meanwhile, Dozier and Crane combined for each of Auburn’s three first-place finishes, and the Tigers scored in 15 of the day’s 16 events, equating to 12 top-three finishes. It was a narrow margin.
“You felt like you were part of that win, you know?” Auburn two-miler Hal Buckelew said. “We just had a lot of people doing their best run or best throw or best jump that they ever had and have ever done.”
Auburn’s top finish started early. First, a third place in the 440 Relay. Next, Crane broke the SEC’s shot put record with a 57-6½ first throw. Then came Dozier’s first event of the day, the mile run.
Running against Dozier was the previous mile champion of the year, Gordon Graham of Alabama. Dozier won a rematch earlier that season.
“I knew I could beat him in the SECs,” recalls Dozier.
Graham and Dozier broke away from the pack as they approached the south side below the stands.
“I would get an adrenaline rush if I got out from under the stands,” Dozier said. “I don’t know why, if it was cooler or something.”
Dozier was behind Graham in the first three turns of each lap, but every time he came out of the south semicircle he had recaptured the lead when he heard cheers from spectators on the west side of the stadium.
Dozier finished with a time of 4:14.6. Graham with a time of 4:17.2.
After Dozier’s first place in the mile, the top results continued.
Ken Winter finished second on the 440-meter run. Joe Leichtnam, who was considered the favorite in the javelin throw, still finished third. Buckelew, Morrow, Frost, Dozier and Auburn’s mileage relay team would all pass for more second and third places, and the Tigers didn’t come out of the top three until the eighth event of the day.
In the end, Auburn clung to a 54.5-51 lead over LSU heading into the final event of the day that somehow managed to get closer with the results.
Standout athlete Doug Constant took the plunge for LSU. He entered the day with the best regular-season SEC performance in multiple events, finishing the 1961 championship game with 17 individual points, which was one point less than a conference record.
For Auburn, it came down to the walk-on Whaley. Whaley stood at six feet and about 210 pounds, but according to Dozier, the sophomore had just returned from the hospital after dealing with an illness that had caused him to lose 15 pounds.
LSU needed the most – a first place – from its track star to take the title. Auburn literally needed the least for Whaley’s fourth-place finish or higher.
Constant jumped 6-6, an inch shy of a first-place finish by Tennessee’s Howie Moss. Whaley had never jumped better than 6-foot-¼-inch before the finish, but he reached a score of 6-4 that day, good for a tie in fourth place and 1½ point.
It was a finish that, according to both Buckelew and Dozier, no one—including Whaley—would have thought had happened if he hadn’t lost weight.
Hutsell was given a presentation after the game that was perhaps more extravagant than the way his Auburn team won.
Rep. Bill Nichols presented Hutsell with a resolution from the state of Alabama. Hutsell, a Moberly, Missouri native and alumnus of the University of Missouri, received an award from his alma mater. He also received plaques from the Alabama High School Athletic Association and the Auburn track team. Florida track coach Percy Beard and SEC Commissioner Bernie Moore both handed Hutsell silver trays and Moore also a desk pen set from the NCAA, and he also received gifts from the Olympic Committee and Alabama Sports Journal.
Finally, Frost drove out from under the grandstand in a brand new Ford Oldsmobile, with new fishing gear in the trunk. When Frost pulled the car out, he stepped on the gas harder than he should have, kicking the Oldsmobile ember off the track. It sent Hutsell in a short, animated burst.
“That’s why he was after me,” Frost said.
All three have fond memories of Hutsell. Before Buckelew, Hutsell always took care of his athletes.
To Frost, he was another father figure who “made everyone feel important.”
To Dozier, he was both an “incredible man” and an “iconic character” who always knew how to craft his athletes.
According to the Birmingham News, Snitz Snider, a 1920s Auburn track star and former Hutsell Olympian, was one of the first to run out of the high jump pit at Jordan-Hare that day with a grin on his face.
“I knew these guys would give it more than it needed to,” said Snider. “They did. That’s what inspires Coach Hutsell. Other people get 90%. He gets 110.”