Sunday, June 26, 2016

June 26, 1969 - Raleigh's North State 200

With the state of North Carolina being such a hot bed of NASCAR racing since its formation in the late 1940s, one would think the capital of the state be the site of several races. As it turns out, however, the state fairgrounds in Raleigh only hosted three Grand National (later Cup) races. The first was won by Junior Johnson in 1955. The third one - and final GN race run on dirt - was the Home State 200 on September 30, 1970 won by The King, Richard Petty. (Raleigh Speedway, a one-mile paved oval, hosted seven GN and three convertible races in the 1950s.)

The middle one at the fairgrounds - the North State 200 - was run June 26, 1969. Bobby Isaac won the pole, one of nineteen top sports he earned in 1969. David Pearson qualified alongside Isaac. Neil 'Soapy' Castles, the King and James Hylton rounded out the top five starters. Though 24 cars took the green, the starting top five was about the extent of star power for the race.

And among the top five, Pearson was in a league of his own. He owned the night. The wire service race report noted Pearson led all but two of the 200 laps on the half-mile dirt track. Other sources note Petty was credited with leading sixteen laps. Two, sixteen, whatever. In the end, the lap leader discrepancy had no effect on the domination of the race.

The only bit of drama took place with about 20 laps to go. Pearson's Ford started belching smoke from a failing engine and slowing. Petty sensed blood in the water and gave chase to catch and pass the ailing car. Instead, the King took it too deep into the number one corner. His 43 Ford blew the turn on the half-mile, and he lost a couple of laps as tow trucks assisted him in getting back into the flow of the race.1 Though Petty didn't present much of a threat to Pearson, the race was the 35th time the duo finished one-two.

If Pearson's ailing car provided the drama, Isaac's race provided the dark comedy. After winning the pole, his night went a little something like this:
  • Laps led: zero.
  • Isaac mistimed a pit stop as a caution flew resulting in the loss of a lap to Pearson.
  • He was black flagged following a pit stop because his crew failed to replace the gas cap after refueling.
  • His #71 Dodge developed ignition issues resulting in two more stops.
  • With 70 laps to go, Isaac's night mercifully ended after losing his brakes.
Despite the DNF, Isaac still finished 10th because more than half the field was already out of the race!

Source: The Robesonian
1 Credit to Greg Fielden's Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: Volume 3


Sunday, June 19, 2016

June 19, 1964 - Chattanooga's All-American 300

Tennessee has a pretty rich history with respect to NASCAR GN/Cup racing. Bristol has been a mainstay on the schedule since 1961 and really took off when the summer night race was introduced in 1978. Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway began hosting GN races in 1958, and the names continued racing until 1984. Drivers such as Darrell Waltrip and Sterling Marlin have longed called middle Tennessee home. But southeastern Tennessee also has a bit of NASCAR history to it.

Boyd's Speedway technically sits on the south side of the Tennessee-Georgia border. To get to it, however, one leaves I-75 at Exit 1 - the first one inside Tennessee. A couple of turns later, and you're back in Georgia - though folks would still refer to the area as part of the 'Nooga.

In the mid 1960s, Boyd's was known as Chattanooga International Raceway. The track hosted two GN races - one in 1962 won by Joe Weatherly and the second one on June 19, 1964. The All-American 300 was scheduled as a 300-lap race around the 1/3-mile paved track.

Source: Chattanooga Daily Times
One of the expected victory lane benefits for the winning driver was a peck on the cheek by Miss Firebird, Linda Vaughn. Later known as Miss Hurst Shifter, Linda didn't have far to travel for the Chattanooga race. Being from Dalton, GA, she only had to travel about a half-hour from her mama's front porch.

The King, Richard Petty, won the pole. Coincidentally, Petty also won the pole for the first GN race at Chattanooga in 1962. David Pearson qualified on the front row with Petty. Two more NASCAR HOFers, Ned Jarrett and Buck Baker, lined up on the second row. Jimmy Pardue rounded out the top five starters. A few other drivers in the line-up included Wendell Scott in 6th, Buddy Baker in 12th, and Cale Yarborough 19th - shotgun on the field.

When the green dropped, Pearson got the jump in his Cotton Owens Dodge. He led the first 100 laps. Buddy Baker wrecked during the 100th lap, and it may have been during that time the lead traded hands.

Petty took the lead from Pearson as the field entered the middle third of the race. Around lap 150, Scott wrecked resulting in another caution flag. Petty and Pearson made pit stops and headed back on the track. When the race went green again at lap 160, Petty realized he had a cut tire - likely from some gravel kicked up on the dirt from the infield.

With Petty forced to the pits for an unexpected second stop, Pearson re-assumed the lead from Petty, built a two-lap lead because of the 43's misfortune, and stayed out front for the second half of the race.

Jarrett blew a tire and hit the wall with just three laps remaining. The flagman displayed the yellow once again, and Pearson cruised the remaining three laps to take the win over Petty, Buck Baker in third, and Jarrett surviving to finish fourth. The race was the sixth of 63 times involving a Petty-Pearson, 1-2 finish.

Boyd's Speedway continues to operate today (web | Twitter) with a slate of races most Friday nights.

As noted earlier, Chattanooga has its own connection to NASCAR. In addition to Boyd's / CIR, here are a few examples:
  • Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp finished side by side in the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959 with Petty getting the slight edge and the win. Finishing third was Charley Griffith from Chattanooga - a career best for Griffith in his 17 GN races.
  • Chattanooga's Friday Hassler was a 10-year veteran of GN/Cup racing. He regularly raced with #39 and sponsorship from Rock City. Hassler was tragically killed during his 125-mile qualifying race at Daytona in 1972.
  • The late Grant Adcox of Chattanooga was an occasional Cup racer and a winner in the ARCA series. He was sponsored for a brief period by Krystal Hamburgers, a Chattanooga-based company at the time.
  • When Ken Schrader drove the famed Wood Brothers Ford, Little Debbie snack cakes sponsored #21. Little Debbies are made by McKee Baking, a Chattanooga-based company.
  • Schrader also drove for another team with Chattanooga ties. Nelson Bowers, an owner of Chattanooga-area auto dealerships, was one of the three owners of MB2 Motorsports. MB2 was acquired by Ginn Racing which was later merged into Dale Earnhardt, Inc. 
  • And coincidentally, 20 years after Pearson's win in Chattanooga, he was again connected to Rock City with sponsorship from Chattanooga Chew tobacco.
Credit Jerry Bushmire
Source: Chattanooga Daily Times

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

June 15, 1975 - Motor State 400

Michigan International Speedway hosted the midpoint of the 1975 Winston Cup season. The Motor State 400 was the 15th of the season's 30-race schedule.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
On the track, the season had three storylines:
  • Benny Parsons' win in the Daytona 500
  • Darrell Waltrip knocking down his first Cup victory, and 
  • Richard Petty's dominance. 
Petty captured his fifth title in 1974 and kept the mojo rolling during the first half of 1975. Through the season's fourteenth race at Riverside, the King had won seven of them. (And many folks get tired of Kyle Busch seemingly winning all the time.)

After winning back to back races in Charlotte's World 600 and Riverside's Tuborg 400, Petty flew 3,500 miles to Fairbanks, Alaska for a two-day, charity event appearance at North Pole Speedway.

Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Petty then gathered his gear and flew another 3,500 miles or so to Michigan. The King himself arrived in time for practice and qualifying. His luggage - including his driving uniform - ehh, not so much. I can imagine some of the snickers and grins from the crew as Petty had to suit up in an old uniform found in the dark recesses of the transporter.

In qualifying, two best buddies, Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison, captured the front row. The second row was made of two professional rivals - David Pearson and Petty.

Credit: John Betts of
After winning his first Cup race in May at Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway, Darrell Waltrip found himself in a pickle following qualifying at Michigan. He lost an engine during practice in his self-owned, Jake Elder-led Chevy and and then had issues with the replacement engine. As a result, he didn't muster a qualifying lap and faced a DNQ. Waltrip worked a deal with independent driver Jabe Thomas to take over his spot. By the skin of his teeth, DW lined up 35th in the 36-car field.

On race day, fans were greeted with that awful reality: rain. Lots of it. Everyone waited for the oft-sought weather window to open. The weather was intense, and the track temporarily lost phone service and electricity. After a 3-1/2 hour delay, however, the window finally opened. It was time to go racing!

Once the green flag dropped, the fans got a great race in exchange for their patient wait. The lead swapped hands 44 times among nine drivers in the 200-lap race. Only six times did the leader hold serve for a double-digit number of laps. Three drivers, however, dominated the overall laps led: David Pearson, Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough.

Any chance Yarborough may have had at the win went out the window when his stubbornness busted him. He went ape after thinking he'd been docked a lap by NASCAR officials for passing the pace car under caution. In anger, he headed for the garage and parked his car. His Herb Nab-led crew had to convince him he had not been penalized a lap. Cale fired 'er back up and headed back into the fray. When the dust settled, he'd cost himself a lap and finished fourth.

The caution flew with about 60 laps to go, and the leaders hit pit road - several laps earlier than desired for the final, planned stop. As is often the case with contemporary Cup races at Michigan, the remaining laps were  raced with drivers and crew chiefs concerned with fuel mileage.

With 40 to go, The King found himself out front and seeking his 8th win of the season. As happened more than once between the two, Petty and Pearson pulled away from the rest of the field to settle it between themselves.

Twenty laps or so later, the handling of Petty's Dodge began to worsen just a little bit. Pearson was able to close the already small gap, and he completed the pass for the lead with 18 laps to go. The Silver Fox didn't pull away too comfortably though. Petty stayed right with the 21 until the end. When the checkered flag fell, however, Pearson captured his second win of the year with Petty about two car lengths behind. The race was the 54th of 63 times for a Petty-Pearson, one-two finish.

Dave Marcis made his final pit stop at the same time as Petty and Pearson. Though the 21 and 43 had enough fuel to go the distance, Marcis ran dry on the last lap. Fellow Dodge driver Frank Warren pushed Marcis across the line to take P3 ahead of Cale in fourth. Waltrip rallied from his near-last place starting spot to finish fifth and on the same lap as Marcis and Cale.

Source: Hillsdale Daily News
Source: The Daily Pantagraph

Monday, May 30, 2016

May 30, 1976 - World 600

THE storyline of the 1976 Winston Cup season was the instant classic finish of the Daytona 500. The titans of NASCAR - Richard Petty and David Pearson - separated themselves from the field, battled side by side in the remaining laps, and then crashed coming through the tri-oval. Petty spun through the infield grass, but he almost did so across the finish line as the winner. But he didn't. Pearson richoeted off Joe Frasson, straightened his Mercury, pushed in the clutch to keep the engine running, and crawled at a school zone speed to win his one and only Daytona 500. Folks still talk about that finish 40 years later.

The Petty team shrugged off the one that got away, and the King won again immediately in the next race at Rockingham. Interestingly, however, Petty's mojo at Daytona and The Rock didn't translate to a boocoodle of wins as he'd experienced in 1975. Pearson, on the other hand, was accumulating trophies right and left during a limited schedule with the Wood Brothers. Pearson and the Woods raced in 8 of the season's first 12 races. In those eight races, Pearson pocketed four wins, a second, and a third.

The thirteen race of the 1976 schedule was the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 30 - the traditional date of Memorial Day.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
As expected, David Pearson captured the pole on the first day of qualifying. The top spot was his sixth in what eventually became an eleven-race, pole-winning streak.

Photo courtesy of Randy Murphy
Despite his mixed-results start in the first dozen races of the season, King Richard qualified second alongside his career rival. Two NASCAR Hall of Famers and protagonists of another legendary Daytona 500 finish in 1979 - Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison - qualified on the second row. Dave Marcis rounded out the top five starters.

The race garnered a huge bump in press coverage because of one particular driver: Janet Guthrie. Though Guthrie wasn't the first woman to qualify for a GN/Cup race, she was the first on a superspeedway and the first since the early years of NASCAR.

Guthrie had planned to race in the Indianapolis 500. She finished 15th in her Indy Car debut in the Trenton 200 and passed her rookie test at the Brickyard. When she was unable to land the needed ride to make the 500; however, she was approached about heading south for NASCAR's 600.

A local banking businesswoman purchased a Chevy from Hoss Ellington, and arranged for it to be set-up by Will Cronkrite. A.J. Foyt had raced the car in the 1976 Daytona 500. Ralph Moody, long associated with Ford Motor Company, provided the engine for the Chevrolet. Guthrie leveraged all the support to her advantage, and she indeed qualified 27th in the 40-car field.

Photo courtesy of Randy Murphy
USAC - the sanctioning body for Indy - was none too happy about Guthrie's re-direct. As was the case frequently from the 1950s until the late 1970s, USAC seemed to enjoy creating slap fights with NASCAR.

The promoter at Texas World Speedway refused to accept her entry for a June 1976 USAC Indy Car race because of a rumor about her accepting an appearance fee for a NASCAR race. Guthrie also had to withdraw from the NASCAR race on Riverside's road course in June. The race fell on the same day as a USAC race. She was threatened with the suspension of her USAC license if she raced in Riverside.

Joe Millikan also planned to make his Cup debut in the 600. Millikan spent time with Petty Enterprises as a shop worker and weekend crewman from the late 1960s through the mid 1970s. He also won the Late Model Sportsman Permatex 300 race at Daytona in February 1976 with a Petty-provided crew and support. Unfortunately, Joe suffered engine failure during practice and didn't qualify for the race.

The race featured yet another debut ... Eli Gold with MRN Radio. Eli recalled these memories in an excerpt from an Q&A:
Q: What was your first big opportunity in broadcasting? 
Gold: My first big opportunity was getting hired by MRN. I was hired in 1975, and I did not start working until May of 1976 for the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was basically an on-the-air audition. I never had done a race in my life. Jack Arute was running the network then, and he said if you do well we'll keep you and if you stink you go home. I guess I fooled them enough to still be here 39 years later.

Q: What do you remember about your first broadcast with MRN? 
Gold: A couple of things...I do remember the big promotion in May of 76 was whoever led the first lap of the World 600 was to receive the unheard sum of $1,000. That was the thing, 'Who is going to get the $1,000 to lead the first lap?' Also, shortly prior to airtime I was working Turns 1 and 2, Barney (Hall) was in 3 and 4. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I remember the power went out. In those days we weren’t wireless. We were working on hard lines plugged into the wall. Everything went dead, and I thought my box had gone out. I told my wife you have to go down to the booth and find out what’s going on, and she looked at me like I was nuts. We had never been to a race track, but thankfully the power came back on. I also remember after the race the traffic was rather thick so we all went back to the parking lot and all of us leaning on Barney's car. He had some kind of land yacht in those days, and I asked him, “Do you think they are going to bring me back?” He said, "I think so you did OK, and I'm sure you'll be back again." Those are the three elements that I really remember from that first day. 
When the green dropped, Cale pulled a fast one on the front row. He jumped under Pearson and got past Petty as well to lead the first lap. Pearson quickly recovered to lead the next couple of laps before Cale again led the next two laps. And on and on it went.

Pearson and Cale went back and forth for the first 250 of 400 laps. Each had their turn at the front, but each stint was short-lived. A couple of other drivers took their turn at the front every once in a while, but the Silver Fox and Timmonsville Flash led all but eight of the first 250 laps.

With 150 laps to go, Petty decided it was his time to go. The King FINALLY nabbed a checkered flag at Charlotte in 1975 after more than fifteen years of trying. Matter of fact, he went back to back with wins in the World 600 and National 500. Richard and Maurice Petty and Dale Inman were more than ready to capture a third win in a row. Around lap 250, Petty put the 43 Dodge Charger in the wind. He paced the field for about 50 laps to get the race to the 3/4 mark.

Pearson, however, wasn't done. He re-took the lead from Petty and led the next 63 laps. The King then led a stretch of five laps before Pearson yet again went to the front following final pit stops by the two.

With two to go, Dick Brooks, James Hylton, and Chattanooga's Grant Adcox tangled. Quite frankly, the wreck had little effect on the outcome of the race - though it possibly could have. At the time of the wreck, Pearson had a six-second lead on Petty's 43. He made a pass in the grass to avoid the three-way accident, and he cruised the remaining two laps under caution to notch his second World 60 win in three years.

Pearson's win took place about three months after his Daytona 500 victory. Another three months or so later, Pearson claimed the win in yet another legendary race - the Southern 500. Lee Roy Yarbrough was the only other driver prior to Pearson to have won those three races in a single season. Nine years later, R.J. Reynolds bundled those three races plus the Winston 500 at Talladega to form the Winston Million incentive program.

The race was the 59th time of 63 races in their careers for a Petty-Pearson, one-two finish. The 1976 600 fell in the middle of a remarkable four-year stretch for the two drivers where neither had an off day in the race. Ponder these results over four consecutive years of 600-mile races:
  • 1974: Pearson P1, Petty P2
  • 1975: Petty P1, Pearson P3
  • 1976: Pearson P1, Petty P2
  • 1977: Petty P1, Pearson P2
When the checkers fell, the scoring slotted Guthrie in 15th - a remarkable debut that coincidentally matched the finish from her Indy Car debut. After parking her car, she quickly hugged the neck of Cronkrite.

Photo courtesy of Randy Murphy
The 1976 World 600 was not Dale Earnhardt's debut, but it was his second career Cup start. Earnhardt drove a #30 Chevy owned by Walter Ballard and sponsored by the U.S. Army to a 31st place DNF.

Coincidentally, the Army also sponsored the Chevrolets fielded by Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in 2007-2008, just a few years after Earnhardt's death in 2001.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

May 26, 1974 - World 600

As OPEC came on the scene, the U.S. population was scared into the first of several energy crises. NASCAR quickly fell into the crosshairs of many who believed (and still do) auto racing is a needless waste of fossil fuel energy sources. In a good faith gesture to appease some, Bill France Jr. worked with track promoters to cut Winston Cup race distances by 10 percent in 1974. Consequently, the drivers competing in the 1974 World 600 actually raced for only 540 miles.

David Pearson won the pole in the #21 Wood Brothers Purolator Mercury. The top starting spot was his second in what was to become an eleven-race, pole-winning streak. He also won the pole for the 1972 National 500, and qualified second for the 1972, 1973, and 1980 World 600s. Even today, his ability to hustle the Woods' car on pole day at Charlotte remains amazing. Again, Pearson started no worse than second from May 1972 through May 1980.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
In winning the pole, Pearson also became the top pole winner for superspeedways. When their careers ended, Richard Petty had 127 career poles to Pearson's 113. Pearson, however, eventually captured the top spot in 57 superspeedway races - a record that still stands even in an era where the schedule is dominated by 1+ mile tracks.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Petty, in his STP Dodge Charger, qualified on the front row alongside his long-time rival. Despite their staggering career numbers, Petty and Pearson interestingly only had two Charlotte wins between them coming into 1974 - Pearson in the 1961 World 600 and Petty in a 100-mile qualifying race for the 1961 600.

Buddy Baker qualified third in his first start with Bud Moore's team in the 1974 600. Five of his 19 career wins came at the wheel of the #15 Ford - including three at Talladega. Baker's hiring, however, came at George Follmer's expense. Moore hired Follmer at the beginning of the 1974 season, and the duo had mixed results over the first dozen races of the season. Follmer was none too pleased when he learned of his release after less than half a season behind the wheel.

If Follmer's situation was a feel-rotten story, Billy Scott's opportunity was a feel-good story. For the second year in a row, Charlotte promoter Richard Howard gave fans an opportunity to vote for a deserving driver to get a shot at the big time. And for the second year in a row, Scott, a short-track regular of the Carolinas, got the fans' vote.

Scott got the opportunity to race a Howard-owned, Junior Johnson-prepared Chevrolet and was essentially a teammate of Cale Yarborough. He had two career Cup starts - both in the 600 and both because of his fan support. Scott raced the same Chevy Yarborough drove to the win in Bristol's Southeastern 500 two months earlier.

When the ballots were collected, Scott earned more fan votes than drivers such as Dick Trickle, Harry Gant, Richie Panch, Ray Hendrick, and Jody Ridley. Based on his limited Cup experience, his day was likely considered successful with a 22nd place starting spot and 24th place finish in the 40-car field.

When the green flag fell, the drivers barreled off into turn 1 on lap 41. Wait. What?? Because of the shortened distance, the first forty laps weren't scored. The race was officially 400 laps, but only 360 laps were raced.

The race was very competitive with different drivers taking their turn out front. When someone got the lead, he didn't keep it for long. Few led for more than just a few laps, and only a couple of times did a driver reach double-digits in laps led at a time. Pearson was the first to drag the field around the track for more than 20 consecutive laps when he hit lap 164.

Baker led several times during the first half of the race in his new ride. He surely had a big smile on his face as he had sights on winning the 600 for the third year in a row and with three different team (1972 with Petty Enterprises and 1973 with Nord Krauskopf). Engine failure, however, hit him in the second half of the race relegating him to a disappointing, 22nd place, DNF result.

Petty and Pearson controlled much of the race's second half with Yarborough leading several laps every now and again. The field was thinned by the exit of several drivers with mechanical problems.

With about 20 to go as Petty was leading, James Hylton puked a motor and soaked the track with oil. Pearson and Yarborough barreled through turn 4, and Pearson slid in the oil from Hylton's engine. He wiggled, skittered up the track, and bounced off Cale. The side-slap straightened Pearson's Mercury, but Cale wasn't so fortunate. He spun, hit the wall, and was done for the day.

Pearson set sail for Petty again after the race returned to green. With nine laps to go, Pearson's Mercury slipped by Petty's Dodge to take the lead. The #21 gapped the #43 a bit and took the checkers by about a half-second. Pearson's win was his first at Charlotte since his first career win in the 1961 World 600. The race was also the 48th of 63 times Petty and Pearson finished 1-2.

Coming to the line, veteran Bobby Allison nipped rookie Darrell Waltrip for third. Less than a decade later, the two of them would battle for the Winston Cup title for three consecutive seasons.

In the post-race interview, Pearson wryly answered a handful of questions from the media.
  • When asked if he believed he was quicker than Baker who led many laps in the first half of the race, Pearson replied "I must have been. I out-qualified him. Seriously, I thought he ran a strong race, maybe too strong."
  • Pearson was asked if he'd rather see Follmer or Baker in Moore's 15 in the weeks to come, and responded "I'll just say whoever is the slowest."
  • Gamesmanship with restarts seems to be a weekly theme in today's Cup racing. A few drivers bumper-banged each other coming to the start of the 1974 600, and they criticized Pearson for pacing a slow start. Pearson responded matter-of-factly "The man on the pole can start the race at any speed he wants."
Source: The Gaffney Ledger
The week was a clean sweep for the Pearson clan. David won the World 600 pole and Sunday race. On Saturday, his son Larry won a 15-lap Baby Grand National race by narrowly edging his father. They raced twin Mercury Capris. The race was planned by Bob Latford, track publicist. Later in 1974, Latford and a couple of others developed the points system used in Winston Cup from 1975 through 2003 when it was scrapped for the ever evolving Chase format.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

May 15, 1966 - Richmond 250

NASCAR's Grand National drivers rolled into Richmond's half-mile, fairgrounds dirt track on May 15, 1966 for a 250-lap race. The storylines of the season after about a third of it had been completed were:
  • Richard Petty's second win in three years in the Daytona 500
  • A four-race win streak by David Pearson in Cotton Owens' Dodge
  • The full-time return of the factory-supported Plymouth and Dodge teams 
  • A withdrawal of factory support for Ford teams after NASCAR endured a similar protest by Chrysler a season earlier.
Source: Free Lance Star via Google News Archive
Fans got a pleasant surprise during qualifying for the race. James Hylton qualified second, and future NASCAR pace car driver Elmo Langley timed third.

Ford's withdrawal of support for its marquis teams - namely Holman Moody and the Wood Brothers -  didn't mean, however, the absence of all Ford racers that season. Dave Fulton, simply a race fan at the time but a future employee of Paul Sawyer's Richmond Raceway, shared this memory from race day about an independent Ford driver who won the pole.
As a high school senior in Richmond, VA on May 15, 1966, Tiger Tom Pistone gave me and my buddies one of our most cherished NASCAR memories. On that spring Sunday, driving his powder blue #59 1964 Ford Galaxie, Tiger Tom blistered the old dirt half-mile Richmond Fairgrounds layout with a record, all-time, NASCAR Grand National qualifying speed of 70.978 mph - a record that stands to this very day and will never be broken. Only three more dirt races were run on the Richmond track before it was paved for the September 1968 GN race, and nobody ever again approached Tiger's one-lap speed record on the dirt.

To this day I feel privileged to tell folks that I saw Tiger Tom Pistone set a NASCAR track record that will never be broken on a track that I dearly loved. For those who never saw a NASCAR Grand National stock car kick up a roostertail of dirt as it slid sideways, you are part of the underprivileged NASCAR generation.
Tiger grabbed the lead as the green flag fell, and he kept his dual, four-barrel carb'd, independent Ford at the point for the the first 22 laps. Pearson then took the lead from Pistone, and it was pretty much his race to lose the rest of the way.

Pistone's top starting spot didn't help him in the long run. He burned a piston, and ended the day with a DNF and 16th place finish in the 30-car field. Like Pistone, Langley's starting position near the front didn't mean anything when the day was done. After racing for a while against King Richard, he lost a differential in his two-year old Ford. The final results showed Langley with a 17th place DNF - one spot behind Tiger.

After Pistone's 22 laps out front to begin the race, the day belonged to Pearson. He led 216 of the remaining 228 laps to capture his fifth win of the season.

Petty, who started tenth, hung around, but really offered no substantive competition to Pearson that day. He returned home to Level Cross with a second place finish, two laps down to the winner. By finishing two laps behind Pearson, it's tough to say Petty's second place finish was an almost win. The race was, however, the twelfth of 63 times the two drivers finished first and second.

Source: Free Lance Star via Google News Archive
Big thanks to Russ Thompson and Jerry Bushmire for sharing images from Stock Car Racing magazine.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Oldsmobile: Old School & New Life for Pettys

Twelve years ago - April 29, 2004 - the last Oldsmobile rolled off GM's assembly line. Oldsmobile was America's oldest automotive brand, and it was the second brand to roll into General Motors. Over the decades, however, the brand found itself as the red-headed stepchild of GM. It wasn't the most luxurious, cheapest, hippest, coolest, oldest, creative or any other adjective. It was solidly in the middle of the company's product offerings, and GM made the decision to shutter the brand.

Oldsmobile had its place in racing, particularly NASCAR. In the mid to late 1950s, Lee Petty fielded cars for himself and often other drivers. The race car of choice during that time was an Oldsmobile Delta 88. Other Petty drivers included the likes of Bill Lutz, Tiny Lund...

From Andy Towler at
...Bobby Myers (father of long-time Richard Childress Racing crewman Chocolate Myers)...

Final photo taken of Bobby Myers courtesy of Randy Myers
....and even Ralph Earnhardt.

Courtesy of Don Smyle / Smyle Media
Richard Petty's first career start at Columbia Speedway was in a hand-me-down Oldsmobile convertible. The remnants of what is believed to be the Olds that King drove in that first race in 1958 now resides in Memory Lane Museum in Mooresville, NC. It's also likely the car was the same Petty Olds raced by Billy Myers (Bobby's brother, Chocolate's uncle) to his final win in a convertible race at North Wilkesboro in 1958.

TMC Photo
The Pettys field a pair of Oldsmobiles in the first Daytona 500 in 1959. Richard entered an older Olds convertible, and Lee narrowly won the race in his new Olds hardtop.

Partway through the 1959 season, the Pettys became a full-time Plymouth team. In 1971, Petty Enterprises fielded a Dodge Charger for Buddy Baker while keeping the King in a Plymouth. In early 1972, the decision was made to move the 43 to a Dodge as well. The 43 stayed a Dodge through 1978 with Richard racing the 1974 Charger and the ill-fated 1978 Magnum.

Midway through 1978, the Dodge was no longer competetive. The Pettys made a logical - yet unpopular to many - decision to switch to Chevrolet. The team ran a purchased Monte Carlo the rest of the season until they could begin to build their own.

In the off-season, the team expanded its General Motors fleet beyond just the workhorse Monte Carlo. As previously blogged, a Caprice was built to run several of the short tracks. And for the superspeedways, the Pettys returned to the name brand with which Richard started: Oldsmobile.

Junior Johnson fielded the Olds Cutlass 442 for Cale Yarborough in 1978. By 1979, just about every GM team built one for the big tracks. Junior's team ran the 442 frequently, but most other teams raced it sparingly - primarily at tracks such as Daytona and Talladega.

1979 Daytona 500 - This race is perhaps the most well-known race for the 43 442. With a solid Petty blue hood and no STP oval because of an on-going financial chess match between STP and the Pettys, the newly built 442 won its debut race.

1979 Atlanta 500 - This 442 started and finished 11th with a one-time, unique look. The STP oval was back on the hood - but a small one. And a series of varying sized STP decals were applied to the quarter panels.

1979 Southeastern 500 - The 43 finished a strong 4th at Bristol in the first of only two short-track races for the 442.

Credit: Woody Delbridge
Credit: David Allio /
Courtesy of Ray Lamm
1979 Winston 500 - The car took a beating in this race at Talladega. A spin by Buddy Baker triggered a multi-car crash in which the majority of the top running cars were collected. Amazingly, most were able to continue and be competitive albeit with hundreds of yards of duct tape applied. The King brought home his mangled 442 to a P4 finish. A new deal had also been worked out with STP, and the 43 again sported a large STP oval on its hood.

1979 Mason-Dixon 500 - Petty's Olds was wiped out in lap 2 accident at Dover. The 442 finished 30th in the 31-car field. Richard was hurt badly enough that he needed relief help from Jimmy Insolo three races later in Riverside, California.

Credit: Lee Greenawalt
1979 Firecracker 400 - Though Petty wasn't able to sweep Daytona in 1979, he did back up his Daytona 500 win with a fifth place finish in the July 4th Firecracker race.

1979 Talladega 500 - The race earned double-chicken money for the Petty teams. Richard finished fourth in his Olds to match his P4 from the spring's Winston 500, and Kyle finished ninth in the Dodge Magnum in his debut Cup race.

After the second Talladega race, the Olds was parked in favor of the Monte Carlo and Caprice. The two Chevy cars were used in the stretch run as Richard successfully battled Waltrip for the championship. With his seventh title in the books, the team went back to work readying for 1980. The team went with what worked before, and they again prepared the 442 to defend their title at Daytona.

1980 Daytona 500 - This one was my first Daytona race to see in person. I watched from atop a small motorhome in the infield and was mesmerized by the brilliantly-bright, day-glo red despite the great distance from me to the track. Though King won the 500 for the 6th time in 1979 and his 7th and final time in 1981, my first trip wasn't a good day for the King or the Olds. After starting 4th, the 442 broke a clutch and Petty finished a disappointing 25th.

Adding insult to injury was that Kyle missed his first Daytona 500 after wrecking his hand-me-down Dodge Magnum in his 125-mile qualifier. The accident started when Nashville's Gary Baker spun and wrecked coming out of turn 4 in his #4  ...  Olds 442.

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1980 Winston 500 - The superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega were great to the 43 in 1979 with finishes of 1st and 5th at Daytona and a pair of P4s at Talladega. In 1980, the big tracks weren't quite as kind. After a 25th at Daytona, Richard finished 31st at Talladega after losing an engine in his Olds. Kyle (foreground) was back to working on his dad's pit crew.

Credit: Robert Turner
1980 Firecracker 400 - After a miserable first two races at the superspeedways, Richard finished a respectable fifth in Daytona's summer scorcher.

1980 Talladega 500 - The previous week at Pocono, Richard suffered a terrible crash in his Monte Carlo. He spun, backed into the wall hard, and was then t-boned by Darrell Waltrip. He walked away from the crash - but his face showed obvious pain. Folks learned later that Richard suffered broken vertebrae in his neck. Amazingly, the safety crew didn't stabilize the King's neck after taking him from the car.

Yet, the King soldiered on. He belted into the Olds at Talladega long enough to start the race. A midday rain shower benefited the team. The race was started under a green-yellow flag (laps count, speed doesn't - a NASCAR rule I truly disdain). Richard completed one official lap and was therefore credited with the race's driver points. As he neared completion of the second lap, the 43 hit pit road. Previous Petty driver and crewman Joe Millikan qualified the car fifth and then jumped into the Olds to race the full event. Unfortunately for Millikan, however, Maurice Petty's engine soured as it did in the spring at Talladega. The 442 finished 18th after completing only 154 of the race's 188 laps.

Source: SportingNews
1980 Old Dominion 500 - Kyle raced the Olds 442 at Martinsville in its second and last short-track race. He qualified 29th and finished 27th in his one and only career start in an Olds.

In the end, the Pettys won only one modern-era race in an Olds. Yet in my opinion, the 442 remains one of the best looking rides from the Level Cross shops in that era.

A year or so after Petty Enterprises moved to a 110-inch wheelbase Buick Regal on the track...

...I began learning how to drive... my parents' Oldsmobile...
...with a wheelbase far longer than 110 inches.

The car was a 1969 Oldsmobile Delta 88. The four-door sled had a 455 cubic inch engine. A true beast.

The Petty Olds? I miss it. My family's Delta 88? Ehh, not so much.

R.I.P. Oldsmobile