Thursday, March 21, 2019

Nashville's 1973 Permatex 200

After a three-year experiment as a high-banked, lightning fast, half-mile, the banking of Nashville's Fairground Speedways was cut to 18-degrees where it remains today.

As had become the tradition since 1966, the new season season opened with a big late model sportsman race. The Permatex 200 on April 21, 1973, became the first late model event on the new configuration.

The redesigned track was more than a physical demarcation between Nashville's past and future. Many drivers from Nashville's big late model features of the 1960s and early 1970s such as Freddy Fryar, Bob Burcham, and Red Farmer did not return for the 1973 opener.

The field was comprised largely of local and regional racers such as 1970 track champion Darrell Waltrip, Neil Bonnett, Flookie Buford, James Ham, Clyde Peoples, Charlie Binkley, and Paddlefoot Wales. A few names, however, made the trek from beyond the immediate area.

Jack Ingram returned to Nashville to accumulate valuable national points. Ingram won NASCAR's national LMS title in 1972 and looked to defend it in 1973. Jimmy Hensley and Sam Ard, two drivers who'd become NASCAR LMS and later Busch Series stalwarts, also made the trip. Newport TN's L.D. Ottinger, winner of the 1970 Southern 300, returned as well.

An unexpected entrant perhaps was Winston Cup regular, Dave Marcis. He brought his Dodge Charger sportsman car to Nashville as the Cup circuit took a break between Darlington and Martinsville. He also needed to earn some pocket change to pay Petty Enterprises for repairs to his Cup car damaged at Darlington.

Source: The Tennessean
Marcis' Dodge was no slouch. The car finished fifth in the Permatex 300 LMS race at Daytona with Alabama's Alton Jones behind the wheel.

One of the notable offseason moves affecting local racers was a change of scenery for Darrell Waltrip, Nashville's 1970 late model sportsman champion. After several years with P.B Crowell's team, Waltrip moved to Ellis Cook's team with Binkley as a teammate. Cook, a local beer distributor, painted Waltrip's #48 Chevelles the red and gold colors of Falls City Beer. Binkley drove a similarly painted #25 car and built the engines.

The original plan was for Waltrip to race for NASCAR's national LMS title while Binkley competed in Nashville's weekly features. Waltrip's first venture with the team was the Permatex 300 LMS race at Daytona. The carefully prepared car suffered engine woes during the race; however, and the team returned to Tennessee with more to learn.

The team's plans were then modified a good bit. Instead of running for the national LMS title, Waltrip planned a dual focus. He saddled up to pursue Rookie of the Year honors in Cup in addition to running for a second track title at Nashville.

As teams arrived for practice and qualifying for Nashville's opener, Waltrip shook down his newly acquired Chevelle. Something broke during a practice run; however, and things went from bad to worse. As Waltrip sailed into turn 1, his car pitched suddenly to the inside. He clipped the inner guardrail, flipped over it, and then rolled four times to the lower infield that served as the garage area.

Though stunned a bit, Waltrip was not seriously injured. The team went to Plan B, sent for a backup car from the shop, and thrashed to get it ready for qualifying. Though it wasn't in ideal shape, Waltrip made a timed lap with minutes to spare to earn the sixth starting spot in the field.

Marcis' Dodge delivered as promised in qualifying, and he won the pole. Local racer James Ham was always quick on the high-banked version of the track, and he adapted to the new configuration as well with a P2 lap. Ottinger and Ard made up the second row.

When the green waved, Marcis' heavy Hemi launched him into the lead and a complete domination of the first third of the race. Ottinger ran behind him during that stretch as Waltrip made his way past Ham and Ard in pursuit of the top two. Just shy of halfway, Waltrip made his way past Ottinger and then under Marcis to take the lead.

A caution flag fell shortly after Waltrip took the lead, and it provided the opportunity to pit for fuel and tires. An extended stop, however, resulted in Waltrip's losing two laps. Ottinger made his stop after Waltrip and returned to action without losing a lap.

Throughout the second half of the race, Waltrip did all he could to make up the lost ground. Ottinger, however, maintained a solid pace and kept the local racer at bay. At the finish, Ottinger swept across the line to captured his second career win at the Fairgrounds.

Waltrip still managed to finish second with his backup car. Ard, Marcis and Jack Ingram rounded out the top five finishers.

Source: The Tennessean
Finishing order:
  1. L.D. Ottinger 
  2. Darrell Waltrip 
  3. Sam Ard 
  4. Dave Marcis 
  5. Jack Ingram 
  6. Flookie Buford 
  7. James Ham 
  8. Charlie Greenwell 
  9. Walter Wallace 
  10. Carl Lane 
  11. Clyde Peoples 
  12. James Veach 
  13. Ronnie Blasingim & Jerry Sisco 
  14. Phil Stillings 
  15. Robert Wales 
  16. James Climer 
  17. Wayne Carden 
  18. John Brown 
  19. Windle Webster 
  20. Jim McDowell
  21. Neil Bonnett 
  22. Dave Sisco 
  23. Donnie Roberts 
  24. Jimmy Hensley
  25. Charlie Binkley 
  26. Donnie Anthony 
  27. Jack Hooper 
  28. Jim Berry 
  29. Dwayne Chaffin 
  30. Jerry Sisco 
  31. Jimmy Kitchens 
  32. Dwayne Cravens

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Nashville's 1972 Permatex 200

Beginning in 1966 following the Labor Day 1965 State Fair fire, Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway opened its late model season with the Flameless 300. The tradition continued until 1971 when the track secured Permatex as the race's title sponsor.

The mix of local racers and drivers from NASCAR's national LMS circuit returned to open a new season on April 22, 1972.

The race turned out to be the final opener on Nashville's high banks. After a three-year run of high speeds and questionable tire wear, track operator Bill Donoho chose to lower the track's banking from 35 degrees to 18 degrees following the season-ending Southern 300. That banking remains at the Fairgrounds to this day.

Previous Flameless 300 winners entering the 1972 edition of the Permatex 200 included two-time winners Freddy Fryar (1966, 1968) and Bob Burcham (1967, 1969) as well as local shoe and 1970 track champion Darrell Waltrip (1970). Other name drivers towing to Nashville included Donnie Allison, Red Farmer, Jack Ingram, and L.D. Ottinger. Local racers other than Waltrip included 1971 LMS track champion Flookie Buford and track record holder James Ham.

Waltrip captured the pole though he fell short of topping Ham's track record. Allison timed fifth in his first Nashville start since winning the pole for the 1963 Southern 300 modified race. Fryar arrived late from Chattanooga - too late in fact. Whatever car he expected to race was either assigned to another driver or had left the property. Either way, Freddy's evening was fried.

When the green flag waved, Waltrip took off from his top starting spot and dominated as he frequently did at the Fairgrounds. Despite numerous cautions and restarts, Waltrip continued pulling the field. With about 40 laps to go, Ol' DW had led every lap and a one-lap cushion over second place Allison.

But history then repeated itself. With no pressure from behind, Waltrip's Chevelle broke a rod ending his race. His dominance of the race and engine failure near the end of it mimicked his day six months earlier during the 1971 Southern 300.

After unlapping himself, Allison took over the lead. He led the remaining laps and won his first Nashville race after a nine-year absence.

Of the thirty-far starters, only fourteen cars remained at the end to see the checkers. Most of the out-of-towners did not have a successful night, and the top 10 was comprised largely of local folks.
  1. Donnie Allison
  2. Charlie Binkley
  3. Flookie Buford
  4. Don Anthony
  5. Ronnie Blasingim
  6. Bill Morton
  7. Jack Ingram
  8. Tony Bettenhausen, Jr.
  9. Clyde Peoples
  10. Gene Payne
Source: The Tennessean

Sunday, February 24, 2019

February 24, 1974 - Richmond 500

Richard Petty captured the Daytona 500 on February 17, 1974. The win was his fifth 500 victory and third in four years. As is always the case in racing, however, you have limited time to celebrate. A week after Daytona, the teams hauled to Richmond to battle 500 laps on the Virginia half-mile bullring.

As impressive as King's Daytona record was, his Richmond stats exceeded it. Coming into the winter '74 race, Petty had 11 victories at Richmond - including the previous seven in a row.

Despite the enviable streak, no win ever comes easy. The Petty Enterprises bunch had to set the Daytona trophy to the side and once again face the challenges of the competition.

The race was billed as the Sixth Annual Richmond 500. Though NASCAR's Grand National / Cup cars had raced on various surfaces and configurations at Richmond since 1953, the track adopted its 500-lap format in 1969.

Bobby Allison, King's long-time rival, captured the pole in his self-fielded Coca-Cola Chevrolet. Cale Yarborough, winner of the season-opening race at Riverside, qualified alongside Allison. Petty and 1973 Winston Cup champion Benny Parsons made up the second row, and 1973 Rookie of the Year Lennie Pond timed fifth.

For about the first half of the season, NASCAR trimmed its race lengths by 10 percent in response to the OPEC-related energy crisis. From a branding perspective, the track retained the Richmond 500 race name. The first 50 laps, therefore, were "logged" but without any driver leading them.

When the field took the green, Yarborough got the jump on Allison to lead the first lap ... err, lap 51 officially. Cale found an early rhythm and led 86 of the race's first 87 laps.

Petty and Cale then split roughly the next 50 laps between themselves - with Parsons slipping in to lead a lap or two. The STP Dodge then cemented its routine position out front.

Petty's Dodge had found its groove as the race hit halfway. He led a stint of nearly 120 laps before yielding the lead once more to Allison during a pit stop around lap 300. As the Dale Inman-led crew serviced the car, the gasman got the dump can hung in the car. When the jack fell, Petty roared back onto the track - with the fuel can still attached.

King had to make another stop to remove his stowaway passenger, and his sizable lead over Allison was gone.

Petty spent the better part of the next 100 laps clawing back ground he'd lost because of the pit miscue. He finally surged back in front around lap 400 following a caution for Walter Ballard, but his time back out front was brief.

The caution for Ballard was unique and a bit frightening. Drive train issues forced him to the garage near the race's midpoint. Ballard began repairing his car in an effort to gain a few extra spots and points, and he suffered a heart attack while doing so. The caution flew so the ambulance could exit the track and transport Ballard to the hospital.

Remarkably, Ballard returned to race the following Sunday and all the races over the next two seasons. He reduced his driving schedule in 1976 and increased his role as an owner for others. Dale Earnhardt raced Ballard's #30 Chevelle at Charlotte in his second career Winston Cup start, the 1976 World 600.

Back to the race...

During their final stops, Allison opted for four tires whereas the 43 bunch took a gamble with two. The gamble didn't pay off. Allison resumed the point, and Petty spent the remaining laps trying to catch-up with an ill-handling car. As the checkers fell, Allison won comfortably over King. Yarborough finished third, six laps down to the top two finishers.

Allison fans left Richmond with a Coke and a smile. The Petty crowd likely hated to see one slip away. After a seven-race win streak and a Daytona trophy at home, however, most knew it was just a racing deal.

King put the disappointing P2 behind him. He bounced back the following Sunday with a win in the Carolina 500 at Rockingham. He also returned to his winning ways at Richmond by nabbing the next two events - the September 1974 Capital City 500 and February 1975 Richmond 500.

Source: Newport Daily Press


Saturday, February 2, 2019

The King was Fond of Pond

A recent birthday advanced me to the year of Lennie Pond.

Richard Petty and Lennie Pond struck a friendship somewhere during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Pond traveled from time to time to Level Cross during his late model sportsman years to buy parts from the Petty shop in Level Cross. His visits and success on Virginia shorts tracks caught King's eye. Lennie eventually moved to NASCAR's Winston Cup ranks with encouragement from the Pettys.

Credit: Donald Evans
In 1978, Petty and Pond helped one another in a relief role in multiple races.

In the Southeastern 500 at Bristol, both Petty and Pond were involved in an early race accident along with Darrell Waltrip and Roland Wlodyka. Petty parked his Dodge Magnum, but Ranier Racing patched Pond's #54 Chevy well enough to continue. The car had staying power, but Pond had a tough time remaining in the seat. The King took over and rallied the car to a top 5 running position. Pond later returned to his car and maintained the track position gained by Petty to finish fifth.

Credit: David Allio / RacingPhotoArchives
When the tour returned to Bristol for its inaugural night race, the two drivers reversed roles. Six days earlier at Michigan, Petty debuted his new STP Chevrolet. His first start, however, resulted in a late race wall pounding. The team borrowed a car from Henley Gray for Bristol, and King did his best to race with a battered ribcage. After Pond fell out 100 laps into the race, he took over the 43 in relief. Pond helped the borrowed ride finish fifth - coincidentally just as Petty did in Pond's car in the spring race.

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Before joining the Cup ranks full-time, Pond came *this close* to being at the wheel of a Petty car in the 1970 Daytona 500. Kinda. Maybe.

The Petty team was a Plymouth stalwart from 1960 through 1968. The racing community was stunned in late November 1968, however, when Petty Enterprises announced a switch to Ford for 1969. During the one-year run with Ford Motor Company, the team sold a 1968 Plymouth to another Virginian, Don Robertson.

Robertson partnered with another independent driver and fellow commonwealther, Jabe Thomas, to race the 1969 schedule with the Plymouth acquired from the Pettys. The car was painted slate blue and gold, and Thomas started and finished a respectable 14th at Daytona.

Robertson planned to field a second Plymouth in the 1970 Daytona 500, and he originally slotted James Cox to drive it. Cox raced eight times for Robertson in 1969, and Robertson apparently submitted Cox's name on the entry blank for the 500.

While it isn't known which car, if either, was the former Petty Plymouth, the paint on the cars does provide a suggestive clue. Thomas' #25 Plymouth arrived at Daytona painted red and gold.

The second Robertson #23 Plymouth, however, bore the base slate blue that Thomas raced a year earlier. Though the car number, gold accents, and sponsor lettering differed, the blue and gold suggest the second car may have been the Petty Plymouth.

A couple of weeks before Speedweeks, a friend urged Pond to call Thomas about the possibility of racing at Daytona for his second career Grand National start. After discussions with Robertson, all decided Pond would be a good choice to race Robertson's second Plymouth over Cox.

Source: Petersburg Progress Index
*   *   *   *   *
NASCAR's 1966 Rookie of the Year, James Hylton, had also been a Mopar man in his three Grand National seasons. In the off-season before 1970, however, he sold his Dodge equipment and bought a used Holman Moody Ford previously raced by David Pearson.

Misfortune struck Hylton when he wrecked his Ford during a practice session on Monday before the Daytona 500. The damage was significant enough that Hylton realized his crew couldn't repair it in time for the race.

Robertson and Thomas knew of Hylton's problem - and that he had more experience than Pond. Unlike Lennie, Hylton was a full-time driver chasing points for the Grand National title.

As a nice gesture, Robertson turned the #23 Plymouth over to Hylton for the 125-mile qualifying race. Hylton finished 11th and earned the car a starting spot in the 500. Robertson then withdrew Cox's name as the official driver, substituted Hylton, and kept Lennie on the sideline. Hylton was obviously grateful for the opportunity to race, but he felt somewhat awkward knowing the ride had been promised to Pond.

When the day was done, Hylton finished 22nd in the 500 with teammate Thomas a few spots back in 25th. Cox's opinion about being removed from the car are unknown, and it's not clear if he even went to Daytona.

Though circumstances resulted in Pond's losing the opportunity to race in his first Daytona 500 in 1970, he soldiered on with his late model sportsman career. He moved to Winston Cup in 1973, ran the majority of the races, and narrowly won NASCAR's Rookie of the Year honor over Darrell Waltrip.

That season, Pond finally got behind the wheel of a Petty car for the first time when he relieved the King during the Southern 500 at Darlington.


Friday, January 25, 2019

History Springs Back to Level Cross

The King, Richard Petty, is unarguably the most successful individual in NASCAR history. His record in totality is unmatched: 200 wins, seven titles, 127 poles, over 500 top five finishes in nearly 1,200 starts, and a first-year inductee to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

That success, however, included some tough accidents and injuries as well including:
  • 1961 Daytona: Sailing over the wall during his 100-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500.
  • 1970 Darlington: Pounding the turn four wall and then nailing the pit wall during the 1970 Rebel 400.
  • 1978 Daytona: Walloping the earthen berm in the 1978 IROC race followed by a savage lick a few days later in the Daytona 500.
  • 1988 Daytona: Flipping against the catchfence during the Daytona 500.
  • 1991 Sonoma: A head-on hit with the concrete wall and tire barrier during the Banquet Frozen Foods 300. 
Another accident that really took the wind out of the King's cape occurred during Pocono's Coca-Cola 500 on July 27, 1980. 

As Petty sailed into turn two, his right front wheel broke sending  him on a direct trajectory to the wall. After the first lick, the STP Monte Carlo ricocheted into the air for a moment before landing hard. Chuck Bown spun to avoid him, but Darrell Waltrip had nowhere to go and centerpunched the driver's side door.

The King exited the car in obvious pain.Interestingly, rescue crews didn't bother putting a neck brace on him or lay him on a backboard. He simply limped to the ambulance with his head tossed back and agony on his face.

Petty returned one week later to start the Talladega 500. Little clinical information was released beyond his having a sore neck. The truth, however, was King had fractured his neck in the crash. Though it was common in that era - and perhaps for another 25 years or so - for drivers to race hurt, King's willingness and ability to belt into the car with a broken neck was remarkable.

Back to Pocono though. The hit destroyed the right front of the car - and Petty's opportunity to notch his eighth Cup championship. 

Long-time Petty fan and licensed paramedic, Brian Hauck, attended the race that day. He occasionally assisted the medical response team for Pocono's Indy Car races; however, he chose not to do so for Cup races so he could watch as a fan.

Hauck, therefore, had no choice but to watch the track's medical crew work on his favorite driver from a distance and ask around about his condition later.

When he returned to work Monday, he was still uncertain about King's condition - and bent about the casual way the medical staff handled his neck. Meanwhile, a co-worker began holding court with stories about his weekend trip to the Pocono race. Hauck's ears perked up when he heard the co-worker mention having a piece from Petty's car.

As medical crews attended to Petty and safety crews cleaned the track, Hauck's co-worker foolishly (?) sprinted from his infield position onto the track and retreated hastily with the 43's right front coil spring. 

Hauck apparently all but demanded the guy turn over the spring - but got a hell no in return. Some time later, the guy left the company. Hauck fumed he didn't get the spring, and he lost contact with the guy to boot.

In 2018, a mutual friend reconnected the former co-workers. Hauck knew the first question he had to ask - Do you still have that spring? Sure enough, the guy still had it. With the passage of time, he was also willing to part with it for the right reason and to the right person. After nearly 40 years, the coil spring changed hands.

Once Hauck got the spring last October, I received a series of texts and photos from him about it along with a single request: Don't mention this to anyone for now

On January 24, 2019 - Hauck's birthday - he celebrated a bit differently. Instead of receiving a gift, he gave one. After driving from his home in Trenton, New Jersey to North Carolina, he presented the spring to an unsuspecting Petty and Dale Inman. 

Both immediately recognized what Hauck had and couldn't believe he was willing to return it to Level Cross. Inman in particular was flabbergasted the spring still existed. He mentioned the team looked for it in the turn area after the race but never found it. He noted that particular spring had been a good one for set-ups in 1979-80 and joked "I was more concerned about finding that spring than I was Richard's neck."

Initially, King thought Hauck may want his umpteenth autograph to tie to the spring. Once he realized the spring was again his, he held onto it during the remainder of their conversation.

As Hauck wrapped up his visit, King placed the spring atop the Monte Carlo on display in the Petty Museum until a more permanent exhibit spot can be arranged for it.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Nashville's 1977 Permatex Southern 400

The last Late Model Sportman race of the 1977 season at Nashville Speedway was the 19th Southern 400 on Sunday, October 2nd. Coincidentally, the race was also the final Southern 400 - a tradition dating back to its first running in 1958.

Locally, Steve Spencer was the story of the track's season. Spencer won five features and claimed Nashville's LMS title.

Fans also witnessed the first career late model wins for rising stars Sterling Marlin and Dennis Wiser. Both were part of the highly touted Kiddie Corps along with Mike Alexander and P.B. Crowell III. Alexander and Crowell scored their first victories in 1976, but  Marlin and Wiser needed the extra season before finding victory lane. Coincidentally, Spencer later became the personal pilot for Marlin.

Butch Lindley, 1974 Southern 400 winner and NASCAR's 1977 national Late Model Sportsman championship leader, captured the pole on the first day of qualifying. Rival and good friend Harry Gant timed second in his Buick. Marlin laid down the third quickest lap followed by two-time Southern winner (1970 |1975) L.D. Ottinger and Alexander.

After Friday's qualifying, out-of-town teams towed their cars to local motels. Someone hotwired Gant's truck that night and swiped the truck, trailer, race car, and parts. Though the truck was found in Alabama, everything was missing from it.

Gant borrowed a back-up car from Lindley on the second day of qualifying. His luck, however, went from bad to worse. The throttle hung during a practice lap, and Gant pummeled the wall. The car was destroyed, Gant withdrew from the race, and he headed home wondering about his racing future.

An unseasonably chilly, blustery, fall day helped keep the crowds away on race day. After years of drawing upwards of 15,000 fans, an estimated crowd of only 5,000 arrived to watch what turned out to be the final Southern 400.

With Gant's withdrawal, Marlin moved to the front row to join pole winner Lindley.

After many years of late race drama, the 1977 Southern delivered little. Cars continually fell by the wayside, and the dominant driver felt little pressure up front.

Track champion Spencer started eighth but fell out of the race on lap 23. Marlin launched from second but loaded after 70 laps. Kiddie Corps member Dennis Wiser elevated his car to an impressive second, but he popped the wall on lap 144.

Many of the out-of-towners fared about as poorly. Bob Pressley was wiped out in a lap 61 accident, and Ottinger lost an engine on lap 85. Randy Tissot and Larry Utsman clocked out early as well. When the day was done, about half of the 32-car field's starters were out of the race.

Alexander won only two 30-lap features in his sophomore season, but his #84 Harpeth Ford-sponsored Cougar went the distance in the Southern 400. As others had issues, Alexander ran smoothly and consistently. When the checkered flag fell, Alexander returned home with a P2 - a far better result than his 31st place DNF a year earlier.

No one had anything for the pole winner, Butch Lindley. All day long, Lindley's Nova was the car to beat. Alexander gave it his best shot, but it wasn't nearly enough. Lindley eased around the track lap after lap and topped Alexander by about a lap and a half.

Butch Applegate finished third followed by Tony Formosa, Jr. in his first LMS start. Today, Formosa is the leaseholder and promoter of Fairgrounds Speedway.

Mike Beam, later a crew chief in NASCAR's top divisions, was a Lindley crewman in 1977 and recalled:
Rick Townsend and I got into a fight during the race about if we wanted to put a 42 treaded tire on the RR or a 46 slick. Butch wanted to pit, but Gene Petty told him he couldn't pit because his pit crew were fist fighting. Butch thought it was funny. Next caution, we pitted and put the 42 on RR and won the race. Rick won the coin toss on which one to put on. After the race when they were taking this picture, we were all friends again much to Butch's amusement. - from Nashville Fairgrounds Racing History
A few weeks later, Lindley formally wrapped up his first NASCAR national LMS title. He repeated as champion in 1978. Though he made a handful of Cup starts, most of his success came in the LMS and later Busch / Xfinity Series. In April 1985, Lindley was critically injured in a late model race in Florida and lapsed into a coma. He passed away five years later.

Promoter Bill Donoho felt awful about Gant's misfortune. After working through a couple of scheduling challenges, he finally arranged a Harry Gant Benefit night in April 1978. The idea was to provide proceeds from the night to help offset some of Gant's financial loss. Perhaps as expected because of who he is, Gant politely declined the generous offer.

As noted earlier, 1977 was the final year for the Southern 400. The NASCAR-sanctioned Southern returned in October 1978 as a LMS race, but it was only 200 laps and the preliminary companion event for the Marty Robbins World Open 500.

Jody Ridley won over a sparse field in a final Southern 200 in 1979, originally scheduled as a companion event to the third year of the Marty Robbins race. The Robbins event was canceled, however, because of a scheduling conflict with another major race in Wisconsin.
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Bill Donoho's multi-year effort to construct a Nashville-area superspeedway fell apart in late 1977. Then after denying the track was for sale in spring 1978, Donoho announced the sale of his interest in the track's lease to Lanny Hester and Gary Baker in December 1978. These two events plus the challenge of scheduling the Robbins Open may have led to reducing the Southern's distance and stature on the '78 schedule.

Hester and Baker acquired Bristol a year earlier, and they began making radical changes at Nashville in 1979. Three of the most notable changes included a one-year cancellation of weekly racing, the adoption of a Grand American division and elimination of the Late Model Sportsman cars, and the permanent cancellation of the historic Southern 400.

A new tradition began in 1981 with the All American 400. Rather than have the race tied to NASCAR's national Late Model Sportsman division, the new race (billed as the "Civil War on Wheels") brought together racers from NASCAR, All Pro Series, and ASA.

Source for articles: The Tennessean


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Nashville's 1976 Permatex Southern 400

The 18th annual Southern 400 on October 3, 1976, closed the season at Nashville Speedway - a season that brought a changing of the guard.

The early 1970s late model sportsman races at Nashville were dominated by Darrell Waltrip. Other drivers who won features from time to time included Flookie Buford, Alton Jones, Jerry Lawley, James Ham, and Jimmy Means. Waltrip, however, stockpiled 50 feature wins from 1970 through 1975.

Once Waltrip joined DiGard's #88 Gatorade Cup ride in late 1975, his schedule at the Fairgrounds all but ended (except for Nashville's two annual Cup events). His departure created an opportunity for others.

The timing was optimal for the arrival of the Kiddie Corps in 1976. Four teenage drivers - three of them LMS rookies - made an immediate splash with fans. A couple of them had a rich future ahead of them in racing beyond Nashville.
  • P.B. Crowell, III - 1975 LMS rookie of the year and son of the long-time Nashville car owner and driver
  • Mike Alexander - son of long-time Nashville car owner and sponsor, R.C. Alexander, and graduate of Nashville's quarter-mile limited sportsman division
  • Sterling Marlin - son of four-time Nashville track champion and independent Cup driver, Coo Coo Marlin
  • Dennis Wiser - another limited sportsman graduate and son of long-time Nashville mechanic Kenneth Wiser
L-R: Wiser, Marlin, Alexander, and Crowell
Alexander won 10 features in his rookie season, and Crowell won six races as a second-season racer. Though Marlin and Wiser didn't win until 1977, the two of them along with Alexander and Crowell planned to be contenders in the longest late model race of the season.

In addition to the local shoes, the Southern 400 again drew some big names for the field. Out-of-town aces expected for the race included former Cup driver and 1970 NASCAR champion Bobby Isaac, Harry Gant, two-time and defending Southern 400 winner L.D. Ottinger, three-time national LMS champion Jack Ingram, and 1974 Southern 400 winner Butch Lindley.

From TMC Archives
Isaac hoped for better results than in his previous Southern effort. Simply making the field would accomplish that goal. Car owner Ellis Cook provided a car for Isaac for the 1973 Southern 400. Isaac could not get the needed speed out of the Chevelle during time trials and failed to qualify for the race.

Gant's first Nashville race was in the 1970 Southern 300, and he developed a knack for the track in the years to follow. He won three 200-lap LMS races at Nashville over 1975-1976 - including the Spirit of '76 200 just a few months earlier.

Ottinger towed from East Tennessee to Music City for several big races during the 1970s. He won the first Southern 300 on Nashville's short-lived, high banks configuration. L.D. also took the checkered flag in the World Service Life 200 three weeks before the Southern. During post-race tech, however, officials learned Ottinger's Chevelle had mysteriously lost a good bit of weight. He was disqualified, and Alexander inherited the win.

Ingram raced regularly in the 1970s Southerns. After initially planning to race in the 1976 edition, he made a late decision to opt out of it because of a Nashville connection.

Charlotte's World Service Life 300 was scheduled for October 9 - the week after the Southern. Alexander's win in Nashville's World Service Life 200 earned him a spot in Charlotte's invitational race. Because of a lack of experience, limited prep time, and college class obligations, Alexander declined the invitation.

The invitation was then extended to Ingram who chose to pass on the Southern 400 to prepare for Charlotte's 300. As it turns out, Ingram could have raced in both as the World Service Life 300 was twice postponed by rain until October 23.
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After attempting a one-day show in 1975, the Speedway returned to a three-day event in 1976. Ottinger sloughed off his DQ from three weeks earlier and won the pole for the Southern. Gant timed second to start on the front row alongside L.D.

The next three starting spots belonged to the local racers Crowell, Steve Spencer, and '76 track champion Alton Jones. In a far more successful effort than in 1973, Isaac qualified tenth.

In a bit of a stunner, Lindley blew an engine during qualifying. Without a replacement (or perhaps a rule prohibiting an engine change), Lindley had to withdraw from the race. With Gant making the race and Lindley going home early, the two would swap spots in the point standings behind leader Ottinger.
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With no real surprises during the second day of qualifying, the 34-car field was set for the Sunday afternoon start. Within a few laps, however, fans saw the first incident that somewhat set the tone for the rest of the race.

A six-car accident ended the day for Alexander. Crowell was also involved though he continued. He made repeated trips to the pits for additional repairs, however, and parked it after 132 laps.

Ottinger and Spencer both qualified well, but both were done by lap 60 with engine issues. Ottinger later took over in relief for fellow Newport, TN driver Jack Hill.

Isaac made the show, but that is about all that went well for him. Driving his own car rather than one provided for him, Isaac struggled with it throughout the first half of race. After losing three laps because of the problems and attempted fixes, Isaac finally loaded it up for the ride home at lap 190.

As the race proceeded through its second half, eighteen of the race's 34 starters crashed or fell out of the event. With many of the top cars sidelined, Gant piled up lap after lap as the leader and easily built a two-lap cushion over second place Hill (with Ottinger at the wheel).

Gant had a double-gulp, Oh Crap! moment with sixteen laps to go. His crew missed fuel mileage calculations a bit, and Gant ran dry with the two lap lead. He pulled low and coasted to the pits to get a splash.

With a fresh few gallons to last the difference, Gant's car then would not refire. Meanwhile, Ottinger continued at speed. The crew was finally able to get the #77 car to restart, and off he went to lead the remaining laps and claim the win.

Randy Tissott finished third, and the local rookies - Marlin and Wiser - had solid finishes of fourth and sixth, respectively.

From TMC Archives
Source for articles: The Tennessean