Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Nashville's 1975 Permatex Southern 400

The Southern 300 / 400 races at Nashville Speedway were historically scheduled for late September or early October. Track promoter Bill Donoho decided in early 1975 that he wanted to host the race before the annual Tennessee State Fair rather than after it as had been done since 1958. Consequently, the 17th annual Southern 400 was scheduled for August 30, 1975.

As a result of the change, the Southern 400 was no longer the season-ending late model race as had been the case most years. The week after the Southern, the track scheduled the inaugural Bob Hunley 100 in memory of the former driver killed at the speedway in 1972. Then following the state fair, the Fairgrounds planned to run three October Saturday nights of regular feature races.

In addition to moving up the race by a month, the 1975 Southern 400 was scheduled to be the first one run under the lights on a Saturday night. All others had been scheduled for Sunday afternoons.

A third change in 1975 was to make the event a one-day show with qualifying, a limited sportsman preliminary race, and the 400 lap LMS event all on Saturday. Two days of qualifying were gone as were consolation races.
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Jack Ingram won the 1973 Southern 400 and three consecutive NASCAR national late model sportsman titles. As happened with three-time national champion Red Farmer, however, the grind of chasing another title had become a bit more than Ingram wanted to invest.

In the pre-Busch Series era, a driver willing to pursue the national title had to race seemingly everywhere. Races on back-to-back days often required an overnight tow from the first race. In some cases, national points were available at more than one event on the same day. Performing at a high level and keeping the competition at bay while running as many events as possible took a high toll on the individual as well as his equipment, limited crew, family, etc.

Yet with six career victories at Nashville and the prestige of the Southern 400 on the line, Ingram opted to include the the race on his somewhat reduced schedule.

As Ingram cracked the throttle on his pursuit of a fourth tittle, Harry Gant still had his foot buried. Though he trailed Butch Lindley in the national standings, he continued the pressure by racing everywhere, winning frequently, and accumulating points.

Part of Gant's success in 1975 - including wins in two of Nashville's four 200-lap events - resulted from his car built by racing legend Tiger Tom Pistone. Still active today at age 89, Pistone remained in racing long after his driving days ended. He built cars, served as crew chief for various drivers, and championed the cause of several up-and-comers.

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Lindley, winner of the 1974 Southern 400 and the national points leader, kept the Big Mo rolling by winning the pole for the 1975 edition.

For the second time in three years, Alabama's Alton Jones qualified on the front row alongside the pole winner. Jones claimed the track's LMS title a year later in 1976. Two-time Southern winner L.D. Ottinger, Gant, and local rookie P.B. Crowell III rounded out the top five starters.

Other name drivers in the show included Ingram, Neil Bonnett in a Bobby Allison-prepared Nova, 1974 Nashville track champion Jimmy Means, and Nashville legend turned Cup racer Darrell Waltrip.

Waltrip had a hectic weekend schedule traveling back and forth between Nashville and Darlington. In Nashville, he needed to shake down a new Mercury Cougar fielded by long-time owner/sponsor R.C. Alexander. Similarly in Darlington, DW prepared for the Southern 500 Cup race in only his third outing with DiGard Racing.

Late summer showers arrived after completion of qualifying, and the race was postponed until Sunday. Only one Southern 300 (1963: blog post) had been rained out prior to the 1975 edition. The rain-out also scuttled plans for the first night Southern. Thus, the Sunday afternoon tradition continued.

Lindley got the jump on Jones and the rest of the field as the race got underway on Sunday. A year earlier, Lindley had a strong car; however, his dominant second half run was aided by DNFs by his strongest competition. He planned to control his own destiny in the 1975 Southern.

Waltrip settled into a rhythm of his own in Alexander's #84 Cougar. As Lindley played the rabbit, Waltrip and Ol' Henry rode comfortably in the top five. Something went amiss, however, on lap 71. For the third year in a row, the 1972 Southern 300 winner and two-time track champion left the race early. Rather than make a hasty exit for Darlington's Labor Day race, Waltrip remained at the track.

A couple of  drivers needed an assist as the raced entered its final stages. Ottinger developed significant back pain and finally surrendered his car to Waltrip around lap 300. A few laps later, Ironman Jack Ingram needed relief from Joe Thurman.

Meanwhile, Lindley built a full-lap lead over second place as he headed for his second Southern 400 win. With 30 laps to go, however, disaster struck. Lindley puked a motor in his Nova, and he coasted helplessly to the pits.

Waltrip made up the lap deficit and soon had Ottinger's Chevelle in the lead. He led the remaining laps and took the checkered flag over Ingram's car.

Ottinger officially claimed the win, his second Southern, and his second win at Nashville in 1975. (He won the season-opening Winston 200 in April.) Coincidentally, Ottinger finished second in Waltrip's first Nashville win, the 1970 Flameless 300. Bonnett finished third followed by Crowell and Gant.

As the driver who crossed the finish line first headed to Darlington, the winning driver in street clothes loaded his Chevelle for the haul back to Newport, TN.

The 1975 Southern 400 was the the only one held in August. The race returned to its traditional post-state fair scheduling in 1976 and 1977. Also, none of the remaining Southern races were scheduled for a Saturday night.

Alton Jones won the Bob Hunley memorial 100-lap race the following Saturday night. Challenging weather and deteriorating track conditions resulted, however, in the cancellation of the remaining three October nights of racing. Walter Wallace won his second track LMS title over Jimmy Means who sought his second title in back-to-back years.

Source for articles: The Tennessean


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Nashville's 1974 Permatex Southern 400

From 1958 through 1973, Nashville's racing facility was known simply as Fairground Speedways. The property was renamed Nashville Speedway in 1974, and the new moniker remained through 1978.

The name seemed new to many and certainly highlighted the city's name. The former, generic fairgrounds label could be used to refer to many other tracks around the country. 

After Lanny Hester and Gary Baker took over from Bill Donoho as leaseholders and promoters in December 1978, they renamed their newly acquired property Nashville International Raceway. In the years to follow with a turnstile of new promoters, the track went through additional name changes including Nashville Motor Raceway and Music City Motorplex. Today, the track's name under promoter Tony Formosa, Jr. reflects the facility's origins albeit with an alternate ending "s": Fairgrounds Speedway.

In other ways, however, the change to Nashville Speedway was a bit of a throwback. Prior to opening the fairgrounds track, promoter Bill Donoho and his partners operated a quarter-mile track near East Nashville. Most referred to the track by its original name, the Legion Bowl. By the late 1950s, however, the track was formally named Nashville Speedways.

In addition to getting a fresh name, the walls got a fresh look as well. Gone was the traditional black and white pattern.With the increased support for Cup and local racing from R.J. Reynolds, the walls were repainted red and white to match RJR's Winston branding.
Credit for both photos: Russ Thompson
Despite the name and paint changes, one song that remained the same was the running of the season-ending, 16th annual Southern 400 on September 29th.

Though the race's schedule placement did not change, the distance almost did. Before the season began, Donoho planned to extend the race one hundred laps to create Nashville's own version of the Southern 500. The race would have been the longest on Nashville's schedule - including its two Winston Cup races.

In response to the nation's energy crisis, NASCAR's Bill France Sr. asked its sanctioned tracks to make measurable cuts as a visible effort to conserve energy. In addition to various other changes, Donoho opted to reduce the Southern by one hundred laps rather than increase it.

Cutting the race would have returned the Southern to 300 laps, the traditional length from 1959 through 1972. For reasons that aren't clear, however, the decision was made later to restore the Southern back to 400 laps.
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Jack Ingram captured the pole during qualifying. Ingram was the defending winner of the Southern 400 as well as the reigning NASCAR national Late Model Sportsman champion.

Darrell Waltrip qualified second. After four seasons driving Chevelle's for owners P.B. Crowell and Ellis Cook, Waltrip moved to R.C. Alexander's Ford in 1974. In doing so, he reversed his former number 48 to Alexander's 84.

Butch Lindley began racing at Nashville in 1974 and liked his results. He won a 200-lapper and finished runner-up to Waltrip in a 100-lap event. Having gained a bit of familiarity with the track, he timed third.

Freddy Fryar returned for another shot at his third Southern and had the fourth quickest lap. Fryar was the only driver in the field with a chance at a third victory as other two-time winners Jimmy Griggs, Friday Hassler, and Red Farmer were not entered.

Top starters Ingram, Waltrip, Lindley, and Fryar
Twin 30-lap qualifying races set the remainder of the 34-car field. L.D.Ottinger and Flookie Buford won the heat races and lined up fifth and sixth, respectively.
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The track offered drivers an incentive to compete for the lead in addition to a healthy winner's purse. Drivers earned $10 for each lap led as a result of support from varying race sponsors.

Though the amount per lap sounds low by today's standards, the lap bonuses caught the drivers' eyes. One could pad the regular race dollars by spending a lot of time up front. Taking a chunk of the extra $4,000 could help pay for tires, travel expenses, or other costs.
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At the start, Waltrip fired off just as he did a year earlier. In the 1973 Southern, Waltrip got the early jump on pole-winner Randy Bethea. A year later though in a different car, Waltrip grabbed the same advantage over Ingram.

Once out front, Waltrip did as Waltrip frequently did at Nashville: lead. He led close to thirty of the first fifty laps and seemed to have the right combination to win his second Southern.

On lap 51, however, Waltrip lost a cylinder and had to park it. He went from having an early command of the race to getting a head start home to Franklin.

Waltrip's departure followed the early exit by a couple of other name drivers. Ottinger hit the wall on lap 11 and finished dead last. Jimmy Means, Nashville's 1974 late model sportsman champion, followed Ottinger to the trailer a few laps later.

With Waltrip and Ottinger sidelined, Fryar reminded the field he still knew how to race in Nashville despite two track re-configurations. He led 131 laps in the middle stages of the race, but his return to Music City ended with suspension issues and a subsequent visit to the wall on lap 245.

Two contenders remained following Fryar's exit: Ingram and Lindley. Ingram led a few dozen laps, but it was Lindley who racked up one ten spot after another as the race continued its second half.

With 120 laps to go, Ingram gained the advantage over Lindley during a pit sequence. Both roared back into action, and Ingram had his hands full with Lindley's #16 red Chevelle in hot pursuit.

As the duo barreled through turns one and two, Buford lost an engine in front of them. Ingram caught the oil and drilled Buford. He continued, but his car suffered a good bit of damage. Lindley saw the problem unfolding, dropped low, and sailed by without incident.

Though Ingram stayed in the race, he was no longer a factor and faded to a sixth place finish. Lindley led the rest of the way, collected $1,900 of the $4,000 lap money, and pocketed his second Nashville win of the season.

Most of the photos in this post were snapped by Russ Thompson, long-time racing fan, participant, and Nashville racing historian. I recommend viewing more of his pictures from the 1974 Southern 400 here.

Source for articles: The Tennessean


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Nashville's 1973 Permatex Southern 400

From 1958 to 1972, the season-ending premier race at Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway was the Southern 300. Over those years, racers and fans saw a transition from modified to late model cars as well as a re-design of the track from a low-banked, half-mile to a high-banked, 5/8-mile oval.

Two drivers were killed during the speedway's three years as a track banked steeper than Bristol and Talladega, and many others endured hard hits from blown tires and other accidents.

Following the 1972 season, the track was re-designed yet again. The banks were lowered to 18 degrees which is where they remain today. In addition to the lowered banking, the Southern was extended by 100 laps. Thus fans got to enjoy the 15th annual Southern 400 for the first time on September 30, 1973.

Red Farmer returned for his shot at a third win in his 12th Southern. Farmer has long been known as a founding member of The Alabama Gang. His roots, however, are in Nashville and, more specifically, within spittin' distance of the Fairgrounds track.

To capture his third Southern victory, Farmer would have to go through Darrell Waltrip. Racing a red and gold, Falls City Beer sponsored #48 Chevelle, DW won eleven of the twenty late model sportsman features prior to the Southern 400. He also captured his second track championship and first with car owner and local beer distributor, Ellis Cook.

As expected, Waltrip laid down the lap to beat during qualifying. He had a nose for Nashville when it was steeply banked, and his skills and confidence remained high after the lowering of the turns in 1973.

Waltrip and the rest of the field, however, got a bit of a surprise. Unheralded Randy Bethea of Newport, TN was a hair quicker than Waltrip and scored the pole.

In doing so, Bethea became the first black driver to earn a pole for a NASCAR national championship race. Though I'm not 100 percent certain, I believe Bethea held that distinction until Bill Lester won the pole for a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Charlotte in May 2003.

Lining up third was Georgia's Jody Ridley in a one-off deal in R.C. Alexander's reputable #84 Ford. Harry Gant and Jerry Lawley rounded out the top five starters on the first day of qualifying.

Though Bethea's accomplishment earned himself a spot as a trivia answer, he did not want to dwell on it - then or now. He wanted to be viewed a racer and not simply as a black driver. About 31 minutes into the feature, Just Another Racer, Bethea, Brad Teague and others revisit that important accomplishment and the resulting race result.

As had become the case over the years, the Southern field included many top shelf name drivers. The list included included Harry Gant, Jack Ingram, 1970 Southern 300 winner L.D. Ottinger, Sam Ard, Neil Bonnett, Morgan Shepherd, and Jimmy Hensley.

The increased popularity of the race also meant many did not make the show. In 1973, twenty-six drivers loaded early without seeing the green flag. The list included two former NASCAR Cup racers - Bobby Isaac and Sam McQuagg.

Isaac, NASCAR's 1970 Grand National champion as well as winner of the first race on Nashville's high-banked track, was recruited to race when Ellis Cook believed Waltrip would not. Isaac began the year as driver of Bud Moore's #15 Ford. During the Talladega 500, however, Isaac asked for a relief driver, brought the car to pit road, exited, claimed he heard voices to get out, and promptly retired from Cup racing.

Moore hired Waltrip as Isaac's replacement, and Waltrip planned to balance the remaining Cup schedule with his LMS title pursuit at Nashville. With the title secured, he planned to race at Martinsville which occurred the same day as the Southern 400. Isaac was to sub in Waltrip's late model.

Moore then opted not to enter the Martinsville allowing Waltrip to race in the Southern 400 after all. He returned to his regular #48 Chevelle, and Ellis Cook provided a #43 backup car for Isaac. With the switcheroos, Isaac simply wasn't quick enough to make the field.

At the start, Bethea wanted to show his pole win wasn't a one-lap wonder. Instead, Waltrip let it be known it was his track and pulled the field as they barreled into turn one. Within a couple of laps, Bethea's Ford drifted into the clutches of the bottom half of the top 10. His race went from bad to worse as he lost oil pressure from a known leak. He was done before the race was even one-quarter complete.

Early in the race, fans witnessed some quality racing up front with many of the established late model stars. Farmer, however, was not one of them. He qualified mid pack, had trouble early, and loaded with a DNF on lap 64.

Early action with Waltrip, Ingram, Gant & Lawley
Despite the contenders' pursuit, Waltrip held all of them at bay for the first 60 laps. His day then began to unravel. First, he lost a lap during a pit stop tire change. Shortly after, his #48 Chevelle then began overheating. Though he made it to the end, he ended his championship-winning season with an eighth place finish several laps down to the race winner.

Two national championship points races - Charlotte and Martinsville - remained after Nashville. Sam Ard was in a tight points race with Jack Ingram, and both needed to keep each other in sight. Instead, Ard had a day that wasn't needed. A broken spindle sent him to the pits for repairs. Though he lost 50+ laps, Ard returned to action to salvage a few points. His sixteenth place finish presented an even greater challenge as the duo readied for the World Service Life 300 and Cardinal 500.

L.D. Ottinger had one of the fastest Chevelles. His pit work, however, ended up being his biggest challenge of the day. Ottinger could seemingly pass cars with ease, but more than once he relinquished all he'd gained with slow stops. After a roller coaster day through the running order, Ottinger eventually returned to Newport, TN with a P3.

During the middle stages of the race, Ottinger and Ard had their brief time out front. Also getting some time to shine were Brad Teague, Morgan Shepherd, and Harry Gant. When Gant pitted with about 125 laps to go, Ingram's #11 Chevelle went to the top of the leaderboard ... and stayed there.

As many of the expected contenders developed issues, Ingram simply grew stronger - and had exceptional pit stops. Over the final 100 laps, he built a one-lap lead over second running Gant. He cruised the remaining laps and notched his only Southern 400 win. The win may have provided a bit of redemption after having narrowly and controversially lost the 1972 Southern 300.

Most of the photos included in this post were snapped and shared by Nashville racing historian Russ Thompson. Many more from the '73 Southern are included on his website.

Source for articles: The Tennessean


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Nashville's 1972 Permatex Southern 300

Drivers belted in for the 14th running of the Southern 300 on October 1, 1972. The race was the third of the 20 editions to fall on October 1st. The race was also the first one to add a sponsor. Permatex signed as the title sponsor - though thankfully the Southern name was retained.

Permatex's first arrived as a Nashville sponsor in the 1971 season opener previously known as the Flameless 300. The company also supported other significant late model races around the country - most notably at Daytona where the race names were simply the Permatex 300. So it was a significant, agreed-upon point that the tradition of Nashville's Southern 300 was retained in the 1972 race name.

As in prior years, the Southern 300 continued to draw big-name, out-of-town drivers to race against the locals. Red Farmer was a Nashville native but was better known as a member of The Alabama Gang. So though he had been racing at the Fairgrounds almost since it opened, he was still generally regarded as an out-of-towner.

Jack Ingram also made the trek to middle Tennessee. Throughout the 1970s, Ingram pocketed several nice wins in Music City. He arrived for the 1972 Southern having already won a pair of 200-lap races in July and August. Ingram was also seeking his first NASCAR national late model sportsman title after Farmer won three straight from 1969-1971.

The big dawg locally was Darrell Waltrip. DW won the track's 1970 LMS title and continued to test the weight limits of his crowded trophy shelves. He won the 1970 Flameless 300 (the first late model race on Nashville's high-banked track), and his 1972 victories included three 100-lap LMS features plus a 200-lap national USAC stock car race.

Farmer, the defending and two-time Southern 300 champion, wanted to become the race's first three-time winner. He inherited his second win in 1971 when a dominating Waltrip broke late in the race. Waltrip returned in his P.B. Crowell-owned, red and white American Homes #48 Chevelle to finish what he started a year earlier.

Local racer Charlie Binkley won the pole in his #25 Pabst Blue Ribbon Chevelle. Alabama's Alton Jones joined him on the front row. Ingram, Waltrip, and Farmer spent time together promoting the race, and they started together in fourth, fifth, and sixth.

Source: Russ Thompson / Nashville Fairgrounds Racing History
Despite starting fourth, Waltrip had a nose for the lead. Similar to his performance a year earlier, Waltrip went to the point early and stayed there for the first 200 laps. Things then began to get interesting in the final third of the race.

With about 70 laps to go, Waltrip lapped second place running Ingram. In doing so, he found himself in a lap to himself. While knocking off lap after lap, DW likely had time to wonder about race gremlins - particularly the variety that denied him the win a year earlier.

Sure enough, one of the gremlins announced its presence about ten laps later. As Waltrip roared through the third turn, he broke a left front wheel. Remarkably, he maintained control of his car and limped to pit road.

Waltrip returned to action, but his time out front had ended. He lost the lap-lead on the field and fell to third behind Ingram and pole-winner Binkley.

With about 20 laps to go, a debris caution bunched the field for what was expected to be the final restart. It wasn't.

As the field took the green a couple of laps later, hell broke loose. Red Farmer (driving L.D. Ottinger's car in relief) suddenly had his windshield coated with fluid from Jerry Sisco's car. Farmer slowed, but he also knew the pack was rolling. Binkley, running second to Ingram, clipped Farmer and set sail for the wall.

Binkley exploded into the first turn wall just past the grandstands, rolled over it, and destroyed his car. Remarkably, he exited the car unharmed.

Source: Steve Cavanah
Source: Nashville Fairgrounds Racing History
The caution - while awful for Binkley - provided a break for Waltrip. Prior to the debris caution and the ensuing Binkley accident, Ingram had gapped Waltrip in just a couple of laps. On the restart, however, Waltrip was now on Ingram's bumper. He made the pass for the lead soon after the restart and clung to it as the scoreboard logged the final few laps.

As the two raced to begin the final lap, one more caution was displayed - or at least that's officially what happened. Waltrip saw the yellow flag (and presumably flashing lights), but Ingram claimed the yellow was not waived. Ingram charged past Waltrip at the line as he believed he saw the white flag. Waltrip, however, cracked the throttle because of the caution and expected a gentlemen's agreement to not race back to the line.

Race officials agreed with Waltrip. He received the checkered flag and the win, and Ingram's protest over a yellow vs. white flag was declined. Despite having a hand in the race-deciding caution and Binkley's crash, Farmer brought home Ottinger's Chevelle in third place.

Source: Nashville Fairgrounds Racing History
Waltrip's Southern 300 trophies reside today in one of his Franklin, TN car dealerships. The one held by Waltrip in the above photo was awarded by Permatex.

The second one held by Judy Frensley to the left of Waltrip's wife, Stevie, was presented by the track.

A  number of questions remained after the finish:
  • Was it fair game for Ingram to race back to the line to take the white flag and ultimately the win? 
  • Was Waltrip's presumed drivers' code the safer and approved way to settle the race? 
  • Did track officials provide a little home cookin' for the local guy over the national fella? 
As controversial as the ending of the '72 Southern 300 may have been, the finish paled in comparison to what went down between Richard Petty and Bobby Allison during North Wilkesboro's Cup race the same day.

The 1972 Southern 300 was the final race on Nashville's high-banked track. After a three-year run accompanied by two driver deaths and a chorus of safety complaints, Fairground Speedways was reconfigured a second time. The banking was dropped to 18 degrees where it remains to this day. In doing so, the track's third configuration shortened it from a 5/8-mile oval (.625) to .596 mile. Yet perhaps because "five-eighths" rolls off the tongue a bit easier than "point five nine six", the former, longer distance continued to be referenced in the years to follow.

Source for articles: The Tennessean


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Nashville's 1971 Southern 300

The 13th running of the Southern 300 at Nashville's Fairground Speedways concluded the 1971 season of points-paying races. Flookie Buford captured the first of his two track late model sportsman titles, and national NASCAR points were on the line for the Southern 300 competitors.

The thirteenth edition of the race also somewhat reflected the unlucky tone of the season. Driver Art Ellis began the year on a true high note with an unexpected yet popular win in the season-opening Flameless 200. Two months later, however, Ellis lost his life in an accident during a regular ol' 30-lap Saturday night feature.

An iconic (?) movie in the theaters at the time of the 1971 Southern was Evel Knievel with actor George Hamilton playing the role of the daredevil. The now-departed, single-screen Donelson Theatre near my parents' house screened the movie.

I wish I could make the claim of seeing the movie ... at that time ... and in that theater. But I cannot. I was a bit too young and not yet aware of this larger-than-life character. Within a couple of years, however, Evel was definitely on my radar through Wide World of Sports and the hyped promotion for his Snake River Canyon jump. For what it's worth though, my mother took me to see Disney's Jungle Book at the Donelson Theatre.
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One of the promotional photos in The Tennesseean featured three racing giants: Red Farmer, Lee Roy Yarbrough, and Harry Gant - though each for different reasons and at different times.

By 1971, Farmer's reputation as a modified and sportsman winner was already well established. He raced seemingly anywhere and everywhere - dirt and asphalt, superspeedways and short tracks, NASCAR and outlaw, in sickness and in health, etc.

After a period of banging around short tracks, Yarbrough joined NASCAR's Grand National ranks in the mid 1960s. He never ran a full season, but his performances caught the eye of owner Junior Johnson. The duo joined forces in 1967, and Yarbrough enjoyed a career year in 1969 including grand slam wins in the Daytona 500, World 600, and Southern 500. Oddly, the combo could not sustain their success in the years to follow. Yarbrough returned to racing a patchwork of events including NASCAR Cup, Indy Car, USAC stock cars, and late model shows such as the Southern 300.

Gant's fame came much later than the other two - especially when he became synonymous with the Skoal Bandit Cup car in the 1980s. In the early 1970s, however, Gant had already begun to experience success in local and regional LMS races. His finished second in his first Nashville race, the 1970 Southern 300. He returned to Music City a few more times in 1971 before qualifying for his second Southern.

Gant's photo with Farmer and Yarbrough wasn't the only time in his career he was recruited for a cheesy tug-of-war promo pose. He also hammed it up with other Cup drivers in a similar manner for Martinsville's 1985 race program.

For years, the Southern 300 trophy was presented by Pepsi. In 1971, local CBS affiliate WLAC-TV sponsored the award. Sports anchor Hope Hines was on hand to present the winner's trophy. A few years later, WLAC-TV changed its call letters to WTVF. The station remains on the air today though it is now branded as NewsChannel 5.

Country singer Nat Stuckey served as the grand marshal. Um... yeah... ahem, that Nat Stuckey. I guess.

I'll concede I was not aware of Mr. Stuckey's discography, but I did find one of his winning songs, Sweet Thang. Enjoy ... and then return.

Though Flookie Buford captured the LMS championship along with five feature wins, 1970 track champ Darrell Waltrip racked the most wins in 1971. Driving the #48 Sterling Beer, P.B. Crowell-owned Chevelle, Waltrip notched eight wins in 22 features.

Many considered Waltrip as the favorite for the Southern - especially among the local racers. With several out-of-town racers expected for the race, others pointed to Donnie Allison as the driver to beat. Allison submitted his entry, and he expected to compete during an off-weekend from his Cup schedule with the Wood Brothers. 

In the week leading up to the race, however, Allison received an offer from Roger Penske to drive in a sports car race in Riverside, California. Allison planned to sub for Mark Donohue in Penske's Javelin so Donohue could travel to Trenton, NJ to race Penske's car in the USAC Indy Car event. 

Joe Carver, Nashville's publicity director, was less than pleased over Allison's decision to withdraw from the Southern - especially since Carver and track promoter Bill Donoho spent good money including Allison's name in pre-race promotional radio and print ads. 

Though Carver likely never would have admitted it, one has to wonder if he smirked a bit on October 2nd. Allison spun off course during a practice lap at Riverside, and his front wheels hooked a rut in the desert dirt lining the track. The steering wheel snapped in Allison's hands, a bone in his wrist snapped, and he was unable to race on Sunday.
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L.D. Ottinger won the 1970 Southern almost by process of elimination. One by one, the favored drivers fell by the wayside, and Ottinger found himself with a comfortable lead over Gant. A year later, Ottinger arrived loaded for bear and made a statement about his desire to repeat. He topped the speed chart in qualifying to earn the top starting spot.

Local racer James Ham - who routinely laid down lightning-quick laps on Nashville's high banks - timed second. Waltrip, Farmer, and local racer Bill Morton rounded out the top five starters.

Ottinger seized the lead from his top starting spot when the green flag waved. He pulled the field around the 5/8-mile track for five laps before surrendering the lead to Waltrip.

Once Waltrip got by L.D., he gone. Lap after lap, DW deftly navigated the big turns and short straights. Even through pit cycles, the #48 car could not be passed.

Waltrip's rhythm was interrupted a couple of times for accidents involving others. One was for second place starter Ham when he pulled a bone-headed move. After dealing with lapped traffic during the first third of the race, Ham ran upon Buford. Thinking Flookie was a lap down, Ham rapped his bumper as a signal to get out of his way. Buford, however, was in the same lap as Ham and wasn't about to surrender the spot as a charitable gesture. Ham took another shot, dove to the inside, but couldn't make it work. Ham wiped out Buford as well as his own car, and both finished well down in the finishing order. 

Despite cautions and restarts, Waltrip continued his domination with a lap lead on second place Farmer. With 15 laps to go, however, it happened. 

Drivers often say they hear things inside the car while leading a race late - particularly a signature event. More often that not, the paranoia is replaced by euphoria as the checkered flag falls. That wasn't the case, however, in the 1971 Southern.

With a commanding lead and another Nashville win in sight, Waltrip's transmission fell apart. He coasted helplessly to the pit area where he was greeted with empathy by car owner Crowell.

Red Farmer, who himself experienced multiple Southern losses when a win seemed certain, inherited the top spot as Waltrip sat dejectedly in his car. Once Farmer made up his lap deficit, the lead belonged to him - followed by his second Southern 300 win in three years.

Source: Steve Cavanah
The 1971 season was a bit different than most of the previous years at the Fairgrounds. The Southern 300 was traditionally the final race of the season. In 1971, however, the track hosted an additional night of racing - but with a couple of different twists.
  • A 200-lap feature on the quarter-mile track for the Cadet racers was the main event - by far the longest race for that division. 
  • The LMS race was the undercard, and Waltrip scored the win in the 50-lap event. Drivers competed for prize money only - no points.
Source for articles: The Tennessean