Sunday, November 5, 2017

November 5, 1967 - Western North Carolina 500

Asheville-Weaverville Speedway's half-mile track was the scene of several memorable NASCAR events for almost 20 years between 1951 and 1969. The 1967 Western North Carolina 500 was the season-ending race though it was originally scheduled for August 20th - right in the heart of Richard Petty's 10-race winning streak.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
Petty's hot summer streak continued during qualifying for the August 20 race as Ol' Blue scored the pole.

Source: News And Courier
Heavy rains postponed the race; however, and it was rescheduled for August 27th. Though Petty didn't get to race, he still got to put a few bucks in his pocket - $500 for his pole run and a $400 appearance fee for meeting fans at an area shopping center.

Source: Spartanburg Herald
The teams were ready to roll once more a week later, and Petty was clearly the prohibitive favorite for the win. Rain again interrupted everyone's plans; however, and NASCAR and the track worked to find a mutually agreeable date for the third attempt.

Source: News and Courier
All eventually decided to slot the race as the season-ending event in what turned out to be a chilly early November. When the teams returned about two months later, NASCAR decided a "do-over" was necessary for qualifying. Petty's pole run and the rest of the August qualifying results were tossed, and everyone laid down another lap.

For the race that took, Allison captured the pole in his Fred Lorenzen-led, Holman Moody Ford, and Petty timed his Plymouth sixth rather than P1 as he'd done in August. LeeRoy Yarbrough qualified second in Junior Johnson's Ford, and David Pearson and Dick Hutcherson made up the second row in two more Holman Moody Fords. Cale Yarborough's Mercury timed fifth in his first of two starts for NASCAR Hall of Fame owner Bud Moore to give the Blue Oval crowd a sweep of the top five starting positions.

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Allison led the first 121 laps before giving way to Hutcherson for a couple of laps. David Pearson then went to the point for a 90-lap stretch. Petty took over on lap 215, and trio of Pearson, Petty, and Allison traded positions every so often during the second half of the race.

Attrition for the race was extremely high. Several cars left the race because of wrecks. Others ended their day early because of engine or transmission issues - possibly the result of racing a long, grinding season with worn-out parts. Of the 30 starters, only six cars finished the race.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott was one of the drivers whose day ended early. He spun and wrecked after only 52 of the race's 500 laps.

Embed from Getty Images

About two decades later, Scott's tough day at Asheville-Weaverville in 1967 was used as the cover image for Brian Donovan's book about Wendell.

As the race entered the final few laps, the beatin' and bangin' fans enjoy so much with short track racing intensified. With about 20 laps to go, Petty dove to the inside of Allison's Ford. The 43 sent Allison into the marbles, but Bobby gathered his car and set sail for the blue Plymouth as it disappeared down the straight.

The tail pipe on Allison's car came loose and began to drag the track - likely the result of hard racing with Petty. Rather than black flag the leader, NASCAR officials rightfully let the battle continue. With seven laps remaining, Allison caught Petty, muscled his way to the inside, and nudged Petty's Plymouth towards the outside rail.

Just as Allison had done earlier, Petty regained control of his Plymouth and took off in hot pursuit. He was also keeping an eye on Allison's exhaust that was dragging the track right in front of him. When the checkered flag fell, Petty crossed the finish line one car length behind Allison.

After the race, Petty said "I guess when you've won as much as I have, everyone takes pot shots at you". Allison responded with "We were racing for the win. He put me out of the groove more than once, and I did the same thing to him." The race was the eighth of 51 times Petty and Allison finished in the top two spots.

Embed from Getty Images

Allison's crew chief, Lorenzen, was bubbling with enthusiasm over the win. Lorenzen served as Allison's crew chief two times, and Allison had won both races. Lorenzen said "as far as I'm concerned, Allison has a life-time job."

Source: News and Courier
Petty forfeited his pole for the race because of two rain delays, and he finished a close second to his rival after getting bumped out of the groove. He and his crew still returned to Level Cross as winners though as Petty secured his second NASCAR Grand National title - a number that eventually grew to seven with his final title in 1979.

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

October 22, 1972 - American 500

For the next to last race of the 1972 Winston Cup season, NASCAR's finest raced in the American 500 at North Carolina Motor Speedway - known simply to most as Rockingham.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
The first round of qualifying was rained out on Thursday. The downtime created an opportunity for some great stories ... and lies ... to be told.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
After a half-dozen successful years with the #71 K&K Insurance Dodge team - including the 1970 championship, Bobby Isaac suddenly left the team after the Southern 500 nearly two months earlier. As race weekend continued, Isaac provided a few more details - but not many more - about his decision to leave the #71 and join Banjo Matthews' team for a couple of races.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
David Pearson captured the pole in the Wood Brothers #21 Purolator Mercury - as was frequently the case in the 1970s. Buddy Baker qualified the K&K Dodge next to Pearson. Baker left his STP Petty Enterprises Dodge part-time ride to join the #71 team on a full-time basis after Isaac's resignation.

Richard Petty timed third in what was to be his final career start in a Plymouth. Former Rookie of the Year and 1970 sensation for Petty Enterprises, Pete Hamilton, qualified fourth. Future NASCAR Hall of Famers and rivals Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough made up the third row.

When the green dropped on Sunday afternoon, time at the front of the field was dominated by four of the top five qualifiers: Allison, Baker, Pearson, and Petty. Hamilton was the lone top five starter who didn't lead a lap; however, he ran a smooth, consistent race and finished fifth.

As the race entered its second half, however, Allison's Richard Howard-owned, Junior Johnson-prepared, Herb Nab-crewed Coke Machine seized control. Bobby led 217 of the race's 492 laps - including the final 176 - and easily won the race by 2 laps over second place Petty in his last hurrah with the STP Plymouth.

The first five qualifiers ended up being the top finishers of the race albeit in a slightly different order: Allison, Petty, Baker, Pearson, and Hamilton. The race was the 39th of 51 times that Petty and Allison finished in the top two spots.

Clarence Lovell finished twelfth in Don Bierschawale's car - his best finish of a twelve-race 1972 season. Sadly, Lovell would be killed in a passenger car accident near Talladega in May 1973.

Marty Robbins started 36th and finished 26th in the only Rockingham start of the Twentieth Century Drifter's 35-race Cup career. Hmm, 36-26-35. Pretty good sequence of numbers if you ask me. But I digress.

Source: Spartanburg Herald
Allison noted his chances of catching The King for the championship in the season's final race at Texas World Speedway were between slim and none. He was right. Buddy Baker won the race at Texas, Petty was third, and Allison finished fourth. As a result, Richard locked up his second consecutive and fourth overall NASCAR Winston Cup championship - surpassing Lee Petty and David Pearson.

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Saturday, October 7, 2017

October 7, 1973 - National 500

The next to last event of the 28-race 1973 Winston Cup season was the National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The 1973 schedule is tied with 1985 for the fewest Cup races in the modern era.

The primary story line entering the race was the tight points battle going on between Richard Petty's pursuit of this third consecutive title, Cale Yarborough, independents James Hylton and Cecil Gordon, and the underdog contender Benny Parsons. But Charlotte's race weekend ended up having plenty of unexpected, supplemental story lines.

Fred Lorenzen abandoned Hoss Ellington's Chevrolet in late 1972 after deeming the car as non-competitive. Ellington phoned Charlie Glotzbach to offer him a handful of rides during the season, and Glotzbach accepted the challenge.

Chargin' Charlie wore out the field on the first day of qualifying day to claim the pole. David Pearson who may have held a bit back during practice ended up laying down the quickest lap before Glotzbach's run knocked him off the pole. Afterwards, Glotzbach said to the media "I didn't figure on Pearson running that fast. I thought the man I had to beat was Cale. That Pearson must have been sandbagging." Yarborough qualified third followed by Bobby Allison and Petty.

Rapid fire, up-to-the-minute, news blurbs are available at our fingertips today via Twitter. Back in the day, however, folks (at least South Carolinians) had Gene Granger’s notes columns – including an ooh that had to hurt yet funny update on Marty Robbins.

On Saturday as final tech inspections and qualifying began, NASCAR uttered the words made famous by Lee Corso on ESPN: Not so fast my friend. Inspectors determined Ellington's team had monkeyed with the required carburetor restrictor plate.

Glotzbach's pole-winning time was disallowed, and he was forced to re-qualify in the last session. Though fastest in the session, he had to start his #28 Chevy in 36th position.

Source:  Spartanburg Herald-Journal via Google News Archive
David Pearson was elevated from second to the top starting spot with Cale alongside him. With Pearson up front, he and the Wood Brothers' #21 Purolator Mercury began a streak of 11 consecutive poles at Charlotte stretching to the 1978 National 500. Bobby Allison was moved to third and Richard Petty to fourth.

Starting 17th in Junie Donlavey’s #90 Truxmore Ford was an established Carolina late model hot shoe making his Cup debut: Handsome Harry Gant. As Gant readied for his first Cup start, another legendary driver was making his final one.

Wendell Scott made a return from a savage wreck at Talladega several weeks earlier to make one final start. He put Doc Faustina’s #5 Kmart Dodge Charger in the field in 38th starting spot.

The field lined up and ready for the green.

Glotzbach's weekend went from good to bad to worse. After winning - and then losing - the pole, he then crashed coming out of turn 4 on lap 47. Pearson plowed right into Glotzbach, and the pole winner's day was done. Darrell Waltrip who was still looking to make a favorable impression upon car owner Bud Moore also found himself collected in the melee. Cale and Richard dodged the accident and continued on to the finish.

Cale dominated about two-thirds of the race in Junior Johnson’s #11 Kar Kare Chevy. He led 257 of the race’s 334 laps. Though he and Petty swapped the lead from time to time, The King led only 52 laps and finished second to Yarborough – the only other car on the lead lap.

Cale held on and went to victory lane. Colbert Seagraves, son of R.J. Reynolds' executive Ralph Seagraves, joined the Junior Johnson team in victory lane and got the opportunity to hold the winner’s trophy.

Source: Colbert Seagraves
Gant finished a respectable 11th in his Cup debut, and Wendell Scott went out on a high note. He rallied from 38th starting spot to finish 12th. Parsons finished fourth and held a slim points lead heading into the final race of the season at Rockingham - a race in which he experienced a career of highs and lows in one day.

Dick Trickle finished fifth in his only Cup start of 1973 and just his third career start. He raced a #1 Richard Howard-owned Chevy and a teammate of sorts to Yarborough.

Long-time hard charger Buddy Baker completed 228 of 334 laps. During the race, NASCAR officials informed Baker's crew chief Harry Hyde that they planned to inspect the #71 Dodge's restrictor plate after the race. Hyde and car owner Nord Krauskopf said "nope". They ordered Baker to park the car, and the team left CMS. Consequently, NASCAR DQ'd Baker and placed him 41st, last in the running order.

Source:  Spartanburg Herald-Journal
Allison finished third in his self-owned Chevy but raised a ruckus as soon as the checkered flag fell. He paid a $100 fee and protested the cars of Yarborough and Petty. Allison believed their engines may have been oversized or something else was amiss allowing them to generate more HP than his engine. NASCAR insisted all cars were going to be checked despite Allison's protest.

Source:  Spartanburg Herald-Journal
CMS president and promoter Richard Howard was very vocal in his support of Cale as the winner. His support was certainly expected. After all, Howard just happened to be the listed car owner of Yarborough's Chevy (as well as for Trickle's fifth-place car).

A day later, NASCAR conceded its inspection process could use some improvements. Yet, they refunded Allison his protest fee and said the finishing order would stand. The race was the tenth of 31 times that King and Cale finished in the top two spots.

Source:  Spartanburg Herald-Journal

Sunday, October 1, 2017

October 1, 1978 - Nashville's Marty Robbins 500

Throughout the 1960s, the signature and final late model race of the season at Nashville's fairgrounds speedway was the Southern 300. When the track was reconfigured to its current 5/8th-mile length and 18-degree banking in 1973, 100 laps were added to create the Southern 400. The 400 featured a combination of local late model sportsman racers as well as several big names from NASCAR's national LMS ranks.

Track promoter Bill Donoho made a significant addition to the 1977 schedule. A 500-lap open race was scheduled as the last race of the season, two weeks after the Southern 400. The event was the first 500-lap race at Nashville since the 1962 Nashville 500 NASCAR Grand National race won by Jim Paschal in a Petty Enterprises Plymouth. Donoho secured branding rights from country music singer and racer Marty Robbins for the Marty Robbins World Open 500. Short track legend Mike Eddy won the 1977 event.

The race was renewed and scheduled for October 1, 1978. The timing of the race raised many eyebrows and caused some confusion with fans, drivers, and the media.

The 1977 Marty Robbins 500 was held in mid-October, and most expected the 1978 sequel to be slotted for the same timeframe. Donoho learned the American Speed Association’s (ASA) World Cup 400 at I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Missouri, was scheduled for mid-October, however, and opted to move up his race a couple of weeks.

In doing so, Donoho booked the Marty Robbins World Open 500 on the same date as two other big time ASA races at Indiana’s Winchester Speedway and LaCrosse Interstate Speedway in Wisconsin. Another option for Donoho was to move his race to the spring – a move he would not accept.

Nashville’s race was open to all racers from all corners - NASCAR, USAC, ASA, outlaws / non-sanctioned series, etc. As with the 1977 race, many expected a large contingent of ASA drivers to again race in middle Tennessee. The buzz was that fans would see the top late model racers in the country at Nashville. Some drivers were included in ads for multiple races because of delayed decisions, non-binding verbal agreements, driver vs. owner preferences, and shifting commitments. So while fans got to see many of the top drivers, they arguably didn’t see all of them because of the two competing premier ASA races and the Winston Cup race at North Wilkesboro.

In a bit of a throwback to the Southern 400 history, Donoho paired the Open 500 with the preliminary Southern 200 NASCAR late model sportsman race. Interestingly, the track's advertisement for the weekend included the phrase "NASCAR Sanctioned". Though the Southern 200 was a NASCAR-sanctioned race, the Marty Robbins race was not.

Marty Robbins was a part-time Winston Cup racer and a full-time country singer icon. The race bore his name, but he opted not to race in the event. He instead served as the grand marshal and turned the track in the pace car.

TMC Archives
Nashville hosted NASCAR's Grand National and Winston Cup races from 1958 through 1984. Fans supported the races, and the drivers generally put on a good show for them. Behind the scenes, however, drivers often grumbled Nashville's purse wasn't even close to what it needed to be to justify the trips to middle Tennessee once or twice a season.

For the Robbins 500 race, however, the track ponied up. Despite the two competing ASA races, the race drew a huge crowd of 70 ASA, NASCAR LMS, and local cars vying for 40 starting spots. Chrysler Corporation sweetened the pot with a bonus of $5,000 to a driver in the top five - provided they raced a Mopar.

Source: The Tennessean
Coincidentally, STP Corporation planned to offer a similar $5,000 bonus to the highest finishing Dodge driver in the 1975 Nashville 420 Cup race. In that scenario, Donoho worked with STP in an effort to help ensure Richard Petty cleared the $2 million in career earnings at the fairgrounds. But... NASCAR inexplicably rejected the contingent race sponsorship and additional, positive attention it may have brought to the race, driver, track, and series.

Chrysler's $5,000 offer in 1978 didn't need NASCAR's approval since the race was open to all racers. The sponsorship was a bit odd, however, in that no known Mopars entered the show (at least, no competitive one). Did the money simply go unclaimed? Or did Donoho deposit it on Monday morning with an oh well shoulder shrug?

Michigan's Danny Byrd nabbed the pole for the 500 on the first day of qualifying in Stan Yee's #33 yellow Camaro. Wisconsin short track legend Dick Trickle hustled his #99 White Knight car quickly to join Byrd on the front row wire. Another out-of-area hot shoe, Junior Hanley, wrecked during practice, couldn't repair his car, and withdrew from the weekend's race.

The 500 was scheduled for Sunday afternoon with the Southern 200 companion event slotted as a one-day event on Saturday. After qualifying was completed, however, rain arrived resulting in a postponement of the race to Sunday. The Robbins 500 was then pushed back to Sunday evening.

Two-time Nashville track champion Darrell Waltrip had planned to fly home from North Wilkesboro to run in Saturday night's Southern 200. He opted not to make the round-trip because his late model wasn't ready and he had his hands full in North Carolina with the Cup race. The Saturday night rainout made his participation a moot point anyway as he was committed to the Wilkes 400 Cup race on Sunday.

Source: The Tennessean
Harry Gant won the pole for the Southern 200 and proceeded to win the Sunday race as well. The late Butch Lindley finished second. The duo raced closely - particularly in the second half of the race after Gant recovered from a broken shock and tire issue. A late caution resulted in a green-white, one-lap dash, and Gant was able to keep Lindley behind him for the win.

Local drivers Sterling Marlin and Mike Alexander finished third and fourth and were the only other cars on the lead lap at the finish. Lindley's P2 was enough to secure his second consecutive NASCAR national LMS title.

Long-time NASCAR crew chief Mike Beam worked for Gant in 1978 and remembered Gant's win:
I had left Butch Lindley at end of 1977 to move back to Hickory to get married and went to work for Harry. We did not travel much, just Hickory and Asheville. We went to Nashville at the end of the year. It rained the race out the night before so we had to race both of these races in one day. What was cool about this race, we beat Butch that day and he loaned us a right side tire to race with a certain code that only the factory supported Firestone drivers had. We had a flat in practice, but the car was fast. The left front shock mount broke out of the tubing, but Harry still won the race.
Following the Southern 200, a handful of drivers took time during the brief intermission to tweak their cars to race yet again in the open 500. Drivers attempting both races included national drivers Gant, L.D. Ottinger, and Jack Ingram as well as locals Marlin, Alexander, James Ham, Wayne Carden, and Tony Cunningham. The field then pulled onto the track for a few pace laps with Byrd and Trickle on the front row.

Courtesy of Russ Thompson
Although Junior Hanley missed the show because of his practice crash, Danny Byrd asked him to stick around just in case. Late model racers race frequently around the country - then and now - but few of their races were as long as 500 laps.

Byrd lost a lap early in the race, but his yellow Camaro was lightning quick. He soon made up the distance and went to the lead for several laps. His pre-race concern about his stamina, however, was well founded. Byrd hit pit road after 387 laps to turn his car over to Hanley.

Hanley lost a lap during the driver exchange to the car started by Mike Miller but driven by Larry Detjens. As with Byrd, Miller needed his own relief driver, and Detjens provided an assist after his own car fell out of the race after only 114 laps.

But with a fresh body at the wheel, Hanley hunkered down and put the fast 33 back in the wind as Byrd had done in the first half of the race. Hanley was initially content to just maintain a solid pace. But Byrd's crew told him to pick up the race so off he went.

Byrd-Hanley (33), Don Biederman (43), Miller-Detjens (18)
Over the next 60 laps, Hanley took huge chunks out of Detjens' lead. He made up his lost lap, pulled away comfortably, and passed Detjens again to take the lead with about 50 laps to go.

Hanley was flat out flying down the stretch. Remarkably, he gapped Detjens a third time and passed him on the final lap to put the second place car a lap down. Trickle was initially scored third with Gant fourth. After a recheck of scoring records, however, Gant was elevated to third with Jerry Markara fourth and Trickle fifth.

Courtesy of Russ Thompson
Jack Ingram's nickname is the Ironman, but he had a miserable day at Nashville. He completed only one lap in the Southern 200 LMS race, worked on his car for the 500, but completed only 14 laps. A weekend of effort resulted in two dead last finishes.

Gant was instead the Ironman of the day. He raced in both events in the same car. He won the pole and the 200 lap race and finished third in the 500, four laps down to the winner. He completed 696 of 700 laps in a single day of racing - perhaps more than anyone else ever has at Nashville. More of Mike Beam's memories:
They gave us 30 minutes to turn the car around. Jack Ingram welded the [shock] mount back on for me. I was changing the right rear spring and had to charge the battery and fill fuel. And we still finished in the top 5. We were 2 or 3 laps down to those ASA cars so we felt pretty good about that. I was worn out having worn that head set for so many hours and changing tires. Harry drove 696 laps that day, and after the race he drove the truck all the way to Asheville. 
Source: The Tennessean
The 1978 Marty Robbins World Open 500 was the second and final one. Donoho sold the track's lease rights to Lanny Hester and Gary Baker in December 1978, and all sorts of changes began to unfold - including a cessation of weekly late model racing in 1979.

Remnants of the Southern 400 and the Marty Robbins World Open 500 format returned in November 1981 as the All American 400. Billed as the Civil War on Wheels, the first 400 consisted of drivers from the All Pro Racing Circuit that generally raced in the south and the midwest's ASA (who apparently played the role of the "north"). Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway still hosts the All American 400 today - though the ties to All Pro and ASA are long gone.


Friday, September 22, 2017

September 22, 1974 - Wilkes 400

The 1974 Winston Cup season neared its end in late September as the teams headed for North WIlkesboro's Wilkes 400, the 26th race of the 30-race season.

Richard Petty was having yet another incredible season. Many drivers don't have careers like the King had as a single season in '74. Through 25 races, Petty had already won 10 of them. He had also won five of the seven races leading into Wilkesboro and five of the previous seven Wilkesboro races dating back to 1971, the first year Winston sponsored NASCAR's top series.

Fellow NASCAR HOFer Cale Yarborough, however, was nipping at the heels of King's boots. Cale had nine wins headed into North Wilkesboro - four of which were on short tracks at Nashville and Martinsville plus a season sweep of Bristol.

To the surprise of no one, the two racing legends captured the front row during qualifying - Petty's Dodge with the top spot and Cale second. Buddy Baker, Benny Parsons, and Canadian Earl Ross rounded out the top five starters.

Racing certainly has its share of challenges and controversies today. Attendance and ratings erosion, charters, stage racing, retirements of popular drivers, influx of new ones, etc. A continual refrain is they need to get back to like it was back in the day.

If back in the day references 1974, folks may need to rethink their image of a racing renaissance. The distance of the races during the season were cut by 10 percent as a good faith gesture by NASCAR to help the country with the OPEC energy crisis. Were ticket prices cut by 10 percent? Not that I'm aware of.

Also, despite the series sponsorship by Winston cigarettes, many teams struggled to race regularly and competitively. Winston's entitlement funding wasn't sufficient to create wealth throughout the field, and TV funding was non-existent. Teams needed sizable payouts from individual track promoters to make their risk worth the effort.

North Wilkesboro was one of the tracks identified by many drivers as having an inadequate purse. As was the custom for many years, the Wood Brothers and David Pearson skipped Wilkesboro. The race also was without Bobby Allison, but his absence was because of an issue with his car rather than a complaint about the purse.

Source: Greenwood SC Index-Journal
Those that did race had no control over who didn't. With a couple of the big dawgs back on the porch, the season-long dominant duo and front row starters, Petty and Cale, controlled the event. They led a combined 391 of the race's 400 laps. Other than Earl Ross's brief time out front and Dave Marcis' single lap as a leader, it was 43 and 11 all. day. long.

Fans likely shook their heads at the high attrition rate. Only twelve of thirty entrants were still around for the finish. Seven cars headed for their trailers by lap 50.

Petty and Yarborough seemed to be evenly matched during the first half of race. An unscheduled pit stop for a cut tire, however, put the 43 a bit behind Cale's Chevy. The gap between the two widened later during an errant stop by the generally reliable, Dale Inman-led Petty Enterprises crew. During a scheduled four-tire change, the Petty crew apparently jacked both sides of the car at the same time. When the right side was dropped, however, the car slid right and fell off the left side jack. The miscue put Petty nearly two laps down to the leader.

Throughout the second half of the race, Cale led lap after lap after lap. Petty never lost his focus though and kept his acceleration and braking rhythm rockin'. He made up his lost laps and went back to the point with 100 to go. His time was brief though as he led for 25 laps before returning the lead to Yarborough.

Cale once again seized the top spot with 75 laps to go, poured on the steam, and within about 15 laps was in a position to put the STP Dodge a lap down...again. Petty seemed to find a new gear, however, and he again pulled away from the Junior Johnson-prepared #11 Chevy. Just as he nearly lost a lap, he seemed to effortlessly make it back.

Petty's 43 dogged Cale down the stretch. With four laps to go, the King closed in tightly and attempted to pass Yarborough. As he did so, however, Coo Coo Marlin poo-poo'd an engine. The yellow flag was displayed, and Cale got the checkers a few laps later as the race ended under caution. The race was the 16th of 31 times Petty and Yarborough finished in the top two spots.

Source: Colbert Seagraves
Source: High Point Enterprise


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

September 19, 1976 - Delaware 500

Richard Petty dominated the 1975 season. He won 13 races and captured his sixth title. He seemed positioned to keep the momentum rolling in 1976 with an oh-so-close loss to David Pearson in the Daytona 500 followed by a victory two weeks later at Rockingham.

Instead, the Petty Enterprises struggled to laissez le bon temps rouler as the season continued. The 43 team picked up a win at Pocono in August and a handful of top 5's along the way. But the abundance of wins in prior years suddenly went just about bone dry.

Though the STP Dodge had its challenges finding victory lane, the #11 Holly Farms-sponsored, Junior Johnson-owned Chevrolet driven by Cale Yarborough had a nose for it. Yarborough had banked six wins through the two-thirds mark of the season as the teams headed for Dover Downs International Speedway for the Delaware 500.

Yarborough captured the pole, and Petty plunked his Dodge on the front row alongside him. Darrell Waltrip, Buddy Baker, and David Pearson rounded out the top 5 starters.

At the drop of the green, Cale's Monte Carlo put the field in his rear view mirror. He led 173 of the opening 175 laps allowing Waltrip, Dave Marcis, and Lennie Pond to grovel for morsels at the front.

The race was not kind to the builders of the teams' power plants. About a third of the race's 36 cars fell out of the race because of engine woes. Most of the problems were concentrated in the independently-owned and/or limited budget teams. But Waltrip was one of the big names to exit early. Ol' DW made it to only lap 202 before the Gatorade 88 team puked a motor - a frequent bugaboo for the team in 1976.

After a dominating early start to the race by Yarborough, a few others got their opportunity to pull the field around the track including Pearson, Marcis, and Petty. Cale continued to lurk, however, and went back to the lead by lap 275. 

But on lap 280, Yarborough nearly suffered the same fate as Waltrip and many others. He broke an ignition coil, lost power, and coasted helplessly to the attention of his crew. Feeling no pity for his rival, Petty's Dodge went to the front for over 150 laps as Cale lost nearly three laps in the pits. The King's 16 year-old son, Kyle, watched as his dad seized control of the race and worked towards his sixth Dover victory.

About 40 laps after his problem, however, Cale had regained his mojo. He passed Petty's 43 and got back one of his lost laps. Though Petty continued to lay down consistent lap times, Yarborough pulled away from him. Remarkably after about another 90 laps - and without the aid of any cautions - Cale's #11 again got by Petty to get back on the lead lap. 

Petty made his final pit stop of the day with about 40 laps to go. The Dale Inman-led crew bolted on new Goodyears and fueled the STP Charger. Ten laps later, Cale hit pit road, but the #11 team went with a different strategy. Yarborough got fuel only and no fresh tires. He returned to the track with worn rubber but with a narrow gap between he and the 43.

The King again went to the head of the class as Yarborough's car was serviced for the final time. But Cale was not to be denied. With 20 laps to go, Yarborough again went to the front and led the rest of the way.

Pearson, Bobby Allison, and Baker rounded out the top 5 finishers. The race was the 24th of 31 times Petty and Yarborough finished in the top two spots.

Source: Free Lance Star via Google News Archive

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

September 6, 1971 - Southern 500

Winston cigarettes became the title sponsor of NASCAR's top series in 1971. Because of the timing of the contract, the 1971 schedule was left largely "as is" with 48 races. Many races - primarily short tracks - were cut from the schedule as the modern era, as most refer to it, began in 1972 with 31 races.

In the first year of the Winston Cup Series, the traditional, Labor Day Southern 500 was held on Monday, September 6. The race was the 40th of the 48-race season.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
A legit but convenient way for many to quickly highlight Richard Petty's career is to recall 1967 when the King won 27 of 48 races. A seldom quoted stat is his 1971 season which statistically was his second best career year. Through 39 races leading into the Southern 500, Petty had banked 17 wins, 30 top five finishes, nine poles, and his third Daytona 500.

Despite those gaudy stats, Darlington was a track often too tough to tame for Petty. He generally raced well at Darlington, and he won three times in 1966-1967. But his overall winning percentage didn't apply at Darlington. Yet he was in as good a position as he'd been in some time to win the '71 edition of the Southern 500.

Petty as a favorite was a storyline of the race; however, another one centered on a popular driver suddenly involved in a bit of Silly Season. Fred Lorenzen was a winning driver from the early through mid 60s and was always a Ford man. He then walked away unexpectedly in 1967. Lorenzen returned for a a handful of races in 1970 before signing a deal with STP to race Ray Nichels' Plymouth in 1971.

The #99 Plymouth car was sharp looking, and Lorenzen earned a top 5 finish in about half of his 13 starts prior to Darlington. But Lorenzen also complained the car wasn't where it needed to be. He quit Nichels' team after the Talladega 500 in late August - though technically he remained under contract with STP.

Interestingly, STP allowed him to step away from their sponsorship for one race - the Southern 500 - to race the Wood Brothers' famed #21 Purolator Mercury. The Woods' regular driver in 1971, Donnie Allison, had to skip the Southern 500 because of a commitment to race in the California 500 Indy car race at Ontario Motor Speedway the day before Darlington.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Credit: Wood Brothers Racing
STP didn't want to leave Nichels without sponsorship after Lorenzen's departure. Dave Marcis was hired to pilot the #99 Plymouth for Darlington for what was supposed to be a one-time deal.

Lorenzen's second career race attempt with the Wood Brothers went horribly wrong in pre-qualifying practice. He pounded the outside wall of the frontstretch, rode the outside wall, sailed off the wall, and then made a beeline to drill the inside pit wall. In doing so, his #21 Mercury tore a chunk out of the pit wall reminiscent of Richard Petty's hit a year earlier in the Rebel 400.

Lorenzen was knocked cold and had to dragged out of his smoldering car by drivers Joe Frasson and Bill Seifert rather than track emergency personnel. He wasn't critically injured and returned three races later (coincidentally in a reunion with Nichels), but he and the Woods were done for the weekend.

Source: Spartanburg Herald
Source: Spartanburg Herald
The Wood Brothers loaded up their destroyed car and headed home to Stuart, Virginia. As a result of Lorenzen's wreck, Glen, Leonard, and Delano missed their first Southern 500 since 1962. The possibility existed the Woods may not race again. Glen was frustrated with many of NASCAR's quickly shifting rules and was shaken by Lorenzen's wreck.

Racing can often be brutally cold when a bad wreck happens because the show always continues. Qualifying was held after practice, and Bobby Allison won the pole in his Coca-Cola, Holman Moody Mercury. Pete Hamilton lined up outside of Allison in Cotton Owens' Plymouth. Charlie Glotzbach timed third, and Buddy Baker qualified fourth in the #11 Petty Enterprises factory-supported Dodge. Marcis locked in the fifth starting spot in Nichels' Plymouth.

Actor James Brolin was the race's grand marshal and a judge at the annual Miss Southern 500 pageant.

At the time, Brolin was known for his role on the TV show Marcus Welby MD. He had a few other minor roles over his acting career. Brolin is perhaps best known, however, for his scintillating role as Pee Wee Herman in the movie Pee Wee's Big Adventure.

When the green dropped, the race developed into one of high attrition and few lap leaders. Bobby Allison led 65 of the first 90 laps with Bobby Isaac leading a stretch of 24 laps to break Allison's lead time out front into two segments. Petty took the lead for a few laps before Allison again went to the point for nearly 200 of the race's next 210 laps.

Pete Hamilton, who started second, fell out of the race after completing 157 laps after his Plymouth's engine developed an overheating issue. He immediately went to Petty's pit to see if his employer from 1970 might need a relief driver. Petty waved him off at the next stop and went the distance. Isaac, however, was gassed and did need the help.

Dick Brooks was truly the yeoman of the race by driving three different ride and three different brands of cars. His own Pontiac was done after only eight laps because of overheating. A bit later, he was asked to relieve Bill Dennis in Junie Donlavey's #90 Mercury. That ride made it to around lap 265 before it lost power because of a failed battery.

Brooks then took over for country singer and part-time racer Marty Robbins. He helped Robbins' Dodge finish 7th - a career best at the time for Robbins and topped later only by a 5th place finish in 1974. Marty was pleased as punch at the finish. He was also voted rookie of the race - which is interesting considering he only raced about three-quarters of the race before turning the car over to Brooks.

Petty hounded Allison as the Coke Machine led lap after lap. After turning down Hamilton's offer to spell him, Petty's exhaustion began to set in a bit. With 50+ laps to go, Petty simply had to have a drink of water to continue. He hit pit road with the expectation of having a cup quickly shoved to him. Instead, the Petty crew had a mix-up on what was to happen. A crewman spun off the fuel cap in anticipation of adding gas. Petty took off with his cup of water - but also with his fuel cap dangling from its tether.

The King had to make a second unscheduled stop to replace the cap, and the race was then effectively over. Petty admitted he likely would not have been able to catch Allison - even without the botched stop for water.

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Baker - winner of the 1970 Southern 500 for Cotton Owens and the spring 1971 Rebel 400 for the Pettys - finished third. Isaac's #71 Dodge finished fourth with Hamilton at the wheel, and Marcis wheeled Nichels' STP Plymouth to fifth.

The race was the 25th of 51 times rivals Petty and Allison finished in the top two spots. Allison won his first of an eventual four career Southern 500 races. Petty also finished second in 1975 when Allison captured his third Southern 500.

Source: Spartanburg Herald
After going home, cooling off, and rethinking things following their awful Darlington trip, the Wood Brothers agreed to continue doing what the Wood Brothers do: race. When the teams arrived in Martinsville later in September, the famed 21 Mercury was there with Donnie Allison at the wheel.

Two races after Darlington in the National 500 at Charlotte, Marcis was back in Nichels' STP Pontiac. But after a heated argument with the crew over handling and tires, Marcis parked the car and quit the team.

Three races after Darlington at Dover, Lorenzen was back at the wheel of the STP Plymouth. Once again, however, Lorenzen's day ended early, and he again parted ways with the team.