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.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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


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.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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