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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.


September 6, 1982 - Southern 500

The 1982 Southern 500 was the 22nd race of a 30-race Winston Cup season, and was the next-to-last Southern 500 held on Monday - true Labor Day.

The season's points battle was shaping up as a repeat of 1981. Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip were again pushing one another week to week, race to race. Terry Labonte, three years removed from his rookie season, was thick in the mix as well. But on a pleasantly warm, late summer day at Darlington in September 1982, the three of them took a backseat to a few other legends of the era.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
As shown above, the Wood Brothers were featured on the program cover along with their driver Neil Bonnett. Throughout the 1970s, the Woods' 21 Mercury frequently won the pole with David Pearson. The two parted ways in 1979, and Pearson raced only in selected Cup races afterwards.

But the Silver Fox never forgot his way around Darlington. Sure enough, in a Bobby Hawkins-owned, Chattanooga Chew-sponsored #03 Buick, Pearson again won the pole. The top spot was Pearson's last career pole and his twelfth at Darlington.

Source: Spartanburg Herald Journal
Waltrip and Allison kept each other in sight and were both quick in qualifying. Waltrip lined up alongside Pearson, and Allison started third. Joe Ruttman and Dale Earnhardt in Bud Moore's Ford rounded out the top 5 starters.

Miss Cathy Lee Knauss won the traditional Miss Southern 500 pageant held before each year's race. Though it's uncertain that she was related to Chad Knauss, rumor has it she asked for a rules interpretation for the talent and swimsuit components of the contest.

Source: Sumter Daily Item via Google News Archive
Kyle Petty qualified 24th in Hoss Ellington's STP/UNO Chevrolet. The Southern 500 was the only time Hoss fielded a Chevy in 1982 for Kyle or any of his other drivers that year (Benny Parsons, Donnie Allison, and Buddy Baker). One is led to wonder if Hoss leased the car from another team to see if it would race better than the other cars he'd used that year.

Kyle raced a Chevrolet for Petty Enterprises in 1979-80. After NASCAR reduced the Cup wheelbase to 110 inches in 1981, however, Kyle raced a Chevy only two times during the remainder of his career. The first time was the 1982 Darlington race, and the other was in a Monte Carlo borrowed from Hendrick Motorsports as a backup for the 1989 Coke 600 at Charlotte.

Kyle's day was about on par with his other starts with Ellington: average. After qualifying poorly, he got caught up in an early caution with independent driver Tommy Gale. The #1 Chevy returned to race to the credit of Kyle and the crew, and Kyle salvaged a 14th place finish - the best of his six starts for Ellington.

TMC Archives
When the green dropped, the field sailed off into turn 1 with Pearson taking the early lead. Down the backstretch (Darlington's frontstretch today), Allison dropped low with the plan of taking the lead. But Pearson held his line, and Allison lost a bit of ground as he fell back a few car lengths.

A couple of laps later, however, Allison made his pass on Pearson to take the lead. Waltrip followed suite and went with Allison. Richard Petty soon came from his eighth starting spot to take the lead. And on it went for the first 20 percent or so of the race: Allison, Petty, Pearson, and Tim Richmond.

During the first caution, an oil line broke on rookie Mark Martin's Buick. The oil ignited, and flames erupted immediately under the car and from under the hood.

Source: Chicago Tribune
Martin's first Southern 500 was certainly spectacular and memorable but perhaps more because of his perseverance than the fire. He stopped the car right away, he was pulled from the car, the flames were extinguished, and the car was towed to the garage. Martin's crew thrashed on it, and he re-entered the race to earn a 22nd place finish - the final car still running at the end.

Near lap 80, Pearson's plan of winning at Darlington yet again ended. His Buick broke an axle, and he was done for the day. Labonte, who entered the race second in points, followed Pearson to the trailer 40 laps later when his #44 Buick lost an engine and popped the wall. After Waltrip led several more laps at different stages, he too lost an engine and exited at lap 241.

With DNFs by Labonte and Waltrip, Allison had the opportunity to open a wider points gap. Instead, his 88 Gatorade Buick had issues of its own. He finished the race - but 40 laps down and only a few spots ahead of Waltrip in the final standings.

Over the final 30 laps, the race turned into a three-car battle between Earnhardt, Richard Petty, and Yarborough. Throughout his career, Petty had a reputation as a smooth driver. He could flat dominate a race or perhaps outlast the competition to seize a victory near the end of the race.

But having not won at Darlington in 15 years nor at all in about a year, the King displayed a new personality. Petty's Pontiac dogged Cale in the remaining laps. He leaned on him in the corners - wisps of tire smoke rising from between the two cars.

Source: Sumter Daily Item
With 12 to go, Petty stuck his car to the inside, fought his Grand Prix as the rear drift into Cale's Buick, stood on the gas, and took the lead. As he did so, Earnhardt watched from third and had a thought about taking the leaders three-wide. Instead, he cracked just a moment and watched as the two titans settled it between themselves.

From TMC Archives
Four laps later, Cale went back to the point. As Petty worked through his plan to set up Cale once again for the lead - and the win, the two came upon a couple of lapped cars. Both times, the King threaded the needle, nicked the inside slower car, bounced off Cale, and kept his foot in it.

But time ran out. Cale was able to maintain the lead and gapped Petty a bit as King managed his swerving car and worn out tires. Yarborough breezed across the finish time to claim his fifth Southern 500 win with Petty a close second. The race was the 31st and final time Petty and Yarborough finished in the top two spots.

The win was Cale's third of the year with owner M.C. Anderson and fifth over two limited seasons. Anderson had a desire to return to full-time Cup racing as he had in 1979 and 1980. Yarborough was committed, however, to sticking to his new career path of running only selected events.

As a result, Anderson stepped away from NASCAR altogether and sold his team to drag racer Raymond Beadle. Yarborough moved to Ranier Racing in 1983 and promptly won the Daytona 500. Beadle re-branded his newly acquired team Blue Max Racing and hired raw talent Tim Richmond.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

September 3, 1973 - Nashville's Frank Reed 100

Some of NASCAR's finest national late model sportsman drivers in 1973 filed entry forms to race in the Frank Reed Memorial 100 on Labor Day night at Nashville's Fairground Speedways - later known as Nashville Speedway and today known as Fairgrounds Speedway.

Frank Reed tragically died while running third on lap 12 of a 15-lap race on September 19, 1956. The event was part of the 1956 Tennessee State Fair. Reed perished on Nashville's one-mile dirt track, the predecessor to today's half-mile asphalt Fairgrounds Speedway. The racer from Murfreesboro was 29 years old and a father of two young sons.

Reed was the only driver killed on the one-mile track. Three drivers perished between 1971 and 1972 when the track was steeply banked. None have died as a result of a racing accident at the track since.

Jimmy "Smut" Means won the pole for the Reed Memorial race. But he faced steep competition in his effort to win at the middle Tennessee track where he'd started racing in addition to racing regularly in Huntsville, Alabama.

Out-of-towners that rolled into Music City to battle door-to-door with the local drivers included L. D. Ottinger, Neil Bonnett, Grant Adcox, and three-time NASCAR LMS champion Red Farmer.

The list also included Jack Ingram, a 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee. Ingram won NASCAR's national LMS title in 1972 after Farmer's three-year run, and he was looking to repeat in 1973. One way to ensure a second consecutive title was to nab the victory and points at Nashville.

Source: The Tennessean
Local driver Darrell Waltrip also planned to challenge for the win - though he first had to arrive. Waltrip won Nashville's LMS title in 1970 and was in the thick of the mix for a second title three year later. While competing for the track's championship, however, DW had set his sights on a future career in Winston Cup racing.

After racing a used Mercury in several races in 1972 and 1973, Waltrip prepared to make his first Cup start for owner Bud Moore in the Southern 500 at Darlington. Once Waltrip finished his race in South Carolina, he planned to make a beeline to Nashville for the Reed race later the same day.

Source: The Tennessean
As it turns out, Waltrip made it to the end of the race in Darlington. He finished 8th in his first Southern 500, and he did not return to Nashville in time to race. He did, however, continue to race the remainder of the season and won his second track LMS title.

Source: The Tennessean
Farmer got by Means when the green dropped and led the first 17 laps in R.C. Alexander's famed #84 Harpeth Ford sponsored car. Bob Burcham, a frequent Fairgrounds racer from Chattanooga, then took the lead from Farmer.

Once Burcham went to the point, he defended the position from some worthy challengers. First, Farmer tried to retake the lead he'd lost earlier - but he couldn't get close enough to pass Burcham. Near halfway of the race, Ottinger took his shot. He got beside Burcham but couldn't complete the pass either. L.D.'s engine gave up the ghost about 20 laps after his surge, and he was done for the night.

Means hung around all night and watched as one driver after another took their shot at Burcham. As Ottinger's car was loaded on the trailer, Means found a bit more speed and went after Burcham.

For the final 30 laps of the race, the two cars battled side by side. As the duo continued to race off turn 4, however, Burcham always found just a little bit more speed to lead each lap.

The white flag waved, and the two cars sailed into turn 1 - Means to the inside and Burcham with his momentum on the outside. They stayed that way down the backstretch and through turns 3 and four. At the finish line, folks couldn't determine the winner in the near-photo finish.

But the call was made that Means had indeed edged out Burcham at the line - the only moment of the race that he led. The win was Mean's first at Nashville. Neil Bonnett finished third followed by Freddy Fryar and Farmer.

Source: The Tennessean
Means won the track championship in Huntsville in 1973 and notched his first win in Nashville the same year. He continued to race at the Fairgrounds in 1974 and captured the track's LMS championship.

Finishing order:
  1. Jimmy Means
  2. Bob Burcham
  3. Neil Bonnett
  4. Freddy Fryar
  5. Red Farmer
  6. Jack Ingram
  7. Donnie Anthony
  8. Paddlefoot Wales
  9. Jimmy Wall
  10. Charlie Binkley
  11. Don Smith
  12. Gary Myers
  13. Wayne Carden
  14. James Ham
  15. Doyle Belcher
  16. Dorris Vaughn
  17. Jim Berry
  18. James Climer
  19. L.D. Ottinger
  20. Ronnie Dixon
  21. Windle Webster
  22. Jim Robinson
  23. Charles Greenwell
  24. Phil Stillings
  25. Bill Tate
  26. Tommy Andrews
  27. Johnny Johnson
  28. Grant Adcox
  29. Steve Spencer
  30. Clyde Peoples


Friday, September 1, 2017

September 1, 1975 - Southern 500

Richard Petty had a season for the ages in 1967. He won 27 of 48 races - including ten in a row. One of the signature wins that season was the Southern 500 at Darlington. The King had won Darlington's spring Rebel 400 twice and notched four top 5 finishes in the Southern 500 between 1959 and 1966. But it took him nearly a decade to finally land the Southern 500 trophy.

Petty had another dominant season going eight years later in 1975. The re-branded and reduced Winston Cup schedule included 30 races rather than 48 in 1967. Through the two-thirds mark of the season, the 43 Dodge already had nine victories and fifteen top 5 finishes. The circuit then returned to Darlington for the annual, deep southern tradition.

When Roger Penske began his Cup team on a limited basis in 1972, he fielded an AMC Matador. Around the midpoint of 1974, Bobby Allison joined Penske for a handful of races. In 1975, Allison raced for Penske in 19 Cup races as well as five USAC Indy car races, including the Indianapolis 500.

Driving the red, white, and blue Coca-Cola Matador, Allison's pairing with Penske won the Rebel 500 in April 1975. The team was looking for the season sweep as a significant accomplishment during a season otherwise dominated by the King.

South Carolinian David Pearson won the pole in the #21 Wood Brothers, Purolator Mercury. Buddy Baker flanked Pearson on the front row in his Ford fielded by another South Carolinian, Bud Moore. Allison, Petty, and Benny Parsons rounded out the top five starters.

Cale Yarborough, yet another South Carolina native, blew an engine in practice before qualifying. His Junior Johnson team did not have a spare to use so one was borrowed from Hoss Ellington's team so Cale could qualify. He missed the first round on Thursday but was able to use the borrowed powerplant to make the field via Friday's second round. Johnson's team had a replacement engine brought to the track from Junior's shop in North Wilkesboro so it could be installed for the Labor Day race.

Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal via Google News Archive
Pearson took the lead on the green and stayed there for the first twenty laps or so before Baker went around to lead the next nine. Independents Bruce Hill and Tennessee's David Sisco then got time out front before Pearson cycled back to the top spot.

A very ill Petty passed Pearson to take the lead for the first time on lap 46. The King was suffering bad headaches and flu, and he had a difficult time staying in the car in the humid weather. Champions play hurt, however, and he led the next 57 laps.

Credit: Woody Delbridge
After Dave Marcis led a couple of laps, Petty re-assumed the lead and stayed on the point for another 24 laps. Pearson, Marcis and Petty then swapped the lead back and forth over the next 100 laps or so. Marcis #71 K&K Dodge developed an overheating issue, however, and he left the race near lap 200.

The Petty crew tracked down Marcis to see if he lend a hand to their worsening driver. On Petty's next pit stop, the King turned over the driving to Marcis as he tried to get some strength back.

Petty wasn't the only driver struggling. Benny Parsons also had a tough time wheeling the car around the high line while battling sickness. BP turned his #72 Chevy over to DW - Darrell Waltrip - after Waltrip's engine overheated

Waltrip was making only his third start with DiGard. And for the second time in those three starts, he had an engine failure. DW was none too happy with the performance of the team he'd recently joined.

Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal via Google News Archive
On lap 244, Bruce Jacobi and James Hylton bumped one another with Hylton getting the worst end of the deal. The relief drivers - Marcis in Petty's 43 and Waltrip in Parsons' 72 - were collateral damage. Hylton and Parsons were done for the day as was Waltrip for the second time that day. Marcis was able to gather the 43 and return to the race.

About 50 laps later and with about 70 laps to go, heavy thunderstorms arrived and soaked the track. The race was red-flagged for nearly ninety minutes. With cars leaving the race early because of overheating and drivers needing relief for illness, the rain was a bit of a relief for the tortuous race.

Long-time Petty fan and Darlington attendee Tim Leeming recalls additional rain the day before:
It was not too long after dark that lightning began to break the darkness, but it wasn't until the thunder boomed so loudly and the lightning seemed to strike right beside us that we all got in the motorhomes and cars. Within what seemed like seconds, it began to rain in torrents as well as hail about the size of dimes. Inside the motorhome the sound was unbelievable.

When the storm passed, we opened the door of the motorhome to find about two inches of water underfoot. As we looked down towards turn three, it appeared as though a lake had formed. By this time, the clouds had moved over and the moon showed us what appeared to be only the tops of cars in turn three with folks standing on top of them. A group of us headed in that direction to see if we could help.

As we got closer to the turn three area, we were soon up to almost our waists in water but it got no higher and was beginning to lower as the infield drains were working. When we got to the tunnel going under turn three, we could not believe what we saw. The tunnel was filled to within about four feet of the top with water. We waded into the tunnel and began to use it as a swimming pool as it was seriously full and not receding at all. It did not occur to me (too many beers) or to anyone else in our group to consider that there were NO law enforcement authorities or track workers anywhere around to stop our swimming.

Within minutes, a couple of the guys in the group decided to swim through the tunnel and see what was going on outside. About 10 minutes passed, and I was getting worried about my friends. I then heard laughing and splashing as they were swimming back through the tunnel. I will never know how they managed to swim back through the tunnel with all the banners they had ripped off the fence outside the tunnel. We had STP, Winston Welcomes Race Fans, and a couple other major sponsors banners.

When we got back to turn three, this time there were law enforcement officers everywhere. I was convinced they were after the bandits who removed the signs. But one of them told me the drain in the tunnel was stopped up and they were bringing in the Navy Reserve frog man from a reserve unit in Florence to unstop the drain. I never saw the frog man, but the tunnel was soon draining and in a matter of minutes it was clear.

When the sun came up on race day, we got out all the banners that had been relocated from their original position outside the track and hung them from the motorhomes and converted bus. As the race got closer, more folks joined our group who came for just the day. By the start of the race, I am guessing there were almost 70 of us assembled there. 
Allison and the Matador were almost two full laps behind at one point during the race. With so many cars falling out and Allison's perseverance, however, he moved into the lead on lap 289 - just before the rain returned.

During the rain delay, Petty got a chance to recover a bit. He belted back into the 43 and readied to win the Southern 500 for a second time in another dominant season.

When the race returned to green, Allison was in the right spot to win. Then with about 50 laps to go, a shock broke and Bobby watched the scoreboard as Petty began to close. The King rallied from the driver change - and the spin by Marcis - and his illness to get back on the lead lap.

Allison was conserving fuel in addition to managing his failing suspension and watching the scoreboard and lap times. But in the end, Petty simply ran out of laps to track down Allison. The Matador took the checkered flag for the second time in '75.

Petty finished second - the only other car on the lead lap. The race was the 44th of 51 times the King and Allison finished in the top two spots.

Sisco, the 1969 Nashville Speedway late model sportsman champion, matched a career high Cup finish with his P3. Jim Vandiver finished fourth in his H.B. Ranier-owned Dodge. Ranier was the father of Harry Ranier, who later started his own team that eventually transitioned to Robert Yates Racing in 1989.

More memories from Tim Leeming:
All of us on our motorhome were of course cheering for that 43, and I think we believed until the checkered flag waved that Richard would catch that Matador. But we stood on top of the RV and watched Bobby take a well earned win. We watched him celebrate in Victory Lane right in front of us. We didn't cheer him, but we didn't boo him either. We could appreciate what an effort he had made to win that race. 

Many thanks to Tim Leeming for his contributions to this post.


Monday, August 28, 2017

August 28, 1976 - Nashville's Bob Hunley 100

A couple of NASCAR's national late model sportsman drivers came to Nashville in late summer '76 to race against the local heroes in the third annual Bob Hunley Memorial 100.

Bob Hunley was an amateur racer and a full-time Metro Nashville policeman. He raced in the fairgrounds' late model sportsman division for much of the 1960s and into the 1970s. Sadly, Hunley was killed during a race on April 29, 1972. From April 30, 1972, edition of The Tennessean:
An off-duty Metro patrolman was killed last night when his race car slammed into a retaining wall at Fairgrounds Speedway in the fourth lap of a late-model sportsman race.

Bobby Hunley was dead on arrival at Baptist Hospital after the speedway accident.

Hunley's 1964 Chevelle collided with another car in a group of five autos jockeying for positions on the straight-away. Hunley's auto flipped over several times, then struck a retaining wall at a turn on the quarter-mile track.

Two other cars were involved in the track collision, but there were no other injuries. Hunley's wife, Wilma, and children reportedly were in the fairgrounds audience when the crash occurred. The patrolman was scheduled to go on duty with the police department at midnight following the race.

In an interview last year, Mrs. Hunley said she could seldom relax at home, knowing her husband was a police officer during work hours and a race car driver on his off nights. "A night never goes by that I don't worry about his welfare," she said. "When he leaves out of here, especially on that midnight shift, I never know if I'll see him again.

"Then when  he's racing, I have to sweat out each turn he makes. I never take my eyes off him when he's on the track. Even though I can't stand to watch Robert race, I can't stand to stay at home and wonder what's happening. If something ever goes wrong, I want to be there," she said.

In addition to his widow, Hunley is survived by a son and two daughters. 
L.D. Ottinger broke Nashville's track record with his qualifying lap. But less than a minute later, fellow NASCAR national LMS division competitor, Harry Gant, set his own track record.

When the green flag fell, Ottinger got the jump on Gant and grabbed the lead. From there, it was all L.D. - all night - all race. He won handily over the rest of the field.

Credit Jim Phillips and MRM Racing Photos
Local racer Steve Spencer finished second. Coincidentally, Spencer raced a Chevelle purchased from Ottinger. He also won the track's 1977 LMS title in L.D.'s former car.

Neil Bonnett, balancing a schedule of Cup and late model races, claimed third. Alton Jones finished fourth and later claimed the track's LMS title in 1976. Despite winning the pole, Gant wasn't a factor and finished 16th.

Source: The Tennessean from TMC Archives
On Monday after the race, The Tennessean ran a follow-up column about Ottinger's dominance in the Hunley 100 written by Larry Woody, the long-time racing beat writer and humorist for the paper. Woody made it sound as if L.D. won the pole with Gant qualifying second.

I had listened to the race coverage on WENO-AM radio on Saturday night and knew Gant was quickest. Woody's race report in the Sunday paper included the same info.

Source: The Tennessean
As a still relatively new race fan and one more passionate about the late model heroes at Nashville than NASCAR's Cup drivers (Richard Petty not withstanding), I made the choice to let Mr. Woody know the facts and wrote him a letter. Though I don't remember my exact wording, I think I penned a polite but direct one. At least my 11 year-old conscience was clear.

A few days later on a Saturday morning, our black, rotary phone rang in the kitchen. My mother answered, acknowledged a couple of uh-huhs, handed the phone to me, and smirked a bit as she said "It's for you."

After saying hello, the voice on the other end said "Chase? Larry Woody from The Tennessean. How are you?" I nearly puddled on the kitchen floor. I recall Larry was pleasant though I kinda hemmed and hawed. Yet I was able to re-state my understanding about Gant's lap, and Larry understood the mix-up between his Sunday and Monday articles.

When the call ended, I'm sure I broke out in sweat and hives. I have no memory of what my mother said afterwards - if anything. She may have just gone back to making biscuits for my dad or helping my brother or sister with a school project

Though I've spoken with Larry a time or two by phone on local racing radio shows, I've never had the opportunity to meet him face to face. I'm hopeful that day will still come so I can remind him of this story and hopefully share a laugh with him about it.