Friday, August 19, 2016

August 19, 1965 - Sandlapper 200

NASCAR's Grand National drivers arrived in Columbia, SC on August 19, 1965, for the Sandlapper 200. The Thursday night event was a 200-lap affair on Columbia's half-mile dirt surface.

Though many of the drivers raced the track earlier in the season in April's Columbia 200, that race was missing a couple of star drivers. Neither David Pearson nor Richard Petty raced in the event because of the Chrysler boycott against Bill France Sr. and NASCAR. When many of the issues were resolved around mid-season, Petty and Pearson were greenlighted to return to GN racing at most tracks including Columbia.

Dick Hutcherson won the pole for the Sandlapper, and Junior Johnson lined up outside of him on the front row. Ned Jarrett and Tiny Lund nabbed the second row, and career rivals Petty and Pearson started fifth and sixth.

Perry Allen Wood recapped the race in his book Silent Speedways of the Carolinas:
The Mopar boys were back, and the place was jammed with no threat of rain. Many came out to see if Curtis Turner would make his long-awaited return, and he did but to watch. He tried at Spartanburg five days earlier and crashed in time trials.

Ford had the top four spots, but Chrysler was back and hungry. Junior put the yellow Holly Farms 26 out front at the onset and stayed there as the weeding-out process got underway. On lap two, Bob Derrington, Tiger Tom Pistone, and J.T. Putney had a grinding crash at the head of the homestretch for the first caution...

Leader Johnson snapped the throttle linkage and loaded up for 17th. That gave the lead to Hutcherson, who kept that gold and white 29 on the point, only slowed by a couple more cautions...

The career of Sam Smith ended at 108 laps when he bounced Sam Fogle's yellow Ford off a dirt bank, and his Grand National dream evaporated in 13th place. That is about when Cotton made a wedge adjustment to get more traction coming off the turns, and Pearson's Dodge went from OK to great. On lap 116, the Dodge passed [Hutcherson's] gold Ford and except for a few laps during pit stops, Pearson was gone...

It was a Pearson-over-Petty finish this time by about a second with Hutch third on the lead lap... It was an outstanding race, taking Pearson almost and hour and three quarters to gain his 12th career win. ~ p. 64
Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
The race was the 9th of 63 times that Petty and Pearson finished in the top two spots.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

August 18, 1966 - Sandlapper 200

NASCAR's Grand National drivers arrived in South Carolina on August 18, 1966, for some short-track racing on a hot, summer, Thursday night. The Sandlapper 200 was scheduled as a 200-lap race on the half-mile, dirt Columbia Speedway.

Eleven days earlier, Richard Petty won the Dixie 400 at Atlanta International Raceway. The big storyline from the race - even more so than Petty's win - involved two tricked-out cars by legendary innovators and car owners Junior Johnson and Smokey Yunick. Fred Lorenzen raced Junior's infamous Yellow Banana Ford, and Curtis Turner belted into Smokey's Chevrolet. Both cars had all sorts of questionable parts and body shaping, yet both were allowed to race. Many were upset at the spectacle though the fact neither car won helped settle folks down a bit.

Turner felt like folks took life and racing a bit too seriously. Following Atlanta, he agreed to what was expected to be a one-race deal in Junior's Holly Farms-sponsored car at the next race at Bowman Gray Stadium. Though his career had started to wind down, he wanted to give the fans and fellow competitors a fair night of racing if they felt they didn't get that at Atlanta. The Bowman Gray race was postponed a couple of weeks because of rain. Turner agreed to stick with Junior at the next race anyway which turned out to be at Columbia.

In his book Silent Speedways of the Carolinas, author Perry Allen Wood describes Turner's arrival in Columbia with his good faith gesture:
Holly Farms wanted Curtis to look good and told him for the race he had to wear a suit. And he did...a business suit. "I dipped this one in the fireproof stuff this morning," Turner explained to the throng of onlookers glued to his every move. He loosened the tie a bit, hiked up the long sleeves some, and sans jacket, stuck that baby on the front row to everyone's delight. ~ p. 66
Turner's show and front-row qualifying run upstaged the pole winner. Bobby Allison was all business, and he laid down a track record lap to nab the pole. Petty, David Pearson, and Elmo Langley rounded out the top five starters.

Wood continued in his book with a recap of the night's racing action:
When the big field roared off, Turner bulled his way past [Allison's] little Chevelle and took the lead. It was very tentative, but he held it for 134 laps with Allison, Pearson, Petty, [James] Hylton, [Dick] Hutcherson and [Buddy] Baker beating and banging away behind him.

Other fun took place on lap 17 when a furiously-racing Tom Pistone was passing them as he got to them and lost it entering turn one. Tiger struck the railing at the perfect angle to launch the two-tone blue '64 Ford over it and into the lighted sky, then into darkness. It nosed harmlessly down, settling among the small trees and shrubs fringing the backside of the first turn embankment. ~ p. 66
Turner made his only scheduled stop, but it didn't go according to plan. An excruciatingly slow stop pinned Turner deep in the field - but it also gave the fans plenty to watch as Pop picked his way back through the field.
Petty was out for a couple until pesky and popular number 2 scooted under and Allison had the lead. The Hueytown Hustler held the point for 30 laps until his 327 cubic inches started wilting.

On lap 167, unstoppable David Pearson powered past Petty and ambushed Allison for the lead... With Turner screaming past a rapidly fading Allison and closing on the others, a three-car Armageddon was at hand.

With less than five to go, [J.D.] McDuffie got crossed up and ditched his Ford along the backstretch for 12th, bringing a caution flag that doused a surely explosive finish. Under the yellow, Pearson rolled to the checkered flag with Petty and Turner lined up right behind. Even though nearly 10,000 enthusiasts did not get to see the incredible race to the wire that was inevitable, no one felt cheated. ~ p. 67 
Pearson claimed his fourth consecutive Columbia win in the '66 Sandlapper 200. Also, the race was the fifteenth of 63 times Petty and Pearson finished in the top two spots.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

August 10, 1968 - Myers Brothers Memorial

On Saturday, August 10, 1968, NASCAR's Grand National drivers arrived in Winston-Salem, NC for the 250-lap Myers Brothers Memorial race. The same drivers raced at Bowman Gray Stadium just two days after a Thursday night, 200-lap race on the half-mile, dirt Columbia Speedway in South Carolina.

Many newer fans of NASCAR may not recognize the names associated with this memorial race. Many may recognize, however, the name Chocolate Myers from his tenure as the gasman for Richard Childress Racing and Dale Earnhardt and his more contemporary employment as a midday co-host on SiriusXM's NASCAR channel.

Chocolate's father was Bobby Myers, and his uncle was Billy Myers. If unfamiliar with either or both, Google a bit to learn about their contributions to racing...and their untimely deaths.

Twenty cars arrived at the track for the event, and Richard Petty put his #43 Plymouth on the pole. David Pearson, fresh off his win at Columbia two nights earlier, started second in his Holman Moody Ford. Bobby Isaac, James Hylton, and Bobby Allison rounded out the top five starters.

Petty took the lead at the drop of the green flag and held onto it for the first 139 laps. As Petty ran upon Bobby Allison to put him a lap down, the engine in Allison's Chevrolet blew sending him into the wall. As Allison's engine dumped oil on the track, Petty spun and brushed against the wall. The unfortunately timed event was just enough to allow Pearson to slide under and take the lead.

Petty regathered his Plymouth and continued. His excursion to the high side, however, was all the advantage Pearson needed. Once out front, the Silver Fox led the remaining 111 laps on the quarter-mile track and was the first to take the checkered flag. Pearson and Petty were the only two cars on the lead lap with Isaac finishing third four laps down.

Pearson won at Bowman Gray for his third and final time - though the first and only time with Holman Moody. He also had the Big Mo as he pursued his second Grand National title. Pearson went back to back with wins at Columbia and Bowman Gray. He was also in the midst of a four out of six winning streak with additional wins in the Volunteer 500 at Bristol and Nashville 400 (and a P3 and P4 in the two races he didn't win.)

The race was also the 25th of 63 times Petty and Pearson finished in the top two spots.


Sunday, August 7, 2016

August 7, 1964 - Rambi Raceway in Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach's Rambi Raceway opened in 1958, and track hosted nine Grand National races from 1958 through 1965. As a car owner, Julian Petty experienced early success at Rambi with Bob Welborn as his driver. Welborn won the track's first two marquis events - a NASCAR convertible division race in July 1958 and the Grand National race a month later.

The GN drivers arrived in Myrtle Beach in August 1964 for a 200-lap race. What many likely couldn't have anticipated is that the race was to be the next to last GN race at the track. Ned Jarrett was looking for his third consecutive win at Rambi having won in 1962 and 1963.

Records show only twelve drivers qualified for the race. The limited number is tied with six other GN/Cup races for the smallest starting line-up. The others are:
  • August 1953 - Hickory NC
  • August 1956 - Oklahoma City
  • May 1959 - Nashville Fairgrounds
  • April 1961 - Richmond (won by Richard Petty)
  • May 1964 - Savannah
  • October 1964 - Savannah
Factory Mopars swept the top two starting spots. David Pearson won the pole in Cotton Owens' Dodge, and Petty qualified second in the Petty Enterprises Plymouth. Lee Roy Yarbrough, Jimmy Pardue and Jarrett rounded out the top five starters.

Pearson mashed the gas at the drop of the green and seized the lead. He pulled the field around the half-mile dirt track for the first 78 laps. The lead then changed hands - presumably because of a series of pit stops. Jarrett took over the top spot, set sail for 80+ laps, and likely smiled as neared his third straight win at the track.

With just under 40 laps to go, however, Pearson took his Dodge around a fading Jarrett. Pearson was unchallenged the rest of the way, and he won by a full lap over second place Petty. Jarrett completed the race, but he finished fourth - eight laps down to the winner.

Though the finish wasn't very close, the race was the eighth of 63 times for a Petty-Pearson, 1-2 finish.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

August 3, 1975 - Pearson Procures Pocono's Purolator over Petty Protest

The Winston Cup Grand National Series teams returned to Pocono for the track’s second annual Cup race - the Purolator 500 on August 3, 1975.

Bobby Allison won the pole in his Roger Penske Matador prepared in nearby Nazareth, PA. David Pearson qualified alongside him in the Wood Brothers’ Mercury. Buddy Baker in Bud Moore’s Ford, Dave Marcis in the iconic Harry Hyde-prepared #71 Dodge, and Cale Yarborough in Junior Johnson’s Holly Farms Chevy rounded out the top 5 starters.

Richard Petty timed sixth. The King had won the two previous stock car races at Pocono – the 1973 USAC Acme Super Saver 500 and the track's inaugural NASCAR Cup race, the 1974 Purolator 500. Petty had also already won eight races in 1975 – a number he’d grow to a modern era record of 13 that has been matched just once, by Jeff Gordon.

Fans got a competitive race with the lead changing hands multiple times. Pearson jumped out front at the start and led the first 10 laps. Pole-winner Allison got by the 21 and paced the field for three laps. He and Pearson then went back and forth for a while before some new races appeared upfront because of pit cycling.

Allison’s pole-winning effort and early time at the front, however, was for naught. He lost the engine in his Matador was done after 22 laps.

Source: Reading Eagle via Google News Archive
Benny Parsons and Marcis had their time up front as well before Pearson and Petty glided their way back to the top of the heap. Around the half-way point of the race, however, the all-too-familiar mountain rains arrived to interrupt things. The race - which already needed an extraordinarily long time to complete the scheduled 500 miles - was delayed over an hour as the rains passed and the track dried.

As the race resumed and proceeded to the mid and late stages, Buddy Baker let it be known he too would part of the action. He led on multiple occasions during the race though only for a single-digit number of laps each time.

With about 25 laps to go, the 43 STP Dodge Charger took the lead from Pearson’s white and candy-apple red Mercury. Petty held Pearson at bay for the next 13 laps. With 14 to go, however, the 21 passed Petty again and set sail towards the win.

With just a handful of laps to go, however, Pearson’s car began smoking badly. Petty, obviously hoping to pounce at the right opportunity, had a tough time peering through the smoke. NASCAR black flagged Pearson with 2 to go, but the Silver Fox had no intentions of giving up the lead and the win.

He continued for the next two laps and took the checkered flag. Petty was none too happy at having to drive through the cloud of smoke. But with Pearson having up to three laps to acknowledge NASCAR’s black flag before having his scorecard pulled, the team knew it had some margin to finish the race and collect the trophy.

Source: Pocono Raceway's Facebook Page
Petty was not happy at all about Pearson’s staying on the track. He did concede, however, he likely would have done the same thing had the roles been reversed. Besides, he had eight wins under his belt already, had the points lead as he headed for his unprecedented sixth championship, and became the first driver to surpass $2 million in career earnings.

Source: Tuscaloosa News via Google News Archive
The race was the 55th of 63 times Petty and Pearson finished in the two two spots.

Source: Wilmington NC Star-News via Google News Archive
An edited version of MRN's broadcast of the race is available for streaming free on-line or through iTunes.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

July 27, 1968 - Nashville 400

Music City USA. The Ryman Auditorium. Chet Atkins' and Owen Bradley's Nashville Sound. Printers Alley. And the Nashville fairgrounds - home of the Tennessee State Fair and Fairgrounds Speedway.

Throughout the 1960s, Nashville generally hosted one NASCAR Grand National race per season (though two were scheduled each year in 1964-65).  Richard Petty was looking to bank his fifth consecutive win at the track in the 1968 Nashville 400.

The King's - and by extension the Petty Enterprises team's - Nashville stats should have qualified him for a gold record. Gold record? Music City? OK, never mind, I'll see myself out...

From 1962 through 1967, the Petty Plymouth team won all seven races entered - two by Jim Paschal and five by Petty. For extra measure, Paschal won the 1961 race for car owner and Richard's uncle, Julian Petty, and Paschal and Petty picked up a couple of P2 finishes in races where a teammate won.

Petty fans likely thought another Nashville victory was King's for the taking. Apparently, the other drivers in the field didn't get that memo. Bobby Allison also didn't get the memo that drivers needed to wear their uniform for a promotional photo shoot.

Source: The Tennessean
Petty's car arrived in Nashville at the Mercury Motel on Murfreesboro Road with a slightly different look. The Mercury Motel was the traditional lodging spot for the Petty team (and a few other drivers) and the location for the Middle Tennessee Petty Fan Club Chapter Meeting.

The 43 Plymouth sported a white roof and C-pillars. The purpose of the white paint was allegedly to help cool the car a bit with the expected scorching July temps.

Credit: Mike "BigMike312" Hodges
The team also ran a white roof along with a white hood three weeks earlier in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona. Supposedly, the paint had some texture to it rather than a smooth coat. The idea was to help improve the flow of air over and around the car.

The King picked up where he'd left off at the fairgrounds in 1967 by winning the pole. Bobby Allison qualified second in his Chevrolet, and David Pearson claimed the inside of the second row in third. Bobby Isaac and Elmo Langley rounded out the top five starters.

Jack Marlin - Coo Coo's brother and Sterling's uncle - qualified 14th and finished 10th in his one and only career GN/Cup start.

Courtesy of Russ Thompson
At the drop of the green, Petty's Hemi-powered Plymouth took off as if he knew a little something about how to get around the place. He led the first 131 laps before taking a breather for a pit stop.

After surrendering the lead to Pearson for a couple of laps, Petty went back to the point where he led for another 100-lap stretch. Because of an issue with how his carburetor was set, Petty ended up burning fuel at a quicker pace than Pearson's Holman Moody Ford. As a result, Petty made his second pit stop several laps earlier than Pearson - and under green. He lost a couple of laps during this stop but planned to get them back when Pearson's 17 had to stop.

As Pearson got ready to make his second stop around lap 250, the caution flew. This allowed him to get service from the Dick Hutcherson-led crew and maintain his lead over Petty. Once the green flag returned, Pearson was able to stay comfortably out front.

With about 100 laps to go, rain arrived - a typical occurrence on many muggy summer nights in middle Tennessee. The decision was made to red flag and then call the race official after 301 laps. Pearson was declared the winner, and Petty finished second three laps down to the winner.

The 1968 Nashville 400 was Pearson's only victory at at Nashville. The race was also the 24th of 63 times Petty and Pearson finished one-two.

Source: The Tennessean
Source: The Tennessean

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Michael Waltrip fan base has changed. Right?

On July 24, 1993, Schaefer co-founder Philly and I headed for a weekend of camping and racing at Talladega. The headline event was Sunday's DieHard 500. In tow was one of Philly's co-workers headed to his first NASCAR race.

He knew little about racing and didn't have a favorite driver. As we headed south on I-59 towards Gadsden, I asked him where he was from. When he responded Owensboro, Kentucky, I paused, looked at Philly, and smirked a bit like Ferris Bueller breaking the fourth wall. I looked back at him and said "I've got the driver for you. Michael Waltrip. He is from Owensboro."

To his credit, he was open-minded about his newly assigned favorite driver. Philly and I then formed an unspoken covenant that we'd drain his wallet with purchases of Mikey swag.

After we settled into our campsite amongst the trees behind turn two and away from the rowdies that prowled the wide open spaces behind the back stretch, we headed for Saturday's Busch race and then the souvenir trailers.

In those days, souvenir row was positioned along Speedway Boulevard across from the track's main entrance. Our eyes roamed to and fro looking for what should have been the easily identifiable, vibrant yellow, Pennzoil emblazoned trailer featuring a boo-coodle of Mikey Merch.

Earnhardt had what seemed to be about a dozen trailers. The noob, Jeff Gordon, had his stuff sold at a handful of trailers as well. The other predictable trailers were there as well hawking gear for drivers such as Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Daytona 500 winner Dale Jarrett, Darrell Waltrip, etc.

As we roamed about the beaten-down grass, I still vaguely remember scalding my mouth with a cup of Maxwell House coffee. Why a cup of coffee in late July in the heat and humidity of central Alabama? Well, one - they sponsored Sterling Marlin. Reason enough, right?

But also - duh - it was free! Well, that plus the consumption of a prodigious amount of beer during the Busch race and a copious supply of stupidity. But I digress...

The search for Michael's gear soon grew weary. I was sweating like a hack poker player and had scar tissue forming inside my mouth from my free cup of joe. I headed for one of Kyle Petty's Mello Yello trailers for a transaction and an answer to a question.

A few weeks before the race, I'd won a Kyle Petty jacket on a Chattanooga sports talk radio show. One problem: it was a medium. I laughed at medium after about two semesters in college - yet the jacket was free.

I explained my situation to the guy at the Mello Yello trailer, and he was superb with customer service. "No problem. Whadda ya want? XL? *pitch* There ya go man." Boom, that easy. With a big grin, I shook off the lisp from my scalded tongue and dehydration from my multiple adult beverages to ask a legit question. "Can you help out my bud here? He's a big fan of Mikey. But we can't find his trailer out here anywhere. Are we just overlooking it - have you spotted it?"

The dude went from Mr. Gregarious to the scene from Casino when DeNiro and Pesci believe the FBI can read lips from a distance. His reply still makes me laugh to this day: "Naw, there ain't one here. Mikey has a lot of good lookin' stuff. He just ain't got any fans."

It was the line of a lifetime. In 1993, no one quite frankly could argue with him. Our new Mikey fan got off without spending any money on a shirt, hat, koozie, die-cast, seat cushion, jacket, decal, anything. Fast forward a few years, and Mikey did build a sizable fan base. He did it through hard work, some wins, and a sizable dose of campiness.

As the 2016 season began, it was indeed different. The field did not feature Michael Waltrip on a regular basis - as a driver or as an owner. The new guy was prepared to buy Mikey's gear that day in '93, not me. Yet, Michael has been a part of Cup racing for over two decades.

He is certainly still a part of NASCAR with his commentary during televised truck races and FOX Sports' pre-race grid walks. Many seem to love what he does - but he has also has a ton of detractors. As Dale Earnhardt once said "At least they’re making noise. It’s when they stop making noise that you know something’s wrong.”