Thursday, May 9, 2019

Racing, Drinking, Protesting - and there's more!

Lumberman A.J. King, Jr. of Sevierville, TN joined NASCAR as a car owner in 1967. Over the next couple of years, he fielded Mopars for drivers such as Paul Lewis, Li'l Bud Moore, and Pete Hamilton.

By 1970, however, King folded his tent and exited the Grand National ranks. Though little is known about King's arrival or departure, it's likely he experienced the racing truism of: The way to end up with a small fortune in racing is to start with a big one. (King did return as an owner/sponsor for one race in 1975. Sadly, Tiny Lund was killed in the Talladega 500 in King's Dodge.)

Though King got out of Grand National / Cup racing, Dave Marcis modified one of King's 1969 Dodge Chargers. Marcis raced it as a winged Dodge Daytona in 1970 and then returned the car to its 1969 Charger body for 1971 and 1972.

The car found new life in 1973 in NASCAR's Late Model Sportsman division. In February, Alabama's Alton Jones raced the Charger to a fifth place finish in Daytona's Permatex 300 with King Enterprises on the quarter panel as the sponsor.

King and Marcis then partnered to run several short track LMS races. Marcis worked them in between his Cup schedule as he raced mostly for himself and part-time for Roger Penske.

One of the first races selected was the Permatex 200 on April 21, 1973 - the season opener on Nashville's newly reconfigured Fairgrounds Speedway. The big ol' Dodge was impressive. Marcis won the pole, dominated the first third of the race, and finished fourth.

Having fared pretty well in his first visit, Marcis returned to Nashville for another shot on Friday, May 12. He brought the '69 Charger to race in the 30-lap LMS feature that accompanied the first round of qualifying for the Music City 420 Cup race.

Though Darrell Waltrip was running for Winston Cup Rookie of the Year, he also ran a full LMS schedule at Nashville. Waltrip had been the Fairgrounds' king of the hill since 1970, and he planned to continue to laissez les bon temps rouler.

After qualifying eighth for the Cup race in his 1971 Dodge, Marcis saddled up in the '69 Charger for the short LMS race. Marcis went to the point on the seventh lap - just about the time a caution flew. On the restart, Waltrip (likely smirking) outfoxed Marcis and grabbed the lead. Just past the halfway point, Marcis regained the top spot.

And so it continued for the next ten laps. Marcis' Hemi launched down the straightaways, but Waltrip's #48 Falls City Beer Chevelle had the edge through the corners. On the last lap, Marcis found just enough oomph and pulled ahead of Waltrip to win by a couple of car lengths.

Source: The Tennessean
The Cup schedule had open dates the next two weekends following Nashville's race. No Dover, Kansas, Richmond, or All-Star Race - just the World 600 on May 27. As a result, Marcis figured he'd return to Music City for yet another go at a trophy.

He and the Dodge returned for another 30-lap feature on Saturday, May 19. Neither Waltrip or Marcis contended for the win that night. Mother Nature scored the W as rain postponed the slate of races to Sunday afternoon, May 20.

A week earlier, Marcis and Waltrip battled tooth and nail under Nashville's Friday night lights. The same pattern held true the following week on a bright, Sunday afternoon.

Waltrip won the pole, and Marcis timed right alongside him. As was the case in the previous race, Marcis' Hemi could haul the mail down the straights, but the car's weight made it more of a handful through the turns. Waltrip's Chevelle, on the other hand, had the perfect set-up to handle the corners, but he surrendered HP to Marcis after they both got back in the gas. 

Waltrip rapped Marcis a time or two in an attempt to rattle his cage. Marcis, however, was unfazed and maintained his rhythm. The two weaved around traffic, took alternate lines every couple of laps, yet still managed to stay together until the final lap.

Over the final couple of laps, Marcis again found the little extra he needed. He cleared Waltrip and won for the second week in a row. After the race, however, Waltrip's team had a bit of a surprise for Marcis.

Doc Brewington, Waltrip's mechanic, chose to protest Marcis' Dodge. He wanted the big Hemi stripped down bolt by bolt. Brewington even opted to protest the fuel cell. The car only needed a handful of gallons to run the short feature, but Brewington wanted the tear down to be as painful as possible.

With plenty of afternoon sun remaining, the tear-down began as a crowd gathered to watch. In time, Brewington and Marcis got to joking and placing side bets on what may have been legal or illegal. Meanwhile, as the tear-down continued, someone brought in a cooler of Waltrip's sponsor product supplied by his car owner and local beer distributor, Ellis Cook. 

Around 9:30 PM, the evaluation was completed. Joe Carver led the inspection and concluded Marcis' Dodge was legal. Carver was the PR director for the Fairgrounds and later became the promoter at Langley Speedway in Virginia.

Marcis hastily loaded his car and gear and headed for a long, late night drive back to North Carolina. Though Brewington and Waltrip lost the protest, they figured a modest win may have been earned. Marcis arrived and won with an intact car, but he headed home with a tub of parts that would need plenty of time to re-assemble.

Source: The Tennessean
Marcis and Waltrip delighted in recapping the sequence of events during a gathering of many of NASCAR's legends at the now-gone NASCAR Cafe in Nashville.

Source: The Tennessean
Despite having to re-assemble his Hemi (or paying someone to do it), Marcis was back yet again in mid-June for the Uniroyal 100 on June 16, 1973. The duo picked up pretty much where they left off a month earlier.

Although Joe Carver was the technical inspector during Waltrip's protest of Marcis, he was still the publicity director at his core. And he drummed up some for the 100-lap event by having the two competitors race bicycles! 

Marcis once again won the pole - although L.D. Ottinger flanked him on the front row. Waltrip started eighth but had a nose for the front as usual. The usual suspects were again at the top of the field along with Alton Jones who had piloted Marcis' Dodge back in February.

Credit: Russ Thompson
When the race concluded, Waltrip returned to his customary victory lane location. Alton Jones placed second followed by Marcis. Perhaps as a case of turnabout is fair play, Marcis protested Jones and Waltrip. Jones' team refused to be torn down and was DQ'd as a result. Waltrip's car passed inspection as Marcis' car did a month earlier, and he retained the win with Marcis elevated to second.
* * * * *
A.J. King left racing but continued with the lumber business started by his father, A.J. King, Sr. He and his wife were the first patrons of a new Sevier County, TN library in 1966 - shortly before he entered NASCAR as an owner. King passed away in 1978, and his son Danny continued the family business. In 2010, the county's library moved into an even larger facility - the King Family Library. The King family contributed $2 million of the project's $11.5 million cost, and the library opened on the same spot as the original family lumber business.
* * * * *
Marcis raced the old Dodge a few more times including the 1974 Permatex 200 at Nashville. As his Cup career progressed, however, he moved on from LMS runs with the Charger. The car ended up in a private collector's hands who then restored it to a winged Dodge Daytona as Marcis had raced it.

In the late 80s / early 90s, the car was repainted to resemble Richard Petty's 1970 Plymouth Superbird. The car toured as a promotional showcar for Goody's Headache Powders.

1992 Charlotte Motor Speedway - TMC Archives
The car then found yet another life in 2003 when it was re-purposed for Winston's final season as the title sponsor of NASCAR's top series. Before the final race of the season at Homestead, King Richard drove the car that originally began as a Charger fielded by A.J. King.

Source: Getty Images
Thanks to Dave Fulton for his assistance in background research on A.J. King, Jr. and SuperbirdClub.com for its post regarding the A.J. King / Marcis Dodge .

TMC

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Nashville's 1980 CRC Chemicals 200

Fairground Speedways opened in 1958 as a slightly banked half-mile and with modified coupes as its featured series. The track introduced Late Model Sportsman cars in 1964 as its top division.

LMS drivers continued to roar for the next 15 years through a rebuilding of the track to a high-banked, 5/8-mile version in 1970, a third configuration in 1973 to the current 18-degree banking, a name change to Nashville Speedway in 1974, and another change to Nashville International Raceway in 1979.

The familiar and fan-embraced division, however, disappeared following the track's abbreviated 1979 season. It was replaced with a "new" Grand American division - a NASCAR brand re-purposed from its original use in the early 70s. The change had been rumored throughout 1979 and was formalized during an announcement in November of that year.

Source: The Tennessean
As was known to happen from time to time, Larry Woody's reporting in The Tennessean about the announcement included a bit of an error. Most of the Grand American cars were Chevy Camaros and Pontiac Firebirds - not Novas and Venturas. The older model cars were allowed to participate - but they could rarely hang with the sleek, lighter GA cars.

One of the drivers selected to attend the press announcement and 1980 schedule release was a bit peculiar. Sterling Marlin was a full-time, winning LMS racer known well to race fans, so his participation made sense. Part-time racer Don Light, on the other hand, had hardly been a dominating force in the track's mini-stock division.

But...he was that Don Light. On the track, Light was a racing hobbyist who hadn't experienced winning at the Fairgrounds. Off the track, however, he knew winning well. Light managed superstars such as Jimmy Buffett and the Oak Ridge Boys. (Light later managed Kyle Petty during his fledgling music career and founded the short-lived Sound & Speed pre-season NASCAR event.)

 Getty Images
Source: Getty Images
* * * * *
The 1980 season began with the CRC Chemicals 200. Though the old LMS division had been retired, Nashville's tradition of opening the season with a big feature pitting local racers against out-of-town heavyweights continued as it had since the 1966 Flameless 300.

CRC Chemicals returned as the race's title sponsor for the second season. CRC also continued their use of motorsports as a marketing platform. In addition to sponsoring Nashville's inaugural Grand American race, CRC sponsored the fall Cup race at Dover and Richard Childress's Cup program.

Promoters Lanny Hester and Gary Baker ponied up some solid bucks to land Cup veteran David Pearson. Though Pearson's long association with the Wood Brothers ended about a year earlier, Pearson raced a part-time Cup schedule in 1980 for Hoss Ellington's Hawaiian Tropic team. He arrived in Nashville fresh off his tenth and final win at Darlington - a race coincidentally sponsored by CRC Chemicals.

Source: The Tennessean
The other out-of-town name for the race was two-time national LMS champion, Butch Lindley. Since traveling to Nashville for the first time in the early '70s, Lindley had pocketed six big wins at the Fairgrounds - two each in 1974, 1977, and 1978.

Source: The Tennessean
Joining Pearson and Lindley as early favorites were a couple of veteran locals in their new rides - Marlin and Mike Alexander. Though several other locals filled the field each race in 1980, Marlin dominated the year with Alexander grabbing his share as well. The two would develop a serious rivalry over the next few years - as well as a solid friendship in the long run.

Lindley didn't arrive in Nashville just to putz around. He set the track record, won the pole, and let the field know his mastery of Nashville in a Chevelle or Nova transferred to his Grand American Camaro.

Though Marlin dominated Nashville's 1980 season, his reign did not begin until after week one. He ran over debris from the car of local racer Dorris Vaughn, cut a tire, and never recovered the rest of the race. Steve Spencer, Nashville's 1977 LMS champ, also struggled and finished deep in the field.

Racing a #21 Purolator Camaro resembling his former Wood Brothers Cup ride, Pearson chased Lindley early. Staying with Lindley, however, was another matter. He ended the race in third - and a distant third at that.

Alexander was the only driver who could consistently stay near Lindley. But even so, Lindley's #16 gapped him significantly in the second half of the race. When the checkered flag fell, Lindley nabbed his seventh Nashville feature with a two-lap victory over Alexander.

Source: The Tennessean
With two LMS titles and a bushel of feature wins at numerous tracks, many speculated Lindley would be a natural to advance to Cup. Many of his LMS peers had already earned permanent rides or at least a handful of starts including Neil Bonnett, Dale Earnhardt, Harry Gant, Joe Millikan, Jody Ridley, and Morgan Shepherd.

Lindley acknowledged that while he could go to Cup, he didn't want to advance and struggle. He wanted to compete regularly for wins. If that meant towing his car all over the place for points, show money, minimal travel luxuries, and trophies, so be it.

Source: The Tennessean
Lindley did make eleven Cup starts for a handful of car owners - including himself - between 1979 and 1985. His best finish was a P2 to Gant in Martinsville's 1982 spring race. While handling the occasional one-off Cup start, he continued racing the short tracks of the south.

In 1985 during an All Pro Series race, however, Lindley wrecked and suffered a devastating head injury. He languished until June 6, 1990 - just over 10 years from his win in Nashville's inaugural Grand American race.

Results:
  1. Butch Lindley
  2. Mike Alexander
  3. David Pearson
  4. Phillip Grissom
  5. Richard Waters
  6. Al Henderson
  7. Sidney Minton
  8. Tony Cunningham
  9. Phil Spickar
  10. Sterling Marlin
  11. David Jones
  12. Jimmy Williams
  13. Andy Pope
  14. Billy Clinton
  15. Dorris Vaughn
  16. Mark Taylor
  17. Charlie Adcock
  18. Steve Spencer
  19. Mike Montgomery
  20. Dennis White
  21. R.A. Brannon
TMC

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Nashville's 1979 CRC Chemicals 250

Nashville's fairgrounds speedway opened the 1979 season with many changes and an equal or greater number of questions.

Gone was long-time promoter and track operator, Bill Donoho. Replacing him was the duo Lanny Hester and Gary Baker. Hester formerly raced at the fairgrounds in the mini-stock division and started a few NASCAR Baby Grand National events. Baker was a Nashville tax attorney whose most notable client was Waylon Jennings. The two assumed Nashville's lease from Donoho in 1978 after buying Bristol earlier in the season.

One of the first changes made by Hester and Baker was to rename the track from Nashville Speedway to Nashville International Raceway - perhaps to align it with Bristol's full name. The other significant change was dropping the weekly racing series - a staple of the track since its opening in 1958.

The primary reason given for the elimination of weekly racing was to allow more time for Hester and Baker to implement needed upgrades. As it turned out, few noticeable facility upgrades were made.

Although the track did not run its traditional slate of weekly races, NIR did host two Cup races, two Baby Grand races, an ARCA event, and three national late model sportsman features. The first of the three LMS races was the season-opening CRC Chemicals Nashville 250 on April 14, 1979.

The race was conveniently scheduled on an open weekend for Cup drivers between Darlington and Martinsville. In years past, Donoho often enticed at least a couple of Cup regulars to participate in the first race of each season. For the 1979 opener, however, only Bobby Allison entered.

Hester and Baker had hoped Darrell Waltrip would enter - particularly on the heels of his stirring victory at Darlington a week earlier, but Allison was the lone Cup representative. It's possible the show money wasn't thick enough for some to make the trip - particularly since the race was the night before Easter Sunday.

For much of 1976-77-78, fans grew to embrace four young drivers nicknamed the Kiddie Corps. Two of the drivers - Mike Alexander and Sterling Marlin - had quickly become veteran racers, but the other two kind of faded away a bit. Alexander and Marlin returned as expected winners from the local crowd for 1979 and were joined by 1977 track champion Steve Spencer and rookie Tony Cunningham.

In addition to several changes in track operations, 1978 Nashville LMS champion Alexander surprised many with a big change of his own. From his start in 1974, Alexander raced Fords - primarily because of his father's ties to a Ford dealership. R.C. Alexander fielded competitive Fords for many drivers dating back almost 20 years. Yet when the the 1979 season began, Mike was at the wheel of a Pontiac - a PONY-ACK! as King Richard would say.

Alexander and his dad built the car for Waltrip - but then bought it from DW before it hit the track. Mike raced it for the first time in Daytona's 300-mile LMS race in February. Waltrip coincidentally won the race. Marlin and Alexander finished second and ninth, respectively, in their Daytona debuts.

Source: The Tennessean
Alexander landed more than Waltrip's car. He also picked up some support from him as a sponsor.

Long-time LMS racer Gene Glover of Kingsport, TN won the pole. Glover's son Tony later became well-known as crew chief for Morgan-McClure drivers Ernie Irvan and Sterling Marlin. The field included Allison, the local contingent, and several regional LMS racers including Jack Ingram, Butch Lindley, Jody Ridley,and Morgan Shepherd.

Once the green fell, however, many of the favorites developed all sorts of trouble well before time to show their hand. For starters, Allison developed ignition issues at race time and withdrew before even taking a pace lap. And Jack Ingram fell out after only 24 laps.

Early racing included Asheville NC's Bob Pressley and Alexander in his new Pontiac. On lap 42, however, Alexander got KO'd by a runaway wheel from Steve Spencer's car. Both Spencer and Alexander's new car were finished for the night.

The two "Ley" drivers - Ridley and Lindley - had a good battle as well. Lindley, a frequent winner of big races at the Fairgrounds in the 1970s, was again in the hunt for about two-thirds of the race. Engine issues around lap 180, however, doomed his fortunes.

With the strongest competition loaded on their trailers and a two-lap lead on Glover, Pressley set his cruise control and easily led the remaining laps. He even made a casual late pit stop - just because. In doing so, Glover made up his lost distance but was no threat to match Pressley's car.

Cup driver Richard Childress greeted Pressley in victory lane. Though he didn't drive in the event, Childress's Cup car was sponsored by CRC Chemicals.

Marlin, Ridley, and Shepherd rounded out the top five. Sterling finished one lap down to Pressley, and Ridley and Shepherd were down two laps.

Source: The Tennessean
Pressley had no issues in the race. Actually, his only annoyance the whole day was too much ice in his Co' Cola cup!

Source: The Tennessean
Finishing order:
  1. Bob Pressley
  2. Gene Glover
  3. Sterling Marlin
  4. Jody Ridley
  5. Morgan Shepherd
  6. Tony Cunningham
  7. Charlie Chamblee
  8. Dennis Wiser
  9. Carl Langford
  10. Ricky Diehl
  11. Butch Allen
  12. Bobby Hailey
  13. Butch Applegate
  14. Mike Potter
  15. Butch Lindley
  16. Paul Dean Holt
  17. Mike Alexander
  18. Steve Spencer
  19. Jack Ingram
  20. Phil Spickard
  21. Richard Waters
  22. Bobby Allison
 TMC

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Nashville's 1978 Winston 200

Nashville Speedway opened its 1978 season with a marquis NASCAR national late model sportsman race just as it had since 1966. The Winston Salute To America 200 ran on Saturday, April 15, 1978.

Though the 200-lap season-opener held to tradition, fans experienced many changes during and after the season that altered all sorts of traditions.

In December, the track's lease was sold by long-time track promoter, Bill Donoho, to local racer Lanny Hester and businessman Gary Baker. Donoho operated the track since its opening in 1958, but he spent much of his time in 1976-1977 overseeing a project to build a Nashville-areas superspeedway.  The track was to have been built about 20 miles south of Nashville. One problem after another arose; however, and Donoho's project was scrapped in early 1978.

The season also turned out to be the final full year for the late model sportsman division. After featuring modifieds as the top division in the early years, Donoho replaced them with the LMS division in 1964. Hester and Baker opted to run only a handful of LMS races in 1979 with the traditional Novas and Chevelles. Then in 1980, the new promoters introduced a new Grand American division featuring primarily Camaros and Firebirds.

Local racer Steve Spencer experienced a bit of change as well. Spencer earned Nashville's 1973 rookie of the years honors and won the 1977 LMS title in an orange Chevelle. In the offseason, he purchased a late model Nova from North Carolina racer Randy Tissott. Furthermore, his sponsor (an avid Vanderbilt Commodores sports fan), asked Spencer to paint the car black and gold.

Source: The Tennessean
Another local racer, Mike Alexander, had expected a change - though it happened later than originally thought. During his two previous full-time LMS years, Alexander raced a mid 60s Mercury Cougar. For the new season, he expected to race a newly-built Ford Granada. Multiple problems with the car during testing, however, led Alexander to return the car to the builder. Instead, he stuck with his trusty Cougar for the first part of the season.

Source: The Tennessean
In addition to Spencer and Alexander, Sterling Marlin returned for his third season of LMS racing. The trio represented the strongest of the local racer contingent. As a national LMS feature, the race also attracted several out-of-towners as it typically did. The list of Big Dawgs included racers such as two-time national LMS champions Jack Ingram and L.D. Ottinger, 1978 national LMS champ Butch Lindley, Bob Pressley, Morgan Shepherd, and late entrant Donnie Allison.

Despite the presence of several touring pros, the local fellas let 'em know they knew their way around the Fairgrounds track quite well. Marlin won the pole, and Spencer joined him on the front row.

Source: Hemmings.com
Spencer's newly purchased Nova was fast. He got the jump on Marlin at the green and pulled the field into turn one. The 1977 track champ found his early groove and enjoyed the view out front. Lap after lap, Spencer's #27 Chevrolet stayed out front.

Meanwhile, Alexander, P.B. Crowell III, and Dennis Wiser were all gone by halfway. The three drivers along with Marlin comprised the highly touted Kiddie Corps two seasons earlier. Marlin stayed in the hunch though he seemingly had nothing for Spencer. His lack of speed was compounded by pit miscues followed by a tangle with another car late in the race. He still managed a P7 finish - though 10 laps down to the winner.

With 55 laps to go, Spencer had to make his stop to make it to the end. Like Marlin, he too had issues making a clean pit stop. He suffered a painful one-lap penalty for running the pit-out stop sign. And like Marlin, he knicked another car - Ironman Ingram - late in the race. Though he continued to a P4 finish, Spencer realized he'd missed out on a golden opportunity to bank a premier LMS win.

After pit challenges by the local racers, veteran racer Donnie Allison - and his seasoned crew - made his pit stop cleanly. Allison took over the top spot and led the remaining laps that Spencer could not. Donnie captured his third season-opener win at Nashville in seven seasons. His other victories were the 1972 Permatex 200 and 1976 Winston 200.

Source: Nashville Fairgrounds Racing History
Many of the local and national racers' names had been touted in the run-up to race day by the track's promotional team. Allison's name, however, was not among the names mentioned because he had not yet submitted an official entry. Some speculated Allison, a NASCAR Cup regular, wanted more show money than Donoho was willing to pay. Allison held back his entry perhaps as a countermove to limit Donoho's use of Donnie's name in marketing efforts.

Source: The Tennessean
Finishing Order:
  1. Donnie Allison
  2. Bob Pressley
  3. Gene Glover
  4. Steve Spencer
  5. Al Henderson
  6. Wayne Carden
  7. Sterling Marlin 
  8. Tony Cunningham
  9. John Huskey
  10. David Ray
  11. Charlie Whitefield
  12. Jack Ingram
  13. Morgan Shepherd
  14. Butch Lindley
  15. James Ham
  16. Butch Applegate
  17. L. D. Ottinger
  18. P.B. Crowell, III
  19. Jack Hill
  20. Mike Alexander
  21. Paddlefoot Wales
  22. James Climer
  23. Ken Gay
  24. Dennis Wiser 
  25. Marvin Joiner
  26. Dorris Vaughn
TMC

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Nashville's 1977 Winston 200

Nashville Speedway at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds opened its 1977 season with the Winston Salute To America 200 on April 16th. The 200-lap race was sanctioned as a NASCAR national late model sportsman event.

Times were tough for racers in the mid 1970s - locally and on the national level. L.D. Ottinger, NASCAR's two-time national Late Model Sportsman champion, had done enough barnstorming to accumulate points.

Ottinger continued to race and win, but he longer had the hunger to bounce all over the eastern and southern U.S. to bank points. Jack Ingram reached the same decision after winning his third consecutive LMS title in 1974.

Locally, Nashville's 1976 LMS champion, Alton Jones, didn't return to defend his title. Jones was from Alabama, but he'd raced off and on at Nashville since the early 1970s. He raced the full schedule in 1976 and won the title over rookie Mike Alexander. Because of a lack of sponsorship, however, Jones opted not to return to Music City in 1977.

With Jones gone along with some of the late model veterans of the early 1970s, most expected the storyline of Nashville's 1977 season to be the further maturation of the Kiddie Corps.

Mike Alexander, P.B. Crowell III, Sterling Marlin and Dennis Wiser
All four up-and-comer drivers were second generation racers.
  • Mike Alexander, Nashville's 1976 LMS rookie of the year, was the son of R.C. Alexander, a long-time owner for winning drivers dating back to the late 1950s. 
  • P.B. Crowell III, Nashville's 1975 LMS rookie of the year, was the son of P.B. Crowell, Jr. a former winning driver who became a prominent owner in the late 1960s when he hired a kid from Owensboro, Kentucky: Darrell Waltrip.
  • Sterling Marlin was the son of four-time Nashville track champ and Cup independent, Coo Coo Marlin. Before he began his driving career, Sterling worked as a crewman and mechanic on his father's Cup cars.
  • Dennis Wiser was the son of Kenneth Wiser, a long-time noted car builder and mechanic. Among his other accomplishments, Kenneth built the car raced by 1967 track champ and future NASCAR official, Walter Wallace
Source: The Tennessean
Though many expected the young guns to win their share of races, experienced drivers still planned to have a say in the outcome and leave town with the trophy and the loot. Several big names helped pack the stands for the season opener.
  • Cup regular and two-time Nashville LMS champion, Darrell Waltrip, flew between Bristol and Nashville to balance practice and qualifying for the Southeastern 500 Cup race and his #88 Gatorade Nova in Nashville. 
  • Ottinger still came to Music City even though he wasn't chasing points. 
  • Ingram finished second in a Friday night late model race in Kingsport, TN before towing to Nashville for its Saturday night feature.
  • Randy Tissot wrecked his car in the Kingsport race. He came to Nashville anyway with a generous offer by Ingram to race his backup car.
Other out-of-towners included Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant, Morgan Shepherd, and the son of late model legend Ralph Earnhardt.

Mike Alexander, Steve Spencer, Darrell Waltrip, Sterling Marlin, & Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt arranged to race Waltrip's orange-and-white #17 in his second ever Nashville start. The Robert Gee-painted Nova matched the colors of Crowell's #47.

Though he was young, third-year racer Crowell was already a track veteran. He won the pole by matching the track record of 20.01 seconds. Gant lined up alongside him on the front row.

Nashville hosted three main divisions of weekly racing in 1977: mini-stocks, limited sportsman, and late model sportsman. The track also featured a demolition derby division. The Winston 200 wasn't part of that schedule, but it may as well have been with the way the race unfolded.

Earnhardt's night in his borrowed ride didn't last even a quarter of the race. He spun on lap 40 and collected Marlin with him.

Wiser, another one of the young'uns, popped the wall shortly after halfway, and he too was done - as was Steve Spencer. Fortunately for Spencer, the night did not start a trend for him. He won frequently during the year and captured the 1977 LMS title.

Cup independent and 1969 Nashville LMS champion, Dave Sisco, tangled with Shepherd to end both their nights. And with about 20 laps to go, Crowell's pole-winning car laid down sending his car to the trailer.

With five to go and Ingram leading, Benny Kerley apparently hit a patch of fluid and spun in turn three. Ingram was already past Kerley, but second-place running Gant also hit the oil and clipped Kerley as he tried to avoid him.

As Gant slowed and twitched, he was then drilled in the right side by local racers Ricky Marlin and and Dave Hill. Fast approaching Waltrip and Tissot took evasive action to dodge the three-car wreck.

As Gant's totaled car was towed to the garage, it was apparent to all the roll cage wasn't nearly as strong as required. Handsome Harry was fortunate to return to North Carolina without injury.

On the restart, Waltrip went high in turn one in hopes of getting momentum to launch past Ingram. His car stumbled, however, and he immediately faded. Ottinger had issues too - at the very moment he didn't need them.

Feeling no pressure from the others, Ingram and Tissot clicked off the remaining laps to finish 1-2. Waltrip and Ottinger remained on track and finished third and fourth.

Fans saw a remarkable and perhaps exasperating 11 cautions totaling 65 laps. Of the 28 starters, only nine cars made it to the end. With so many cars out of the race or many laps down to the leaders, Kerley and Gant still managed to finish fifth and sixth despite their DNFs!

Ingram captured his fifth national LMS win at Nashville and eighth victory overall. He won three more times at the Fairgrounds - a 250-lap national LMS race in 1979 and a Busch Grand National race in 1984.

Source: The Tennessean
Finishing order:
  1. Jack Ingram
  2. Randy Tissot 
  3. Darrell Waltrip 
  4. L.D. Ottinger 
  5. Benny Kerley 
  6. Harry Gant 
  7. Gary Sircy 
  8. Ricky Marlin 
  9. Buzzy Reynolds 
  10. Dorris Vaughn 
  11. David Panter 
  12. P.B. Crowell 
  13. Thomas Mount 
  14. David Hill 
  15. Mike Alexander 
  16. David Rogers 
  17. Jerry Sisco 
  18. Dennis Wiser 
  19. Steve Spencer 
  20. Carl Langford 
  21. Terry Vickers 
  22. Dale Earnhardt 
  23. Art Sommers 
  24. Sterling Marlin 
  25. Morgan Shepherd 
  26. David Sisco
  27. Marvin Joyner 
  28. Charlie Whitefield
TMC