Monday, August 8, 2011

August 8 - This day in Petty history - part 2

1963 - Richard Petty notches his 25th career victory by winning the Sandlapper 200 at Columbia (SC) Speedway from the pole.

Columbia Speedway is a track in a class of its own. For many years, it was a half-mile dirt track where Petty ran his first professional race and won his first race (both in the NASCAR convertible series). Father-son drivers, Buck and Buddy Baker, also scored their first wins at Columbia.

Source: Sumter Daily Item via Google News Archive
When R.J. Reynolds signed on to sponsor NASCAR's top series as Winston Cup, most of the half-mile and under dirt bullrings were dropped from the schedule. Columbia tried to adapt by paving the track; however, the track was indeed dropped after 1971. Local races continued to be run at Columbia until the late 1970s when it was finally closed. Many tracks of the past have been lost forever to new developments or complete abandonment. Many committed folks, however, have worked diligently recently to keep the track around a bit longer. Events with old-school drivers have been held at the track in the hopes folks will remember the good ol' days or learn about them for the first time.

One bit of non-Petty trivia about the race. Independent driver, Frank Warren, was most often associated with car number 79, Chrysler products, and Native Tan as a sponsor - at least he was for me during the 70s.

But in the 1963 Columbia race, he raced car number...err...letter 'X'. That's it. The letter X - no numerals. Maybe X was intended to mean 10, who knows. But from what I can tell, it's the last time NASCAR allowed a car to run a letter to identify it.

Tim Leeming, fellow member at, had the good fortune to see a lot of the King's wins. Here are great memories from him from the 1963 Columbia race.
A group of friends of mine and I had started a Richard Petty Fan Club in February 1962 and held meetings once a month. By 1963, we had grown to about 20 local members - all of us kids (teens) with a great interest in the fortunes of Richard Petty. In August 1963, we got more intense and decided to officially "charter" our fan club with what little bit we knew about such things. We typed out a "charter" on an 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of paper and painted in the words "CHARTER, RICHARD PETTY FAN CLUB OF COLUMBIA" in Petty Blue model car paint.

Richard was to be in Columbia on August 8th for the Sandlapper 200 at Columbia Speedway and was to spend the day at Burnside Chrysler-Plymouth dealership. We met him there that morning when he got out of the truck, and he signed the Charter for us. That night at Columbia Speedway, Lee signed the Charter as well. So, we were now official. I still have that framed Charter hanging on my wall.

That was also the day my parents (who previously would only say they "wouldn't walk across the street to see a race if it was free") got to meet Richard because the Winn-Dixie where they shopped was next door to Marion Burnside Chrysler-Plymouth. I was able to get them to meet Richard (thanks to Richard's willingness to step next door). From that moment on, my parents were huge fans, started attending races, and eventually bought a motorhome to travel to almost all the races in the Southeast.

That night at Columbia Speedway, Richard won the pole and led more than half the race. But as I recall, he had to chase down David Pearson late in the race to take the win. I vividly remember Richard talking to my mother after the race in the pits. What an ambassador he was.

As to the Richard Petty Fan Club of Columbia, we grew to more than 400 members in 17 states and even had a member in Guam who was in the Navy. We set up a meeting in turn three of the infield at the Southern 500 in 1964, and we had more than 40 folks show up from all over: Illinois, Virginia, New Jersey, and of course North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida.

We published a monthly newsletter on an old mimeograph machine my church donated to us. We had a checking account because Marion Burnside Chrysler-Plymouth donated a check to us in 1964. To this day, I stay in contact with several members of that fan club, and all their memories are as vivid as mine as for those early days though most of them drifted away from the sport of late.
Tim gave me permission to share this photo of the King during the 1963 appearance at Burnside Chrysler-Plymouth. Note the unusual font for the 43. Thanks Tim!

As for the race itself, Perry Allen Wood recapped it in his book, Silent Speedways of the Carolinas:
Petty had the pole with [Bud] Moore's burgundy and black Bonneville 8 of Weatherly outside...The '63 Petty Plymouth scooted to a comfortable lead...On lap 102, Johnson was making a charge to the front when he lost control passing for third and launched himself over the rail at the end of the backstretch. Junior crashed down an embankment coming to rest on his lid in the bushes perilously close to some parked cars...It was not until lap 104 when Pearson took over the point from Petty and settled in for healthy period...Then Petty started reeling Pearson in, deftly banging his way by on lap 166 and holding on to beat Pearson by half a straightaway...In the battle of arguably the two greatest stock car careers in NASCAR history, Richard Petty and David Pearson went head-to-head 550 times...They finished one-two 63 times. The first time they went one-two was in this Sandlapper 200.
Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Edited August 8, 2014

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