Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 29 - This day in Petty history

1976 - The King starts third, leads 362 of 492 laps, and wins the Carolina 500 at North Carolina Motor Speedway - better known as Rockingham - to notch his 178th career victory.

NASCAR Trivia Time: The '76 Rockingham race is the only NASCAR GN/Cup race ever run on February 29th (so far).

Bonus Trivia: Dawsonville, GA's Bill Elliott made his first career Cup start in this race. He started 33rd and finished one spot worse. I guess its an understatement to say Bill made a pretty good recovery from his first race to enjoy an above-average career.

Fellow member Johnny Boone remembers:
My first trip to a NASCAR race was on 29 FEB 1976. Yes, it was leap year. I was 6 years old and had just spent two weeks in a hospital in Sanford, NC with pneumonia. My Dad had bought tickets, and I wanted to go so bad. I was a big Richard Petty fan. After 33 penicillin injections, I was feeling much better, and my Dad told me he would take me if the weather warmed up. Well, the weather turned and the forecasters promised a 70 degree day so we went. It was beautiful! We had a black and white TV in those days. So the first time I saw Richard's Dodge in color was at Rockingham that day. He did not disappoint. Richard lapped the field twice in a 1974 STP Dodge. That was the day Darrell Waltrip clipped Bobby Allison's CAM 2 Mercury out of turn 2 and Allison barrel-rolled down the back straight (TMC: actually, it was Cale Yarborough who got into Allison). I'll never forget the crowd reaction when Richard took the checkers.
Boone referenced Bobby Allison's bad crash. Here is the only video footage I've ever seen of his wreck. Drivers with collateral damage included Richard Childress in #3 (yes folks, drivers other than Earnhardt have piloted a #3) and Coo Coo Marlin in the #14.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Hughes from RacersReunion
Despite Allison's problems, the King rolled on to capture the victory by two laps over Darrell Waltrip in the first race for the circuit after Petty's gut-wrenching loss to David Pearson in the legendary 1976 Daytona 500.

With 1976 being the bicentennial anniversary of the United States of America, the King showed up at Daytona sporting a beard to commemorate it ...

When he rolled into victory lane at Rockingham 2 weeks later, he was still wearing it. (However, the beard disappeared soon after, and he was clean-shaven the rest of the season.)

Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February 28 - This day in Petty history

1960 - Richard Petty wins his first career Grand National race in a 200-lap event at Southern States Fairgrounds Speedway in Charlotte, NC.

Petty made his first Grand National start in 1958 and won a convertible series race at Columbia Speedway in 1959. His victory at Charlotte, however, was his first of 200 Grand National / Winston Cup wins.

The half-mile dirt oval was clearly not the same track as the 1-1/2 mile paved Charlotte Motor Speedway - though their histories did overlap a bit. Seventeen Grand National races were held at the fairgrounds track, and Petty's win was in the next-to-last race held there. Charlotte Motor Speedway opened in 1960 with the inaugural World 600, and its evolved into arguably the top showcase track of the NASCAR circuit.

Lee Petty started on the pole, and Richard started seventh. Lee completed only 38 laps and finished 20th in the 21-car field as Richard went on to claim the win.

I haven't been able to land an article, program, ticket stub, etc. from the race. During my visit to the Richard Petty Museum in March 2010, however, I found a photo from the race on display.

Former Petty Enterprises crewman and fellow Racers Reunion member Billy Biscoe noted:
A li'l more history to this car. It was one out of the Petty stables and was a Lee Petty hand me down that had of all things 2'' square tubing for a roll cage. It later had a removable roof so that it could be raced in the convertible division. Richard would drive it in the convertible races - then overnight the crew would bolt the roof back on and Jim Paschal would drive it as a Grand National.
The following article includes some of Richard's memories from his first win back in 1960 - after he won his 200th and final race in 1984.

Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire

Monday, February 27, 2012

February 27 - This day in Petty history - part 2

1972 - Richard Petty wins the Richmond 500 in Virginia for his second win in three races of the 1972 season.

The King seemed to have an easier time winning the race than other races of this time. The Bobbys - Isaac and Allison - spent time at the front with Allison leading most the laps. With about 200 to go, Allison's tire wear was bad and Isaac faded a bit. The King then moved by both of them, took the lead, and cruised to a 1-lap win over Allison.

Petty notched his 142nd career victory with the win. Interestingly, win number 142 was exactly his 100th victory over #42 on the same date in 1966 (Daytona 500).

Photo and article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Source: Gadsden Times via Google News Archive
Edited February 25, 2015

February 27 - This day in Petty history - part 1

1966 - Starting from the pole, Richard Petty scores his 42nd career victory and his second Daytona 500 - the only multi-time winner in the race's eight years. The race ends under caution two laps early because of rain.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
Petty won his first Daytona 500 - and his first superspeedway race overall - two years earlier. Because of a NASCAR racing boycott by Chrysler Corporation for much of 1965, the factory-supported Petty team skipped the 1965 race but returned in 1966.

Photo and headline courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
NASCAR was fortunate in that era to have some coverage of the race featured on ABC's Wide World of Sports. Races weren't broadcast live and were aired on a heavily-edited basis a week or two - or more - later. Considering most NASCAR races were not aired, the Daytona 500 was one of the two most prominent races on the schedule partially because of the TV coverage.

A couple of things I find interesting in this brief recap of the race's highlights are:
  • In the video's intro remarks, ABC's Curt Gowdy refers to the race as the World Series of Stock Car Racing. Baseball was still America's national pastime in the 1960s. In the late 1970s - and pretty much even today, the race is referred to as the Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing. In 1966, the Super Bowl was still a year away from its first edition.
  • For some reason, Petty's crew painted the 43 on the roof off-center. See it around the 5:15 mark.

I found it interesting too that Chris Economaki looked like Vaughan, John Ritter's character in Slingblade.

If you are a real junkie for old school NASCAR video, here are links to a 4-part, extended version recap of the race.

1966 Daytona 500 - part 1
1966 Daytona 500 - part 2
1966 Daytona 500 - part 3
1966 Daytona 500 - part 4
Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Somehow, someway, a newspaper editor 'discovered' the lost Petty child - Tom. Shunned by his racing parents and siblings, he went on to a life of rock-and-roll. As an adult, he sang such racing-related songs as Breakdown, You Wreck Me, I Won't Back Down, and Runnin' Down A Dream.

Photo - including Kyle Petty not Tom - courtesy of Jerry Bushmire


Saturday, February 25, 2012

February 25 - This day in Petty history

1973 - Richard Petty starts eighth, leads almost half the race, and wins the Richmond 500 for his 150th career victory.

The King made it hard on himself in getting the victory. During the race, he made a bone-headed move and simply ran over Neil Castles while racing Bobby Isaac. He lost 2 laps to the leaders, but he made up both of them and won the race.

Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire


Thursday, February 23, 2012

February 23 - This day in Petty history - part 2

1975 - Starting from the pole, Richard Petty leads 444 laps, finishes six laps ahead of the second place finisher, and wins his 165th career race in the Richmond 500. The race start is delayed 2 hours because of persistent rain.

The race was somewhat of a routine one for the 43 team - a rarity in the 'modern era' of NASCAR. In the races of the 1960s, it was common for the Petty team to roll into town, win the pole, lead every lap, win the race, grab the loot, kiss the girls, and move on to the next one. But when the number of races was reduced as part of the Winston Cup Series re-branding in 1971, the competition increased. So it was unusual for a race like Richmond to unfold.

After NASCAR enjoyed a full field for the Daytona 500 a week earlier, the brass must have been puzzled when only 22 cars qualified for the Richmond race. Only three of the top 10 finishers from the Daytona 500 - Petty, 500 winner Benny Parsons, and Dave Marcis - went to Richmond to race. The story in 1975 was similar to what has happened the last couple of years: lack of sufficient sponsorship funding.

Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire

February 23 - This day in Petty history - part 1

1964 was an eventful year in multiple ways ...
  • The Beatles released their first U.S. album and later appeared on The Ed Sullivan show.
  • The Rolling Stones released their debut album.
  • Super Tex - A.J. Foyt - wins his second Indianapolis 500 as Indy hero Eddie Sachs is killed
  • Two-time reigning NASCAR champion, Joe Weatherly, was killed at Riverside in January
  • NASCAR's most popular driver, Fireball Roberts, had a horrific crash in the World 600, suffered significant burns over most of his body and died about six weeks later.
  • And the 1964 World's Fair opened in New York featuring ... The Schaefer Center.
1964 was also a coming-of-age year for Richard Petty. He won his first Daytona 500 and eventually his first NASCAR Grand National championship.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Project
Starting from outside of the front row, Petty led 184 of 200 laps en route to his 29th career win and the first superspeedway victory of his 5-year career. Teammate Buck Baker in a #41 Petty Plymouth started fifth and finished twelfth.

Before Richard's domination in the 500, he was part of a dramatic finish in his 100-mile qualifying race a couple of days earlier. His second-place qualifying run for the 500 put him on the pole for his qualifying race. He was leading and the win secured when he ran out of fuel on the last lap. The 43 coasted along the apron helplessly as Bobby Isaac and Jimmy Pardue closed quickly. The three of them flashed across the line in a finish too-close-to-call. The start-finish line camera malfunctioned, and officials needed four hours before deciding Isaac won. (Coincidentally, the camera was installed after the finish of the inaugural Daytona 500 when Lee Petty barely edged out Johnny Beauchamp.)

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Despite Petty's near-miss in his qualifying race, his second place starting spot was still secure. Paul Goldsmith in another Plymouth started on the pole.

Courtesy of Ray Lamm
Green, green, green!

Richard's hemi-engine Plymouth powered the blue #43 to a 1-lap victory. Second place Pardue and third place Goldsmith also ran Chrysler's hemi engine giving Plymouth a 1-2-3 finish.

To the victor belongs the spoils ... and a nice, little kiss.

The winner posing with his trophy...

... and the trophy hanging out afterwards on the hood of a car before it headed back to Level Cross.

Courtesy of Tim Leeming
Though the driver and his team enjoyed the celebration of victory lane, his family did not. Instead of being at the track, Richard's wife Lynda was at a local hotel caring for their two children at the time - Kyle and Sharon - who were sick!

Richard's 1964 Daytona 500 winning trophy was one of a handful I specifically wanted to see when visiting the Richard Petty Museum in March 2011. I must concede, however, that I don't understand the significance of the Japanese emphasis (yet).

Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Edited February 26, 2015

Saturday, February 18, 2012

February 18 - This day in Petty history - part 2

1979 - Richard Petty wins his sixth Daytona 500 and 186th career race in what is arguably the most memorable NASCAR Winston Cup race in history for many reasons.

Ticket stub scan courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Before Petty took the checkers, many wondered if his career was done. His last win had been at Daytona 18 months earlier in the 1977 Firecracker 400. He raced his STP Dodge Charger the rest of 1977 without a win. He began 1978 in a Dodge Magnum, but the wins didn't return. About two-thirds of the way through the season, he changed from Dodge to General Motors - but the results were the same. The only glimmers of hope were a close but controversial finish at Atlanta and a Winston West win in Phoenix, AZ. Most thought Petty had nipped Dave Marcis at the line to win at Atlanta, but Donnie Allison was ahead of them both and got the win. The Winston West win was a bit of a morale booster heading into the off-season, but the win didn't count as an official NASCAR Winston Cup victory.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
Also, Richard's health coming into the Daytona 500 was a big question mark.
  • The stress of the losing streak - including how it affected the lives of his family and crew - wore on him.
  • The King had never been one to embrace an athlete's diet. He feasted on Pepsi colas, aspirin powders, and mayonnaise sandwiches.
  • Richard's son - Kyle - indicated he was ready to start his racing career. Richard agreed, and plans were put into action to help get a car ready, land a sponsor, and find a way to get Kyle some meaningful testing time.
  • Petty was at a crossroads of sorts with his sponsor since 1972, STP. As the 1979 season began, the 43 did not have the STP logos on the hood at the season-opening Riverside race or at Daytona.

The toll of all these variables in the years leading to the end of 1978 resulted in significant ulcers for the King. Shortly after his Phoenix Winston West win, he underwent stomach surgery. His physicians advised him to skip the early portion of the 1979 season to help his recovery. Instead, he qualified 6th at Riverside in January - though he finished 32nd because of a failed engine. And then he headed to Daytona for Speedweeks.

Source: Wilmington Morning-Star, December 8, 1978
Being back at the track likely helped vs. hurt Richard's recovery - at least publicly he was saying as much. His recovery took a big leap forward the Sunday before the 500. After former Petty Enterprises teammate, Buddy Baker, won the pole for the Daytona 500 and the inaugural Busch Clash (now known as the Bud Shootout), it was time for the ARCA 200.

Kyle was starting his first career race - at Daytona - on the outside of the front row - in one of Richard's hand-me-down Dodge Magnums discarded during the 1978 season. Despite some challenges during the race, Kyle made some crafty moves and won the race. The win was huge for Kyle, Petty Enterprises, Richard's healing, a lead-in story to the 500 for CBS television, etc. (For the career of this writer, however, I don't think Kyle's win had much of an impact at all. His article includes more failures than a college physics class.)

Heavy rains fell on the speedway the night before the race. After an extensive drying effort, the track was just about ready. CBS prepared to air its first live flag-to-flag race - and I'm sure they were puckered about the possibility of a delayed start or even a cancellation. Fortunately, the rain stopped, and the track dried pretty quickly.

Credit to and courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Darrell Waltrip and his DiGard/Gatorade team took a bit of a risk and agreed to be a 'rabbit' for NASCAR. As the rest of the field followed the pace car, Waltrip agreed to rip a couple of laps at race-speed to make sure the track was completely dry. He radioed to his team and track officials that it was OK to drop the green. Had the track not been ready and/or if Waltrip had wrecked ... well, I'm not sure what Ol' DeeDubya and NASCAR had as Plan B.

Donnie Allison led almost half the race despite an early caution when he, brother Bobby Allison, and Cale Yarborough all spun. The three of them ended up in the soggy, sandy mud left from the overnight rains. Good fortunes fell to Donnie and Cale as they were able to unlap themselves - and Donnie even returned to leading laps.

Most race fans - young and old, vets and noobs, deeply interested and casual followers - are familiar with the race finish. Donnie and Cale found themselves again back at the front of the field with enough distance on third place A.J. Foyt to settle it between themselves. Instead, they crashed on the backstretch in front of a national TV audience, slid down to the same mud pit through which they spun earlier, jawed at each other as Bobby Allison pulled up to say 'wazzup?' and then had a brief scrap post-hyped to have been the second coming of The Thrilla in Manilla.

Meanwhile, Foyt backed off as word of the wreck happened allowing Petty and Waltrip to pass him. Late in the race, Waltrip was said to have dropped a cylinder. Even though he was able to draft Petty and Foyt, his engine apparently didn't have the burst it needed to make the key pass when it was time to go. With so much dampness in the air a few hours earlier that may have affected engine performance, I've often wondered if DW's rabbit laps to help start the race ended up coming back to haunt him as the checkers fell on the 43.

Legendary racing radio and TV announcer Ken Squier helped partner CBS Sports and the Daytona 500. Some sound bites stand the test of time - because of their spontaneity, brevity, and accuracy. Squier's post-race reactions as the winning 43 cruised down victory lane are included in that exclusive list of hall of fame exclamations:

And there's a fight! The tempers ... overflowing. They're angry.
They know they have lost. And what a bitter defeat.

Equally interesting to me, however, is how Squier helped the production crew and camera operators as Petty led Waltrip to the checkers. Once Donnie and Cale wrecked, everyone immediately knew someone from the next group of cars would win. But CBS couldn't seem to find them! One camera went to the start-finish line. Another one panned around. It required the on-air, calm, directing demeanor of Squier to help his team. I'm sure he was supposed to keep his eyes on the monitors, but he directed his crew to look towards turns three and four. Getting them reconnected with Petty's car helped CBS ensure they got the winning shot.

The call of the last lap and post-race fireworks by CBS' Ken Squier and David Hobbs...

And a historical revisit of The Fight - including comments from Donnie, Cale and Bobby and the MRN radio call by Barney Hall, Mike Joy, and Eli Gold.

Joe Biddle, who wrote the following article, grew up in east Tennessee. After his stint with the Daytona paper, he moved back to the Volunteer State to cover sports in middle Tennessee for the Nashville Banner and The Tennessean. In an e-mail exchange with Biddle, he acknowledged he hadn't covered NASCAR much and was a bit out of his element. But he submitted a great article with several great quips - from the drivers and himself - seldom included in articles today such as:
  • Biddle: Down the backstretch they charged. Time to intimidate. No room for error.
  • Biddle: ...the force richocheting them pell mell to the infield grass...
  • Cale: He smarted off, and I knocked the hell out of him.
  • Gary Balough: It felt really good out there. I was Cadillacing out there.
The coincidence of the issue number of the Daytona Beach Morning Journal's paper the day after the race wasn't lost on me - number 43.

Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal, February 19, 1979