Sunday, April 15, 2012

April 15 - This day in Petty history - part 1

1962 - Leading in two sizable segments totaling about 140 laps, Richard Petty races to his sixth career win in the Gwyn Staley 400 at North Wilkesboro.

For newer NASCAR fans unfamiliar with the still-standing yet quiet North Wilkesboro Speedway, it was a .625 mile paved track. The race length was 400 laps - or as the headline below reflects, 250 miles.

There is an old saying of I'd rather be lucky than good. On that day at Wilkesboro, Petty may well have benefited from the luck side of that adage. The Pontiac contingent of Junior Johnson, Fireball Roberts, and Joe Weatherly were the ones expected to battle for the win. (Interestingly, Little Joe was in a Bud Moore Pontiac vs. a Ford as was generally fielded by Bud during most of his career.) But after Roberts crunched Johnson's fender attempting a pass and after Roberts punted Weatherly out of the way, all three Pony-acks (as the King pronounces it) faded from contention. From there, Petty drove his Plymouth past Ned Jarrett and finished 4 car lengths ahead of second place Fred Lorenzen.

The scrap between the three marquis Pontiac drivers wasn't the biggest drama of the day. According to Greg Fielden in his book Forty Years of Stock Car Racing - Volume 2:
An unusual emergency spiced the action. The fuel trucks ran dry of racing gasoline just after the half-way point of the race. Some members of pit crews were seen scurrying around the infield with buckets and hoses in hand, siphoning gas from passenger cars. A caution flag was thrown on lap 250 so that a fuel truck could go get more gas. However, it never made it back to the track. Track officials said the large number of cars running at the finish (23 of 35 starts) was responsible for the dwindling supply of gas. ~ pp. 153-154
The future King in victory lane with young son, Kyle...

A couple of interesting observations about other drivers in the race. Finishing 33rd in the 35-car field was David Pearson driving a #44 Pontiac for car owner Julian Petty. Julian was Lee's brother and Richard's uncle.

Herb Thomas made a noble but uneventful start. Thomas was a frequent winner and 2-time NASCAR Grand National champion in the early 1950s. His career effectively ended after suffering a critical injury in 1956. He returned for 2 starts in 1957 but then didn't make another start until this race in 1962. The 1962 Gwyn Staley 400 turned out to be his final career start.

Thomas had a lot of success driving a Hudson Hornet. Disney and Pixar paid a bit of a tribute to Thomas and the Hudson Hornet in the movie Cars where Paul Newman voiced the character of Doc Hudson.

Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal via Google News Archive

Edited April 14 2015

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