Sunday, April 22, 2012

April 22 - This day in Petty history - part 1

1962 - Starting seventh, Richard Petty wins his seventh career race in the Virginia 500 on Easter Sunday at Martinsville.

The race was originally scheduled for April 8. Qualifying sessions were held on Friday and Saturday. Defending race winner Junior Johnson laid down the quickest lap in a 1961 Pontiac, but his time was disallowed after a protest by the Holman Moody team. Instead, Fred Lorenzen moved to P1 for the start. Petty qualified in the seventh spot.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Junior refused to have his car inspected and accepted the DQ. But he returned the next day with a different car - a 1962 Pontiac. He didn't post a time during second round qualifying and chose to thrash on his car instead. The fan favorite was awarded a 26th place starting spot perhaps as a NASCAR or promoter's option.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Herb Thomas attempted to make another start after a 5-year absence from racing. He raced the previous week at North Wilkesboro, and the following article indicates he qualified for the Martinsville race. The finishing results, however, do not include Thomas' name leading me to believe he withdrew from the event.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
On race day, however, torrential rains washed out the race. The race was rescheduled to Easter Sunday, April 22nd. Though perhaps not a popular date, NASCAR and Clay Earles didn't have a lot of choices. The GN cars were already scheduled to race at North Wilkesboro the following Sunday on April 15th (a race coincidentally won by Petty). And the long Easter weekend was already booked with other GN races:
  • Maundy Thursday: at Greenville-Pickens in South Carolina
  • Saturday: Rambi Raceway in Myrtle Beach
  • Easter Monday: Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem
Source: Free Lance-Star via Google News Archive
With qualifying positions set from the original times on April 6-7, the teams' sunrise service was an overnight drive from Myrtle Beach to Martinsville. The Holman Moody tandem of Lorenzen and Nelson Stacy led the field to the green.


The top two starters combined to lead much of the first 50 laps. Then after working his way through the field, Junior Johnson (in his replacement Pontiac) went to the point to lead for 50+ laps. Johnson's car then began to develop a problem with its rear-end, and he was done for the day by lap 204. (Interestingly, his original car was disqualified because of alleged trickery with its rear-end.)

Fireball Roberts then seized control over the middle stages of the race in his Pontiac. He piled up 244 consecutive laps out front before he too had a rear-end failure. With the two strong Pontiacs sidelined, Petty's 43 Plymouth had the opportunity to capitalize. Richard led most of the second half of the race to take the checkers.

Finishing fifth with relief help from Jim Paschal was Lee Petty. Papa Lee made his first start since his terrible, life-threatening crash at Daytona in February 1961. The Martinsville race was Lee's only race in 1962. He would not race again until a stint as a relief driver for - coincidentally enough, Jim Paschal - one year later at Martinsville.

Courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
TMC
Edited April 5, 2015

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