Thursday, April 5, 2012

April 5 - This day in Petty history

1981 - Richard Petty endures a one-hour pre-race rain delay, hangs around much of the day, adapts to a slick track, and leads the final 62 laps to win the Northwestern Bank 400 at North Wilkesboro.

Petty's victory was a repeat win following his 1980 win, his tenth Wilkesboro spring win, and his 15th time overall win at Wilkesboro. It was his 194th career victory and his final short track win.

The win was also his first victory following the departure of Dale Inman, Petty's long-time crew chief and cousin. Interestingly, Inman's former team and his new one - Osterlund Racing with Dale Earnhardt - were pitted next to one another.

Courtesy of Dennis Beck of
Rather than hire a new crew chief, the role was filled by long-time Petty Enterprises employees, Steve Hmiel and Wade Thornbug. For the last two decades, Hmiel worked as a crew chief and competition director for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.'s teams (later to become Earnhardt Ganassi Racing or Chip-N-Dale as I called it).

Prior to his stint with the DEI/EGR teams, Hmiel worked for Roush Racing in the 1990s. For many years, he was the crew chief for a driver who made his Winston Cup debut in this 1981 Wilkesboro race - Mark Martin. He qualified a respectable fifth, but he lost a rear-end and finished 27th in the 30-car field.

Credit to and courtesy of Ed Sanservino of
Kyle Petty made his second Wilkesboro start in this race. A year earlier, he had a pretty good day with an eighth place finish in the larger wheelbase Chevy Caprice. In 1981 with the shorter, 110-inch wheelbase Buick, well ... KP's day didn't go quite as well. He spun out not once - not twice - but three times a lady (apologies to Lionel Richie), crashed, and finished 22nd.

After one of his spins, Kyle drove the short distance from turn 1 to pit road from the opposite direction and stopped in his father's pit box. Note Inman in Earnhardt's pit with his arms crossed and most likely thinking "well, I thought I'd seen it all."

In the middle stages of the race, King and long-time rival Bobby Allison battled side by side, lap after lap. Richard was in his Buick Regal, and Allison raced his Ranier Racing Tuf-Lon Pontiac LeMans - the same model he raced in the Daytona 500 a month earlier.

And just like at Daytona, the 43 got the best of Allison for the win!
From 1970 through 1981, Petty had eight wins and remarkably finished no worse than second in Wilkesboro's spring race.

Article and photos courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Edited March 31, 2015

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