Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26 - This day in Petty history - part 1

1964 - Starting second, Richard Petty leads 58 laps and opportunistically captures his 33rd career victory by winning a 200-lap race at Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds Speedway in Spartanburg, SC. (Read this NASCAR.com story about the lost Spartanburg track.)

Between 1962 and 1965, the eight NASCAR Grand National races were split between two NASCAR Hall of Famers: The King with three wins during the span and Ned Jarrett with five.

In his book Silent Speedways of the Carolinas, Perry Allen Wood tees up the beginning of the 1964 race this way:
The next one was held on Friday night, June 26, 1964, and fell into a twilight span of 39 days between the horrific crash on May 24th that had Fireball Roberts' life oozing away in a Charlotte hospital bed and his last breath of July 2nd. Nine race were held in those 39 days and Spartanburg had the ninth ... The pole went to the Spartanburg Dodge team of [David] Pearson and [Cotton] Owens with Petty outside. The most victorious stock car drivers of all time sat on the front row.

It started innocently. Pearson set a torrid pace... On lap 115, Petty pitted for some Pure, lost a lap, and the others moved up one. There the routine 100-miler ended. On lap 127, Buddy Baker in an orange Dodge was four laps back in eighth and came upon [J.T.] Putney's blue Chevy. Buddy caught him in the right rear as they powered through turn two, they slid backwards into the steel rail, and performed simultaneous acrobatic barrel rolls, landing wheels down. ... The stage was set for the Fairgrounds' greatest and most enduring finish that the witnesses will never forget. ~ pp.20-21
Baker's barrel roll was only the warm-up action to the race's main event: second-year driver Billy Wade in Bud Moore's Mercury vs. veteran Jarrett in Bondy Long's Ford and whose driving that night may have been anything but gentlemanly. Wood fills the better part of a page and a half in his book describing the battle between the two drivers.
...Wade went after Jarrett with all he had as 6,000 spectators went wild ... This continued for 25 laps until Wade went into turn three side-by-side with Ned but bounced hard off the fourth turn steel after getting into the loose stuff in a failed outside pass ... Darting and dashing, bumping and ramming, fainting and diving, Jarrett used it all ... Jarrett dogged Wade out of turn four and popped him real hard, and all that red dust boiled up as Bill's Merc did a 360 ... Wade vowed "I'll get him if I have to wait on him." ... Billy probably broke the track record catching Ned in traffic ... With 15 laps to go - Jarrett and Wade roared alone out of turn four, down the stretch, and readied to cut the throttles as they set up for the first turn. Only Bill never cut the throttle. As Ned cut and cocked his Ford into the turn, Wade blasted him... Jarrett's racer lifted on the left rear, flipped a couple of times, glanced of that battered wooden fence, and landed glass up ... As for Wade, he had enough speed left to pulverize that sorry plank fence ...Wade stayed in the track, although he did a couple of rollovers himself. ~ excerpted from pp. 21-22.
Recovering from their rollovers, the two committed drivers somehow managed to get their cars going again in an attempt to finish the race. However, neither were able to continue to the end though Jarrett still finished 5th and Wade 6th.

Wood then wraps up the finish of the race and Petty's win - which were quite tame compared to the drama that had unfolded over the previous 75 laps.
While those two were crashing the boards with splinters and dust flying, Petty drove under Wade's car as it was in mid-air. [LeeRoy] Yarbrough rode that wooden fence and dirt bank thrill-show style nearly on two wheels and chased Petty down the backstretch. The last ten were raced in stunned silence, and Petty cruised under the checkers by a half mile over Yarbrough in a Plymouth one-two sweep. ~ p. 23
Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
As a follow-up to Wade's memorable night, he and Moore hit a hot streak about two-thirds of the way through the 1964 season. The team won four consecutive races - two on road courses at Watkins Glen and Bridgehampton, NY and two on short tracks at Islip, NY and Old Bridge, NJ.  Those wins were all Wade would ever claim. Tragically, he was killed in January 1965 during a Goodyear tire test.


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