Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July 31 - This day in Petty history

1965 - In only his second Grand National race back after a six-month sabbatical from NASCAR, Richard Petty wins the pole, leads 335 of 400 laps, and wins the Nashville 400 by six laps over Ned Jarrett at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, TN to claim his 37th career NASCAR Grand National victory.

NASCAR banned Chrysler's high-performance hemi engine following the 1964 season. As a consequence, Chrysler Corporation withdrew its factory-supported Grand National teams for 1965 - including the Petty Enterprises' Plymouth team. To stay busy, be competitive and earn money, Richard and his team went drag racing for much of 1965 racing a #43 Jr. Plymouth Barracuda.

Once Bill France, Sr. and the Chrysler brass worked out their differences, Chrysler rescinded its boycott. Petty Enterprises was free to return to the world of left-handed turns. Petty's first race back was in the Volunteer 500 at Bristol. Nashville was the next event, and Richard won by six laps over second-place finisher, Ned Jarrett.

Source: The Tennessean - July 25, 1965
While the Nashville race was Petty's second NASCAR Grand National race of 1965, it was his third stock car race.  On May 2, 1965, the 43 team raced in the USAC stock car series Yankee 300 at Indianapolis Raceway Park and finished 14th in the 22 car field.

Credit: Henry Ford Museum Flickr gallery
Long-time Dodge driver (and Virginia moonshine hauler), Buddy Arrington, finished third in the race - a career-best matched by another third place finish fourteen years later in the 1979 Winston 500 at Talladega.

Arrington was the hand-me-down beneficiary of older Petty cars and parts for years, and his son Joey Arrington builds a lot of the high-performance, after-market engines installed by Petty's Garage in customer Mopar vehicles. So in some respects, I kind of view Buddy's third place finish at Nashville as a quasi-Petty top 5.

Once Chrysler chose to lift its boycott and allow its factory-supported race teams to return, Lee Petty intimated Richard might make his return in the July 4, 1965, Firecracker 400 at Daytona.

For whatever reason, Petty Enterprises didn't field a car for Richard at Daytona, and he made his return a couple of weeks later at Bristol. That doesn't mean, however, the Petty team wasn't involved at the beach. Red Vogt hired Nelson Stacy to run the race in a Petty Enterprises-prepared Plymouth, and Richard's brother - Maurice Petty - led Stacy's crew for the race.

The King made his GN return at Bristol on July 25, 1965 - but it wasn't a great return. Tiny Lund blew an engine, and G.C. Spencer and Junior Johnson got caught up in it. Petty slowed and was about to avoid it, but J.T. Putney plowed into the rear of Petty's car. The 43 continued for a few laps but then had to park it.

The Petty team thrashed on the car over the next week, banged out the damage, painted the repairs and hauled it six days later to Nashville - albeit without a driver's side 43.

Result in race number 2 of Petty's return? Victory lane. Bang.

Photo courtesy of Russ Thompson
Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire

Monday, July 30, 2012

July 30 - This day in Petty history - part 2

1966 - Continuing his mastery of Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway, Richard Petty nabs the pole, leads all 400 laps, and captures the Nashville 400 for his 47th career NASCAR Grand National victory.

Petty swept the track's two races in 1964, won the one event he entered in 1965, won this race by 5 laps over second place Buck Baker in 1966, and three-peated in 1967. He won four more races between 1969 and 1980. In addition, Jim Paschal three-peated from 1961-1963 - the first one with car owner Julian Petty (Richard's uncle) and the next two with Petty Enterprises. Yeah, I'm pretty sure those Level Cross fellers had that place figured out.

With Richard's domination of the event, one has to dig deeper to find additional storylines for the race. But dig I did and found three - all with a connection to of all drivers, Henley Gray.

The 1966 Nashville race was the first Grand National start for country music singer and racing enthusiast, Marty Robbins. Marty made frequent starts at Nashville in late models, and many of his races had to be worked around his scheduled appearances on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. While Marty is most remembered for his um... uh... err... unique purple and yellow painted #42 Dodges, he made his first GN start in a plain white #53 Ford. Starting behind Robbins in car #74 was independent driver Henley Gray.

Photo credit Fred Marchman ~ Provided courtesy of FallsCity48
Marty ran about three dozen Cup races from the late 1960s through 1982. Sadly, he suffered a heart attack and passed away in 1982. For the spring 1983 race, the track memorialized Marty's gifts and passion for racing by naming the race the Marty Robbins 420. I spent time at the track for this event rather than go to my high school prom. I've never regretted the decision to do so.

Program cover courtesy of Russ Thompson
Henley Gray earned a career best 4th place finish in the race.  In a career spanning 14 years and 374 starts, the journeyman garnered only five Top 5 finishes - with the '66 Nashville finish being the best one. For me, Henley will always be known as having one of the best combovers in all of NASCAR - right up there with the late Benny Parsons.

Also making his first NASCAR Grand National start was one of middle Tennessee's iconic racers - Coo Coo Marlin from Columbia, TN. Coo Coo was a weekly race regular at the fairgrounds and was a four-time late model sportsman champion there (including in 1966). His first Grand National start, however, didn't come until this race. For the first couple of seasons as Coo Coo increased his number of GN starts, he ran #07 Chevrolets. Beginning in 1972 and for the rest of his career, he doubled his number to 14. For his first career start, however, he started and finished 8th in a #97 Ford owned by ... yep, Henley Gray.

Photo credit Fred Marchman ~ Provided courtesy of FallsCity48
My how times have changed. How many drivers today would help unload a car from the hauler? Or wash it? And with a smile!

Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire

July 30 - This day in Petty history - part 1

1963 - Richard Petty notches his 24th career victory by winning the Pickens 200 on the half-mile, dirt track at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina.

GPS was a fixture on the NASCAR Grand National circuit from the mid-1950s through 1971. The track's races, like many others, were trimmed from the series in 1972 as part of the newly-branded Winston Cup Series.

The track itself, however, continues operating to this day. The dirt was replaced with asphalt in 1970, and local drivers still hone and prove their skills on the half-mile bull-ring.

Petty won the Greenville-Pickens race in car number 41 - one of his half-dozen or so wins in a car numbered other than 43. Richard finished second two days earlier at Bristol in number 43, and teammate Jim Paschal finished third in number 42. Perhaps the turnaround time was too short to adequately prepared the 43, and the 41 may have been raced in its place. (Paschal did not enter the Pickens 200.)

Long-time, independent driver Frank Warren finished tenth in car number X. He ran the number just one more time - a week or so later at Columbia Speedway in a race coincidentally also won by Petty.

As a kid, my uncle introduced me to racing in the early 1970s and strongly suggested I become a fan of the King. I didn't have the opportunity to see him race or know much about his beginnings in the late 1950s or his rise to greatness in the 1960s. But I learned quickly about his appreciation for his fans by signing autographs.

I think its interesting the writer of this article makes note of that point - in 1963! (As an aside, the writer's name was Rocky Stone? Really?)
"I wasn't worried about my gasoline because I had a pit stop after 65 laps. What I was worried about was my tires," Petty said while signing a host of autographs.
Credit: The Times-News of Hendersonville, NC via Google News Archive

Sunday, July 29, 2012

July 29 - This day in Petty history

1967 - Starting second alongside pole-winner Dick Hutcherson, Richard Petty leads 131 of 400 laps and wins the Nashville 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, TN.

In this photo published in The Tennessean, Petty is shown looking over his engine before the race as a crewman stands nearby.

The crewman is Joe Millikan. About 7 or 8 years later, Petty Enterprises fielded late model sportsman and ARCA cars in selected races with Joe as the driver. In 1979, Millikan joined L.G. DeWitt's Winston Cup team to compete for Rookie of the Year. He had a reasonable year as he finished 6th in the points (tops among all rookies ... and many veterans), won the pole position for Nashville's SunDrop 420, and collected 20 top 10s in 31 starts. The bad news was he was in the same rookie class as Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte and Harry Gant, arguably the top rookie class in NASCAR history - and his car owner was looking to exit the sport. Earnhardt won a race and finished 7th in points despite having missed four races because of an injury suffered at Pocono. And in early 1980, DeWitt folded the team, and Joe was out of a full-time ride.

The start of the race with pole-winner Hutcherson choosing to start on the outside of the front row.

Petty spent the first half of the race just trying to get out of his own way. The 43 Plymouth burned through several tires, and the King even spun on his own following a blown tire.

Source: The Nashville Banner - July 31, 1967
The Petty Enterprises team, however, never lost its composure. As the race entered its second half, the 43 regained its mojo and headed for the front. Petty passed Chattanooga, TN's Friday Hassler with about 130 laps to go and banked his 65th career NASCAR Grand National victory with a 5-lap win over second-place finisher James Hylton.

Source: The Nashville Banner - July 31, 1967

Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire

Edited July 29, 2014

Saturday, July 28, 2012

July 28 - This day in Petty history

1974 - After qualifying second, Richard Petty leads about one-third of the laps (94 of 328) and wins the Dixie 500 at Atlanta International Raceway in Georgia.

A few laps past half-way, Petty cut a tire and went a lap down. He needed another 70 laps to unlap himself. When he did, he led all but four of the remaining laps and claimed his 160th career NASCAR Winston Cup victory. David Pearson in the Wood Brothers Mercury also led about a third of the laps and finished second to Petty. The Dixie 500 was the fourth consecutive superspeedway race where Petty and Pearson finished 1-2 with each driver taking two wins.

The race was the fourth in a row in the 1974 season involving a bit of controversy.
  • On the 4th of July, Pearson jumped out of the gas on the white flag lap while leading Petty in the Firecracker 400. Some thought his engine had failed. Instead, he wanted to be in second so he could slingshot past Petty to get the win - knowing the King had the same idea in mind. While Richard didn't like the tactic, Pearson's moved worked.
  • Cale Yarborough won the next two events - short-track races at Bristol and Nashville.
  • Buddy Baker cried foul when Cale slammed past him on the last lap at Bristol for the win. Baker unsuccessfully lobbied that Cale was a lap down vs. the race winner.
  • At Nashville, Bobby Allison protested Cale made up an extra lap and that he was the actual winner. Allison believed it so fervently that he hustled to victory lane before Cale. After four days of deliberation and scoring re-checks, NASCAR announced Cale was indeed the winner.
When the Winston Cup Series arrived in Atlanta to qualify for the Dixie 500, some had settled down but others had not.
"I feel left out," said Petty, "We've had two straight protests, and I haven't been involved." He grinned and said, "Well, I only get involved in controversies at the big tracks." ... He heard Bobby Allison complaining Friday to some writers. Petty picked up a piece of tape, walked up to Allison and taped his mouth shut. Everyone laughed. ~ Spartanburg Herald-Journal, July 28, 1974
Pearson qualified in the top ten - but not without some quick-thinking on his part, head-scratching by the competitors, and laughter by many watching.
The turmoil on the stock car circuit continued in qualifying for this event when Pearson steered his car around the 1.52 mile track in the wrong direction. "When I see a guy going around the track backwards, don't ask me anything about racing," said Petty. "In my 25 years of racing, I've never seen anything like the last two or three races." ... Pearson's trip around the track the wrong way wasn't that unusual when the facts became known. He was on the first of two qualifying laps and thought he had a flat tire and pulled off the track on pit road. When it was determined he had no flat, Pearson returned in the opposite direction to avoid passing the time clock that would have placed him on his last qualifying lap. He then built up speed and averaged slightly more than 152 MPH to gain the no. 8 starting position. ~ Rome News-Tribune, July 28, 1974
Pearson ... went from 12.161 MPH to 153.311 MPH in two qualifying laps and wound up 8th... He did a lap of 12.161? Old-timers among the viewing audience Friday said they had never seen a qualifying run like Pearson pulled off. He took the green flag for his first of two qualifying laps but already realized something was wrong with his car. He came back around almost to the start-finish line but did not cross it. He turned around and drove in the opposite direction to the start-finish line but did not cross it. He turned around again, headed in the right direction and got a flying leap on completing his first lap. The time for his first lap was 7 minutes, 30.512 seconds or a speed of 12.161 MPH. With the car wound up, Pearson turned a 153.311 MPH lap on his second lap. ~ Spartanburg Herald-Journal, July 27, 1974
In victory lane, The King was greeted by the Governor and a future President, Jimmy Carter. Some questions remain about whether the Union76 Racestoppers lost their eyesight that day from the July Georgia sun reflecting off those two sets of teeth.

The King of NASCAR also met a future king of the jungle. A lion cub from Atlanta's Lion Country Safari park was presented to Petty, named in his honor, and then returned to the park to grow. In my two visits to the Richard Petty Museum, I fortunately did not spot a stuffed lion cub with RP's autograph on his fur.

Petty's win and Pearson's humorous qualifying effort were feature in Stock Car Racing magazine's December 1974 issue.

Articles courtesy of Jerry Bushmire

Friday, July 27, 2012

July 27 - This day in Petty history

1969 - Starting third, Richard Petty leads 127 of 200 laps and wins the Smoky 200 at Smoky Mountain Raceway in Maryville, TN.

Racing his Petty blue Ford Torino, Petty won by one car length over career rival and race pole-sitter, David Pearson. The King's win on the East Tennessee, half-mile, paved oval was his 99th career Grand National victory - one shy of a 100-win signature plateau.

Fellow Petty fan and middle Tennessee resident, FallsCity48, remembers:
Every year my parents would take vacations around the time of the late summer Bristol, Maryville and Nashville races. The family could all get away and see 3 races plus spend some time in the Smokies. I always called it the Tennessee tour: Bristol on Sunday, Maryville on Thursday and of course Nashville on Saturday night.

In 1969, we were in Maryville for their race on Thursday night. Just before the race started, a huge thunderstorm came out of nowhere and rained the race out. It was rescheduled for a Sunday day race. So we decided that we would travel back to Maryville on Sunday to see the race after Nashville's Saturday night race.
The '69 Nashville 400 was a great race with a great duel with Bobby Isaac for the win. As you know, Richard won.

Next morning we all got up early and traveled back to Maryville. We beat most of the teams back to the track as well. I was able to to wander thru the pit gate just as the Petty team pulled up with the car on the trailer, and I watched them unload the car. Oddly the only thing they did to the car for preparation for the race was Dale Inman changed the oil in the engine plus a slight chassis adjustment and new tires.

To make a long story short, Richard won at Maryville as well with the race ending around 3-4:00. With the Nashville race ending around 11:00 on Saturday night and Maryville ending Sunday afternoon, Richard won 2 Grand National races in less than 24 hours!! I have NOT checked all the records, but this may be a feat that has never been duplicated.
FallsCity48 also provided a couple of photos from Maryville - from a clear-sky Thursday before the rains arrived to postpone the race until Sunday.
Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire

Thursday, July 26, 2012

July 26 - This day in Petty history

In April 1969, Columbia Records released Bob Dylan's epic Nashville Skyline album to critical acclaim and commercial success.

Three months later, NASCAR's Grand National teams rolled into town for their only race that year in view of the Nashville skyline. Richard Petty dominated the Nashville 400 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. He won the pole, led 398 of 400 laps, and rolled to victory over second place Bobby Isaac.

I found this great photo on the web some time ago of Petty's pole-winning Ford staged on the starting grid. I tagged the source in my filename as paulwatsonjr and made sure to watermark the image that way. Regretfully, however, I can't recall the website or message board where I found the photo. So Paul, if you are out there - I hope it's OK to use your picture.

Petty's 98th career victory was probably closer than it should have been. Despite leading 398 laps, his margin of victory over Isaac was less than a car's length - mainly because an exhausted Isaac tapped Petty into a spin. The 43 recovered and was able to continue on to the win. Of the 24 starters, only 9 cars were still running by the end of the race.

As Petty was cruising, Isaac had a memorable night as he tried to track down the King. Greg Fielden wrote in his book Forty Years of Stock Car Racing - Volume 3:
Isaac made up almost two laps in the last half of the race and wound up second, a half car length behind Petty's Ford... On lap 130, Isaac pitted under the yellow flag and collapsed behind the wheel. Crew chief Harry Hyde dragged Isaac out of the car and flagged down Dave Marcis. By the time Marcis had hooked up the safety gear, he had lost a lap... Within 70 laps, Isaac was back behind the wheel, "Never since I've been racing has the heat gotten to me like that," he said later... Isaac rapidly made up lost ground and got back in the lead  lap when he tapped Petty into a spin on lap 334. The final 10 laps had the crowd of 15,846 on its feet. ~ pp. 245-246
Photo courtesy of Russ Thompson
To me, the Union76 girl to Richard's left resembles actress Dawn Wells who played Mary Ann on the show Gilligan's Island. And I've always preferred Mary Ann over Ginger anyway.

Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Following the race, an exhausted Petty needed oxygen from medical personnel.

But after catching his breath, he was ready for the post-race victory ceremonies, time with the beauty queens (though that "responsibility" was delegated to son Kyle by Richard's wife Lynda) and stayed around long afterwards signing autographs for fans - because that's simply what The King did.

Source: The Tennessean, July 27, 1969

Edited July 26, 2014

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July 25 - This day in Petty history

1968 - Starting second alongside pole-winner Bobby Isaac, Richard Petty leads 161 of 200 laps and wins the Smoky 200 at Smoky Mountain Raceway in Maryville, TN to collect his 85th career NASCAR Grand National victory.

Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July 24 - This day in Petty history - part 2

1971 - Richard Petty puts on a dominating performance at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway to earn his 133rd career NASCAR Winston Cup victory. He wins the pole with a track record, leads 400 of 420 laps, and cruises to a 4-lap win over James Hylton in the Nashville 420.

Bobby Allison qualified second and took the lead from Petty on lap 2. He led the next 20 laps but then broke a suspension part, was done for the night, and finished 27th out of 30 cars. Allison raced types of multiple cars in 1971 owned by himself and later Holman-Moody with sponsorship from Coca-Cola. Most of the cars were painted with the recognizable colors of Coke: red, white and gold. For the Nashville race, however, he raced a Dodge Charger painted purple and yellow - colors normally used by part-time racer and full-time country music star Marty Robbins.

Robbins frequently raced Dodges built by Cotton Owens. He apparently chose to work with Allison to build him a car as well, and the two may have shared the car as the season progressed.

Allison raced the same car to a win on the road course at Riverside about a month earlier and to a second win a few days later in the only Cup race at Meyer Speedway in Houston, TX. The Dodge was parked for a few weeks as Bobby returned to Holman-Moody's FoMoCo cars for the Firecracker 400 and the series' Northern Tour races. With Holman-Moody sitting out the Nashville race, Allison brought back the Charger - including the front fender battle scars that may have been earned from racing at Riverside and Meyer.

It's also likely the Charger Bobby built with Marty's colors was the same one used for the art work photo session for Robbins' 1971 album, Today.

Russ 'Calhoun98' Thompson captured some neat video from the race - including a view of the iconic Skyliner roller coaster seen behind turn 4. The white, wooden coaster was a staple for years at the neighboring Fair Park low-budget theme park. My mother and siblings enjoyed several days there before the opening of Opryland.

Don't bang your computer's speakers, however, as the clip doesn't have any audio with it.

Source: The Tennessean, July 25, 1971
Photos and article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Edited July 24, 2014