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

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