Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4 - This day in Petty history - part 1

1975 - After trying since 1959, Richard Petty finally wins the Firecracker 400 at Daytona.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
The King qualified in the unlucky 13th spot, and he only led about 10% of the race - 16 of 160 laps. Buddy Baker ruled much of the hot Florida afternoon by leading 118 laps. But Petty in his STP Dodge Charger passed Baker with yep ... 13 ... laps to go, and he motored on to capture his 172nd career NASCAR Winston Cup victory.

Even after winning the pole and finishing 5th in the Firecracker, Donnie Allison was fired after the race - the mid-point of the 1975 season - by DiGard team owner Bill Gardner. Third-year Cup driver, Darrell Waltrip, finished 4th in the race in his own car and was immediately hired to replace Allison.

Throughout Petty's career as a driver - and continuing in recent years in his role as a car-owner - the King has celebrated his birthday (July 2nd) at Daytona.

Despite the good wishes from friends, competitors, and hot trophy girls, Petty wasn't happy with his car after practice and qualifying. Likely compounding the angst of readying the car was the continual oversight of all preparations by his father, retired driver Lee Petty.

As the race unfolded, however, the Petty Enterprises adjusted the Dodge, and the King let former Petty Enterprises driver Baker set the pace for the afternoon. Then when it became 'go time', the 43 dropped the hammer and took the victory.

Among those greeting Richard in victory lane was his teenage son, Kyle. He can be seen in the photo below - over Richard's right shoulder.

Also greeting the victorious driver was Linda Vaughn - Miss Hurst Shifter - which seemed to have increased the smiles on the faces of both Richard and Kyle.

In the issue of Sports Illustrated released the week after the Daytona race, Petty's win was described in a feature article. The article was significant for NASCAR, Petty and STP because stock car racing wasn't generally featured in SI.

Even more remarkable in this case is that the race got any coverage. The top sports story of the 4th of July weekend was Arthur Ashe's win over Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon. With his win, Ashe became the first black player to win the coveted tennis championship.

Yet, Petty's Daytona win earned him the full-length story and this caricature on the table of contents of ... appropriately enough, Volume 43, number 2.

A digital version of the original SI magazine - including the coverage of Ashe's and Petty's wins can be read on-line here, and the feature just on Petty's win follows.


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