Friday, November 29, 2013

November 29, 1981: Petty 3 of 4 at Phoenix

Having completed the Winston Cup season's final race at Riverside International Raceway's road course, most teams returned south. Bobby Allison celebrated his race victory, and Darrell Waltrip's Junior Johnson team likely had serious morning headaches for a few days after the Mountain Dew team won the 1981 championship.

A few teams, however, made a side trip on the way home. Richard and Kyle Petty and representatives from the Alabama Gang - Bobby Allison and Neil Bonnett - stayed over a few days out west to participate in the Warner Hodgdon 250 Winston West race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Bonnett won the pole for the race - his second in seven Winston West races at the track from 1977 through 1982. Not surprisingly, Bonnett along with Richard Petty and Allison had the most success in the string of annual races during that period. Petty had three wins in the six Phoenix races he ran. Bonnett and Allison each had a win in the seven races they ran, and both finished in the top 5 all seven times.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
When the green dropped, Neil took advantage of his top starting spot by leading the first 33 laps. He surrendered the lead for a handful of laps - presumably during a cycle of pit stops. But soon after, Bonnett's #21 Ford - coincidentally also sponsored by Warner Hodgdon - went back to the point for another 34-lap segment.

After Kyle Petty led for 2 laps - again likely because of a Bonnett pit stop - Neil took the lead for a third time to lead for 17 laps. On lap 94, however, King Richard who had been running with Bonnett all day took the lead and never gave it back. The 43 STP Buick led the final 63 laps to take the win in the 156-lap, 250-kilometer race.

The victory was the King's third in four races at Phoenix having won previously the 1978 Arizona NAPA 250 and 1980 Arizona Winston 250. He led the most laps but finished third to Bonnett in the 1979 race - otherwise, he could have possibly "four-peated".

Although Richard won the race and Cup regulars claimed the top four spots - Richard, Neil, Kyle and Bobby - there was still the "race within the race". Canadian Roy Smith finished sixth in the race and secured the 1981 Winston West series title.

The win capped a pretty nice year for Petty as victories for him became more scarce as he chased #200. He started the year by capturing his seventh Daytona 500, won his final career short-track race at North Wilkesboro, pocketed another win at Michigan, and picked up some walking-around money by free-lancing at Phoenix.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

November 26, 1978 - The desert ends the drought

Richard Petty won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona on July 4, 1977. The win was his 5th victory of the season, it was his 185th overall, and he was challenging Cale Yarborough in pursuit of his 7th NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National title.

Instead of the Big Mo' continuing, it just stopped. The 43 accumulated up a few more top 5s, poles were won at Wilkesboro and Ontario, and Petty finished second in points to Cale - though the chasm between first and second was huge. But after Daytona, Petty couldn't find victory lane the remainder of the season in his venerable 1974 Dodge Charger.

When the 1978 season began, Petty Enterprises had to mothball the beautiful Charger and trot out the sled-like Dodge Magnum.

Compared to Petty's historical norms, the car was underwhelming to put it mildly. Petty's losing streak grew - finally hitting one year at the 1978 Firecracker. A few weeks later, the announcement was made that Mopar was out and Chevy was in. Playing from behind, Petty Enterprises acquired a couple of Monte Carlos and then began building their own.

Yet the losing streak continued. In the next-to-last race of the season, the crowd went crazy when Ol' Blue took the checkered flag. Petty nipped Dave Marcis at the line to take the win ... or so it seemed. Donnie Allison, however, was ruled ahead of both cars and awarded the win.

Petty extended his losing streak with a dismal 34th place finish in the season-ending race at Ontario the following week. The King's winless 1978 season was his first ... since 1959! But the King had another racing obligation before calling it a year. On the way back from Ontario, Petty and a few other Cup regulars elected to participate in the Arizona NAPA 250 Winston West event at Phoenix International Raceway as some had done the year before.

Though he lost an engine and finished 34th at Ontario, the Petty crew installed a fresh one for Phoenix. In his first time on the track, Petty won the pole. Fellow Cup ringers Neil Bonnett and Bobby Allison started second and third. Winston West regular Bill Schmitt timed 4th in his Old Milwaukee Oldsmobile.

When the green flag flew, Petty began his domination of the race. He led the first 36 laps, the final 25 circuits, and 48 others in the middle for a total of 109 of the race's 156-laps, 250 kilometers distance.

The big guns are shown here working traffic as they come out of what I think is turn 4 - at the base of what is known as Rattlesnake Hill. Petty is followed by Bonnett in the Armor All Monte Carlo. Allison is behind Bonnett in his #1 AMC Matador racing alongside Winston West regular Ray Elder in one of the albatross Dodge Magnums.

Though the victory was scored as a Winston West (now K&N Pro Series West) series race and not included as part of Petty's record 200 Cup / GN wins, at least the year-and-a-half long losing streak was over. A win - any win - helps raise the spirits and morale of a team.

The win had the likely extra bonus of putting the King in a better mood health-wise. Having suffered from stomach ulcers for some time, Petty could stand them no longer. About two weeks after his Phoenix victory, he had the needed surgery.

Source: Florence Times Daily via Google News Archive
He was able to recuperate well enough to answer the bell when the 1979 season opened at Riverside. A few weeks later with additional healing, Petty's CUP losing streak ended when he captured his sixth Daytona 500 in the legendary race in which Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison wrecked on the final lap.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

November 23, 1980 - Petty Pockets Phoenix

The first NASCAR Winston Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway was in 1988 and won by Alan Kulwicki. The track's history, however, goes back decades before to the mid 1960s. From now through November 2014, Phoenix will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary year.

From 1977 through 1984, NASCAR's Winston West series ran an annual 250-kilometer, 156-lap race at Phoenix. The races were always scheduled the week following the season-ending Winston Cup races at Ontario Motor Speedway and later Riverside International Raceway. Several Cup regulars raced in Phoenix's Winston West event before heading back home to the south.

Richard Petty made himself at home over a multi-year stretch at Phoenix. He won three of four races between 1978 and 1981 - including the Arizona NAPA 250 on November 23, 1980.

King Richard won the pole for the 1980 event, and another Cup ringer Bobby Allison qualified second in a car borrowed from Cup journeyman D.K. Ulrich. Bill Schmitt, a Winston West regular, timed third. Joe Ruttman, who raced USAC stock cars, ARCA, and just about any other stock car with 4 wheels, lined up fourth in an Oldsmobile fielded by Jim Stacy. Coincidentally, Ruttman got the nod to take the seat of Stacy's #2 Cup car about nine months later when Dale Earnhardt left Stacy's team after it had been purchased from Rod Osterlund.

A couple of next-generation young drivers who would have a future impact in Cup racing also made the Phoenix event. Bobby Allison's son - Davey - qualified 11th in his father's hand-me-down AMC Matador, and Kyle Petty qualified 7th in an STP Chevy Caprice.

Richard took the lead at the green and led the first 27 laps. Canadian racer Roy Smith then took over a few laps - as did Richard's son, Kyle, for six laps. Second-place starter Allison led the middle third of the race for a streak of 50+ laps. 

Richard raced a Chevy Monte Carlo and Kyle raced the Caprice - presumably the same cars they raced at Ontario in the Cup race a week earlier. Allison is shown here in Ulrich's #4 Monte Carlo.

As the race headed for its conclusion, R. Petty and Allison battled for the lead though Richard led all but one lap down the stretch to capture the win. Allison finished where he started - second, and Kyle stayed competitive all day to come home third as the final car to finish on the lead lap. Davey Allison crashed early in the event and ended up 29th in the 30-car field.

GNS cover and article courtesy of Russ Thompson
Though Petty's victory is logged as a Winston West one only and not included in his tally of 200 Grand National / Winston Cup wins, it's always a good time when a Petty car can occupy Victory Lane in any series.


Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1962 - Jim Paschal Tastes The Turkey

November 22, 1962: Driving a #41 Petty Enterprises Plymouth, Jim Paschal wins the Turkey Day 200 at Tar Heel Speedway in Randleman, NC. Maurice Petty finished fifth in his #42 family team Plymouth, and Richard finished 11th after losing a transmission with 12 laps to go.

Though run in November 1962, the race was actually the third event of the 1963 season. Petty Enterprises was on a roll by winning all three races - and racking up top 5s to boot:
  • November 4 at Fairgrounds Raceway in Birmingham AL - Paschal wins, Richard 2nd
  • November 11 at Golden Gate Speedway in Tampa FL - Richard wins, Paschal 2nd
  • November 22 at Tar Heel Speedway - Paschal wins, Maurice 5th
The race was the first of only three Grand National races run at Tar Heel - all as part of the 1963 schedule. Each race was 200 laps and 50 miles on the tight quarter-mile, paved track. Paschal won this first one, and he backed it up on May 5, 1963 with another victory in the second one. Richard finally broke through with a win on October 5, 1963 in the third and final race.

Glen Wood won the pole in his family team's #21 Ford, and Paschal started alongside him. Jimmy Pardue and Ned Jarrett made up the second row. Petty cars claimed three of the top 6 starting spots as Richard and Maurice timed 5th and 6th.

When the green flag waved, Wood set sail. The NASCAR Hall of Famer from Stuart, Virginia dominated the day by leading the first 173 laps. But with victory in the caution-free race seemingly in sight, Wood blew a tire, exited the race, and faded to a 15th place finish. Paschal took over the top spot and cruised unchallenged the remaining 27 laps to the win.

Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Source: Spartanburg News Herald via Google News Archive
Parts of the speedway remain on a farm owned by the family of the late Frank Millikan. In May 2012, fellow Schaefer HOFer, Philly, and I gave it our best to visit what is left of the track. We found it - but had to leave before getting a chance to explore it.

This post concludes my 2013 series about wins by Petty Enterprises drivers other than by The King. If you've read one or more of the posts, tweeted about them, posted a link to Facebook, commented, emailed me, told someone about them, etc., THANK YOU. I've thoroughly enjoyed researching each of the races and finding supplemental information like photos, articles, program covers, etc. to add.

I'm not sure what direction I'll go next after having blogged about all of Richard's 200 wins and now the victories by other Petty Enterprises drivers. I'm open to ideas though - so let me hear them. Until then, GO 43!


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

November 20, 1960 - Lee Petty's Final GN Win

November 20, 1960: In a 200-lap, 100-mile race on the half-mile dirt track at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, FL, Lee Petty wins what turns out to be his 54th and final career NASCAR Grand National race. His son Richard finished fourth and within a few years would surpass his dad's records to become the King of NASCAR racing.

Though the race was in November 1960, it was actually the second race of the 1961 season. Junior Johnson won the pole but lost a distributor and finished dead last in the 22-car field. Though Lee won the race, he started in the 'unlucky' 13th spot.

Virginian Tommy Irwin had a career day. Irwin only started 99 GN races in his career, but he had 23 top 5's (though no wins). He qualified third for the Jax race, dominated the race by leading 166 laps, but finished second to Lee - tying his career best.

Though Irwin didn't have an extensive GN driving career, his racing affected at least one driver: Tiger Tom Pistone. Nine months earlier in a qualifying race for the 1960 Daytona 500, Irwin spun off the track and ended up in Lake Lloyd.

Though he escaped, the car sunk into the lake where it remained until Speedweeks concluded. Pistone - admittedly not a great swimmer - rigged up an oxygen mask for the 500 in the event he should wind up in the same situation as Irwin.

Photo courtesy of Chrissy Pistone
But I digress...

I'm uncertain as to how or why Irwin surrendered the lead - perhaps through a pit miscue. Regardless, Lee took over the top spot with 18 laps to go and led the rest of the way to take the checkers.

NSSN headline and ISN article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal via Google News Archive
As referenced in the beginning, Lee's win at Speedway Park was his final GN one. Just a few months later in February 1961, he was critically injured in a qualifying race for the Daytona 500.

Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal via Google News Archive

While the 1960 win at Jacksonville was Lee's final GRAND NATIONAL victory, it wasn't his final win overall. On February 19, 1961, a few days before the Daytona qualifying race wreck that effectively ended his career, Lee won a compact car race at Daytona.

Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal via Google News Archive

Thursday, November 7, 2013

November 7, 1954 - Petty Starts 1955 On High Note

November 7, 1954: Lee Petty dominates the 200-lap, 100-mile race on the half-mile, dirt Tri-City Speedway in High Point, North Carolina. Starting third, Petty took the lead on the seventh lap and led the remaining 194 laps en route to victory.

Though held in November 1954, the race was the 1955 Grand National season opener. The 1955 season was the first time NASCAR began a new season in the fall of the previous calendar year. The pattern was repeated several more times into the late 1960s. Brandon Reed wrote a nice column about NASCAR's approach to its season opener for

Tri-City hosted only two Grand National races. The first one was in June 1953 and won by Herb Thomas. Perry Allen Wood describes the 1954 race and Tri-City's history in his book, Silent Speedways of the Carolinas:
Two weeks after the 1954 season ended, the Grand National circus got off to a frigid start for 1955 here for their final visit. Sunday, November 7, 1954, found 21 drivers attempt to break the ice and get another yawner for their efforts. Herb Thomas took the pole ... with Rathman's Blue Crown Spark Plug Hudson outside. Behind them were [Lee] Petty in a Chrysler and Gober Sosebee ... [Dick] Rathman led six laps until Petty snatched it away for the final 194.

This track has most assuredly made it all the way back to nature because no trace of it could be found by speedway archeology. However, this one has a history beyond (its) two Grand National races... Lloyd Seay of Dawsonville, GA stopped by to win on August 31, 1941, and then won the next day in the big Labor Day race at Lakewood in Atlanta. Unfortunately, the next day, his cousin ... started a fight with Lloyd over a sugar debt for the still and put a bullet right through the 21 year-old's pump. ~ pp. 211-212
In his master's thesis (PDF) at University of North Carolina - Asheville titled And Here They Come to the White Flag: The Piedmont-Triad’s Role in Early NASCAR History: 1940 - 1958, student William Tate wrote:
After the war, many new tracks began to emerge alongside the old dirt tracks. These new tracks were faster and more reliable. In the Triad, one such track opened in 1947. Named Tri-City Speedway, the track was built, owned and operated by the Blair family, including local driver Bill Blair. The track was built on land owned by Blair’s brother, Bob. Eventually, Bill Blair dissolved his part of the partnership with his brother and sister-in-law, but he still raced at the track in several races. Blair’s sister-in-law, Mary Lee, handled promotion for the 100-mile event. “Big Bill” France commonly allowed local track owners to handle promotion of a hometown race, while he supplied the famous drivers, cars and purse money...

The popularity of the local tracks with both fans and drivers brought other famous drivers from the South, as well as other parts of the nation, coming to race during the 1954-1955 seasons. Only one other NASCAR sanctioned, strictly-stock race was conducted at Tri-City Speedway. Greg Fielden describes this race as a “100-mile Grand National lid-lifter for the 1955 season…” Promoted by Oscar and Vernon Ellington, the race was scheduled for November 7, 1954 as the first race for the 1955 season. Various big name drivers were slated to run for the $4,100 purse, including, “a brand new Cadillac, to be piloted by North Wilkesboro’s Junior Johnson.” The High Point Enterprise reported that the Ellington brothers had leased Tri-City for the event, noting that, “they plan to keep the track, rated one of the best in the Piedmont, alive and buzzing in the future if things go well.” The brothers even printed a letter addressed to the racing fans of High Point asking fans to come out to the race, promising to live up to their word on providing drivers and to run all the laps as advertised. Unfortunately, the race did not meet the great expectations of the Ellington brothers as only 2,000 attended the race due to wintry weather conditions. Local driver Lee Petty won the race and a winner’s purse totaling $1,000... This was the final strictly-stock NASCAR race at Tri-City, but racing continued there for several years. Bill Blair, Jr. recalled that, “probably the last race was ran there in 1957 or thereabouts, possibly 1958.” The track was dismantled shortly thereafter and turned into a golf course, while other parts of the land were sold for other purposes.
While fortune smiled on Lee Petty as he began the defense of his 1954 Grand National championship, the same can't be said for his brother. Bob Welborn finished 20th in the 21-car field in a Plymouth owned by Lee's brother, Julian Petty.

Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal via Google News Archive (nav to p. 4)

Monday, November 4, 2013

November 4, 1962 - Paschal Banks Birmingham

November 4, 1962: Plymouths from Petty Enterprises take top honors in the Birmingham 200 - a 200-lap, 100-mile race on the half-mile, paved fairgrounds speedway in Alabama. Jim Paschal won, and Richard Petty finished second.

Driving #41, Paschal won the pole and dominated the race. He led 192 of the 200 laps and lapped the field en route to the win. Sixth-place starter Petty in his familiar #43 led the remaining 8 laps leaving nothing for the rest of the 21-car field. Maurice Petty - Richard's brother, Petty Enterprises engine builder, and soon-to-be-inducted NASCAR Hall of Famer - started ninth in a third #42 Petty Plymouth but finished 14th after spinning and getting clobbered by Ned Jarrett.

Source: Wilmington Morning Star via Google News Archive
The 1962 Birmingham race was actually the first race of the 1963 Grand National season. The pattern first began with the 1955 season and was repeated several times from the mid-1950s through the late 1960s. Brandon Reed wrote a nice column about NASCAR's approach to its season opener for Petty cars generally fared well in those season openers:
  • 1955 - Lee Petty wins at Tri-City Speedway in High Point, NC in November 1954.
  • 1959 - Bob Welborn wins at Champion Speedway in Fayetteville, NC in November 1958 driving a Chevy for Julian Petty.
  • 1963 - Jim Paschal wins in Birmingham in November 1962.
  • 1966 - Richard Petty wins in Augusta, GA in November 1965.
  • 1967 - Richard Petty wins again in Augusta, GA in November 1966.
  • 1969 - Richard Petty wins in Macon, GA in November 196.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Phoenix race trip - five days to go

The Cup guys are finished with Texas Motor Speedway. Other than learning Jimmie Johnson won, I have no idea how the race unfolded as I didn't watch it. Why? Because my sights - as are those of the teams - are set to the southwest at Phoenix International Raceway.

For representatives from the Schaefer Hall of Fame, its five days to go. Four of us will arrive Friday, November 8th. The Four Horsemen of the Hall. Wait. (Hmm, maybe it will be the four asses. I'll have to check my notes.) Regardless... Philly, Rookie, Uncle Dave and yours truly will soon arrive in Arizona.

The track is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary year beginning with next weekend's races. Coincidentally, the Schaefer Hall of Famers will be celebrating the 50th anniversary year of Philly's birth beginning the same weekend!

Please comment if you have any Phoenix must-do's:
  • Best taqueria
  • Top sports bar
  • Great tailgating location
  • Must eat restaurant
  • Ideal place for local music on Friday or Saturday night
Meanwhile, here are the top five racing reasons I'm jazzed about this trip 5 days before we arrive.

Number 5: Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte, Darlington, Daytona, Dover, Homestead, Indy, Kentucky, Loudon, Michigan, Martinsville, Richmond, Rockingham, Talladega, Texas, Vegas.

What's missing from this list of tracks visited by representatives from the Schaefer Hall of Fame? PHOENIX! We've never been - and the track will soon be added as a notch on our gun.

Number 4: Alan Kulwicki - The 1992 Winston Cup champion - Underbird - scored his first career Cup win at Phoenix in 1988 in the track's first sho'nuff Winston Cup event! Fellow SHOF co-founder Philly and I were fortunate to see AK:
  • start from the pole at Atlanta in 1991 in his first race with Hooters as his sponsor
  • win on a cold, blustery day at Bristol in 1992 - one year before he was killed in a plane crash, and
  • his calculated run to the championship in the 1992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta. 
Going to the track where Kulwicki won his first Cup race in the track's first Cup race will be special.

Source: Wikipedia
Number 3: Kyle Petty. So many folks know of Kyle as a talking head on FOX Sports and the guy who only replies to hate-tweeters. Few contemporary fans know of his racing legacy - and sadly fewer even care to learn about him. Kyle wasn't as prolific a winner as King Richard or many other drivers for that matter. But he piled up a ton of starts and top finishes with esteemed teams such as Petty Enterprises, the Wood Brothers, and SABCO.

His racing skills were really on display during the early to mid 90s with SABCO Racing. In 1997, he left SABCO and returned to the family team...sort of. He formed pe2, a satellite team of Petty Enterprises, and raced with Hot Wheels as a sponsor - a natural racing sponsor if there ever was one. In November 1997, Kyle made a milestone start - his 500th - at Phoenix.

Source: Wikipedia

Number 2: Bobby friggin' Hamilton.

Misery. That was October 1983 - October 1996. Thirteen years without the 43 in victory lane. The shine of the King's crown was no longer as bright, and he eventually called it a career at the end of 1992. Drivers who followed him including Rick Wilson, Wally Dallenbach Jr. and John Andretti couldn't quite get it done. But then Petty Enterprises latched onto Bobby Hamilton - from Nashville, TN no less - to pilot the 43. In his second season with the team, Bobby returned the 43 to its rightful place in victory lane. And he did so by winning the Dura-Lube 500 at Phoenix.

Number 1: The 43 rises from the ashes. Richard Petty won the 1977 Firecracker 400 at Daytona. As a fan (and I'm sure RP as a driver), I had no way of knowing that would be last victory for a good stretch of time. The King claimed no additional wins in the second half of 1977. In 1978, he raced the albatross Dodge Magnum for about two-thirds of the season with limited success and zero wins. As the season entered its final triad, Petty Enterprises joined the GM crowd and fielded STP #43 Chevy Monte Carlos for Richard. Still, he remained winless in Cup competition. After the season-closing race at Ontario, the Petty team went to Phoenix for a Winston West race. And there, the losing streak ended. It wasn't an official Cup win - but it was a victory nonetheless.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
He banked the momentum; had some off-season surgery; returned in 1979 to win the Daytona 500 as Cale, Bobby and Donnie fought; and eventually defeated Darrell Waltrip to claim his 7th and final Winston Cup title. I truly think the Phoenix win helped the team get off the schnide and believe it was again possible to win as a team.

Photo courtesy of Ray Lamm


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

October 29,1950 - Lee Petty Hauls In Hillsboro

October 29, 1950: In the final race of NASCAR's second season for its Strictly Stock / Grand National division, Lee Petty has a consistent day, leads the final 43 laps, and wins a scheduled 200-lap race on the one-mile, dirt Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsboro, North Carolina.

As mentioned below, darkness caused the race to be shortened by 25 laps. Fonty Flock won the pole and dominated much of the race by leading 124 of the 175 laps. But a broken engine mount ended his day, and he finished a disappointing 20th. Lee qualified 15th in the 29-car field, but he was patient enough to know when to go to nab the win.

Perry Allen Wood recaps the story of the race in Silent Speedways of the Carolinas:
The second Hillsborough visit of 1950 occurred on the cool autumn afternoon of October 29th. It was the 19th and last race of the season and packed with drama. Bill Rexford had a slippery grip on the first Grand National points title because if he faltered and Fireball Roberts recorded a strong finish, the young Floridian would steal the championship. Time trials saw Fonty Flock sizzle with a speed of nearly 96 miles per hour for the pole. Fireball took second and Rexford was a dismal 29th, dead last! Needless to say, things looked good for Roberts.

[Curtis] Turner and [Jim] Paschal fell out right away with point leader Rexford joining them, saddling him with 26th. Bill Rexford had done everything in his power to gift-wrap the title for Roberts.

Fireball...refused to stroke his way to the title unlike the "big picture" racers in the modern era. Roberts put his Olds 11 out front on the 72nd circuit for six laps until Fonty in Bob Flock's Olds took it back. Then Roberts led, then Flock, then on lap 125, full aware of the stakes, Fireball blew the engine in Sam Rice's Rocket and the race and title were gone.

With no lights and the sun setting behind the hills, the chilly day ended 25 laps early with Plymouth-pushing Lee Petty claiming his second career win, the first in over a year. Second was Buck Baker still looking for those first checkers, still over a year away. Third was Weldon Adams, fourth Tim Flock in the Plymouth that won the first Southern 500, and fifth came Bill Blair in Olds number 41.5. Bill Rexford became the youngest Grand National Champion at 23, a distinction he still holds as of this writing. Fireball Roberts was never nearly this close to a title again...and neither was Rexford. ~ p. 103
Throughout Lee Petty's career, he came out on the victorious end of many controversies. In 1950, however, he was on the losing end of one. Rexford claimed the championship over Fireball, and he remains the youngest NASCAR GN/Cup champion ever - a few months younger than Jeff Gordon. Rexford needed a bad finish from Roberts at Occoneechee in the last race of the season to claim the championship. But he also benefited from Lee Petty having his points stripped during the summer by Bill France, Sr. for running non-NASCAR events.

Greg Fielden writes in Forty Years of Stock Car Racing - Vol. 1:
Lee Petty was another driver bitten by NASCAR's iron hand. During a three-week lull in the Grand National tour in July, Petty wandered outside the NASCAR sanctioned boundaries and paid dearly for it. Through eight races the Randleman, NC Plymouth driver had accumulated 809 points, which was good enough for third place in the standings. He was only 24.5 points out of first place in the wide-open scramble for the lead. After NASCAR took all his points away, he had to start at zero in late July. ~ pp. 24-25
Had France not assessed Petty the large points penalty, Lee likely would have been the 1950 champion rather than Rexford. He rallied from zero points in late July to finish third in the standings behind Rexford and Roberts by season's end.

Interestingly, the defending series champion - Red Byron - finished 1950 with zero Grand National points. Despite France's edict to run only NASCAR events, Byron raced as he saw fit. And true to Big Bill's adage of "you need us worse than we need you", he penalized Byron not just once but twice during the season. And by the way, Byron just happened to be the one who came up with the sanctioning body's name and acronym: NASCAR - National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.)

Source: Youngstown Vindicator via Google News Archive

Sunday, October 27, 2013

October 27, 1997 - Hamilton Rolls At The Rock

October 27, 1997: Exactly one year after Bobby Hamilton raced the #43 STP Petty Enterprises Pontiac to a win in the Dura-Lube 500 at Phoenix, he again piloted the 43 to a win - his second and final one with the Petty team - in the AC Delco 400 at Rockingham.

With his win, Hamilton got some measure of redemption from Rockingham after a heartbreaking bump-and-run by Dale Earnhardt in the 1996 GM Goodwrench 400. In great racing rarely seen anymore in the Cup series, Hamilton and Earnhardt traded the lead back and forth over the course of several laps (pick up video around 10 minute mark). The familiar nudge from the bumper of the black 3 then made its appearance as it was known to do with other drivers (around 12:05), and Hamilton had to wait another day for a victory at The Rock.

The 1997 race, scheduled for Sunday, October 26, was rained out. Instead, the teams raced on Monday the 27th allowing Hamilton to win on the same date in back-to-back years. As he did at Phoenix in 1996, Hamilton qualified poorly with a 28th starting spot. And as was the case in his Phoenix win, he again led very few laps - 37 of 393 - but he led the final 16 to claim the win.

Pole winner Bobby Labonte led 93 laps, second place finisher Dale Jarrett led 73, and third place finisher Ricky Craven (now a NASCAR analyst for ESPN) led the most laps at 139.

In the first half of the 1990s, Kyle Petty frequently dominated Rockingham when driving for SABCO. In 1996, he returned to the family team - kinda of. He formed a Petty Enterprises satellite team called pe2 with sponsorship by Hot Wheels. He qualified 5th and led a couple of laps, but he finished two laps down in 22nd.

When the checkers fell, none of that mattered because the 43 was out front and Hamilton was again the victor.

Source: Augusta Chronicle
Source: Kentucky New Era via Google News Archive

October 27, 1996 - The 43 Rises Again in Phoenix

October 9, 1983. Charlotte Motor Speedway. That date represents the final Petty Enterprises win with King Richard behind the wheel. 1983. Thirty years ago. Three-Zero. And the truly unfortunate part of Richard's 198th win is that it's tainted because of an oversized engine and illegally mounted tires. Yet the King raced on. He left the family team, raced two years with Curb Racing, picked up wins 199 and the magical 200, returned to Petty Enterprises in 1986, and raced with few top finishes and zero wins through 1992.

Petty Enterprises really wasn't in the hunt for victories from 1984 through 1995. The car was rarely competitive, and the team didn't (or couldn't) hire top drivers for it. An inexperienced Kyle drove the family car in 1984. Others including Rick Wilson, Wally Dallenbach Jr., John Andretti, and an aged King really had no shot at returning the 43 to its rightful place in victory lane.

But then in 1996, things suddenly began to look a bit brighter. Nashville, TN's Bobby Hamilton was beginning his second year with the team. Hamilton cut his teeth on Nashville's fairgrounds speedway. He was later hired as a driver by the producers of the movie Days of Thunder and landed rides with Triad Motorsports' Country Time Lemonade and SABCO Racing's Kendall Oil teams.

Petty Enterprises hired Hamilton in 1995, and the pairing began to return the Petty team to a level of respectability over the next three seasons. In the second race of the 1996 season at Rockingham, Hamilton seemed to be on track to be the first driver in decades other than Richard Petty to win in car number 43. But a nudge from Dale Earnhardt in the waning laps resulted in the driver of the black 3 taking home the trophy instead.

Though disappointed, Hamilton's easy-going and big-picture demeanor allowed him to slough off the near-miss at Rockingham as that's racin'. The team spent the rest of the season seeking opportunities to take advantage of the intersection of preparation and opportunity (i.e. luck).

On October 27, 1996 - the second to last race of the season - the team seized on one of those opportunities in the Dura-Lube 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

The key storyline entering the race wasn't the Petty team at all. With only two races remaining in the season, all eyes were on the championship contenders Dale Jarrett and two Hendrick Motorsports drivers, Terry Labonte and Jeff Gordon. In a Friday practice session, Labonte had a hard crash, totaled his primary car, and broke his left wrist. With some hospital care, a Rube Goldberg'esque hand brace and steering wheel, and plenty of race-day injections, the Ironman suited up and raced - just like race drivers do (or at least used to do).

Hamilton qualified mid-pack in the 17th position. But he began to move towards the front as the race progressed and hung around all day. He led a total of 40 of the 312 laps. With the laps winding down and the sun beginning to set, Hamilton decided it was time to go. He went to the point, led the final 30 laps, and returned the 43 to victory lane for the first time in 13 years. His win was exceptionally popular for everyone - fans, other teams, the King of course, the media, etc. Behind him, Texas Terry finished an incredible third. He finished 5th in the season-closer at Atlanta and won his second championship over Gordon and Jarrett.

Some time later, Richard and Kyle restored the winning Pontiac and presented it to Hamilton. Bobby displayed the car in the lobby of his Bobby Hamilton Racing offices where I was fortunate enough to see it a few years ago.

Hamilton passed away on January 7, 2007, after bravely and gracefully battling cancer. In 2008, Mark Aumann revisited Hamilton's 1996 win on

Motor Racing Network has made their full radio broadcast of the race available on-line. You can find it along with many other MRN classic races at their website or iTunes or by listening/downloading below.

The Schaefer Hall of Fame will be represented for the first time at Phoenix by Philly, Rookie, Uncle Dave and myself in a few weeks for the 2013 Advocare 500. As a long-time Petty fan, I'd scream myself hoarse and fly home without the need for an airplane if Aric Almirola could win in the 43 as Bobby Hamilton did on October 27, 1996.