Monday, January 28, 2013

The other Petty winners

The King - Richard Petty - He is the name most closely associated with the record books of NASCAR. Well, at least within the circle of fans whose knowledge of NASCAR pre-dates 1979. All but four of his 200 career wins were behind the wheel of a Petty Enterprises-fielded race car.

Petty Enterprises as a company, however, has a legacy even richer than the King himself. Richard's father, Lee Petty, set the original bar with 54 NASCAR Grand National wins. All of his wins were earned driving his own cars fielded originally under the name of Petty Engineering (later renamed Petty Enterprises). Richard eventually broke his father's wins record with victory number 55 in the 1967 Rebel 400 at Darlington.

In the 1950s, Lee occasionally hired drivers to pilot a second Petty car. Drivers with names such as Bill Lutz, Johnny Dodson, Tiny Lund, Jimmy Lewallen, Bobby Myers, and yes... Ralph Earnhardt took turns behind the wheel of a Petty-built car.

In 1961, Lee was critically injured in a qualifying race for the Daytona 500 - a wreck that for all intent and purposes ended his driving career. As Petty Enterprises changed its focus to grooming young Richard as a driver, the company hired a number of drivers from 1961 through 1966 to help keep the momentum going and and the Chrysler checks flowing. Some raced for a single event - others raced a handful or more. Drivers such as Buck Baker, Art Malone, Bunkie Blackburn, LeeRoy Yarbrough, G.C. Spencer, Jim Hurtubise and Jimmy Massey helped keep Petty Enterprises vibrant as Lee's son evolved from Squirrel Jr. to Dick Petty to Richard Petty to The King.

From 1970 through 1972, Chrysler Corporation provided financial and other support to Petty Enterprises to field a second Plymouth and later a Dodge team for drivers Pete Hamilton and Buddy Baker. The team also built, supported and crewed cars for drivers in supporting series such as Woody Fisher in ARCA and Joe Millikan in ARCA and NASCAR's late model sportsman series.

When Kyle Petty began his driving career in 1979, the team fielded a car for him from his debut at Daytona in 1979 through his departure for the Wood Brothers team in the mid 1980s. Kyle returned to PE in the 1990s after banking eight Cup wins driving for the Woods and SABCO Racing.

In the post-Richard career of 1993-forward, Petty Enterprises fielded multiple cars until the demise of Petty Enterprises in 2008. Drivers varying from Buckshot Jones to Bobby Labonte and Jerry Nadeau to Jeff Green to John Andretti. Other Petty cars were raced by Greg Biffle, Boris Said, Christian Fittipaldi, Steve Grissom and most poignantly Adam Petty.

But of all the drivers hired to drive a Petty car, only a handful found their way to victory lane in NASCAR's Grand National / Cup races. Beginning February 1, I plan to blog about each of those wins. I'm not sure I'll have 100% success. Media coverage of NASCAR races - especially in the 1950s - was pretty limited. Finding a news article, photo, race program, ticket stub, and/or a personal anecdote for each of Lee's 54 wins will be awfully tough. But we'll give 'er a good run.

Here is a very quick overview of the other Petty winning drivers.

Lee Petty (1949-1963) - The patriarch started the organization late in life by racing's standards. A 35 year-old route truck driver said "well shoot, I can do that." And he did!

Jim Paschal (1961-1964, 1966) - This High Point NC driver - and a World War II naval vet - was hired at the right time by Petty Racing and delivered the right results. As Lee's career ended and Richard's career coming up through the gear box, the company needed some wins, cash and a nod to Mopar's management of "Yep, we got this." He notched 9 of his 25 career wins in Petty Plymouths, and all of them were during the critical period of 1962-1964 as the company rallied around a rising King.

Richard Petty, Jim Paschal, Jim Hurtubise, Lee Petty
Photo courtesy of Jerry Bushmire

Marvin Panch (1966) - The long-time Ford driver was sidelined in 1966 because of a FoMoCo boycott of NASCAR. But he broke ranks and drove a Petty Plymouth "because Lee Petty called" and won the 1966 World 600 at Charlotte.

Daytona 500 winners gathered in 2005: Michael Waltrip, Pete Hamilton, 
Junior Johnson, Darrell Waltrip, Marvin Panch, Bill France Jr., Richard Petty, 
Mario Andretti, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Buddy Baker

Pete Hamilton (1970) - The 1968 NASCAR Grand National Rookie of the Year was put in a second Petty Plymouth Superbird for a single season in 1970. The kid made the most of a prime opportunity. In his first race with the team, he won the big 'un - the Daytona 500. He continued his winning ways at Talladega.

Buddy Baker (1971-1972) - NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker's big boy Buddy was put in Petty gear for two years. The Pettys fielded a factory-backed Dodge for Buddy in 1971 and ran him again with STP colors in 1972. The decision to do so was rewarded with wins at Darlington and Charlotte.


Bobby Hamilton, Sr. (1995-1997) - Nashville's Bobby Hamilton is arguably the best driver to have piloted the 43 since the King himself. While he only had two wins to show for his three years of racing for Petty Enterprises, Bobby made the rest of the field aware that the 43 was still in the show even if The King was on top of the hauler vs. holding the wheel. For Petty fans, it was tough to see him leave PE for Morgan-McClure's #4 team. For racing fans in general, it was even tougher to see him succumb to the ODB Cancer in 2007.

John Andretti (1994,1998-2003) - The son of Aldo Andretti and nephew of racing great Mario Andretti was the last driver to win for Petty Enterprises. The last one. That reality is still tough to comprehend. John and The King apparently remain close. In recent years, Andretti, Richard, Andretti Autosport and Window World teamed to field a #43 red and blue car for John in the Indy 500. Though the car each year was one badass looking ride, John didn't drink the milk or wear the roses at the Brickyard.

Please contact me by leaving a comment below, tweeting me, or by e-mail if you have a memento, photo, personal story, etc. you'd like to share about a Petty win. I'd very much be interested in incorporating what you have to offer and give credit where its due.


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