Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April 24, 1960 - Lee Petty Wins Weaverville

April 24, 1960: Lee Petty wins a shortened race at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway in NC to pocket his 50th career NASCAR Grand National victory. 

He won by a full lap over second place Joe Lee Johnson. Richard Petty finished ninth. Junior Johnson won the pole but broke a tie rod and finished deep in the field. He raced the Wood Brothers #21 Ford for the fourth of four times in his career.

Perry Allen Wood writes in his book, Silent Speedways of the Carolinas:
Sunday, April 24, 1960, and spring was bustin' out all over. Unfortunately, so was the asphalt at A-W. Twenty stockers pounded the pavement that afternoon as Jack Smith's Bud Moore Pontiac slipped by the front row teammates Junior Johnson and Glen Wood in Wood Brothers' Fords. As the track started coming apart, Smith's oil pan was punctured, and he was gone at lap 35, having led them all. ... Banjo [Matthews] took over, then [Bob] Welborn, until the red flag flew. Crews tried to patch the holes by filling them with the asphalt that had come loose. Lee Petty promptly took the lead when the green waved, only to have the event called 104 laps later, 33 short of the scheduled distance. Joe Lee Johnson was second and stayed there despite his beef that he won. ~ p. 222 
Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive

Friday, April 19, 2013

April 19, 1953 - Lee Petty Rules Rough Richmond

April 19, 1953: Sixty years ago today, Lee Petty wins a 200-lap race in Richmond, Virginia.

Today, Richmond's track is a three-quarter mile paved showcase known as Richmond International Raceway. In 1953, the track at Richmond's Atlantic Fairgrounds Exposition was a half-mile, pocked-mark dirt track hosting its first NASCAR Grand National event.

Record keeping for the race was poor. An official finishing order was captured. Stats apparently do not exist, however, for how qualifying, lap leaders, or laps completed by each car. Buck Baker and Lee Petty - two NASCAR Hall of Fame members - won the pole and the race of NASCAR's first Grand National race at the track, respectively. Beyond that is anyone's guess as to how things went.

The record keeping was poor, but the condition of the track was apparently even worse. Greg Fielden writes in Forty Years of Stock Car Racing:
The sorry condition of the track and a misunderstanding was responsible for drivers Tim and Fonty Flock boycotting the 200-lapper. During qualifications...the track surface was terribly choppy. The Flock brothers opted to wait to take their time trials, hoping conditions would improve. Officials closed qualifications before the two Georgia stars could get on the track. They were instructed to start the race from the rear of the 27 car field. Both Flocks scoffed at the orders and loaded up their cars. They refused to compete. ~ p. 112
Source: Richmond International Raceway
Source: The Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive (nav. to p. 6)
NASCAR did not sanction a GN race at Richmond in 1954 - perhaps because of the awful track conditions in 1953. But by 1955, Paul Sawyer and driver Joe Weatherly bought the track, made improvements, and convinced NASCAR to return. To this day, Richmond remains a two-race stalwart of NASCAR's Cup series.

Though I never had an opportunity to meet Sawyer, I've heard nothing but great praise for him as a track owner, as a promoter, and as an individual. Likely seeing the direction Grand National racing may be headed, Sawyer paved his long-time dirt track between the spring and fall races of 1968. Lee's son, King Richard, won the first race on the new asphalt

About eighteen years after the paving of the track and Richard's win, Lee's grandson - Kyle Petty - fortuitously nabbed his first career NASCAR Winston Cup win at Richmond in February 1986. Dale Earnhardt famously hooked Darrell Waltrip into the third turn fence and collected himself, third-place runner Geoff Bodine, and fourth-place car Joe Ruttman. Kyle navigated the wrecked cars and found himself the winner as he went from fifth to FIRST in the final two corners of the last lap.

Two years later, Sawyer again recognized how the sport was changing. Following the February 1988 Cup race, he immediately began tearing up the asphalt of the half-mile oval. In its place would emerge today's .75-mile speedway. Appropriately enough, Richard Petty - who won 13 times on Richmond's half-mile dirt and paved surfaces - once again tore up the track literally with a bulldozer.

Photo courtesy of  Dave Fulton
Photo courtesy of Brian 200WINZ Hauck
I've heard the trivia statement more than once that Lee, Richard, and Kyle remain the only family trio to win a GN/Cup race at the same track. Based on the multiple changes to Richmond from the 1950s to the 1980s, I suggest its more accurate to state they are the only ones to do it at the same location.

Regardless, Richmond has been a solid track to Petty Racing. And its success for them began in April 1953.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

April 18, 1999 - Petty Enterprises' Final Victory

April 18, 1999: Starting deep in the field in 21st and leading only four laps - the final four - John Andretti wins the Goody's 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.

Andretti spun early in the race and found himself a lap down. He hung around much of the rest of the day waiting for an opportunity to wrest his lap back. Crew chief Robbie Loomis made the call for a two-tire stop, and the call helped the 43 get back in the hunt. As the laps wound down, Andretti worked himself back towards the front and sat perched inside of the top 5. When the laps remaining dropped to single digits, he dug in and marched forward. His final pass was of Jeff Burton with four to go. Once on point, he drove away to take the checkers.

Though wins were hard to come by for Petty Enterprises in a post-King driving era, few could have guessed that Andretti's win would be the final one ever for the organization.
As referenced in the article, Petty Enterprises hit the weekend double at Martinsville. A day earlier, Jimmy Hensley won a day earlier in a #43 Petty Craftsman Truck Series Dodge. Hensley's win was the second of only two truck series wins by Petty Enterprises.

Source: Sports Illustrated
Source: Rome News-Tribune via Google News Archive

Monday, April 15, 2013

April 15, 1963 - Jim Paschal Bags Bowman Gray

April 15, 1963: Starting third on tax day and on a Monday following Easter Sunday, Jim Paschal wins a 200-lap, 50-mile race at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC.

Source: The Dispatch via Google News Archive
In the third Grand National race in three days (Whew!), Paschal raced to a two-lap victory over second place Fred Harb. Yes, that Fred Harb. Um, OK.

Paschal's victory was the second of what eventually became a six-race winning streak by Petty cars early in 1963 - 4 by Richard and 2 by Paschal. He won in a Petty Engineering #43 Plymouth - only the second Grand National win by a driver piloting a 43 car other than Richard Petty. Richard raced #41 and won the pole. However, he was involved in a first lap skirmish, later lost a fuel pump and finished 11th in the 16 car field.

Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal via Google News Archive

Friday, April 12, 2013

April 12, 1970 - Pete Inherits Talladega

April 12, 1970: Going back-to-back on Bill France Sr.'s superspeedways, Pete Hamilton follows his win in February's Daytona 500 with a victory in the first Alabama 500 at Talladega.

As a part-time racer for Petty Enterprises in 1970, Hamilton again raced a #40 Plymouth Superbird to the win in the second NASCAR Grand National race at Talladega - but the first spring / Alabama 500 race (renamed a couple of years later as the Winston 500).

Hamilton started sixth and comfortably won over pole-winner Bobby Isaac. Richard Petty qualified eighth - 2 spots worse than Pete - and finished seventh as the checkers fell.

As the laps wound down and Pete cruised along in the lead, Buddy Baker tried his best to pursue Hamilton. Driving for NASCAR Hall of Famer Cotton Owens, Baker's #6 winged Dodge Daytona blew a tire with about 13 laps to go. Shrapnel from the tire ripped off the oil cooler, and the hot fluid immediately caught fire. Here is MRN's call of Baker's fire by Ken Squire and Marvin Panch.

Another driver with a memorable day was NASCAR Hall of Fame member, Cale Yarborough. He ran with no windshield for eleven laps but still finished 5th. Let me repeat that race challenge for the  Timmonsville, SC driver: NO WINDSHIELD ... at Talladega ... for 11 laps. (Greg Fielden writes in Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: Volume 3 that Cale only ran five laps without a windshield. But either

Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal via Google News Archive (p. 39)
With most of the action behind him, Pete did his job and led the rest of the way to pick up his second win of the 1970 season.

Though Pete's win is obviously known today, apparently ABC's live TV coverage at the time left a bit to be desired in clearly describing who won the race. Bernard Kahn of the Daytona Beach Morning Journal lit into ABC's coverage of the finish - while also tagging Ken Squier and his Motor Racing Network team (referring to them as "radio hacks"). Kahn's criticism of the broadcast coverage of the race was a bit of a forerunner to the contemporary job done today by John Daly in his blog, The Daly Planet.

Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Pete is almost larger than life amongst long-time, devoted Petty fans for his wins in 1970 at the wheel of a Superbird. So many fans know him as a wheelman for the 40 who should have earned another shot in 1971. Most don't know him as a rock-n-roll drummer.

Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal via Google News Archive
Pete had one more win in him for 1970 - the summer race at Talladega. He also won the pole at Michigan, and had ten Top 5's and twelve Top 10's in his 17 starts. At the end of 1970, however, Chrysler withdrew its funding for a second Petty Plymouth. As a result, Hamilton was let go after only one season. Chrysler then funded Petty Enterprises for a Dodge to run with The King's Plymouth in 1971. Baker, the long-time Dodge driver, was hired to pilot it on a limited schedule. 


Friday, April 5, 2013

April 5, 1959 - Lee Petty Wins Wilkesboro

1959 - Starting fourth, Lee Petty leads the final 53 laps and wins the Gwyn Staley 160 at North Wilkesboro Speedway - a 160-lap, 100-mile event. Originally scheduled for March 15th, the race was rained out and rescheduled for April 5th.

Petty's victory was his first since narrowly beating Johnny Beauchamp in the inaugural Daytona 500 two months earlier. He won in a #43 Oldsmobile. It was Lee's only win in #43, his only win in a car numbered other than 42, and the first NASCAR Grand National win for number 43.

Why Lee raced 43 vs. his usual 42 is a mystery. The Pettys often prepared cars for multiple drivers with Lee - and later Richard - getting the best one for the race. It's possible Lee believed the 43 car gave him a better shot at the win. Also, the series raced the day before at the notoriously tough Columbia Speedway where Lee finished third. The car may not have been in the best of shape, and the Petty crew may have pulled the 43 off the truck instead.

Regardless of the reason why, the number was available as Richard was not entered in the Wilkesboro race. Instead, he raced his own #43 Oldsmobile on the same day in a convertible race in Marlboro, Maryland.

The race's name memorialized the late driver, Gwyn Staley. (The race was previously known as the Wilkes County 160). Brother of Wilkesboro track owner Enoch Staley, Gwyn Staley was a veteran driver with many starts, solid finishes, and a few wins in NASCAR's Grand National and Convertible series. In the last couple of years of his career, he made the majority of his starts in cars fielded by Julian Petty - Lee's brother and Richard's uncle. Staley was killed in a convertible race at Richmond in 1958.

Perry Allen Wood write in his book, Silent Speedways of the Carolinas: drivers entered as Speedy Thompson won his 19th and last pole with Glen Wood alongside. In row two were '58 Rookie of the Year Shorty Rollins and '58 Grand National Champion Lee Petty. Two of the all-time great throttle thumpers, Junior Johnson and Curtis Turner, sat in the third row... At the green Thompson sped away, pacing the field for the opening half of the the race plus eight laps until a wheel bearing fried and Turner took over. Curtis was also done after 19 more laps and quit when lengthy repairs cost him too much time to continue. T-Bird team driver Tom Pistone soldiered on in relief. It was Old Man Petty back on top in his two-year-old Olds, and he won by less than a lap over [Jack] Smith, who won the night before in Columbia. ~ p. 257
Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive