Thursday, May 2, 2013

May 2, 1971 - Buddy Baker Doubles-up Darlington

May 2, 1971: Starting fifth in a white, factory-backed, #11 Petty Enterprises Dodge Charger, Buddy Baker wins the Rebel 400 at Darlington. Baker's win was his second in a row at Darlington. He won the 1970 Southern 500 driving a Dodge for Cotton Owens.

Baker was in the first of a two-year, partial schedule with the Petty team and its factory-backed Dodge. Petty Enterprises fielded two Plymouths in 1970 with the The King and Pete Hamilton as drivers. In 1971, Chrysler pulled its support for the second Plymouth effort and moved its Dodge support from Cotton Owens' team to the Pettys. Consequently, Hamilton did not return to the team, and Baker was sent to the Pettys to continue racing a Dodge as he'd done in recent years. Coincidentally, Owens changed brands from Dodge to Plymouth in 1971 and hired Hamilton to run a 20-race schedule.

Green, green, green! Pole winner Donnie Allison in the Wood Brothers #21 Purolator Mercury led the field as the race began. David Pearson started second. Two Plymouths driven by Fred Lorenzen in the STP #99 and The King in the familiar, Petty blue #43 made up the second row. Baker in his Charger and Bobby Isaac in an older Dodge started fifth and sixth, respectively.

Photo courtesy of Smyle Media
Petty started fourth but finished 20th after exploding an engine. The finish may not have been a Hall of Fame-worthy race on its own. But it likely was a nice moral victory for The King after ruining three cars and enduring a terrible wreck in the same race a year earlier.


David Pearson won two of his three Grand National titles driving for Holman & Moody. But the Darlington race was his final one with the team. He finished out the season making a handful of starts for Ray Nichels who sometimes fielded two cars - a Plymouth for Lorenzen and an experimental Pontiac for Pearson. Early in the 1972 season, Pearson signed on with the famed Wood Brothers where the pairing would have an incredible streak of poles and wins running a limited schedule through much of the 1970s.

The Woods car with Donnie Allison at the wheel dominated much of the race. He led 244 of the race's 293 laps. But with 10 laps to go, Allison blew an engine. He still managed a 4th place finish as he watched Baker drive on to the win and finish SEVEN laps ahead of second place finisher, Dick Brooks.

The Petty team certainly enjoyed the win as victories at Darlington were hard to come by for Petty Enterprises. Richard won only three races - one in 1966 and the sweep in 1967. Lee, Kyle, and all other Petty drivers failed to win at the track. So Baker's win was only the fourth and the final victory by Petty Enterprises at the venerable, old South Carolina track.

The pomp and circumstance and trappings of victory lane have certainly changed since the early 1970s.

Credit: Mopar Dealer
Photo and article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
TMC

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