July 29, 1973: After qualifying second, Richard Petty wins the Acme SuperSaver 500 USAC stock car series race at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.
Other NASCAR regulars who made the trek with the Petty Enterprises included long-time Petty rival Bobby Allison and independent drivers Dick May, Bruce Jacobi, D.K.Ulrich, Frank Warren and H.B. Bailey. The race also featured several USAC drivers who occasionally dabbled in Cup racing including Super Tex himself - A.J. Foyt, Ramo Stott, Gordon Johncock, and Jim Hurtubise.
Bob Whitlow, former center for the NFL's Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons, started the race as well. Following the end of his football career, Whitlow built a #51 Dodge Charger and raced in about 20 USAC and NASCAR stock car events from 1973 through 1976.
In his book Pocono: NASCAR's Northern Invasion, author Joe Miegoc writes:
Petty took control in the Acme 500 in 1973, beating [Butch] Hartman in a close finish that saw Petty lead 124 of the 200 laps, yet earn $10,730, or about two-thirds of what Hartman received for winning the Pennsylvania 500 in 1971.The King and Super Tex go at it during the race.
Hartman led 39 laps and [Roger] McCluskey, who finished third, led 24. Foyt, back after skipping the 1972 race, led the other 13 laps and finished seventh after starting from the pole. Ron Keselowsi, who came out of nowhere to win in 1974 in USAC's last stock-car gasp at Pocono, was 17th, with Bobby Allison, who would be the only NASCAR driver to also run an Indy car race at Pocono, finishing 25th. Gordon Johncock who would beat Rick Mears in 1982 in the closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history, ran this stock car race for Hoss Ellington and finished 34th, losing his brakes after just 34 laps.
Petty was the big draw, but among USAC officials, the welcome mat was not exactly out for the King.
Under the organization's rules, a driver or team had to be a USAC member and run the entire series to get a garage spot at any race. Without points in the series, you were an outsider.
And that included even Richard Petty.
"We weren't exactly welcome, not really," Petty said with a laugh in 2009. "When we got there, they had some garage area, and there were some of them that were still empty, but we didn't get one. They made us park out in a tent in the gravel area, work on the car behind the garage area."
Then [track owner Joe] Mattioli, who insists he didn't pay Petty any appearance money to run at Pocono before NASCAR officially ran a race there, put his foot down.
"I told them (USAC officials) if Richard Petty didn't run that race, there would be no race," said Mattioli, who also once faced down an ABC Sports official by telling him there would be no Schaefer 500 on Wide World of Sports if the Schaefer name couldn't be used. The ABC guys, while trying to avoid giving sponsors free advertising, buckled then too.
"The gentleman that owned the track (Mattioli) decided us out in the gravel wasn't going to work,' Petty said. "He told them guys that if Richard Petty did not get in the garage area, he was going to run them all out. So that pretty much took care of all of it. Once we got there and started talking to all the guys and such, we realized that, 'hey, it wasn't the drivers, the guys we were competing against. It was the officials.' But I think everybody got on their fanny and by the time it was time to race, everybody had come around.
"We came back the second year and we were welcomed with open arms."
And true to his heritage, Petty ruled that Acme race.
Oddly, it was held as a prelude to the Pennsylvania State Fair, which among others, featured Bob Hope and the Jackson 5, with a youngster named Michael singing lead.
The King and the later King of Pop at Pocono in one weekend. Strange indeed. ~ pp. 109-110
|Photo courtesy of Russ Thompson|
|Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire|
A year later - plus a few days - Petty returned to Pocono for its inaugural Winston Cup race. The King picked up where he left off in 1973 by winning the 1974 Purolator 500.
Edited 2013-08-19: Petty raced the same Charger three years later at Pocono and won the 1976 Purolator 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race.
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July 29, 1973 is also memorable for another racing event - but for a painful, gut-wrenching memory. As Petty raced in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania for a second time in his STP Dodge, fellow STP driver Roger Williamson of Great Britain suited up and belted in for his second career Formula 1 race. On the eighth lap of the Dutch Grand Prix in the Netherlands, Williamson's red March-Ford wrecked with David Purley, flipped, skidded a long distance, and caught fire - with Williamson trapped inside the car but not terribly injured.