Friday, August 23, 2013

August 23, 1970 - Pete Doubles-Up At Dega

August 23, 1970: Starting fourth in the #40 Petty Plymouth Superbird, Pete Hamilton puts a whoopin' on the field in the Talladega 500. Hamilton led 153 of 188 laps. The remaining laps were sprinkled amongst Bobby Isaac (12), Charlie Glotzbach (6),and six others with five or less laps on point. Hamilton's Petty Enterprises teammate, King Richard, had a pedestrian day in his Bird. He started fifth and finished seventh but with but didn't lead a lap.

The King's 1970 Superbird is one of the two most iconic cars for him (the other being the mid-70s STP red / Petty blue Dodge Charger). In the five Grand National races held at Daytona and Talladega in 1970, however, the 43 ultra-smooth Superbird had zero wins, no top 5s, only three top 10s (1 of which was in a Daytona 500 qualifying race), and zero laps led. Pete, on the other hand, drove his #40 Petty Bird to three wins in his five races, racked up four top 5s, and led 25 percent of the laps in those five races.

Fifty cars started the race. The front row was comprised of Bobby Isaac in the #71 Harry Hyde-prepared winged Dodge Charger and David Pearson in his Holman-Moody Ford. The second row included Charlie Glotzbach and Hamilton. Chargin' Charlie finished second to Richard Brooks in the inaugural Talladega 500 a year earlier.

Fast Freddy Lorenzen, who won 26 Grand National races from 1961 to 1967 with more than 60 Top 5 finishes, still had to sport a yellow "rookie stripe" on his Ray Fox-prepared Dodge. The reason? He'd never raced Talladega before. This led me to wonder if every car ran the yellow stripe a year earlier in the first Dega GN race. Unfortunately for Lorenzen, his prep for his first Dega race and his visual warning to other drivers didn't help much. He finished 49th in the 50-car field after losing an engine only 9 laps into the race.

The race began with the various drivers mentioned earlier leading a lap here and there. Around 40 laps into the race, however, Hamilton began to show 'em who was boss. He went to the front for a 26 lap stint. After surrendering the lead for a lap (presumably for pit stops), the 40 Plymouth went back out front for a dominating 82 laps. With 35 to go, Hamilton passed pole-winner Isaac, waved good-bye, and set sail for the win.

The young driver swept the Talladega races and pocketed the Daytona 500 to boot. Yet that résumé wasn't enough to keep his job. Hamilton won three career Grand National races - all in 1970 - all for Petty Enterprises. Yet when Chrysler move its financial support of Ray Nichels' Dodge team to Petty Enterprises team for 1971, the decision was made to place Baker at PE for the Dodge program and let Hamilton go.

Hamilton raced another few years on a part-time basis, primarily for NASCAR Hall of Fame owner Cotton Owens. Pete's final race was in 1973 at the Atlanta 500. After getting his back nicked up pretty good in some accidents, Hamilton left NASCAR and focused on a successful trucking business he had grown near Atlanta, Georgia. Like many racing fans, I've never had the opportunity to meet Pete - yet I've always wanted to. Once he left NASCAR though, that was it. Except for a handful of appearances over the years for special occasions, he is not involved in the sport in any capacity.

Sports Illustrated latched on to Pete's magical 1970 season and wrote a feature article on him in the June 15, 1970 issue - several weeks before his second Talladega win and several months before he was told he wouldn't be returning to the Petty team in 1971.

The folks at did a half-hour phone interview with Hamilton back in 2007. For me, it is one of the few extended sessions I've ever heard with him. Your time will be well-spent taking the opportunity to listen to his racing memories and what he does in more contemporary times.

NSSN headline and article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire


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