Tuesday, October 29, 2013

October 29,1950 - Lee Petty Hauls In Hillsboro

October 29, 1950: In the final race of NASCAR's second season for its Strictly Stock / Grand National division, Lee Petty has a consistent day, leads the final 43 laps, and wins a scheduled 200-lap race on the one-mile, dirt Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsboro, North Carolina.

As mentioned below, darkness caused the race to be shortened by 25 laps. Fonty Flock won the pole and dominated much of the race by leading 124 of the 175 laps. But a broken engine mount ended his day, and he finished a disappointing 20th. Lee qualified 15th in the 29-car field, but he was patient enough to know when to go to nab the win.

Perry Allen Wood recaps the story of the race in Silent Speedways of the Carolinas:
The second Hillsborough visit of 1950 occurred on the cool autumn afternoon of October 29th. It was the 19th and last race of the season and packed with drama. Bill Rexford had a slippery grip on the first Grand National points title because if he faltered and Fireball Roberts recorded a strong finish, the young Floridian would steal the championship. Time trials saw Fonty Flock sizzle with a speed of nearly 96 miles per hour for the pole. Fireball took second and Rexford was a dismal 29th, dead last! Needless to say, things looked good for Roberts.

[Curtis] Turner and [Jim] Paschal fell out right away with point leader Rexford joining them, saddling him with 26th. Bill Rexford had done everything in his power to gift-wrap the title for Roberts.

Fireball...refused to stroke his way to the title unlike the "big picture" racers in the modern era. Roberts put his Olds 11 out front on the 72nd circuit for six laps until Fonty in Bob Flock's Olds took it back. Then Roberts led, then Flock, then on lap 125, full aware of the stakes, Fireball blew the engine in Sam Rice's Rocket and the race and title were gone.

With no lights and the sun setting behind the hills, the chilly day ended 25 laps early with Plymouth-pushing Lee Petty claiming his second career win, the first in over a year. Second was Buck Baker still looking for those first checkers, still over a year away. Third was Weldon Adams, fourth Tim Flock in the Plymouth that won the first Southern 500, and fifth came Bill Blair in Olds number 41.5. Bill Rexford became the youngest Grand National Champion at 23, a distinction he still holds as of this writing. Fireball Roberts was never nearly this close to a title again...and neither was Rexford. ~ p. 103
Throughout Lee Petty's career, he came out on the victorious end of many controversies. In 1950, however, he was on the losing end of one. Rexford claimed the championship over Fireball, and he remains the youngest NASCAR GN/Cup champion ever - a few months younger than Jeff Gordon. Rexford needed a bad finish from Roberts at Occoneechee in the last race of the season to claim the championship. But he also benefited from Lee Petty having his points stripped during the summer by Bill France, Sr. for running non-NASCAR events.

Greg Fielden writes in Forty Years of Stock Car Racing - Vol. 1:
Lee Petty was another driver bitten by NASCAR's iron hand. During a three-week lull in the Grand National tour in July, Petty wandered outside the NASCAR sanctioned boundaries and paid dearly for it. Through eight races the Randleman, NC Plymouth driver had accumulated 809 points, which was good enough for third place in the standings. He was only 24.5 points out of first place in the wide-open scramble for the lead. After NASCAR took all his points away, he had to start at zero in late July. ~ pp. 24-25
Had France not assessed Petty the large points penalty, Lee likely would have been the 1950 champion rather than Rexford. He rallied from zero points in late July to finish third in the standings behind Rexford and Roberts by season's end.

Interestingly, the defending series champion - Red Byron - finished 1950 with zero Grand National points. Despite France's edict to run only NASCAR events, Byron raced as he saw fit. And true to Big Bill's adage of "you need us worse than we need you", he penalized Byron not just once but twice during the season. And by the way, Byron just happened to be the one who came up with the sanctioning body's name and acronym: NASCAR - National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.)

Source: Youngstown Vindicator via Google News Archive

Sunday, October 27, 2013

October 27, 1997 - Hamilton Rolls At The Rock

October 27, 1997: Exactly one year after Bobby Hamilton raced the #43 STP Petty Enterprises Pontiac to a win in the Dura-Lube 500 at Phoenix, he again piloted the 43 to a win - his second and final one with the Petty team - in the AC Delco 400 at Rockingham.

With his win, Hamilton got some measure of redemption from Rockingham after a heartbreaking bump-and-run by Dale Earnhardt in the 1996 GM Goodwrench 400. In great racing rarely seen anymore in the Cup series, Hamilton and Earnhardt traded the lead back and forth over the course of several laps (pick up video around 10 minute mark). The familiar nudge from the bumper of the black 3 then made its appearance as it was known to do with other drivers (around 12:05), and Hamilton had to wait another day for a victory at The Rock.

The 1997 race, scheduled for Sunday, October 26, was rained out. Instead, the teams raced on Monday the 27th allowing Hamilton to win on the same date in back-to-back years. As he did at Phoenix in 1996, Hamilton qualified poorly with a 28th starting spot. And as was the case in his Phoenix win, he again led very few laps - 37 of 393 - but he led the final 16 to claim the win.

Pole winner Bobby Labonte led 93 laps, second place finisher Dale Jarrett led 73, and third place finisher Ricky Craven (now a NASCAR analyst for ESPN) led the most laps at 139.

In the first half of the 1990s, Kyle Petty frequently dominated Rockingham when driving for SABCO. In 1996, he returned to the family team - kinda of. He formed a Petty Enterprises satellite team called pe2 with sponsorship by Hot Wheels. He qualified 5th and led a couple of laps, but he finished two laps down in 22nd.

When the checkers fell, none of that mattered because the 43 was out front and Hamilton was again the victor.

Source: Augusta Chronicle
Source: Kentucky New Era via Google News Archive

October 27, 1996 - The 43 Rises Again in Phoenix

October 9, 1983. Charlotte Motor Speedway. That date represents the final Petty Enterprises win with King Richard behind the wheel. 1983. Thirty years ago. Three-Zero. And the truly unfortunate part of Richard's 198th win is that it's tainted because of an oversized engine and illegally mounted tires. Yet the King raced on. He left the family team, raced two years with Curb Racing, picked up wins 199 and the magical 200, returned to Petty Enterprises in 1986, and raced with few top finishes and zero wins through 1992.

Petty Enterprises really wasn't in the hunt for victories from 1984 through 1995. The car was rarely competitive, and the team didn't (or couldn't) hire top drivers for it. An inexperienced Kyle drove the family car in 1984. Others including Rick Wilson, Wally Dallenbach Jr., John Andretti, and an aged King really had no shot at returning the 43 to its rightful place in victory lane.

But then in 1996, things suddenly began to look a bit brighter. Nashville, TN's Bobby Hamilton was beginning his second year with the team. Hamilton cut his teeth on Nashville's fairgrounds speedway. He was later hired as a driver by the producers of the movie Days of Thunder and landed rides with Triad Motorsports' Country Time Lemonade and SABCO Racing's Kendall Oil teams.

Petty Enterprises hired Hamilton in 1995, and the pairing began to return the Petty team to a level of respectability over the next three seasons. In the second race of the 1996 season at Rockingham, Hamilton seemed to be on track to be the first driver in decades other than Richard Petty to win in car number 43. But a nudge from Dale Earnhardt in the waning laps resulted in the driver of the black 3 taking home the trophy instead.

Though disappointed, Hamilton's easy-going and big-picture demeanor allowed him to slough off the near-miss at Rockingham as that's racin'. The team spent the rest of the season seeking opportunities to take advantage of the intersection of preparation and opportunity (i.e. luck).

On October 27, 1996 - the second to last race of the season - the team seized on one of those opportunities in the Dura-Lube 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

The key storyline entering the race wasn't the Petty team at all. With only two races remaining in the season, all eyes were on the championship contenders Dale Jarrett and two Hendrick Motorsports drivers, Terry Labonte and Jeff Gordon. In a Friday practice session, Labonte had a hard crash, totaled his primary car, and broke his left wrist. With some hospital care, a Rube Goldberg'esque hand brace and steering wheel, and plenty of race-day injections, the Ironman suited up and raced - just like race drivers do (or at least used to do).

Hamilton qualified mid-pack in the 17th position. But he began to move towards the front as the race progressed and hung around all day. He led a total of 40 of the 312 laps. With the laps winding down and the sun beginning to set, Hamilton decided it was time to go. He went to the point, led the final 30 laps, and returned the 43 to victory lane for the first time in 13 years. His win was exceptionally popular for everyone - fans, other teams, the King of course, the media, etc. Behind him, Texas Terry finished an incredible third. He finished 5th in the season-closer at Atlanta and won his second championship over Gordon and Jarrett.

Some time later, Richard and Kyle restored the winning Pontiac and presented it to Hamilton. Bobby displayed the car in the lobby of his Bobby Hamilton Racing offices where I was fortunate enough to see it a few years ago.

Hamilton passed away on January 7, 2007, after bravely and gracefully battling cancer. In 2008, Mark Aumann revisited Hamilton's 1996 win on NASCAR.com.

Motor Racing Network has made their full radio broadcast of the race available on-line. You can find it along with many other MRN classic races at their website or iTunes or by listening/downloading below.

The Schaefer Hall of Fame will be represented for the first time at Phoenix by Philly, Rookie, Uncle Dave and myself in a few weeks for the 2013 Advocare 500. As a long-time Petty fan, I'd scream myself hoarse and fly home without the need for an airplane if Aric Almirola could win in the 43 as Bobby Hamilton did on October 27, 1996.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

October 20, 1957 - Billy Myers Wins Wilson

October 20, 1957: Driving a #88 Petty Engineering Oldsmobile, Billy Myers wins a 200-lap, 100-mile convertible race at the half-mile, dirt Wilson Speedway in Wilson, NC. Myers had a six-year career in NASCAR's Grand National and convertible divisions. He was the uncle of Danny 'Chocolate' Myers, long-time crew member for Richard Childress Racing.

Perennial contender in the convertible series, Bob Welborn, won the pole position. Myers started fourth in the 19-car field. Gwyn Staley started seventh in a Chevy convertible owned by Julian Petty (Lee's brother, Richard's uncle).

In his book, Rumblin' Ragtops - The History Of NASCAR's Fabulous Convertible Division, Greg Fielden writes:
Billy Myers of Germanton, NC drove the Petty Engineering Oldsmobile to a well earned victory in the 200-lap convertible race at Wilson, NC.

Myers outran Possum Jones in the late race showdown to win the $900 first prize. Paul Goldsmith came in third, and Bob Welborn clinched the 1957 convertible championship by taking fourth. Fifth place went to Glen Wood.

Myers averaged 60.050 MPH on the half-mile dirt track. ~ pp. 81-82
Glen Wood is still alive and well in 2013. Over the decades, he had great success first as a driver and then as a car owner with his brother Leonard. Both Glen and Leonard are now in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

While I don't have a photo of Myers at Wilson, his 88 Petty Oldsmobile likely resembled this die-cast version. Several drivers piloted the convertible in 1957 including Bill Lutz, Johnny Dodson, Julian Petty, and Ralph Earnhardt.

Staley finished 8th, one spot better than he qualified. Ken Rush and Darel Dieringer, who at one point in their careers drove a Petty car, finished 13th and 16th, respectively.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive

Friday, October 18, 2013

October 18, 1959 - Lee Petty Wallops Wilkesboro

October 18, 1959: Starting second in his #42 Plymouth, Lee Petty wins the Wilkes 160, a 100-mile race at North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina. Son Richard finishes third in only his second time at the track.

Lee swept both Wilkesboro races in 1959. Richard also developed a knack for the track. His third place finish in only his second trip there was a harbinger of good things to come. He eventually racked up 15 wins and 33 Top 5s in 66 starts over his career.

In his book Silent Speedways of the Carolinas, Perry Allen Wood wrote:
...26 stockers went to the post led by [Glen] Wood's '58 Ford and [Lee] Petty's '59 Plymouth. Bob Welborn spiced up time trials by tumbling down the front stretch in his blue '59 Impala 49. In the race, the other two dozen did not much matter as Papa Lee led all 160 laps, winning handily over [Rex] White and son Richard, both also doing all 100 miles. For the Old Man, it was his 48th career victory, tying him for the all-time lead with Herb Thomas, who won his last on June 3, 1956... Thee minor cautions flew in front of less than 6,000 fans. ~ p. 257
Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal via Google News Archive
Richard Petty ended his career with 200 GN / Cup victories. He became NASCAR's winningest driver in 1967 when he won his 55th career race, and he kept on a'winning until #200. His 55th win in the Rebel 400 at Darlington surpassed the previous record of 54 wins held by his father. Lee himself tied the record for most career victories by winning at Wilkesboro. Going into the race, Herb Thomas had earned 48 wins. Lee's win tied Thomas' mark. Lee went on to set a new record by winning 6 more times through 1960. His record stood 7+ years before his son initially broke it and eventually shattered it.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

October 17, 1954 - Lee Petty Masters Martinsville

October 17, 1954: Starting from the pole in his #42 Chrysler, Lee Petty wins at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.

The race was scheduled for 200 laps and 100 miles; however, officials displayed the checkered flag at 165 laps because of darkness.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
The record books indicate Petty won the pole; however, the rest of the starting line-up is unknown. Papa Lee dominated the shortened race by leading 157 of the 165 laps. The remaining 8 laps were led by ageless Hershel McGriff who finished second. McGriff later ran a handful of races in the early 70s for Petty Enterprises.

The victory was also meaningful for Petty because it clinched him his first of three NASCAR Grand National series championships.

Greg Fielden recapped the race in his book Forty Years of Stock Car Racing - Vol. 1:
Lee Petty locked up his first Grand National driving title with a victory in the scheduled 100-miler at Martinsville Speedway.

Hershel McGriff finished in second place, in the the same lap with Petty and in a position to challenge for his fourth win of the year. Third place went to Buck Baker, Dick Rathman took fourth and Jim Reed was fifth with relief help from Herb Thomas.

Three caution flags broke the action. The most serious altercation occurred in the 34th lap when Dink Widenhouse and Glen Wood flipped their cars simultaneously in the third turn.

44 cars started the event which produced some tight traffic jams from start to finish. Twenty-six cars finished the race. ~ p. 163
With only three cautions and Martinsville's having a few years of races under its belt to estimate average race times, its unclear why NASCAR and track management couldn't run the full race. Based on the race article above, the race was slated to begin at 2:30 PM. Perhaps race day rain delayed the start - or ominous rain clouds and accompanying darkness moved in during the afternoon.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October 15: Some NASCAR firsts and lasts

In the month of October, we're Halfway to Halloween. But until I started studying some of NASCAR's history a bit closer, I didn't realize how many firsts and lasts bookended this day's races.

1950 Martinsville Speedway

NASCAR Hall of Fame member Herb Thomas leads more than half the race and claims his first career Grand National win in a 200-lap race at Martinsville.

Also, Leon Sales finished last in the race after crashing Hubert Westmoreland's #98 Plymouth. The car was wrecked just six weeks after Johnny Mantz finished first in it in the inaugural Southern 500.

1967 National 500 - Charlotte Motor Speedway

Buddy Baker wins his first NASCAR Grand National race by capturing Charlotte's fall race in Ray Fox's Dodge.

Baker's long-awaited win was coupled with Richard Petty's early exit. A failed engine relegated Petty to an 18th place finish and ended the King's 1967 consecutive winning streak at 10 races. (Interestingly, the highest finishing Petty Enterprises entry was journeyman G.C. Spencer who finished 5th in a #42 Petty Plymouth in the 2nd of his 3 starts for the team.)

1989 Holly Farms 400 - North Wilkesboro

The King lasts only 124 laps, crashes, and finishes 32nd and last. Painfully, son Kyle Petty develops ignition problems, goes out the same lap, and finishes 31st - next to last.

Ricky Rudd and Dale Earnhardt waged a classic battle in the waning laps to see who would finish first. Instead, they BOTH spun on the last lap giving first place to Geoff Bodine. This type of hardscrabble action is what's missing from today's NASCAR cookie-cutter, play-it-safe racing. (Be sure to watch and listen through the post-race interviews.)

Coincidentally, Bodine was in his last season with Hendrick Motorsports and would be replaced by Rudd in 1990. The race was also the first race for Winston Cup cars to run Goodyear radial tires.

2000 Winston 500 - Talladega Superspeedway

Dale Earnhardt pulled off what seemed like an impossible win. He came from deep in the field with just a few laps remaining to win. Though he finished first, it was his last Winston Cup victory.

Fellow Schaefer Hall of Famers Philly and Paducah joined me that day at Talladega. After many trips to the track, however, the race remains our last one there.

So as you reflect on the racing history of October 15th - and just life in general - remember the timeless and challenging guidance of Reese Bobby...

Edit 2013-10-15: Overlooked another October 15th first. Ricky Craven won his first Winston Cup race in the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville on October 15, 2001. HT to @ClassicNASCAR on Twitter for tweeting about Craven's win.


Friday, October 11, 2013

October 11, 1959 - Lee Petty Wins Weaverville

October 11, 1959: Starting fourth in his #42 Plymouth, Lee Petty motored to the front and won the 200-laps, 100-miles event at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway in North Carolina. Coincidentally, the race was the 42nd event of the 1959 season.

Tommy Irwin won the pole. With the race nearing half-way, however, he lost an engine and finished 28th - one spot ahead of Bob Welborn, who made several starts in NASCAR's Grand National and Convertible series driving for for Lee Petty's brother, Julian. (He also started a handful of GN races for Petty Enterprises.) The previous race at Asheville-Weaverville was the Western Carolina 500 just a couple of months earlier in August 1959. Welborn won the race, but he finished 29th - dead last in the October one.

Lee's son, Richard, started eighth and improved to a fifth place finish. The October race was the future King's second event at the track with the previous one being August's Western Carolina 500. Not only did Richard improve during the race, but he also improved in all areas from the first race to the second. In the August race, he qualified 22nd, crashed, and finished 26th. So the October race was far and away a marked improvement.

NASCAR kept records for qualifying and the finishing order. The lap leaders, however, remain unknown - other than Lee Petty's leading the final one.

Several other future NASCAR Hall of Famers raced in the event including:
  • Glen Wood - 2nd
  • Ned Jarrett - 8th
  • Junior Johnson - 9th
  • Cotton Owens - 11th
  • Buck Baker - 12th
Source: The Index-Journal of Greenwood SC

Saturday, October 5, 2013

October 5, 1958 - Lee Petty Stakes Claim to Salisbury

October 5, 1958: Lee Petty wins a 160-lap, 100-mile race on the .625-mile, dirt Salisbury Super Speedway in in Salisbury, NC. The promoter of the race way back then is still well known to contemporary race fans: O. Bruton Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc.

As an aside, one of our Schaefer Beer Hall of Famers bears a strong resemblance to Smith. Accordingly, he earned his member nickname Bruton.

But I digress.

Gober Sosebee won the pole for the Salisbury race. The rest of the starting line-up and the race's lap leaders, however, were apparently not documented. Or if they were, someone forgot to hold onto the paperwork. Lee's son, Richard, entered the race in car number...2. It was his seventh career Grand National race.

Credit: Salisbury Post
In Silent Speedways of the Carolinas, author Perry Allen Wood notes:
...Atlanta's old 'shine-runner Gober Sosebee put his black Cherokee Garage 1957 Chevy 50 on the pole... The green fell on Sosebee and 20 others around 3:30 that afternoon and almost 1 hour and 43 minutes later, Lee Petty completed the scheduled 160 circuits first in a '57 Oldsmobile with Buck Baker the only man on the same lap. It clinched the 1958 Grand National Championship for Petty over Baker, the Randleman veteran's second of three... Third was [Cotton] Owens, fourth George Dunn, and fifth [Roy] Tyner... Richard Petty made fifty fish for swimming home in 22nd place, only 23 laps behind in his father's '57 Olds #2. He had used two other numbers so far, he had not hit on 43 yet. ~ p. 132
Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
NASCAR's history at Salisbury was short-lived. The track hosted only two major NASCAR-sanctioned races: a September 1958 convertible race won by Bob Welborn and the October 1958 Grand National race won by Lee Petty. Interestingly, Welborn's car was fielded by Lee's brother, Julian Petty. Richard was one of several drivers who ran in both races (though Lee and Welborn raced only in their respective events.)

The Salisbury Post published a lengthy article in September 2011 about the history of the speedway and even a short recap of Lee's win in the 1958 GN event.


October 5, 1957 - Lee Petty Shines in Charlotte

October 5, 1957: Starting from the pole position, Lee Petty wins a 200-lap, 100-mile race at the half-mile, dirt Southern States Fairgrounds in Charlotte, NC.

The rest of the top five in qualifying were Speedy Thompson, Joe Weatherly (driving car #2X), Johnny Allen and Fireball Roberts.

While its unknown the leaders of each lap, Petty apparently led a large portion of the race - including taking over the for good around the halfway point of the race. As noted in the following article, Petty managed to go the full race - leading most of it - without making a pit stop.

Perry Allen Wood recapped the race in Silent Speedways of the Carolinas:
The third visit for the 1957 came on Saturday, October 5th, the day after the Russians launched Sputnik and two days before Dick Clark launched American Bandstand. Lee Petty took the pole and led most of the way in an Olds, edging Fireball Roberts' Ford... Petty won the $900 first prize in just under two hours. The next afternoon, there was a sweepstakes race in Martinsville, VA, for 250 miles. What a schedule! ~ p. 198
Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal via Google News Archive
As Wood noted, the Grand National series made an overnight dash to Martinsville. Many of the same drivers competed in a 'sweepstakes race' - one that included drivers and cars from NASCAR's Grand National and Convertible series. Petty backed up his win at Charlotte on October 5th with a third place finish at Martinsville 24 hours later.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

October 2, 1949 - Petty Legacy Kicks Off in Pittsburgh

October 2, 1949: In the seventh race of NASCAR's first season for its Strictly Stock series (known later as the Grand National and Cup series, Lee Arnold Petty of Level Cross, NC wins career race number one. The race was a 200-lap, 100-mile event on the half-mile, dirt Heidelberg Speedway near Pittsburgh, PA. Petty won 53 more Grand National races over the remainder of his career.

Al Bonnell won the pole but finished last in the 23-car field. The rest of the starting line-up and the race's lap leaders have been lost to history.

Dick Linder had a five-lap lead on the field with five laps to go in the race. But he lost a wheel and was apparently done for the day. Petty made up the five-lap difference and completed the full 200 laps. Linder was awarded second place based on his 195 laps completed. The third place finisher, Bill Rexford, was seven laps down to Petty and two behind Linder.  

Petty's winning trophy is on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.

Credit: Uni-Watch.com
Greg Fielden recapped the race in his book, Forty Years of Stock Car Racing - Vol. 1:
In the first Strictly Stock event in Charlotte in June, Lee Petty entered a bulky Buick Roadmaster. The enormous automobile was fast on the straights, but it wobbled like a tank through the turns. Just past the halfway point, Petty rolled the Buick a number of times....[T]he North Carolina speedster vowed never to drive a heavy vehicle in competition again.

In the 100-mile event at Heidelberg Speedway, Petty driving his number 42 lightweight Plymouth, was five full laps ahead of his nearest competitor. 

Dick Linder's Kaiser finished second but was in no position to challenge the fleet Petty.

Bill Rexford finished third, Sam Rice's Chevrolet was fourth with relief driver Glenn Dunnaway at the helm. Fifth place went to Sara Christian, the first time a female driver has cracked the top five in a premier NASCAR event. ~ pp. 20-21
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via Google News Archive