Wednesday, May 7, 2014

May 7, 1972: Pearson Begins His Talladega Triad

After parting ways with Holman-Moody after several successful seasons including two championships, David Pearson ran a pretty spotty schedule in 1971.

In spring 1972, Pearson joined the Wood Brothers' Purolator Mercury team. The Woods already had a great start to the season with A.J. Foyt's winning the pole at Riverside and wins in the Daytona 500 and Miller High Life 500 at Ontario. With Foyt's commitment to Indy cars, he clearly wasn't in a position to run a limited yet regular NASCAR schedule. When Pearson was hired, so began a remarkable team whose success was also immediate and lasted through 1978.

In 1972, the team won the pole and the race in their first outing together - the Rebel 400 at Darlington. Two races later, the NASCAR circuit rolled into Talladega for the Winston 500.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
Bobby Issac won the pole in his Harry Hyde-prepared K&K Dodge Charger.

  Pearson plunked his Mercury right alongside him on the front row. Three legends rounded out the top 5 - King Richard, Bobby Allison and Buddy Baker. Though Petty Enterprises fielded Dodges for Baker in 1971 and 1972, the King was making his first start in a Dodge after switching from Plymouths as was announced before the spring Martinsville race. The 43 team ran a mixture of the two for the rest of the year before turning to Dodges full time in 1973.

Buddy absorbing some race strategy with Maurice Petty and long-time Petty crewman Richie Barz.

A notable racer making his first Talladega start was country music superstar and frequent racer Marty Robbins. He qualified his purple and canary yellow Dodge Charger 9th in the 50-car field.

Over the weekend of Marty's first Talladega first start, some footage was shot for a movie titled Country Music featuring Robbins. Adversaries on the track, Richard Petty and Bobby Allison, became co-stars in the footage. Allison plays the foil to Marty much as he did to the King by saying to Marty "Faron Young's one of my favorite singers."

Another driver making his first overall Cup start was newcomer Darrell Waltrip in a self-fielded #95 brown Mercury. Having relocated from Owensboro, KY to Franklin, TN, the two-time Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway late model champion Waltrip qualified mid-pack in 25th position.

The Alabama Gang was well represented in the race with Bobby and Donnie Allison, Red Farmer and Robert "Paddlefoot" Wales. Though I never met Paddlefoot, he frequently drove the #10 blue and gold Benward late model Chevelle at Nashville for a friend of my father's, Roy Counce.

Courtesy of Russ Thompson
Long time NASCAR independent driver J.D. McDuffie's car was 'sponsored' by Bro. Bill Frazier's ministry. Frazier's race day faith service was also broadcast over the track's PA system for what was believed to have been for the first time. As noted in the caption to the above photo of Marty Robbins, Marty agreed to sing a gospel number during Frazier's service.

Before the race, Pearson learned of the track's 'physical therapist'. Suddenly he developed a bad back and needed a massage. Who amongst us wouldn't find a similar catch in our back with such an available therapist?

Isaac and Pearson were pretty evenly matched most of the day. Pearson led 59 laps, and Isaac led 57. STP and Petty Enterprises teammates Baker and Petty led 32 and 14 laps, respectively.

Around lap 170, Isaac made his final pit stop & returned to the lead. However, the crew apparently didn't get the gas cap back on the car and it dangled in the wind for the next several laps. For reasons of who knows why, it took NASCAR officials about 10 laps to realize the 71's gas cap was indeed flopping and a couple of more to decide what to do about it.

They finally decided to black flag Isaac to force a return back to pit road. But Isaac and Harry Hyde hadn't come that far to give away a race on a technicality. So they continued onward and ignored the black flag. But with just a few laps remaining, Isaac inexplicably tangled briefly with Jimmy Crawford's Plymouth. Crawford went for a slide, and Isaac raced on. But the encounter was enough to let Pearson close the gap and motor on around Isaac to take the win.

NASCAR did not quit scoring the 71. I was under the impression even in the early 70s a driver got 3 laps to observe the black flag or risk having their scoring card pulled. If so, an EIRI interpretation was made that day. Isaac was able to retain his 2nd place finishing position - and apparently the driver and owner points that came with it. He was simply fined $1,500 for ignoring the black flag.

Source: Gadsden Times via Googles News Archive
I realize based on the purse sizes of that era that a $1,500 fine was more significant then vs. now. The amount was about 10% of Isaac's earnings for the day. Perhaps NASCAR felt the penalty was more significant than the points or purse he may have lost had his scoring card been pulled with only a couple of laps to go.

Pearson apparently liked Talladega's victory lane as he and the Woods returned there again in May 1973 and a third consecutive time in 1974. Surprisingly, he did NOT ever win the summer Talladega 500 race - even during that 12 year stretch when the race didn't have a repeat winner.

Finishing a strong fourth was The Golden (but Aging) Boy Fred Lorenzen in Hoss Ellington's Ford. Lorenzen who didn't have near the level of success in his comeback from the late 60s through early 70s raced in only six more Cup events. He retired as a driver at the end of 1972.

Fortunately, there was no "Big One" wreck to wipe out a bunch of cars. By most Talladega standards, the race was a relatively uneventful one which allowed for some levity.

The funniest story from the race involved Marty Robbins. Marty knew his limitations as a driver. He was as passionate about racing as he was his music. He knew he could race with the drivers - but didn't want to do anything stupid to screw up things for the drivers who raced full time for a living.

During a mid-race pit stop, Robbins had his crew finagle his restrictor plate to essentially negate its intended purpose. As a result, he was able to hold 'er wide open. Just because he could, he mashed the gas and passed cars like crazy - if for no other reason than to see the expression on other drivers' faces as he passed them.

After the race ended, he was to be presented an award for rookie of the race. It was then he copped to Bill Gazaway what he'd done and why he'd done it. Gazaway at first didn't want to believe him, but Marty insisted he couldn't accept the award. NASCAR was then forced to disqualify Marty and bury him in 50th and last place. The finishing position really meant nothing to Marty - all he knew was how much fun he had dicing it up with the big dogs. Listen to him tell the story beginning about the 3:45 mark of the following video.

Pearson and the Woods kept the Big Mo' rolling. In 13 more starts together in 1972, the team notched another 5 wins and 10 more top 5's.


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