Thursday, August 7, 2014

August 7, 1966: A day of Blue and Yellow

Three years ago, I began a year-long project of blogging about each of Richard Petty's 200 wins. As I routinely reference many of the entries, I realize how little detail I included about the races as I began the series as compared to my content as I started winding down the series 10-12 months later. I've continued to tweak many of the blog posts as I learn new info, correct errors, find another photo or two, etc. - but I leave the original posted date "as is".

One of my posts was for Petty's win on August 7, 1966 in the Dixie 400 at Atlanta International Raceway. The victory was the King's 48th of his career but his first at Atlanta. I've got much more info I now want to include and decided to blog an entirely new post.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
The combo of blue and yellow at the race track could be interpreted in a few ways such as...
  • The blue flag with yellow stripe move-over flag often displayed to slower drivers as leaders approach them
  • Ricky Stenhouse's Best Buy Ford in contemporary times
  • Jim Vandiver in the good ol' days. 
But on August 7, 1966, the two primary storylines at Atlanta were Richard Petty's Petty Blue Plymouth and Junior Johnson's infamous Yellow Banana Ford driven by Fred Lorenzen.

NASCAR made several rules changes to slow Chrysler's hemi engine that dominated many races in 1964. As a result, Chrysler parked its Dodge and Plymouth teams for over half the 1965 season. With stars such as David Pearson and Richard Petty on the sideline, NASCAR finally compromised so the money drawing starts would return.

The compromise didn't sit well with the brass at Ford Motor Company so they sat their factory-supported teams for much of 1966. Cooler heads again prevailed, negotiations were held, some backs were scratched I'm sure, and eventually Ford returned to the series.

Meanwhile, FoMoCo clearly wanted cars on the track to help sell ones in the show room. While the finer points of the rule book were discussed behind closed doors, John Holman of Holman-Moody apparently approached independent car owner and retired driver Junior Johnson about building a car for H-M superstar Fred Lorenzen to race. Junior built a Ford alright - but it didn't measure up against its street counterpart at all.

Source: Ray Lamm collection
Long-time NASCAR journalist Tom Higgins wrote in 2012 for
Junior and his crew arrived at the track with a car that immediately ignited a barrage of fireworks and howls of protest from rivals. The car was supposed to be a Ford, but its profile looked like nothing that had come out of Detroit.

The front sloped downward, the roof was cut very low and the rear end was raised. Because the car carried sponsor Holly Farms’ yellow paint scheme, it was likened to a banana. 

Smokey Yunick, another imaginative car builder, had brought an equally strange-looking Chevelle to Atlanta for driver Curtis Turner.

A ruckus raged over both cars, but they were cleared to race by NASCAR, which rejected three other machines, including those of Ned Jarrett, Bernard Alvarez and Cotton Owens, fielding a Dodge for David Pearson. Owens’ car was rigged with a device to lower the vehicle from the cockpit after the race started.

Turning away Jarrett, Alvarez and Owens – while clearing the cars of Junior and Smokey – further fueled an already incendiary situation.

“I realize that Lorenzen and Turner are valuable drawing cards,” said an irate Owens. “But that doesn’t make what’s happening right.”

The discord doubled, both among fans and competitors, when Turner won the pole at 148.331 mph. Lorenzen qualified third fastest.

“I built the car because John Holman was a friend and he asked me to help him out,” a smiling Junior Johnson said years later. “He said, 'Build me something that will run,’ and I did.

“We had a heck of a time getting through inspection. We took that car to body shops all around Atlanta, making changes before we got it close enough for NASCAR to approve.”

Read more here:
Though the two primary storylines may have been the Petty and Lorenzen cars, they weren't the only ones. As referenced in Higgins' article, Curtis Turner won the pole in Smokey Yunick's #13 Chevrolet. Earl Balmer in Nord Krauskopf's Dodge timed second. The Banana started third - right behind Turner's car.

Turner had raced only a limited GN schedule since Bill France reinstated Turner in 1965 from a 'lifetime ban'. And Smokey had fielded cars in less than a dozen Grand National races - total - since 1961. Yet here was the pairing with the quickest lap at Atlanta. Many believe Holman wanted that Junior Johnson specially-built Ford to run as a counter to what was expected to be a similarly tricked-up Chevy out of Smokey's Best Damn Garage in Daytona Beach.

The race had a double-helping of Petty Blue as Marvin Panch drove a second Petty Plymouth. It was Pancho's second of four starts for the Pettys in 1966. Unfortunately he lost the clutch, ended up in the fence, and finished 28th.

Ol' Blue and the Yellow Banana side by side - albeit in Black and White.

Schaefer Ring of Honor member "Bruton" (also known to many as as GaPettyFan) recalls:
The 1966 Dixie 400 - my first race and I had yet to even turn three. I don’t remember the events prior to the race, but my grandfather told me later that on the pace laps he picked up one of us while my Dad hoisted my twin brother. They pointed out Ol’ Blue and told us, “See that blue car? That’s Richard Petty. That’s who we pull for.” The King won my first time out! He started fifth, led 90 laps, and earned $13,525 for his efforts. [TMC: dang good memory for a kid who was three at the time!] My Dad had a brand new, bright red ’66 Chevelle that was gorgeous. He got good and drunk that day. After the race some poor schmoe backed into it. My Dad immediately jumped out of the car (my Grandfather was driving) and wanted to fight the guy. Yes, I come from impressive stock. I was so scared I peed all over myself. Sadly, I remember that part.
The big personalities of the race, however, didn't deliver. Turner lost a distributor in Smokey's engine around the halfway point of the race. Then a few laps later, Lorenzen blew a tire, slipped on a peel, and wrecked Junior's Yellow Banana. After starting first and third, the two cars finished 23rd and 24th.

Meanwhile, who spent the most time up front? The Mopars - the brand that dominated in 1964 - routinely flexed its muscle again in 1966. The Petty Blue 43 Plymouth paced the field for 90 of the race's 267 laps, and Buddy Baker led 62 laps en route to a second place finish in Ray Fox's Dodge.

Petty flashes across the finish line as he takes the checkers.

Time in victory lane never sucks - especially when you're the King.

Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal via Google News Archive
Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire


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