Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Petty Caprice

With the exception of the 1969 season, Richard Petty was synonymous with Mopar. The King raced a Plymouth or a Dodge faithfully from 1959 through just past the half-way mark in the 1978 season. Well, there was that occasional time he raced an Olds ... and a Chevy in relief for Junior Johnson at Riverside in 1963 ... but I digress.

In mid-1978, the King and his team had seen enough. The Dodge Magnum was a sled, and Petty Enterprises just couldn't field it competitively on a week-to-week, race-to-race basis. To the surprise of many, Petty announced he was moving from Dodge to Chevrolet.

For the rest of the season, the familiar Petty blue and STP day-glo red colors were aboard a Chevy Monte Carlo as the team scrambled to put together GM cars as the Dodges were parked.

When the calendar turned to 1979, the Dale Inman-led team was ready to go to work. After starting the season at Riverside in the Monte Carlo, the 43 bunch fielded the sleek Olds Cutlass 442 in the now legendary Daytona 500 - the race remembered more for "...and there's a fight!" rather than Petty's sixth victory in the 500. The Cutlass was entered in the remaining races at Daytona and Talladega plus a few others in 1979-80.

The Monte Carlo continued to be the workhorse of the fleet for the 1979-80 seasons. After a dismal 1978 season, the King rode the Monte back to the top of the heap in 1979 to claim his 7th Cup title.

A Petty car not quite as iconic over the two-year 1979-80 seasons may have been the boxy Chevy Caprice. No, no. Not a Caprese - as in the salad...

... a CAPRICE. If the Dodge Magnum was a sled, the Caprice as a race car looked like a rectangular, cardboard box. Yet the thing simply raced.

Chevrolet also released an Impala model around the same time. I've learned through the good folks at Randy Ayers Modeling Forum the two models can generally be distinguished by the front grill work and headlights. When it came to fabricating race cars, however, the differences became a bit blurred. Consequently, all teams that ran the boxy Chevy seemed to refer to all of them as a Caprice.

The King raced the Caprice a handful of times over the two seasons before NASCAR mandated shorter wheel-based cars beginning in 1981. The car seemed to race best at short tracks which were more plentiful on the Cup schedule in the late 1970s than on today's schedule.

As best I can tell, the races where the King raced his #43 Caprice included:

1979 Busch Nashville 420 - finished 5th in the car's debut
Credit to and courtesy of Jeff Droke
1979 Volunteer 500 at Bristol - Petty won his 127th and final career pole and finished 2nd to Darrell Waltrip

Photo courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Note the Busch beer contingency decal - a rarity for a Petty car.

1979 Capital City 400 at Richmond - qualified 6th, finished 7th

1979 Holly Farms 400 at North Wilkesboro (David Allio photo) - P3 by 43

1980 Busch Volunteer 500 at Bristol - finished 4th
The King was recovering from a broken neck suffered a couple of weeks earlier at Talladega. He qualified 3rd, ran almost half the race, started losing feeling in his left arm, and then turned the 43 over to former Petty employee and driver, Joe Millikan, to bring it home.
1980 Capital City 400 at Richmond - strong second place finish
Photo courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
1980 Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville - finished 15th as last car running

Photo courtesy of Ray Lamm
Kyle Petty started his Cup career in 1979. His car of choice (or perhaps of necessity) was the Dodge Magnum discarded by his dad. After wrecking a few of them and thinking anew about how to get Kyle more track time, the Petty team shifted KP over to GM cars as well - including a few in the team's Caprice.

1979 LA Times 500 - Kyle finished 14th in his first trip to Ontario Motor Speedway, the race in which his father won his seventh championship

Photo courtesy of BakerRacingPix.com
1980 Atlanta 500 - a solid 14th place finish for the youngster

1980 Northwestern Bank 400 at North Wilkesboro - Kyle raced (and spun) the box on the same day his father notched his 191st career win.

1980 Virginia 500 at Martinsville - a 15th place finish in Kyle's first Martinsville start

1980 Los Angeles Times 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway - the season-ending race where Dale Earnhardt captured his first Cup title

Photo courtesy of BakerRacingPix.com
1980 Arizona Winston 250 at Phoenix - This NASCAR Winston West series was won by Richard for the second time in three years.

The Franklin Mint released a die-cast model of Richard's Oldsmobile, and the Monte Carlo has been released as a die-cast by companies such as Racing Champions. The Caprice even got a brief time in the limelight as a model. Ertl released a 1:25 scale model kit of it...

...as well as a 1:64 scale "Hot Wheels" sized car - one that I still have.

The 1970s-era models raced by NASCAR's Cup drivers were shelved at the end of 1980 though many teams ran them a final time in the 1981 season-opener at Riverside. When the teams rolled into Daytona for 1981's Speedweeks, however, everyone had a new, 110-inch wheelbase car. For the Pettys, out went the Olds 442, the venerable Monte Carlo and yes, the Caprice. In their place came twin Buick Regals.

I believe I've captured all the races in which the Petty Enterprises fielded a Caprice in 1979-80. If I missed one, however, please email me at toomuchcountry (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet me.

TMC

3 comments:

  1. I was at the 1980 Atlanta 500. You could see Kyle's (mostly) day-glo Caprice from miles away. That was a beautiful race car, one of the prettiest to ever roll out of Randleman.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have said before and i'll say again, prettiest GMs to roll out of PE were those Regals. Now kindly forget I said anything positive about GM.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was at the 1980 Atlanta 500 with GaPettyFan and he's right. That thing was so bright it almost hurt your eyes in the sunlight. Incidentally, I have one of those 1/64 scale Hot Wheels Caprices, too. My college girlfriend's Mom had me a stocking at their house and she stuffed it in there with other goodies. I kept fawning over it and she said, "It's not much, but I knew you'd love it." Not much. I still have it.

    ReplyDelete