Friday, March 6, 2015

March 6, 1977 - Jimmy Insolo wins Ontario

Through much of the 1970s, NASCAR's Winston Cup Series began its season in January at Riverside's road course in California. When Ontario Motor Speedway closed in the early 1980s, Riverside's season opener was moved to the end of the season. Then began the tradition begin of starting the season in February with the Daytona 500.

USAC had its own stock car division for about three decades from the mid-1950s through the mid-1980s. Though the division had several name drivers, many of them were 'double-dippers' - Indy car drivers who also raced in USAC's other divisions - including the stock car one.

USAC started its 1977 season with a twin-bill event at Ontario, another southern California track. Modeled after Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ontario was a track ahead of its time, but it was woefully underfunded. From the early 70s through 1980, Ontario was the site of NASCAR's season-ending race.

On March 6, 1977, the track promoted the Datsun Twin 200, a pair of 80-lap, 200-mile races for USAC's stock cars and Indy/Champ cars.

A couple of drivers - Bobby Unser and A.J. Foyt - were looking to turn the double by entering both events. Foyt threw down the gauntlet early by winning the pole for the stock car event in his #51 Chevelle. Making his first USAC stock car start, west coast regular, Jimmy Insolo, qualified on the front row alongside Super Tex in his Chevelle. Unser lined up behind Foyt in the third spot in his Camaro.

The 30-car field was a hodgepodge of cars. Some were from the muscle-car class of Detroit such as Unser's Camaro. Others ran full-size sedan models such as Foyt and Insolo in their Chevelles and the 8th place starter, Ohio's Woody Fisher in his 1974 Schlitz Beer Dodge Charger.

Fisher's Charger was built by Petty Enterprises and was the same one he raced to victory in the 1977 ARCA 200 at Daytona about a month earlier.

Foyt set the early pace and let the field know who was boss.

Source: Bakersfield Californian
Unser's day nearly ended before it really got going. With a nudge from Insolo, he spun off turn 3 on lap 16. Bobby sent up a plume of white tire smoke, but his car was otherwise unharmed. After a stop to replace his flat-spotted tires, he went back on the track and was a contender as the race neared its conclusion.

Source: Corona Daily Independent
Foyt was in control of the race though Unser had rallied. With 5 laps to go, however, Super Tex cut a tire and began to fade. Foyt's misfortune quickly became a huge opportunity for others. Insolo's hulking Chevelle and Unser's small Camaro hooked up in the race to the finish. The duo swapped the lead eight times in the final four laps.

Unser took the white lap with Insolo in tow. With the checkers in sight, the two drivers came upon a slower car. Unser went to the inside, and Insolo jumped to the outside putting the lapped car in the middle of a 3-wide sandwich. Insolo carried the momentum off the corner and won by less than a car-length over Unser.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Though the race was Insolo's first USAC stock car race, it was not his first Ontario race nor his first close win. A year earlier, he narrowly defeated L.D. Ottinger in a 250-mile NASCAR late model sportsman race.

Foyt managed to keep his ride under him and came home a disappointing third. Chuck Bown - who later won NASCAR's Busch Series championship in 1990 - finished fourth, and Ron Hutcherson rounded out the top five. Full-time beer distributor and part-time racer Woody Fisher brought home the Petty-built Charger tenth.

Foyt's day wasn't a complete loss. After finishing third in the day's opener, he dusted the field to easily win the Indy car main event race.

The two winners

Photo courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Source: Corona Daily Independent
Two years later, Insolo played a significant role in Richard Petty's seventh Winston Cup title. When The King needed relief help in the NAPA 400 at Riverside, Insolo was called upon to belt into the 43. He rallied the STP Monte Carlo to a third-place finish behind second-place finisher Darrell Waltrip. Considering Petty won the title over Waltrip by a razor-thin margin, Insolo was instrumental in Petty getting his seventh Cup.



  1. Nice piece. Saw several drivers who I'd later meet at Winston West events. Interesting to see that the top finishing Plymouth was driven by Dick Hutcherson's baby brother, Ron.