Sunday, July 26, 2015

July 26, 1964 - Oh so close in the Volunteer 500

Richard Petty finished second to Fred Lorenzen in the 1963 Volunteer 500 at Bristol. On that particular day, it was all Lorenzen all day. Except for an early stretch of 180 laps led by Junior Johnson and a smidgen led by others, Fast Freddy led the rest of 'em.

When the Grand National drivers returned the next March for Bristol's Southeastern 500, Lorenzen again showed the way. His domination was even more complete than the previous summer. He led a staggering 494 laps yielding only the first six to Marvin Panch who had started from the pole. Petty finished a pedestrian 8th in that race.

The circuit was back in East Tennessee on July 26, 1964, for the fourth annual Volunteer 500.

Lorenzen was obviously eligible to three-peat, but an element of doubt finally existed for him and those trying to de-throne him. During a July 2nd 50-mile qualifying race at Daytona for the Firecracker 400, Lorenzen was involved in a pretty significant wreck. Paul Goldsmith lost it during the event and spun. Several cars spun behind him, and one tagged Lorenzen hard into the driver's side "door".

Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal via Google News Archive
Lorenzen was able to pull himself from the car, but he had to miss the Firecracker. He was hospitalized with seriously bruised ribs and a severed wrist tendon. After a couple of weeks of recovery, Bristol was slated as his first race back following the accident.

Country and pop singer Brenda Lee performed a pre-race show in the Tri-Cities. And by pre-race, it means she performed the Night before vs. Right before the race.

Source: Kingsport Post via Google News Archive
After finishing second to Lorenzen a year earlier and being a non-factor in March 1964, Petty got off to a good start by laying down the top qualifying speed in his Plymouth.

When the green flag dropped, the 43 put a hurtin' on the field as Lorenzen had done the previous two races at Bristol. Paul Goldsmith was back from his Daytona accident, qualified second, got the jump on Petty at the start, and led the first twelve laps.

Petty got by Goldsmith on lap 13 and then led just about the next 300 laps. Near the end of that stretch, Lorenzen was just about worn out in his first race since Daytona. He'd started eighth and hung around, but he was hurting. At lap 276, he hit pit road and let fellow Ford driver Ned Jarrett take over for a while.

Lorenzen wasn't the only one struggling to stay in the car. Jim Paschal won the 1962 Southeastern 500 driving for Petty Enterprises, and he was back in the #41 Petty Plymouth as a teammate to the King in the 1964 races. Around the mid-point of the race, Paschal could take no more. The summer heat combined with only one caution early in the race drained Paschal.

Billy Wade took over in relief to the surprise of many. Wade was riding the wave of a four-race winning streak in Bud Moore's Mercury. He was a FoMoCo guy. But after falling out of the race with engine woes, Wade didn't get hung up on manufacturer loyalties. He went to Paschal's pit, belted in, and drove the second half of the race.

After Petty's nearly 300-lap butt kickin' on the field, Junior Johnson then went to the point for 45 laps - presumably during a series of pit stops. But it wasn't as if Junior could stay there. It was Petty's day.

The King then went back out front for another almost 150 laps to end the race. The key modifier here is "almost". With a dominating day, a multi-lap lead on the second place runner and the the race well in hand, it was just a formality for the 43 to take the checkers.

But then it happened.

With four laps to go, Petty's Hemi soured. He limped around for three more laps in an effort to win the race. A broken power plant and declining inertia slowed the car. Finally, Petty brought the car to pit road on lap 499.

Lorenzen got a second wind and had taken back his #28 Holman Moody Ford from Jarrett with about 50 laps to go. Somehow even with two driver swaps, Lorenzen found himself in second place - though he had to make additional circuits to unlap himself. And then with the 43 sitting silently on pit road, he took the checkered flag for his third consecutive Bristol victory.

In somewhat of a statistical anomaly, Petty was credited with second even though he did not finish. Paschal was credited with third in the second Petty car and with Wade at the wheel.

Source: Free Lance-Star via Google News Archive
I believe one reason among many why Richard Petty won so many races over his career is that he didn't dwell on the races that he lost. When his driving career was complete, the King had raced sixty times at Bristol. Yet, he only had three wins in the bank in all those starts. A fourth one was his for the taking in 1964 but simply wasn't meant to be.


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