Wednesday, September 23, 2015

September 23, 1973 - A close one at Wilkesboro

The King, Richard Petty, won an astounding 15 races at the famed North Wilkesboro Speedway. His record included eight victories in twelve races in the six season stretch of 1970 through 1975. The King also had three in row - both 1972 races and the spring 1973 Gwyn Staley 400 - as the Winston Cup series returned to the hills of Wilkes County.

Petty's career rival, Bobby Allison, was all business on pole day. He arrived to the track later than expected, took a quick couple of hot laps to shake down his Coke Machine, won the pole in qualifying, and then left immediately for a late model race in Missouri. Petty qualified alongside him on the front row. Eventual 1973 Cup champion Benny Parsons started third, and three-time Cup champion from 1976-1978 Cale Yarborough timed fourth.

Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal via Google News Archive
The field took the green on a Sunday afternoon. Allison got the hole shot at the green, charged into turn one, and led the first 57 laps.

Petty stayed close and led the next 34 laps. And so it went - back and forth - the rest of the day. Yarborough and Buddy Baker had opportunities to lead also, but each only led for a single-digit number of laps.

With the race well past half-way, Petty found his well-known groove. He took the lead from Baker at lap 256 and led the next 79 laps. With about 65 laps to go, Dale Inman made the call to bring the 43 to pit road for his final stop. The track was greasy, right side tires were wearing, and the Petty Enterprises felt it was time to get the STP Dodge Charger its last pair of shoes for the remaining stretch.

Allison, who had been running second to Petty, stayed on the track to take the lead rather than follow the 43 to pit road. He led an 18-lap stint before pitting for his final service. Allison's team noted the 43 only took right sides, and they made the call to change all four. Doing so meant an extended stop, but the team believed the call would pay dividends over the remaining eighth of the race.

The #12 Coke Chevelle returned to the track a full lap down to Petty. With four fresh tires and eighteen fewer laps on them, Allison was able to pull away from the 43. Yet, Petty was easily in control with 48 laps to go.

Allison's four stickers, however, continued to pay dividends. With each passing lap, Allison was passing more cars and making up time on the 43. Along the way, the Maurice Petty built Hemi lost a cylinder. King was running on seven cylinders and worn out left side tires, but he still had a sizable lead on Bobby.

After only a handful of laps after his stop, Allison was able to unlap himself. He then had to repeat the cycle to catch Petty again and compete for the win. As Petty took the white flag, Allison was right on his bumper - shades of how the 1972 Wilkes 400 last lap began between the two.

As the pair rumbled down the back straightaway, Allison was finally able to pass Petty for the lead. With worn out tires and an inability to lay the pedal to his Mopar, Petty had no choice but to see Bobby pull away. At the stripe, Allison was almost 2 seconds ahead of Petty.

I've accepted over the years that you can't win 'em all. Petty had a remarkable career - especially at North Wilkesboro. To lose a close one to Bobby Allison though, grrrr that burns deep.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive


  1. There was a heated battle going on at North Wilkesboro between Darrell Waltrip and Lennie Pond for 1973 NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year, with Waltrip taking multiple opportunities to bad mouth Pond.

    Waltrip, driving out of Franklin, TN via Owensboro, KY, had recently driven into a huge fire at Richmond, incurring the everlasting wrath of his recent factory Ford car owner, Bud Moore.

    Pond, of Ettrick, Virginia, was driving Ronnie Elder's beautiful independent Master Chevrolet #54 out of Chester, Virginia.

    When the dust settled on the fall Wilkesboro go, Pond had driven to a 6th place finish, while Waltrip would finish dead last with engine failure in the Sta-Power #15 ride out of Spartanburg,

    At season's end, Moore fired Waltrip while NASCAR named Pond its 1973 NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year.

  2. Losing to Assilon anywhere, any time was tough to take. Tough to read, even knowing the result.

  3. I'm surprised no one noticed this race came a full year after Petty and Allison tried to tear down the guardrails in the most violent final laps ever seen at any NASCAR race; Petty stormed to the win and a brawl nearly erupted when a drunken fan attacked Maurice and got clubbed with Richard's helmet.

    This race was a measure of revenge for Allison a year after his bitter defeat there.

    1. Here is my post re: the 72 Wilkes 400. Still waiting for that day when some sort of video footage surfaces of the finish.