Sunday, October 18, 2015

October 18, 1964 - National 400

The fall 1964 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway was race number 59 of a long, grueling 62-race season. As is known to many, the 1964 auto racing season was filled with several tragic losses - both in NASCAR and in Indy Car. Two of those driver deaths came at the track which hosted the National 400. Yet, racers did what racers do - they continued.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
As noted on the program cover, CMS hosted its first ARCA race in October 1964. Though banned from NASCAR by Bill France Sr., Curtis Turner returned to the track he helped build and won the 200 miler overseen by a different sanctioning body. Because of persistent rain all weekend, however, the ARCA race was postponed one week.

First-day qualifying was held on Wednesday before the rain spurred on by Hurricane Isbell arrived, and Richard Petty laid down a track record lap to put his Hemi-powered Petty Engineering Plymouth on the pole. Paul Goldsmith, driving a Ray Nichels Plymouth qualified second to reverse the front row starting order from the 1964 Daytona 500.

Fred Lorenzen in his Holman Moody Ford timed third, and Bobby Isaac in another Ray Nichels car - a Dodge - secured the fourth position. Jim Paschal rounded out the top 5 starters in a second Petty Plymouth. Practice, qualifying and and the ARCA race were washed out because of the rain on Thursday through Saturday.

Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal via Google News Archive
The race at Charlotte was the first since the death of Jimmy Pardue who died during a Goodyear tire test in September. Pardue's death was the second resulting from accidents at Charlotte and the third Grand National driver to be killed in 1964.

Fireball Roberts suffered critical burns during May's World 600 and died about six weeks later. Joe Weatherly - the two-time defending GN champion - died during the Motor Trend 500 at Riverside in January 1964. In addition to those deaths in NASCAR, Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald perished after they wrecked and suffered critical burns on lap 1 of the Indianapolis 500. Another Indy driver, Bobby Marshman, died in December 1964 following a tire testing accident in Phoenix. 1964: a truly gruesome year for motorsports.

Source: Eugene Register Guard via Google News Archive
Paul Goldsmith led lap one when the race's green flag waved. Petty then took over for 26 laps before Goldsmith returned to the front. Lorenzen took the lead on lap 69 but only for three laps before Petty re-assumed the lead for 63 laps. Petty's teammate, Jim Paschal, took over on lap 199 but led only a single lap. Petty went back out front where he would stay until lap 265 of the race's 267 laps.

Courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
For the final 65 laps, Lorenzen ran right on Richard's back bumper and made move after move to take the lead. The two cars ran off and hid from the rest of the field, and the duo even lapped Paschal's third place car. But Lorenzen could not get his Ford past the rapid Plymouth. Fred tried lap after lap - high, low, and even moving Richard aside going into three - but he simply could not get past the 43.

Courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
As the two cars entered turn three on lap 265 and looking for the white flag coming off four, the blue Plymouth darted to the right and slammed into the guard rail with tremendous force. The blown right front and subsequent impact threw the 43 high into the air, but it came down on all fours and coasted to the inside of the track. Lorenzen darted to the inside and came off four to take the white and caution flag together.

When the Plymouth came to rest, Richard was lying down in the seat having been jerked out of the shoulder harness by the force of the impact. It was a scary moment for the fans because Pardue had hit the rail in the same place a month earlier. Richard said in an interview after the race, "When it blew, it seemed like it took two hours to get to that fence. I went the same route Pardue did. I was just lucky enough to stay inside the track".

Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal via Google News Archive
Fellow Petty fan Tim Leeming recalls:
My friends and I were parked against the fence midway between turns three and four. We absolutely yelled ourselves hoarse with that battle between Richard and Freddie. Richard's tire blew almost in front of where were were standing. We watched the car hit the wall and thought for a minute it would be going over in the same place Jimmy Pardue was killed. Charlotte Motor Speedway said they had reinforced the rail there, and that may have been the difference that saved Petty from going over.

When the car slid to a stop, we were running in that direction. It was very scary not to see Richard sitting up in the car, but he almost immediately popped up. We didn't know he had come out of his shoulder harness at the time. We headed for the pits, happy Richard was OK but really upset because Freddie won that race. At that time, we rated Fords along with garbage trucks as our least favorite vehicles.

As soon as they opened the pit gate, which they did after the races back then, we headed for the Petty truck. We waited a while before Richard came over, nursing what appeared to be a very sore arm. I remember being so glad to see that he was OK. All of us started talking at once, and Richard smiled and waved his hand telling us one at a time. He explained to us that everything was OK and we would get 'em next time. And yes, he did use we. That was the way we talked back then. We (all of us who followed him from race to race) were unofficially part of the Petty team.
Lorenzen continued around the final circuit under caution to take the win. Paschal finished second in the #41 Petty Plymouth, one lap down to Lorenzen's pearl white #28 Ford.

Courtesy of Smyle Media
Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Despite the wreck, Petty finished third, two laps down to the winner. Petty's bad luck finish at Charlotte was just one of many for him through the 1960s and early 1970s. He seemed to routinely run well - and even dominate parts of races. But a win at the track just never seemed to fall his way. The King was finally able to grab a winner's trophy of his own in 1975 when he swept the season's races at Charlotte - the World 600 and the National 500.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
As might be expected, the winner confidently concluded he had Petty right where he wanted him anyway. Regardless of Petty's blown tire and wreck, Lorenzen was certain he would have been able to pass the 43 on the last lap - though he had been unable to pass him throughout the rest of the race.

Source: Statesville Record and Landmark
Thanks to Tim Leeming for much of the text for this post.

TMC

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