Saturday, November 21, 2015

November 21, 1971 - Wilkes 400

The next-to-last race of the 1971 season for NASCAR's Grand National drivers was the Wilkes 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway on November 21. The race was originally scheduled for September 19th.

As the end of 1971 season drew near, the drivers were competing in the first season under the branding of the Winston Cup Grand National Series.

To help fill the field at Wilkesboro, NASCAR allowed cars from its Grand American division to participate in the Cup race. This decision meant the full-size Cup cars would race alongside Camaros, Firebirds and Mustangs from the GA series.

The Grand American cars were lighter and smaller, and many believed they had an advantage on the short tracks. As an offset, the GA teams were required to use narrower tires and only allowed three crew members over the wall on a pit stop.

Source: Danville Register
Chargin' Charlie Glotzbach won the pole in qualifying driving a full-size, Richard Howard-owned Chevrolet. Rain arrived on race day, however, forcing a postponement until Halloween, October 31.

As NASCAR and track officials scrambled to find a replacement date, questions remained about what do about the qualifying order that was already set.

Once the new date was set and communicated, the decision was made to scrap the September qualifying and hold a "do over" session. When the cars returned in late October, Glotzbach picked up where he'd left off in September. He again snagged the pole in the Howard-owned, Junior Johnson-prepared Chevy.

Remarkably after Glotzbach's second top qualifying run at the track in six weeks, rains arrived yet again. The star-crossed race was postponed a second time until November 21.

Finally, the weather cooperated on the third attempt. Fortunately the rains stayed away, and qualifying and the race were completed in their entirety.

The qualifying times were tossed after the first attempt at the race in September. After the October postponement, drivers and teams were given an option in November: stand on the October time or qualify a third time.

Initially, Glotzbach and Junior Johnson weren't on the same page. Eventually they agreed to qualify a third time rather than risk losing the pole to a quicker lap. And once again, the #3 Chevy (a white one - not a black one) won the pole meaning he ran the quickest lap in three different sessions in three different months to finally start the race P1.

The second place starter was Richard Petty in his full-size Plymouth with third going to Bobby Allison in a full-size Ford. Richard Brown and Dave Marcis rounded out the top five starters - both in GN cars. The highest qualifying Grand American entrant was Tiny Lund who started sixth in his a Ronnie Hopkins-owned Camaro.

Source: Sumter Daily Item via Google News Archive
Though the rains did not return, early winter temps did. It would be a cold, windy, fall day when the drivers finally took the green. Glotzbach led the first 41 laps before yielding to Bobby Allison for six laps. Then Petty went to the point where he remained until lap 74.

The next few laps saw a tussle between Allison and Tiny Lund with each taking a brief turn out front. On lap 79, however, Ol' Blue returned to the front. Petty put his Plymouth out front again and began to pull away as he frequently did at Wilkesboro.

Credit to Don Hunter, courtesy of
With only 50 laps to go, however, Petty's Hemi inexplicably broke a valve spring while holding a two-lap lead. He was able to continue, but his lap times slowed dramatically. And the field was in hot pursuit.

On lap 360, Glotzbach caught Petty's ailing Plymouth to take over the top spot after having unlapped himself. But while looking out his windshield, he also had to keep an eye on his mirror. Tiny Lund, who at one point had fallen back by four laps to the leader, had made up his laps and was pushing his Camaro towards the front.

With five laps to go, Tiny shoved his #55 Pepsi Camaro by Glotzbach and took the checkered flag after building a six second advantage.

Credit to Don Hunter, courtesy of
Tiny reveled in the victory and quickly brushed off the criticism by some who claimed the smaller Camaro had a distinct advantage. Junior Johnson noted after the race a piece of Glotzbach's rear-end suspension broke with 10 to go. If another few laps had been needed, Charlie would probably have lost the right rear wheel. Instead, he was fortunate to end up with his second place finish. The King salvaged a third place finish even after the disappointment of losing what seemed to be a book-it win.

The victory was Tiny's last of five career Grand National wins. NASCAR's record books reflect Lund's Wilkesboro win in his Grand American Camaro as a GN / Cup victory. Interestingly, however, Bobby Allison's win at Bowman Gray in a Grand American Mustang in July 1971 is not credited as a GN / Cup win.

Article courtesy of Jerry Bushmire
Three weeks later, the 1971 season concluded at the short-lived Texas World Speedway. With the first ever Winston Cup title secured at Richmond the week before Wilkesboro, the 43 Plymouth did at Texas what it often did so well most everywhere else: win.


Friday, November 20, 2015

November 20, 1977 - LA Times 500

From 1974 through 1980, NASCAR ended its Winston Cup Series schedule at the 2-1/2 mile Ontario Motor Speedway. The southern California speedway was built as a twin of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Indy had been - and it remains - a racing institution. Ontario was a west coast track ahead of its time. The track faced steep challenges with relatively low attendance and troubled finances, and it was perched on real estate that became much more valuable as re-developed commercial property than as a race track.

Before its demise in 1981, however, OMS hosted some solid races. One of those events was the 1977 Los Angeles Times 500, the season-ender for the Cup series.

The King - Richard Petty - nabbed the pole in his famed #43 STP Dodge Charger. Though no one could have predicted it at the time, Petty's top starting spot was the next-to-last of his career. His earned his final career top qualifying spot in August 1979 at Bristol's second ever night race.

Other than his Petty Blue Plymouths of 1966-67, the 1974 body style Charger was perhaps Petty's best race car. When Petty drove onto Ontario's surface, it would be the next to last time the Charger raced. The Level Cross bunch prep'd the car just one more time for a Cup ride in the 1978 season-opener at Riverside International Raceway road course.

Neil Bonnett plunked a second Dodge Charger alongside Petty on the front row. He was racing the #5 Jim Stacy Charger. For many years, the team was owned by insurance businessman Nord Krauskopf; was sponsored by K&K Insurance; won races with drivers such as Bobby Isaac, Buddy Baker and Dave Marcis; and sported #71.

Stacy bought the team in the off season between the end of 1976 and beginning of 1977. Marcis was not re-signed, and Bonnett was given the opportunity to race the car. Stacy continued to use #71 in the early part of the season. At mid-season, he changed to number 5. Bonnett notched a few poles and got his first Cup win at Richmond, but the team was otherwise inconsistent on a week-to-week basis.

Source: Ocala Star Banner via Google News Archive
Two racing legends - A.J. Foyt and David Pearson - made up the second row, and NASCAR Hall of Famer and 3-time Cup champion Cale Yarborough rounded out the top 5 starters.

Scott Baker of captured the start of the race as the field barreled down the half-mile long front straightaway.

Interestingly, neither Petty nor Bonnett led lap 1. Pearson in the Wood Brothers #21 Purolator Mercury got by both of them and Foyt to lead lap 1. Bonnett hammered down to pass Pearson and led the next five laps. The back and forth in those first few laps set the tone for the rest of the day in terms of lap leaders.

Eleven different drivers had their time out front. Many of them led on multiple occasions, and many led for only single-digit segments. Lap leaders included the expected such as: Petty, Pearson, Bonnett, and Cale Yarborough. Others had their day in the shade as well including James Hylton, rookie Ricky Rudd, James Hylton and even Janet Guthrie.

It's amazing to reflect back to the day when two (eventual) seven-time champions - The King in Cup and Super Tex in USAC - were in the same race.

Today's Hendrick Motorsports can trace it's lineage to the days of Stacy and Bonnett's Dodge. The legendary crew chief Harry Hyde turned the wrenches, a young Randy Dorton built the engines, and the Charger sported #5. When Rick Hendrick started his fledgling Cup program with Geoff Bodine as the driver, Hyde led the team, Dorton built the engines, and the All Star Racing Chevy had #5 on it's sides.
As the race entered its final 25 laps, Bonnett found himself in front with Petty's 43 in hot pursuit. With six laps to go, Petty made his move. The 43 Dodge eased in front of the 5 Dodge. As the twosome rounded the monstrous track, however, Bonnett found more horses in Dorton's engine and motored back around Petty as they got the signal of five to go.

Neil would not be passed again. He led the remaining five laps and claimed his first career superspeedway win. Petty who had last won at Daytona on July 4, 1977, extended his wait to another day to win his next one. What the King obviously couldn't have anticipated was that he'd have to wait a full season and then some before notching win number 193 in the legendary 1979 Daytona 500.

Source: Richard Guido

Though the win was a huge boost to Bonnett's career and a near-miss for Petty, the larger story perhaps was Cale Yarborough's claim to his second consecutive Winston Cup title. His nine wins and 25 top 5's in 30 races remains among the top seasons of all time. Though Cale had accumulated enough points to clinch the title over Petty as the runner-up, Yarborough's title became official when he crossed the line in third place at Ontario.

Source: Reading Eagle via Google News Archive
Thanks to Scott Baker of who attended this race and provided several of the great photos for this post.


Monday, November 9, 2015

November 9, 1958 - Welborn is Champion's champ

The 1959 NASCAR Grand National season began on November 9, 1958. The 1/3-mile, paved Champion Speedway in Fayetteville, North Carolina hosted a 150-lap, 50-mile race to open the '59 season.

Source: The Robesonian via Google News Archive
February 1959 brought fans the first Daytona 500 with Lee Petty declared the winner after a multi-day dispute (and promotion). To get to Daytona, however, the GN regulars first had to begin the season a in Fayetteville on November 2nd.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Mother Nature decided she'd control the opening of the 1959 season rather than Big Bill France. The race was rained out and rescheduled for a week later on November 9th.

When the cars returned the following Sunday, Bob Welborn won the pole in Julian Petty's Chevrolet. Rex White in another Chevy started second. Roy Tyner (whose mother later married Julian) timed third. NASCAR Hall of Famers Glen Wood and Buck Baker rounded out the top five starters.

Lee Petty started sixth in his customary #42 Oldsmobile, but his young son sported a number most commonly associated these days with Jeff Gordon. Richard Petty reversed his dad's number, qualified 13th, and raced #24 for the first and only time in his career.

Welborn led the first nine laps before Rex White muscled his Chevy out front. Welborn followed in the tire tracks of the leader, but he seemed content to follow Rex. Rex lost the lead on lap 42 when his Chevy began to overheat. White's problem allowed Welborn to re-take the lead which he held until the checkered flag.

The future King held the middle for the duration of the race. He qualified 13th for the 25-car field, led no laps, and finished right where he started - 13th.

After four Grand National races in the span of a 12-month period, the series did not return to the track. Champion also hosted four NASCAR convertible races - three before the first GN race and one after the final GN event. Coincidentally, Welborn won the first convertible race in 1956 to go along with his victory in the final GN race.

Though records indicate Welborn raced for Julian Petty, I'm not convinced. Julian sold his equipment to his son-in-law Roy Tyner after the 1958 season. I'm not sure if the transaction was made after the season ended or the year, but it may well have been right before the 1959 season officially began at Champion. Tyner raced a self-owned #49 Chevrolet at Fayetteville - Welborn's number throughout 1958 and for many of his previous seasons. Welborn won with #46 on the door of his Chevrolet. Julian may have held a car back to field for Welborn and simply inverted the 9 to a 6. If Julian indeed owned the car, Welborn's victory was his last with Julian as the owner.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Thanks to fellow Petty fan Tim Leeming for info about Champion Speedway in Fayetteville and the 1958 GN race.