Wednesday, December 28, 2016

TMC Racing Stories: Talladega 2

The eventual co-founders of the Schaefer Hall of Fame hit Talladega for the 1991 summer race. The weekend was a return trip for me but the first Dega experience for Philly.

For the most part, my previous trips to the track served me well. We talked our way into the camping area behind turn two as I'd done before despite not having tickets in hand. On race morning, we also moved the car to just outside the camping area behind the backstretch. I'd parked in the same place for three or four races. The spot made for a pretty easy, post-race getaway after leaving the backstretch GA seats.

On this particular day, however, the spot was a bad call. We made it to the car and began a slow crawl down what was then a gravel road behind the back stretch through the throng of Talladega loonies.

As we got closer to turn three with a plan of getting to Speedway Boulevard, traffic flared to three or four makeshift - and gridlocked - lanes.

We soon realized the problem. Track officials had opened the crossover gate allowing cars and motorhomes to leave the infield. They did so with zero staff directing traffic at ground zero where the perpendicular flows of traffic intersected.

Once a couple of motorhomes eased their way through the cars, it was a bit like a procession of elephants. Several cars forced the issue by jumping between the vehicles leaving the infield. Zero progress.  

Finally, one good ol' boy had seen enough. Shirtless but with a beer in hand, scrawny chest puffed out, and middle finger extended, he made his way between two rows of cars to voice his displeasure at the column of campers.

The door slowly opened to one of them and out stepped an occupant. Giving the drunk redneck his due, he immediately recognized who it was.

He ran up to Bobby Allison, put his arm around him, flipped his scowl to a big grin, and started hollering at his crew somewhere back in traffic "It's Bobby Allison man! Bobby Allison!"

Allison was very calm about the encounter. He whispered something in the dude's ear and went back inside his motorhome. A split-second later, the guy went into Moses mode to part the seas. He directed cars to halt so Allison could continue - presumably to the neighboring airport for a quick flight home.

Once Bobby was rolling again, the self-designated traffic control official strutted back to where he began exclaiming "Bobby Allison y'all. F'n Bobby Allison."


Saturday, December 17, 2016

TMC Racing Stories: Atlanta 1

For the first half of the 1990s, I lived in Chattanooga, TN. Races at Talladega and Atlanta were easy day trips. In March 1992, however, we chose to live large, spend the night  in Atlanta, and then head to the track Sunday for the Motorcraft 500.

For the most part, the trip was at the right price: free.
  • Three of us crashed in the hotel room of a King Racing / Quaker State team member.
  • We were comp'd two hospitality passes. Through some creative logistics, we made two passes work for three of us - and even leveraged them into garage access.
  • A couple of additional friends bought and comp'd us tickets and agreed to bring sandwiches.
The hospitality event and garage access were amazing. The rest? Well...

Our friends were racing noobs. As we headed for the grandstands, we learned our friends bought seats on the fourth row of the frontstretch near the top of pit road. They believed preferred seating at a race would be similar to sitting near home plate at a baseball game or down low behind the bench at a football game.

For those unfamiliar with the original Atlanta configuration, the track was a true, tight oval. Long, high turns and short, fast straightaways. The stands were right up on the action.

But...beggars can't be choosy. We were at the track on a nice spring day...for free.

Shortly after the race began, I got a shoulder tap followed by some amateur sign language asking if we were ready for sandwiches. We replied with thumbs up.

Rather than pass pre-made sandwiches, subs, or wraps down the line, our ignorant but well-meaning friends broke out a loaf of white bread, a pack of bologna, cheese slices and a squeeze bottle of mayo.

We tried to balance the fixins as best we could. Shortly after the mayo hit the bread, however, it was peppered - but not with the seasoning.

Sitting on a low row at old Atlanta resulted in several hours of being sandblasted with track grit and tiny rubber pellets from the tires. With fresh mayo exposed on a piece of Wonder bread, all that grit settled evenly and provided an awkward crunch to our freshly made sammiches.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

TMC Racing Stories: Talladega 1

After several years of blogging detailed posts about racing history, I'm pretty tired.

So for the downtime of racing season between now and 2017 Speedweeks, I don't plan to do a lot of racing research or meaningful blogging. Instead, I thought I'd just share some random stories from days at the track over the years. I don't really have much of a plan or schedule. I'm guessing one story trigger a memory and will simply lead to another post. So here goes.

A bud of mine and I rolled into Talladega in May 1992 for a weekend of racing and fun. That weekend as has been documented previously is best remembed by us as the flashpoint for our Schaefer beer tradition. But we also met a few characters - as is generally the case with any trip to Talladega.

We were setting up our tent, readying the grill, unloading the coolers, etc. when a couple of good ol' boys wandered over. The conversation went a little something like this.

Bubba: Y'uns been down here afore?
Me: Yeah, a few times.

Bubba: Was y'all here last year?
Me: As a matter of fact, we were. We...

Bubba: Yeaaahhh man, we served a mess a'breakfast that day. Dang.
(Bubba #2 chuckled a bit to break his silence.)
Bubba: Man, we had people from everywheres over thar. Did y'all come over?
Me: No, we just had our thing going over here friend.

Bubba: I'm tellin' ya man. If I had a nickel for every cup of coffee we poured, damn. We woulda had about twen... well, we woulda had about four dollars.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

October 6, 1974 - National 500

As the 1974 Winston Cup season neared its conclusion, Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted its annual National 500 on October 6th as the third-to-last race of the year.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
Credit: Bryant McMurray via University of North Carolina Charlotte
Though racing was in a much different place economically in 1974 than it is today, Cup still had a number of fixture teams and drivers including:
  • Petty Enterprises and Richard Petty
  • Wood Brothers and David Pearson
  • Junior Johnson and Cale Yarborough
  • L.G. DeWitt and Benny Parsons
  • Bud Moore and Buddy Baker
  • Nord Krauskopf and Dave Marcis
One driver who did not have the financial security to guarantee future races was second-year Cup driver Darrell Waltrip. After losing to 1973 Rookie of the Year award to Lennie Pond, Waltrip raced in about half the events in 1974. He won one pole and averaged a 14th place finish coming into the Charlotte race. But a second place finish in Darlington's Southern 500 was sandwiched between two rotten finishes - 44th in the Talladega 500 and 35th in the Delaware 500 at Dover. Anemic purse payouts and the absence of a backing sponsor led Waltrip to believe 1974 would be his second and final season in Cup.

Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal via Google News Archive
Another driver facing tough times was California's Dick Brooks. After two years of driving for himself in the late 1960s, Brooks drove for couple of other owners in the early 1970s - including Jimmy Crawford with whom he won at Talladega in 1973. Brooks went back to driving his own cars in 1974 with limited support from Simoniz.

With less than a couple of weeks to go before Charlotte, a fire consumed much of Brooks' shop in Spartanburg, South Carolina. With the tireless efforts of several friends and crewmen, Brooks salvaged a car, had it painted, and readied it for the race.

Source: Spartanburg Herald
Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal
When the cars hit the track for qualifying, Pearson laid down the quickest lap to nab the pole. His top spot came as a surprise to no one. Pearson's winning the pole at Charlotte in the 1970s was about as much of a given as the sun rising in the east. Beginning with the 1973 National 500, Pearson reeled off 11 consecutive poles in the Wood Brothers' Mercury.

Source: Sumter Daily Item
Petty qualified on the front row alongside his career rival and good friend. Baker, Donnie Allison in the #88 DiGard Chevy, and Yarborough rounded out the top five starters.

Source: The Monroe News Star
The race was only two laps old when a serious wreck unfolded. Jerry Schild in his fourth of what turned out to be only a five-race Cup career lost his car coming out of the number four corner. He fishtailed, slid through the infield grass, kicked up a dust storm for the cars following behind him, but continued without wrecking.

The problems unfolded, however, behind the crop-dusting Schild. Baker, Jim Vandiver, Joe Frasson, Soapy Castles and independent driver Richard Childress all barreled through the dust and wrecked as they headed for turn one. Brooks misfortune continued as well. After the shop fire and two-week thrash job, the multi-car wreck also snared Brooks' rebuilt Dodge.

Immediately behind that group was Marty Robbins, country music singer and part-time Cup racer. Robbins had a split second to make a decision between two unpleasant choices:
  • hammer Childress in the driver's side door or 
  • hook right and drill himself into the wall. 
Marty unselfishly chose the latter. He turned his purple-and-yellow #42 Dodge right and pummeled the concrete wall at about 160 MPH - without a five-point harness, full-face helmet or HANS device. Though Childress was spared, Robbins was pretty badly hurt with several broken bones and facial lacerations.

The race continued with additional wrecks and several engine failures. Yet, the event was competitive up front. Fans saw 47 lead changes throughout the day with each new leader spending only a handful of laps out front. Though the lead changed hands dozens of times, the laps were largely dominated by Pearson, Petty, Yarborough, Donnie Allison, and Waltrip.

Pearson led about 30 laps during a couple of segments in the early stages of the race before cutting a tire. Other drivers then took their turn dicing for the lead in the middle stages. With about 50 laps to go, however, Pearson decided it was once again go-time.

The #21 Mercury went to the point and brought the King with him. Petty, seeking his first 500-mile win at Charlotte, kept Pearson honest in the last few laps. He got within about three car lengths, but Pearson took the checkered flag for the win and the season sweep at the track. The Silver Fox also won the World 600 in May - coincidentally also over Petty. The race was the 53rd of 63 times Petty and Pearson finished in the top two spots.

Waltrip led 39 laps, finished a solid third, and was able to continue racing. A little over six months later, he found himself in victory lane for the first time at his home track (drink!), Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway. Less than a year after Charlotte, he parked his own Cup team and began a six-year stint with DiGard replacing the fired Donnie Allison.

With his second place finish, Petty wrapped up his fifth Cup title. At the time, no driver had won more than three titles. Only two drivers have matched the feat since - Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson.

Source: The Robesonian via Google News Archive
Marty Robbins accident ended his 1974 racing season - though not his racing ventures. He returned in February 1975 to race in the Daytona 500. He did, however, end one part of his career in 1974. Marty was the last performer of the final Saturday night Grand Ole Opry at the famed Ryman Auditorium seven months earlier on March 9, 1974.

Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

October 5, 1969 - Wilkes 400

The Wilkes 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway on October 5, 1969, was the 47th event of a 54-race season schedule!

The race was originally scheduled for September 21st - the Sunday after the inaugural GN race at Alabama International Motor Speedway, known today as Talladega Superspeedway.

When drivers associated with the Professional Drivers Association loaded their cars and opted not to race in the Talladega 500, Bill France Sr. ran the event anyway with a patchwork of largely independent drivers.

Afterwards, however, France wanted to make sure a similar situation would never happen again. NASCAR revised its driver entry forms to include provisions for guaranteed participation. Wilkesboro track owner Enoch Staley cancelled all the submitted entries for the Wilkes 400 and requested new ones. The race date was moved to October 5th to allow time for the new entries to be submitted and processed. (The next race after Talladega was on the following Thursday night at Columbia Speedway. It was held without any driver protests and without the revised entry form.)

Source: Statesville Record and Landmark
NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Isaac won the pole when the drivers arrived at Wilkesboro in October. The race was the sixteenth of nineteen times Isaac nabbed the top starting spot in 1969. David Pearson in his Holman Moody #17 Ford qualified on the front row alongside Isaac. Richard Petty and Buddy Baker made up the second row. Richard Brickhouse (the winner of the Talladega race) rounded out the top five starters.

When the green flag dropped, Isaac let it me known he could go fast for more than just one lap. He pulled the field around the track for the first quarter of the race and then some. Petty then put his Petty Blue Ford (yes, a Blue Oval) into the wind. He took the lead from Isaac and began his domination of the race.

After leading a stretch of 260 laps, the King was seemingly on his way to third consecutive Wilkes 400 victory...until. With only 13 laps to go, Petty's comfortable half-lap lead over second place Pearson was negated by a jerk who lobbed a bottle onto the track from the grandstands.

Petty's lead was erased because of the caution. As the race returned to green, Pearson made his way past Petty's 43, led the final four laps, and stole the win. Coincidentally, Petty won the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville over Pearson a week earlier in an almost identical situation.

The race was the 39th of 63 times Petty and Pearson finished in the top two spots. Interestingly, the two drivers finished 1-2 in the 1969 championship standings as well - the only year for them to do so. Pearson's Wilkesboro win secured him his third GN title which tied him at the time with Lee Petty.

Source: High Point Enterprise

Saturday, September 17, 2016

September 17, 1972 - Delaware 500

As NASCAR's Winston Cup series schedule hit mid-September, only six races remained between Richard Petty and his pursuit of an unprecedented fourth title. Petty and his fellow drivers arrived in Dover, Delaware for the annual Delaware 500.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
Bobby Allison won the pole in his Junior Johnson-prepared Coca-Cola Chevy. David Pearson lined up alongside Allison. Former teammates Buddy Baker (who had moved to the #71 Harry Hyde-led team) and Petty made up the second row. Coo Coo Marlin qualified fifth, one of his best career starting positions.

After a slam-bang affair at Richmond 500 a week earlier (and a handful of other on-track encounters over the years, Petty and Allison were reported by the media to be feudin'. Officially, both competitive drivers declined to take the bait - even in the face of a tight battle for the 1972 Cup.

Baker led a couple of sizable segments of around 50 laps each. Petty and Allison also led a few laps here and there. The day belonged, however, to the #21 Wood Brothers Purolator Mercury team. Pearson led 350 laps - including 345 of the final 350.

When the checkers fell, Pearson won over second place Petty by three laps. Though separated by three laps, the finish was the 46th of 63 times Petty and Pearson claimed the top two spots.

Source: York Daily Record
The rest of the top 10 was filled by some near-career days by independent drivers including:
  • 3rd: Ramo Stott driving for the Virginia gentleman car owner, Junie Donlavey
  • 4th: James Hylton
  • 5th: future Richard Childress Racing mechanic Cecil Gordon
  • 7th: future Winston Cup pace car driver Elmo Langley
  • 8th: Walter Ballard (Ballard fielded the car for Dale Earnhardt's second career Cup start)
Source: The Hour via Google News Archive
Before the race, Petty may have told the press any feud that may have existed with Allison was over. Few believed it. Though the two didn't swap much paint at Dover, the hard racing between them continued down the stretch of 1972 including the two post-Dover battles in the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville and the legendary Wilkes 400 at North Wilkesboro.

Petty won two of the final five races as did Allison. When the season concluded, however, Petty prevailed over Allison to capture his fourth title.


Friday, September 9, 2016

September 9, 1966 - Buddy Shuman Memorial

As the 1966 Grand National season began to wind down, a couple of story lines stayed in the news week-to-week.
  • David Pearson's incredible season - Through 42 races of the 49-race schedule, Pearson had tallied 13 wins. He was well on his way to winning the first of his three career GN titles.
  • Curtis Turner as a fans' favorite - In a limited schedule with multiple car owners, Turner continued to thrill fans on and off the track - and give his fellow competitors, owners, and NASCAR officials the same treatment. Fireball Roberts was gone, and Richard Petty's popularity continued to climb. Despite his career headed well on the downside, however, Pop Turner was still one of the biggest drawing cards for race promoters.
Hickory Speedway hosted the 43rd event of the season - the annual Buddy Shuman Memorial race. The 250-lap race on the 4/10-mile dirt track honored the memory of Buddy Shuman, a NASCAR pioneer who perished in a 1955 hotel fire.

Fans and likely the Hickory management were looking forward to round 3 of a feud between Turner and newcomer Bobby Allison. The two started on the front row five races earlier at Columbia and danced a couple of times during the event. Three races later, Pop and Bobby hammered the snot out of each other at Bowman Gray Stadium. Turner believed he deserved respect, and Allison was trying to bank some of his own.

Source: Statesville Record and Landmark
Turner was slated to make yet another start for owner Junior Johnson. After trashing Junior's car at Bowman Gray and wrecking again at Darlington, however, Turner didn't make it to Hickory. Johnson fired him and came out of retirement to drive his own car.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Petty, the defending winner of the race, won the pole. Pearson qualified for the front row alongside Petty's #42 Plymouth. For six consecutive short-track races late in 1966, Petty sported #42 on his Plymouth in place of his customary 43.

East Tennessee's Paul Lewis started an impressive third, and Elmo Langley started beside Lewis. Allison rounded out the top five starters.

Pearson put a whuppin' on the field. When the green flag fell, Pearson jumped Petty from the front row, seized the lead, and led the first 15 laps. Driving the car originally scheduled for Turner, Johnson then led for a stretch of 55 laps in his car before having to pit to pull a wrinkled fender off a tire.

More bad luck fell Johnson's way. When he pitted, a safety truck was still on pit road tending a pit fire. Junior's pit exit was blocked by the truck, and he lost two laps just trying to get back on the track. Thirty laps later, Johnson was gassed. He retired as a driver after the 1965 season, and Hickory was only his second start back. He turned his car over to relief driver Dick Hutcherson who then turned the car over ... on its roof! ... about 100 laps later after rallying Junior's Ford back to 4th place.

Once Johnson made his first stop to pull the fender, Pearson went back to the point and led the remaining 180 laps to claim his fourteenth trophy of the year. Petty hung around to finish second - albeit one lap down to the winner. The race was the 17th of 63 times Pearson and Petty finished in the top two spots.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

September 6, 1976 - Southern 500

For the second year in a row, the 2016 Southern 500 was run at Darlington Raceway under the lights on a Sunday evening. For about 10 years before 2015, the race was a bit of a gypsy with it being run in November, Mother's Day weekend, and April.

Back the in day, however, the Southern 500 was run on Labor Day Monday.  The race was also held in the full sun of a late summer, scorching, Southern day. Many drivers were gassed from heat exhaustion and needed relief. Yet many returned to their seat after a few whiffs of oxygen and a cup of Pepsi Cola diluted by rapidly melting ice.

The 1976 Southern 500 - held during the Bicentennial year of the United States - was held on Monday, September 6th.

A few days before the race, South Carolina's governor released a proclamation declaring Saturday, September 5th as Richard Petty Day. He was also chosen by the track as the race's Grand Martial.

In addition to the nation's celebrating its Bicentennial, 1976 also represented an election year for the presidency of the United States. Both major parties used the Darlington weekend to stump for votes. Jimmy Carter - the Democratic nominee - already had a connection to NASCAR. He attended a handful of races at what is now Atlanta Motor Speedway as Georgia's governor in the early 1970s.

Source: The Index-Journal of Greenwood SC
Senator Bob Dole - the VP running mate for Republican nominee President Gerald Ford - also spent a bit of time pressing the flesh.

Source: The Index-Journal
When the dust settled in November, Carter was elected as the incumbent Ford was ousted. One of the campaign promises Carter made was to invited many from NASCAR to the White House. True to his word, President Carter invited several drivers, owners, and NASCAR brass to the White House in September 1978. First Lady Rosalynn Carter hosted the event as the POTUS remained at Camp David trying to get the leaders of Israel and Egypt to hammer out a binding peace agreement.

David Pearson won the pole - his fourth in a row at Darlington - in the #21 Wood Brothers Mercury. Pearson would extend his pole-winning streak to five in the 1977 Rebel 500. In the fifteen Darlington races Pearson raced for the the Woods, he won the pole nine times. Nine times? Nine Times.

Pearson's pole win for the '76 Southern 500 was bit unique because he was wearing another driver's uniform! Mike Hembree (now a writer for USA Today) wrote about the conundrum for the Spartanburg Herald.
As Pearson was preparing to get in his car to drive from his motel to the track Thursday morning, Grand National car builder Banjo Matthews happened along and talked Pearson into riding with him to the speedway. Therein lies the first plot twist. Pearson left his driver uniform in his car.

Pearson discovered his mistake at the track and being no Lady Godiva, borrowed one of Allison's bright red uniforms.

As soon as qualifying ended with Pearson knocking Allison out of the pole spot, the Spartanburg veteran dashed to a nearby truck (which happened to belong to Darrell Waltrip's team) and rapidly changed into his civilian clothes.

Someone wanted to know if Pearson planned to wear the Allison suit in Monday's race. "Naw, I've got one faster than this back at the motel." he said. 
Source: Spartanburg Herald
At the drop of the green, Allison powered off into turn 1 from his second starting position. About halfway down the backstretch, however, Pearson slithered under Allison, took the lead, and stayed there for the first eleven laps. Allison then passed Pearson as the fans were about to be entertained by 30 lead changes throughout the day.

A couple of laps after Allison took the lead, the caution waved for Nashville's David Sisco who crashed on lap 14. The year was a tough one at Darlington for the Sisco family. David's brother Jerry crashed in the spring Rebel 500, caught fire, and was pulled from his burning car by Petty crewmen Dale Inman and Barry Dodson.

Two other key characters from the 1979 Daytona 500 finish - Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison - were also stout in the first half of the 76 Southern 500. Donnie found his way to the front in Hoss Ellington's souped-up, Army-sponsored Chevrolet. But once there, something broke in the engine dumping fluid all over the track. Donnie angrily stormed away knowing he'd lost a solid shot at a win.

The cars hit pit road for Donnie's caution. In an era of no pit road speeds, Bobby Allison hastily pulled out of his stall to clear a car in front of him. Yarborough, however, had already committed to the outer lane. Cale bounced the right side of his #11 Holly Farms Chevy off the pit wall after being pinched by Bobby. In a quick turn of events, both Cale and Donnie were done.

About 15 laps after the race went back green, Buddy Baker and Dave Marcis got in a skirmish to bring out another yellow. A bad wreck involving rookie Skip Manning and Joe Frasson happened behind Baker's and Marcis' incident. When the caution flag flew, Manning accelerated a bit to catch up to the field for pit stops. His brakes apparently locked, and he spun. Frasson was trying to close on the field as well, couldn't avoid Manning's spinning #92, and t-boned him.

Frasson suffered bruising and a few cuts but was generally OK healthwise. His injuries, however, could have been far worse. The hit jarred his helmet off his head, tore his shoulder harness loose, and gashed his abdomen with his seat belt. Injured more than Frasson himself was his bank account. A true independent, Frasson's accident ended his season. He competed in only one Cup race in 1977 plus a handful of sportsman and ARCA race, and raced in only five Cup races in 1978 before moving on to other, more affordable series.

Manning had to be carefully extricated from the car with a broken leg. He missed the next race at Richmond. However, he managed to get in the car two races later at Dover. He started the race to earn driver points and then turned the car over to a relief driver. He soldiered on the rest of the season without technically missing a start. His tenacity - while perhaps viewed as risky and foolish through today's lens - was a necessity in that era to keep one's ride. It also helped him earn the Rookie of the Year award over drivers such as Neil Bonnett and Jimmy Means.

After surrendering the lead on lap 12, Pearson thought he'd check back in as the leader. After nearly being lapped by Donnie Allison before his problems, Pearson coolly continued. With 100 laps to go, Pearson went back to the point and led for another 30+ lap stretch.

Marcis (recovering from his encounter with Baker) and Darrell Waltrip then traded the lead with another for the next 25 or so laps. Marcis was in his final season with the famed #71 K&K Insurance Dodge prepared by Harry Hyde. Waltrip was in his first full season with DiGard and the #88 Gatorade team. DiGard had just recently hired Robert Yates as its engine builder, and the new guy's efforts were on display with plenty of speed.

With 45 laps to go, Pearson navigated past Marcis - then Bobby Allison - and then Waltrip to take the lead. Waltrip found another gear and dogged Pearson with his Robert Yates power.

Source: Stock Car Racing magazine
The King earned more than his Darlington stripe that particular day. He smacked the wall on three different occasions - yet continued with his boot on the gas.

Source: Stock Car Racing magazine
Petty poured on the steam late in an effort to chase down Pearson. The 21 was g-o-n-e GONE. But Petty still pursued Waltrip's 88 for second. After two or three laps of sizing him up, Petty finally completed the pass for second coming through turn four of the last lap. Waltrip likely filed away that move and recalled it when the two raced again for the win at Darlington's 1979 CRC Chemicals Rebel 500.

Source: Lakeland Ledger
Despite 16 years of racing at Darlington, the poles and six victories, Pearson's win in the Southern 500 was his first in that race. He also became the second driver to win three of Cup's biggest races in the same year. He also bagged the Daytona 500 in February and the World 600 in May. Beginning in 1985, the three races plus the Winston 500 would be featured in R.J. Reynold's Winston Million program.

Petty had a tremendous 1976 in the three big races as well with P2s at Daytona, Charlotte, and Darlington. His major hurdle, however, was that Pearson nabbed the win in all three. The race was also the 63rd and final time Petty and Pearson finished in the top two spots. Of the 63 times, Pearson won 33 of them with Petty capturing 30.

The second finish to Pearson ... again ... was perhaps softened a bit by the announcement STP would return as sponsor of the 43 again in 1977. With multi-year sponsorship deals and driver contracts today, it seems a bit unthinkable that back in the day even the big teams lived on year-to-year deals.

Source: Spartanburg Herald
Though a day of honor was declared for Petty before the race, the governor recognized Pearson with a full week following the Silver Fox's victory.

Source: Sumter Daily Item


Saturday, August 27, 2016

August 27, 1966 - Myers Brothers Memorial

On August 7, 1966, Richard Petty won the Dixie 400 at Atlanta International Raceway. The primary storyline from the race involved Junior Johnson's infamous Yellow Banana Ford driven by Fred Lorenzen and Smokey Yunick's black-and-gold Chevrolet driven by Curtis Turner. Both cars had all sorts of questionable parts and body shaping, yet both were allowed to race. Many were upset at the spectacle though the fact neither car won helped settle folks down a bit.

Following Atlanta, Turner agreed to what was expected to be a one-race deal in Junior's Ford at the next race in Winston-Salem, NC. Though his career had started to wind down, he wanted to give the fans and fellow competitors a fair night of racing if they felt they didn't get that at Atlanta.

The Myers Brothers Memorial 250 at Bowman Gray Stadium was scheduled for Saturday, August 13th - the weekend following Atlanta.

Persistent rain scuttled everyone's plans, and the race was postponed until Saturday, August 27th. So instead of the Turner-Johnson venture starting at Bowman Gray, fans got to see Pop finish third at Columbia Speedway.

When the teams returned to Bowman Gray for the rescheduled race, two drivers who eventually claimed the greatest number of wins in GN/Cup racing - Richard Petty and David Pearson - claimed the front row. Petty won the pole in his '66 Plymouth with Pearson qualifying second.

Everyone, however, had their eyes on the second row starters. GN noob Bobby Allison plunked his trusty red and white #2 Chevelle in third spot, and Turner lined up fourth in Junior Johnson's Ford. Apparently, the two of them decided to join forces again for a second race following Columbia.

Turner was the good-time-having, natural-talent, racing veteran. Allison was a relative upstart. Though he'd had success with racing throughout the southeast, Allison started only a handful of GN races prior to the 1966 season. Though he lacked experience racing against the Big Dawgs, the one thing he did not lack was confidence.

Source: Kannapolis NC The Daily Independent
Kim Chapin included a recap of some fan-stirring action during the Myers Brothers Memorial in his November 28, 1966, Sports Illustrated article about Bobby Allison's arrival in Grand National racing.
Winston-Salem is not an important race on the NASCAR Grand National calendar. The purse is not large, the points toward the driving championship are not many, but everybody shows up, as they had nine days before that at Columbia, SC, for a bit of fun at 100 miles around a half-mile dirt track. At that one, Allison, racing in his own red-and-white 1964 Chevelle, sat on the pole, and Turner, in a yellow 1966 Galaxie owned by Junior Johnson, started beside him. Just before the starter's green flag dropped, a strange announcement came over the track loudspeaker. An unidentified person had just offered Turner $500 if he could lead the first lap. Turner went over to Allison and said, in effect, that if Bobby would let him by, $250 of that was for Bobby.

"I didn't think the first lap would mean too much," Allison said, "and so I agreed." But almost immediately the race turned into a seven-car scramble with a whole lot of fender-slapping going on, heavily involving Allison, Turner and David Pearson. "A lot of people thought the Turner thing started right there," Allison said, "but that wasn't so." (The $500 wasn't so, either. Turner did lead the first lap, but later discovered the offer had been a prank.)

At Winston-Salem, Turner got on Allison's tail and started shoving him all around the track. Allison did the only thing he could. He let Turner's Galaxie get past his Chevelle and began bumping Turner, a natural action but a violent breach of etiquette, which states quite clearly, although as informally as the English constitution, that rookies shall not tangle with their elders, especially if that elder happens to be Curtis Turner. It was now Turner's move, and when he got the opportunity he moved in under Allison and hooked him - spun him out. Again Allison retaliated in the only way he could. He spun Turner out. That ended the preliminaries.
Source: Southern MotoRacing 
By now Turner was a bit more than unhappy with the way the evening was going. He waited on Allison and, when he got the chance, clobbered the little Chevelle broadside. Allison limped to the infield with a dead engine. Dead engine? Not on your life. Turner came around again, this time following slowly behind the safety car, which was leading the pack, yellow caution flags fluttering, while the track maintenance crews cleaned up the debris. By now it was difficult to find an unmarked piece of metal on either car. Allison's "dead" engine suddenly roared to life and - bop-po - he returned Turner's compliment by slamming him broadside. Both drivers got out of their wrecked cars and without a word returned to the pits.
Source: Southern MotoRacing
"I didn't want to do what I did," Allison said, "but I felt I had to. I wasn't happy about it. In fact, I was nervous all the time I was doing it. We really did a job on each other."

That race started and ended the Allison-Turner trouble, apparently with no hard feelings. But NASCAR was not convinced. On the Saturday before Darlington's Labor Day Southern 500, Allison and Turner were paged over the track loudspeaker for an audience with Lin Kuchler, NASCAR executive manager, and Johnny Bruner Sr., a tough old-timer who is the field manager for NASCAR. Kuchler, young and sincere, made a couple of bad jokes and said something like I'm sure there aren't any hard feelings left but if there are let's not tell anybody about them. We love a good image. Now let's shake hands and that will be $100 each, please, for your trouble. Bruner added, "Yeah, I don't imagine there are any hard feelings left, either, but just in case there are, the next time one of you guys tries something like that you both get suspended for the year." 
While all had their eyes on Turner and Allison, Pearson and Petty kept their focus on the race. When the green flap fell, Pearson got the jump on Petty's 43 to take the lead. He stayed there for almost the first 100 laps.

With Pearson hitting the pits for service, Turner took over the lead for a few laps before the fireworks intensified between him and Allison. After the two hot heads found themselves on the sidelines, Petty found his groove. Ol' Blue grabbed the lead when the race went green again, and the King towed the field around Bowman Gray's quarter-mile track for 113 laps.

Pearson followed Petty's tire tracks the entire time. Then with about 30 laps to go, Pearson passed Petty and led the rest of the way to sweep the Bowman Gray's two 1966 GN races. (Pearson also won the track's 200-lap Easter Monday race over Tiger Tom Pistone and Petty in April 1966.) The race was the 16th of 63 times the two drivers finished in the top two spots.

Turner raced yet again for Junior the following week in the Southern 500 at Darlington. After a sponsor-mocking performance at Columbia, the run-in and wreck with Allison at Bowman Gray, and another wreck at Darlington, Junior had seen enough. He fired Pop, pulled himself out of retirement, and drove his own car the rest of the season.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

August 25, 1974 - Michigan's Yankee 400

Michigan International Speedway joined NASCAR's Grand National schedule with two races in 1969. The second one, the Yankee 600, was scheduled for mid-August. From then until now, Michigan's second race has always been slotted for the back half of the month.

The 1974 Yankee 400, the 22nd race of the season, was no exception with its scheduled date of August 25, 1974.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
Coming into Michigan, three drivers had won all but one of the first 21 races. Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty had each captured eight trophies, and David Pearson was victorious four times in only thirteen starts. King Richard was rolling too with three consecutive wins at Atlanta, Pocono and Talladega as the teams headed for Michigan.

Pearson in the Wood Brothers' #21 Mercury and Buddy Baker in Bud Moore's #15 blue-and-white Ford started on the front row.

Yarborough in Junior Johnson's Carling Beer Chevy and Petty in the famed STP Dodge made up the second row. Bobby Allison - the only winner of the season other than Petty, Pearson and Yarborough - qualified fifth in Roger Penske's Matador.

At the drop of the green, Baker hammered down, got the jump on Pearson, and led the first three laps. Pearson took the lead away from Baker on lap four and led for eight laps before Baker recaptured it for a couple more.

Middle Tennessee's independent driver David Sisco then got some prime time exposure by leading four laps. Sisco started 13th and led a total of 15 laps throughout the day on his way to a ninth place finish. The race ranked among the top performances by Sisco over his seven-year, 133-race Cup career. Sisco recently passed away on July 25, 2016, at the age of 79.

After Sisco's time out front for a few laps, the lead changed hands again. And again. And again. And again. Over the course of the 200-lap race, fans witnessed forty-four lead changes. Only three times did a leader bank a double-digit number of laps out front.

The lion's share of the laps were led by two of the big three in '74: Pearson and Yarborough. The duo took turns swapping the lead much of the day. By mid-race, the two of them were the only two to lead.

With about 35 laps to go, Pearson decided show time was over. He passed Yarborough yet again to take the lead and never relinquished it. And as the race neared its conclusion, Yarborough couldn't even hold second.

With 15 laps to go, Cale hit pit road for an unscheduled stop. Petty's Dodge Charger rallied past Cale's #11 Chevy to nab second despite the 43 leading only two laps during the day.

The race was the 52nd of 63 times that Petty and Pearson finished in the top two positions.