Thursday, March 10, 2016

March 10, 1964 - Richmond 250

Richmond, Virginia has been a fixture on NASCAR's Grand National / Cup schedule since 1953. The track has seen a number of changes including:
  • Multiple names
  • Lap count variances
  • A move from dirt to asphalt, and
  • Track configurations
Yet, the track has remained a constant for race fans for over sixty years. One could argue Richmond has been the most progressive and fan-responsive track over the decades.

The first of two races at Richmond in 1964 - the Richmond 250 - was scheduled for Sunday,  March 8. Petty Enterprises planned to field two Plymouths for Richard Petty - fresh off his first Daytona 500 victory - and for Buck Baker who finished 12th in the Petty car at Daytona after having some issues with his Hemi engine.

When the team arrived in Richmond, however, it was the King's brother - Maurice Petty - who took the wheel of the family's second factory Plymouth. It's unclear when the decision was made to have Chief race rather than Baker.

Source: The Progress-Index of Petersburg, Virginia
Drivers representing the Blue Oval - Ford Motor Company - qualified for the top three starting positions. Ned Jarrett in a Ford, Billy Wade in Bud Moore's Mercury, and Mavin Panch in the Wood Brothers Ford started 1-2-3. Maurice Petty showed up his older brother a bit by qualifying fourth. Rounding out the top five starters was Ralph Earnhardt. Neither Maurice or Ralph ever raced full-time in the Grand National division, and Richmond represented the fifth of only eight times the two drivers were in the same race.

When the green flag fell, Gentlemen Ned served notice his Ford was the one to beat. He leveraged his top starting spot to an early lead - and stayed there. Turn after turn, lap after lap, Jarrett's 11 paced the field. Until.

Rain arrived 25 laps before the halfway point, and the rest of the race was postponed after only 100 laps had been completed. The remaining laps were to be run the next clear day.

Source: The Progress-Index of Petersburg, Virginia
The track was still far too saturated and muddy to run the remainder on Monday. Instead, the race was restarted on Tuesday evening, March 10. The race became Richmond's first under the lights - a tradition later adopted in 1991 on Richmond's current 3/4-mile configuration.

Junior Johnson was running in fifth place when the race was postponed. But when the remainder of the race was moved to Tuesday, Junior Johnson said he had another obligation and couldn't continue. Buck Baker - apparently bounced from the Petty Plymouth - took over Junior's Dodge and raced it the rest of the way to a fourth place finish.

Dave Fulton worked in racing-related promotions for several years - in the early 1980s with Wrangler and Dale Earnhardt, mid 1980s with Southland Corporation when their 7-Eleven brand sponsored Kyle Petty, and Richmond Raceway as an assistant to promoter Paul Sawyer. As a kid, however, Fulton was simply a wide-eyed fan. He attended the 1964 Richmond 250 as his first GN race and shared his memories from it:
I was 15. That was the day I first heard the late announcer Ray Melton for the first time intone the "Most Famous Words in Sports":

"Jellllyyymennnnnnnnnnnnnnnn...START YOUR ENGINES!"

That was the day I saw my first race. It was the first time I'd see Richard Petty, who'd just won his first Daytona 500. Didn't get to see my uncle's favorite - Joe Weatherly, a terror on the Richmond dirt with both stock cars and motorcycles - because he'd been killed in January at Riverside.

Dad dropped me off after church on Sunday. I paid the entire $5 I had in my pocket for a 4th turn bleacher seat.

The first time Tiny Lund came by me in practice with his Ford kicking up a rooster tail of dirt sideways, I was hooked for life.

After the parade of visiting pace cars, Ray Melton told me to clap my hands, stomp my feet, whistle and cheer as my favorite driver passed in review (I didn't have one yet).

Ray said these were the stars and cars of NASCAR's elite Grand National racing division. He said the cars were painted in all the colors of the rainbow and the drivers came from country stands and crossroads strands. No announcer since has ever gotten a stock car crowd so worked up as Ray Melton did in his prime.

I had heard all about the new "Hemis" and decided I'd pull for them. Billy Wade replacing Joe Weatherly in Bud Moore's potent Mercury had other ideas.

Hot Damn! I never knew two cars could run side-by-side while broadsliding through Richmond's wide sweeping dirt corners!

And the sound - the heart-throbbing, bleacher-shaking sound - and the smell of the rubber and gasoline and the dirt clods and those good ol' boys rooting each other out of the groove (much better than bump drafting). All the way across the track in the dust of the first few laps one car stood out. The announcer said it was painted electric blue, but that famous color was Petty Blue carried on the #43.

Unfortunately, before the race was at the halfway point, the rain began to pour. The race was postponed.

The track was too muddy to race on Monday and even during the day on Tuesday. Finally, the race resumed on a cold Tuesday night in March under the lights. It was wonderful!
Jarrett couldn't continue his Big Mo when the race restarted. He led another couple of laps but surrendered the lead to Wade. Also, David Pearson quickly picked up the scent of the lead and moved up from his fourth place restart spot.

Richard Petty made his presence known as well. He went toe to toe with Wade once the race resumed. Wade led a 33-lap hitch, King then paced the field for 25 laps, and then Wade went back out front for another stretch of 48 laps.  Then things got really fun.

Pearson watched Wade and Petty battle as he had his own hands full racing Jarrett. He finally cleared them all and took over the top spot. With only sixteen laps to go, Jarrett's dominant Ford on Sunday cooked an engine. Then Petty separated himself from Wade's Mercury who faded back to third.

Petty gave chase to catch Pearson, but the Cotton Owens-prepared Dodge was too strong once it found the front. Pearson led the final 36 laps of the race to capture the win with Petty a half-lap back in second.

The win was Pearson's first victory since 1961 and his first in a Dodge. The race was also the third of 63 times Petty-Pearson finished 1-2.

Source: The High Point Enterprise


  1. Seems like yesterday. Thanks for the nice article on what will always be that special first race for me.

  2. Chase,
    I can still read this over and over and over.
    Thanks for the nice writeup.