Thursday, March 17, 2016

March 17, 1968 - Bristol's Southeastern 500

The 1967 NASCAR Grand National season was dominated by Richard Petty. The King won 27 races, 10 in a row, and his second GN title. The 1968 season began within a few weeks following the end of the 1967 one.

Petty started 1968 with a second-place finish at Middle Georgia Raceway in Byron, Georgia; a win in Montgomery, AL; a Q4/P10 at Riverside; and a Q2/P8 in the Daytona 500. The next two races were postponed because of snow at Asheville-Weaverville and a day-long, soaking rain at Rockingham. So interestingly, the next race to follow Daytona became the Southeastern 500 at Bristol International Speedway on St. Patrick's Day.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
Bristol was still known by it's original name before being re-branded in the late 1970s as Bristol International Raceway and later as the current Bristol Motor Speedway.

The King kept his early season mojo going by winning the pole. David Pearson qualified alongside Petty on the front row. Cale Yarborough in the #21 Wood Brothers Ford and Lee Roy Yarbrough in Junior Johnson's #98 Ford made up the second row.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel
At the drop of the green, pole-winner Petty jumped ahead of Pearson as they headed for turn 1. Pearson, however, pulled back even with Petty and then ahead of him to lead lap 1 ... and then 33 laps more.

Source: Bristol Herald Courier
Petty then got around Pearson to lead an 11-lap stint. But Pearson's blue and gold #17 Holman Moody Ford re-took the lead and set sail for 50 laps. The rest of the race had to be really fun to watch. Pearson, Petty, Yarbrough and Yarborough all took turns leading healthy chunks of laps before one of the others returned to the point.

As was the case at Rockingham, the Tri-Cities got a healthy dose of rain. Fortunately for race fans, Bristol's rain happened on Saturday vs. Sunday. The downside, however, was the postponement until July of the 300-lap Grand Touring preliminary race. Though the track was dry enough to race on Sunday, the same could not be said for pit road. It's amazing to see how wet pit road remained for almost all of the race.

With about 50 laps to go, Lee Roy was leading with Pearson second and #43 in third. Petty passed Pearson to take second. As the two barreled into turn one, however, Petty's brakes went away. The 43 made a bee line for the wall, but Petty fortunately saved the car and soldiered on. Pearson took the opportunity to dive back under Petty and reclaimed the spot.

Remarkably, Petty stayed on track and in contention despite having almost no brakes. He adjusted his approach to get on and off the corners to hang tough with the 17 and 98. The late laps included some fantastic racing including a three-wide battle between Pearson, Petty and Yarbrough.

With 20 to go, Petty's lack of brakes resulted in a second and race-deciding slide. His first slide through turn 1 took him near the wall. His second slide through turn 4 took him into the wall. He recovered and held off a fading Yarbrough to finish second. Pearson, however, got the needed break and drove away comfortably to the checkers.

Source: Bristol Herald Courier
Pearson's win was his first victory in nearly a year. The win was also his first in a Ford. The Silver Fox's first three GN wins were in a Pontiac. He then won several races from 1964 through 1967 in Cotton Owens' Dodges before joining the factory-backed, Holman Moody Ford team midway through 1967.
Source: Ford Racing Archives via Autoextremist
With Brenda Clayter - Source: Sporting News
Source: Bristol Herald Courier
Source: Knoxville News Sentinel
The race was the 20th of 63 times that Petty and Pearson finished first and second.


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