Monday, March 7, 2016

March 7, 1976 - Richmond 400

From 1969 through 1975, Richmond's races were 500 laps and about 250 miles. In 1976, the length of the track's two races was dropped to 400 laps and about 200 miles. The lap count continued with the track's new (and current) 3/4-mile configuration in 1989 - though the distance became 300 miles.

The first race under the 400-laps model - the 1976 Richmond 400 - was scheduled for February 22nd as the third race of the season and the first to follow what became the legendary finish of the Daytona 500.

Bobby Allison won the pole in his Roger Penske-owned #2 CAM2 Mercury. Dave Marcis qualified alongside Allison in his #71 K&K Insurance Dodge. Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough rounded out the top five starters.

When race day arrived, however, so did a persistent rain. Richmond now runs its spring race actually in the spring. Back in the day, however, Richmond's first "spring" race was frequently hit with with cold temps, rain, snow, and sometimes postponements. Sure enough, the 1976 edition was postponed two weeks to March 7 - the week after the Carolina 500 at Rockingham. The only hiccup was if Rockingham's race was postponed as well because March 7 was also earmarked as its make-up date.

The race at The Rock went off as scheduled. But a not-so-funny thing happened to Allison on his way back to Richmond. Allison tangled with Yarborough, and he flipped his Mercury multiple times.

Though hospitalized, Allison wasn't seriously injured and still planned to race at Richmond from his top starting spot. Just in case he couldn't go the distance, however, he had his brother Donnie Allison on stand-by. Though I never was an Allison fan, his toughness could never be denied - then or now. Bruised and battered but still standing, Allison started the race, went the distance, and finished third.

Source: Free Lance Star via Google News Archive
Though Allison started P1, Marcis got the jump at the drop of the green. He set sail into turn one and paced the field for almost all of the first quarter of the race. Others soon got in on the action though. Petty and Yarborough controlled much of the middle stages of the race.

With about 80 laps to go, Virginia's own Lennie Pond found himself in the lead in a strong effort at the wheel of Ronnie Elder's Pepsi-sponsored #54 Chevrolet. The 1973 Rookie of the Year led a few laps earlier, but now it was time to hammer down and take home a trophy. After a 33-lap stint at the front and only one other car on the lead lap with him, however, Pond's fortunes inexplicably turned bad. Really bad. He tangled with Ed Negre with about 50 to go, and his day was rurnt. Instead of competing for a win, Pond went home with a dismal 23rd place finish in the 30-car field.

With Pond's departure, The King did what The King generally did at Richmond: lead. He set the pace for the next 40-odd laps and seemed to be in great position to win at Richmond for the 14th time of his career. But a couple of challenges arose to face the 43. One, his Maurice Petty-engine lost not just one but two cylinders. His Dodge Charger somehow continued, but he clearly didn't have runaway speed. Two, a couple of cautions with about 20 laps to go allowed Dave Marcis to get back on the lead lap.

The second caution with 11 laps to go was quite bizarre. While running third, Yarborough popped the inside guard rail, continued on with speed through an opening into the infield, and ran smack-dab into a parked fire truck. Cale's #11 Chevy got the worst end of the encounter, yet he still managed to a fourth place result despite the DNF.

Courtesy of Donald Evans of
The race went green again with one lap to go. Petty and Marcis were the only two cars on the lead lap, and Marcis realized the opportunity was his. He barreled into turn one and got to the inside of Petty. The two battled side by side the rest of the way including a few door rubs along the way.

At the strip, Marcis narrowly won his second of what ultimately became five career Cup victories. Accounts of the margin of victory vary depending on what one reads or cares to believe. I've seen it as close as few feet to a couple of car lengths. Either way ... Marcis was the victor, and Petty missed out on what would have been his 201st victory overall.

Courtesy of Brian Yezierski of
Source: The Progress-Index of Petersburg, Virginia


  1. Actually....Cale came off of turn 4 and got loose and as he tried to correct, the car came around and he smacked the inside guardrail. Bouncing off it, he corrected again, only to find him self hitting the outside guardrail and hanging a hard left. He barely missed the inside rail at the end of pitroad and slid through the dirt and drilled the front end of the fire engine! I know this to be true, because, yes indeed, I was there!!!

    1. On the date of this 1976 race, our first child was two days of reaching 3 months of age, since her birth on December 9, 1975.

      It seemed wise to invoke the old axiom about "discretion and valor" and not make 150-mile round trip to my home track from my current residence in Wilson, NC.

      Therefore, I've always enjoyed hearing eye witness accounts of Cale's encounter with the Henrico County fire engine. Thanks to you and your commenting readers for this enlightening rendition of the facts.

  2. Yarborough's crash into the fire truck would have to be one of the more unusual accidents in NASCAR history.