Saturday, April 9, 2016

April 9, 1966 - Greenville 200

Richard Petty and David Pearson were sidelined from NASCAR racing for much of the 1965 season because of a Chrysler boycott. With the suits from Mopar calling the shots (and controlling the flow of funds), Petty's Plymouth and Pearson's Cotton Owens-owned Dodge teams were caught in the crossfire.

Chrysler and NASCAR resolved their issues midway through the season, and Petty and Pearson began a gradual return to racing. In February 1966, Petty seemed ready to return to his dominant form fans last saw in 1964. He notched his second Daytona 500 win, and the team had to be optimistic about continuing their winning ways and getting a second title.

Pearson and Owens, however, had different ideas. They too had the Hemi engine that Petty's 43 ran. And as the meat-and-potatoes short-track portion of the really got underway in 1966, the #6 Dodge was indeed formidable.

Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina hosted the eleventh race of the 1966 season, the Greenville 200, on April 9th - the day before Easter Sunday. The drivers had already raced in Columbia, South Carolina on Maundy Thursday, and they were slated to race again on Easter Monday at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem. The circuit took Easter Sunday off, but my hunch tells me plenty of shops were humming to tweak cars for Monday after the two South Carolina races.

The only reason for auto manufacturers to support race teams - then and now - is to sell cars. Period. The only reason for race teams to compete, however, is to pursue wins. Generally, those two agendas align. Sometimes they don't. Dodge was pushing its 1966 Charger to consumers. Owens and Pearson, however, hadn't yet figured out how to make the model a winning race car. Instead, they fielded and won with a 1965 Dodge and even a 1964 model converted from a show car. The duo brought a two-race winning streak in the older model to Greenville.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
Tiny Lund won the pole, and Pearson qualified alongside him. At the drop of the green, Tiny got the hole shot and led the first 39 laps. Pearson then went to the point and matched Tiny with a 42-lap segment of his own out front. Lund did manage to squeeze in three more laps as the leader - presumably during a pit stop sequence.

Pearson, however, was determined to put the aged Dodge back out front for keeps. He retook the lead, and he led the final 116 laps to win his third consecutive race by a full lap over Petty. Lund developed transmission issues, lost six laps to Pearson, and still finished third despite his DNF.

Pearson's win streak grew to four with a win two days later at Bowman Gray. The race was also the 11th of 63 times Petty-Pearson finished 1-2 finish in their careers.


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