Sunday, May 15, 2016

May 15, 1966 - Richmond 250

NASCAR's Grand National drivers rolled into Richmond's half-mile, fairgrounds dirt track on May 15, 1966 for a 250-lap race. The storylines of the season after about a third of it had been completed were:
  • Richard Petty's second win in three years in the Daytona 500
  • A four-race win streak by David Pearson in Cotton Owens' Dodge
  • The full-time return of the factory-supported Plymouth and Dodge teams 
  • A withdrawal of factory support for Ford teams after NASCAR endured a similar protest by Chrysler a season earlier.
Source: Free Lance Star via Google News Archive
Fans got a pleasant surprise during qualifying for the race. James Hylton qualified second, and future NASCAR pace car driver Elmo Langley timed third.

Ford's withdrawal of support for its marquis teams - namely Holman Moody and the Wood Brothers -  didn't mean, however, the absence of all Ford racers that season. Dave Fulton, simply a race fan at the time but a future employee of Paul Sawyer's Richmond Raceway, shared this memory from race day about an independent Ford driver who won the pole.
As a high school senior in Richmond, VA on May 15, 1966, Tiger Tom Pistone gave me and my buddies one of our most cherished NASCAR memories. On that spring Sunday, driving his powder blue #59 1964 Ford Galaxie, Tiger Tom blistered the old dirt half-mile Richmond Fairgrounds layout with a record, all-time, NASCAR Grand National qualifying speed of 70.978 mph - a record that stands to this very day and will never be broken. Only three more dirt races were run on the Richmond track before it was paved for the September 1968 GN race, and nobody ever again approached Tiger's one-lap speed record on the dirt.

To this day I feel privileged to tell folks that I saw Tiger Tom Pistone set a NASCAR track record that will never be broken on a track that I dearly loved. For those who never saw a NASCAR Grand National stock car kick up a roostertail of dirt as it slid sideways, you are part of the underprivileged NASCAR generation.
Tiger grabbed the lead as the green flag fell, and he kept his dual, four-barrel carb'd, independent Ford at the point for the the first 22 laps. Pearson then took the lead from Pistone, and it was pretty much his race to lose the rest of the way.

Pistone's top starting spot didn't help him in the long run. He burned a piston, and ended the day with a DNF and 16th place finish in the 30-car field. Like Pistone, Langley's starting position near the front didn't mean anything when the day was done. After racing for a while against King Richard, he lost a differential in his two-year old Ford. The final results showed Langley with a 17th place DNF - one spot behind Tiger.

After Pistone's 22 laps out front to begin the race, the day belonged to Pearson. He led 216 of the remaining 228 laps to capture his fifth win of the season.

Petty, who started tenth, hung around, but really offered no substantive competition to Pearson that day. He returned home to Level Cross with a second place finish, two laps down to the winner. By finishing two laps behind Pearson, it's tough to say Petty's second place finish was an almost win. The race was, however, the twelfth of 63 times the two drivers finished first and second.

Source: Free Lance Star via Google News Archive
Big thanks to Russ Thompson and Jerry Bushmire for sharing images from Stock Car Racing magazine.



  1. In the green flag photo,my buddy Frank Buhrman and I are standing in the top row of the bleachers to the right of the flag stand.

  2. Pretty cool history, please tell more and more

  3. I wonder how a current Sprint Cup car would go on a dirt track?