Thursday, October 6, 2016

October 6, 1974 - National 500

As the 1974 Winston Cup season neared its conclusion, Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted its annual National 500 on October 6th as the third-to-last race of the year.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
Credit: Bryant McMurray via University of North Carolina Charlotte
Though racing was in a much different place economically in 1974 than it is today, Cup still had a number of fixture teams and drivers including:
  • Petty Enterprises and Richard Petty
  • Wood Brothers and David Pearson
  • Junior Johnson and Cale Yarborough
  • L.G. DeWitt and Benny Parsons
  • Bud Moore and Buddy Baker
  • Nord Krauskopf and Dave Marcis
One driver who did not have the financial security to guarantee future races was second-year Cup driver Darrell Waltrip. After losing to 1973 Rookie of the Year award to Lennie Pond, Waltrip raced in about half the events in 1974. He won one pole and averaged a 14th place finish coming into the Charlotte race. But a second place finish in Darlington's Southern 500 was sandwiched between two rotten finishes - 44th in the Talladega 500 and 35th in the Delaware 500 at Dover. Anemic purse payouts and the absence of a backing sponsor led Waltrip to believe 1974 would be his second and final season in Cup.

Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal via Google News Archive
Another driver facing tough times was California's Dick Brooks. After two years of driving for himself in the late 1960s, Brooks drove for couple of other owners in the early 1970s - including Jimmy Crawford with whom he won at Talladega in 1973. Brooks went back to driving his own cars in 1974 with limited support from Simoniz.

With less than a couple of weeks to go before Charlotte, a fire consumed much of Brooks' shop in Spartanburg, South Carolina. With the tireless efforts of several friends and crewmen, Brooks salvaged a car, had it painted, and readied it for the race.

Source: Spartanburg Herald
Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal
When the cars hit the track for qualifying, Pearson laid down the quickest lap to nab the pole. His top spot came as a surprise to no one. Pearson's winning the pole at Charlotte in the 1970s was about as much of a given as the sun rising in the east. Beginning with the 1973 National 500, Pearson reeled off 11 consecutive poles in the Wood Brothers' Mercury.

Source: Sumter Daily Item
Petty qualified on the front row alongside his career rival and good friend. Baker, Donnie Allison in the #88 DiGard Chevy, and Yarborough rounded out the top five starters.

Source: The Monroe News Star
The race was only two laps old when a serious wreck unfolded. Jerry Schild in his fourth of what turned out to be only a five-race Cup career lost his car coming out of the number four corner. He fishtailed, slid through the infield grass, kicked up a dust storm for the cars following behind him, but continued without wrecking.

The problems unfolded, however, behind the crop-dusting Schild. Baker, Jim Vandiver, Joe Frasson, Soapy Castles and independent driver Richard Childress all barreled through the dust and wrecked as they headed for turn one. Brooks misfortune continued as well. After the shop fire and two-week thrash job, the multi-car wreck also snared Brooks' rebuilt Dodge.

Immediately behind that group was Marty Robbins, country music singer and part-time Cup racer. Robbins had a split second to make a decision between two unpleasant choices:
  • hammer Childress in the driver's side door or 
  • hook right and drill himself into the wall. 
Marty unselfishly chose the latter. He turned his purple-and-yellow #42 Dodge right and pummeled the concrete wall at about 160 MPH - without a five-point harness, full-face helmet or HANS device. Though Childress was spared, Robbins was pretty badly hurt with several broken bones and facial lacerations.

The race continued with additional wrecks and several engine failures. Yet, the event was competitive up front. Fans saw 47 lead changes throughout the day with each new leader spending only a handful of laps out front. Though the lead changed hands dozens of times, the laps were largely dominated by Pearson, Petty, Yarborough, Donnie Allison, and Waltrip.

Pearson led about 30 laps during a couple of segments in the early stages of the race before cutting a tire. Other drivers then took their turn dicing for the lead in the middle stages. With about 50 laps to go, however, Pearson decided it was once again go-time.

The #21 Mercury went to the point and brought the King with him. Petty, seeking his first 500-mile win at Charlotte, kept Pearson honest in the last few laps. He got within about three car lengths, but Pearson took the checkered flag for the win and the season sweep at the track. The Silver Fox also won the World 600 in May - coincidentally also over Petty. The race was the 53rd of 63 times Petty and Pearson finished in the top two spots.

Waltrip led 39 laps, finished a solid third, and was able to continue racing. A little over six months later, he found himself in victory lane for the first time at his home track (drink!), Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway. Less than a year after Charlotte, he parked his own Cup team and began a six-year stint with DiGard replacing the fired Donnie Allison.

With his second place finish, Petty wrapped up his fifth Cup title. At the time, no driver had won more than three titles. Only two drivers have matched the feat since - Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson.

Source: The Robesonian via Google News Archive
Marty Robbins accident ended his 1974 racing season - though not his racing ventures. He returned in February 1975 to race in the Daytona 500. He did, however, end one part of his career in 1974. Marty was the last performer of the final Saturday night Grand Ole Opry at the famed Ryman Auditorium seven months earlier on March 9, 1974.

Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal


  1. Those illustrations/caricatures on the Charlotte race program might be the worst I've ever seen - is the one at the top really supposed to be Pearson? It would be nice to have occasional celebrity drivers like Marty Robbins today (or standouts from other types of racing), but even if that were affordable, the charter system has guaranteed we'll never see it again. Too bad.

    1. Spot on - it was always interesting to see a local driver take on the regular drivers when a race was held at their track.

  2. Yep, the charter system has deprived us of any interesting, off the cuff Cup entries. Just the same old, same old.

  3. I always enjoyed the West Coast guys getting a chance when the Cup series came out here. Now? Ha

  4. Was wondering where you came up with the photo of grand daddy kelly,my grandfather,has been a long time since i've seen it.he raced til age 72 and was mini mod champ once maybe twice i've searched Nash speedway site and can find nothing if you know where to find more info would be much appreciated thx