Tuesday, April 4, 2017

April 4, 1976 - Gwyn Staley 400

Richard Petty ripped through the 1975 Cup season like a Ginsu knife through a mater. He nabbed 13 wins as well as his sixth championship. The Petty Enterprises / STP team had every reason to believe they'd keep the mojo rolling in 1976.

David Pearson notched 18 wins for the Wood Brothers' famed #21 team over the two-year stretch of 1973-1974. He only won three races, however, during 1975 in the Purolator Mercury. The team was ready to prove the single digit number of wins was an anomaly vs. the new norm.

Cale Yarborough began 1975 as his third season with Junior Johnson's Chevy team. Like Pearson, he bagged a double-digit number of wins in 1974 - but slipped to only three victories in 1975. Cale, Junior, and Herb Nab were ready for another shot at knocking King Richard off his throne in 1976.

The Winston Cup drivers rolled into North Wilkesboro in early April for the Gwyn Staley 400, the seventh race of the 1976 season.

Clearly, the story line of the season to-date was the amazing finish between Richard Petty and David Pearson in the Daytona 500. Pearson backed up his superspeedway Daytona win with two more victories at Riverside's road course and then at Atlanta.

The King rebounded nicely from Daytona. The crew thrashed on the wrecked 43, towed it to Rockingham two weeks later, and celebrated as Petty won the Carolina 500 in the rebuilt Dodge. Dave Marcis nabbed a win at Richmond, and Cale put a whuppin' on the field at Bristol.

Wilkesboro was slotted as the third short-track event in the first seven races of the season. The scarce number of short track races now compared to the abundance of them then has robbed today's fan base of some legendary racing facilities, rivalries, and driver skills.

Dave Marcis' #71 K&K Insurance, Harry Hyde-prepared Dodge Charger was fast in qualifying just as it was at Richmond. Marcis captured the top starting spot - his third pole of the season. Benny Parsons - who was born in Wilkes County, NC - qualified on the outside of the front row. Darrell Waltrip timed third, and Dick Brooks notched a surprising 4th in Junie Donlavey's Ford. Yarborough rounded out the top five starters.

On race day, a thunderstorm kept many folks in their cars and trucks until closer to race time. Once the weather moved to the east, folks headed for the gates. Track employees were stubbing tickets as quickly as they could. Assisting them was NASCAR's president, Bill France Jr. - on his birthday no less!

Prior to the start of the race, track officials recognized Wilkesboro legend, former driver, and car owner Junior Johnson by renaming a new section of backstretch grandstands in his honor.

Source: High Point Enterprise
Credit to & courtesy of Keith Hall
Petty started seventh in his rebuilt Dodge and was still sporting the beard he'd grown to commemorate America's bicentennial.

Credit: Mickey York
Parsons got a good jump at the green and led the first dozen laps. Yarborough then took the lead and dominated the rest of the way. He allowed Parsons to lead another dozen or so laps and spotted the 43 the lead for about a baker's dozen of his own. Otherwise, it was all Cale all day. He punished the field and won by a full lap over second place Petty.

The race was the 21st of 31 times Petty and Yarborough finished in the top two spots.

Source: High Point Enterprise
When Cup racing began its rapid ascent in the 1980s, North Wilkesboro expanded its seating. Fans continued sitting in the Junior Johnson Grandstand, but many more seat options became available. Then...racing was gone. The track has remained silent for 20+ years. It has deteriorated to the point of being an unusable facility - despite the cries from well-meaning and hopeless romantic fans that continue to proclaim "NASCAR ought to return to Wilkesboro!" A few years ago, the remnants of the Junior Johnson Grandstand were finally demolished - about 35 years after being named in his honor.


1 comment:

  1. Good stuff as usual. As much as we fans may miss North Wilkesboro, older racers have remarked what a pain it was to work on cars and race there. Likewise, media members have acknowledged accommodations were cramped and the track lacked the capacity to improve or expand facilities required for TV and print coverage. I miss the racing there but things change and, unfortunately, the track basically became functionally obsolete over time. It happens.