Monday, May 8, 2017

May 8, 1976 - Music City USA 420

I started following Winston Cup racing in 1975. As I've blogged many times, I latched onto Richard Petty as my favorite driver. As my family and I started attending Saturday night races at Nashville Speedway, I assumed Petty would also win the Cup races at the Fairgounds. After all, the 43 had banked eight Nashville wins from 1964 through 1974.

In May 1975, Darrell Waltrip notched his first career Cup win on his home track in the Music City 420. Cale Yarborough dominated the Nashville 420 in July 1975 and won by a full lap over the second place finisher. The upside I suppose was that The King was the one who finished second.

The 1976 Music City 420 was the next opportunity for Petty to get back to his winning ways at Nashville.

The King had already experienced a topsy-turvy start to the season. He lost to David Pearson in the Daytona 500 in what was arguably the craziest NASCAR Cup finish in history. His team rallied two weeks later, however, to win the Carolina 500 at Rockingham. In other races leading into Nashville, the STP Dodge either went home with a top 5 or a DNF.

Source: The Tennessean
While I was personally interested in whether Petty would experience feast or famine in the 420, his up and down 1976 season wasn't the primary story line. Two others trumping it involved an old guy and an upstart.

The old guy was two-time NASCAR Grand National (and now NASCAR Hall of Famer) Buck Baker - father of perhaps his better known son, the late Buddy Baker. Buck won two titles in the 1950s and raced actively in the Grand National division through the mid 1960s. Over the next ten years, he only raced sporadically in NASCAR's Grand National, Grand Touring, and Grand National East divisions. He got the itch again in 1976 and started eight Cup events. Nashville was to be the third one of the season for him.

Source: The Tennessean
The young'un making headlines was Sterling Marlin, Coo Coo's boy. After making only four local late model sportsman starts - including the fourth one the night before the 420 - Sterling prepared to take over his dad's #14 Cunningham-Kelly Chevrolet to make his first career Cup start.

Benny Parsons won the pole, and Yarborough qualified alongside him. As noted earlier, Cale won the previous Nashville race and had already won at Bristol and North Wilkesboro prior to the 420. Dave Marcis, Bobby Allison and Buddy Baker rounded out the top five starters. Waltrip, the defending race champion, timed sixth, and Petty started seventh.

Both Buck and Sterling made the race, but neither had a desirable starting spot. Sterling laid down a solid lap in the first round of qualifying and would have started 12th had he kept it. He chose to try again the next day, however, and missed things badly. His inexperience and bad decision relegated him to a 30th place start - at the end of the field.

In the 1975 Nashville 420, Cale dominated by leading 385 laps. He was an even stingier lap bully in the 1976 Music City 420. He led 398 of the 420 laps leaving only crumbs for the others.

Sterling's Cup debut was short-lived. He lasted only 55 laps before the oil pump went out on his family Monte Carlo, and his first race ended with a DNF.

Buck did alright for the rusty, crusty ol' man that he was. He finished 16th in the 30-car field and was the the last car still running at the end of the race.

As he had the previous July, Cale nabbed the money, trophy, and kiss. The win was also Cale's third in four short-track races of the season to date.

Also as happened the previous July, the King went to the next race with another second place finish. The race was the 22nd of thirty-one times that Petty and Cale finished in the top two spots. Considering the fortunes of his season, a P2 certainly outweighed a DNF. But after a 13-win season in 1975, Petty was expecting more Ws - as was I as a new fan!

Source: The Tennessean
Though some had concerns about Sterling's entry based on his truly limited experience, he handled himself well. He didn't make any notable bone-headed moves, and he wasn't a potential problem for the field after 50+ laps anyway. Marlin didn't become a Cup regular until 1983, but I'm sure he still recalls that first start at his home track.

Source: The Tennessean


  1. Love the Faron Young sponsorship on Buck Baker's ride.

  2. Sponsorship by "The Sheriff" on Buck's car was pretty cool.

  3. Thanks for sharing!