Thursday, July 20, 2017

July 20, 1975 - Nashville 420

From 1975 through its final Cup race in 1984, Nashville's fairgrounds speedway was slotted as the next race following Daytona's Firecracker 400. The drivers went from the 2-1/2 mile superspeedway to the 5/8 mile, 18-degree banked short track in middle Tennessee. Coincidentally, the two tracks opened within about six months of one another - Nashville in August 1958 and Daytona in February 1959.

The 1975 edition of the Nashville 420 was slated for July 19th - about 2 weeks after the Firecracker and a bit of a season's breather for the teams.

Richard Petty was The Man in 1975. He had won 8 of the season's first 16 races - including the race before Nashville, the Firecracker 400. The King hit on one streak where the STP Dodge won five of 7 races, including three in a row.

Cale Yarbough started the season in a bit of a bind. His Junior Johnson-owned team had split sponsors in 1974. The first half of the season had been sponsored by Kar-Kare, and the #11 Chevy carried the colors of Carling Black Label in the second half.

Carling was gone when the calendar turned to 1975, however, and the team had no replacement sponsor. To save costs, the team skipped the season opening race at Riverside.

When Yarborough's team arrived in Daytona, the car's official photo was made with prior year colors and no sponsor name on the side. A last minute, one-race deal with Valvoline provided Johnson's team with a few dollars to pay the tire bill, but the team's financial - and winning - challenges continued.

Johnson finally landed a  sponsor in the spring. The company was in his own back yard and had backed him a few times in his own driving days: Holly Farms Chicken.The Kar-Kare / Carling red was painted over with solid white, and a handful of Holly Farms emblems were affixed to the hood and sides.

Many of today's fans are baffled by many of NASCAR's rules, penalties, and its decision-making process in general - and rightfully so. While many are more aware of the sanctioning body's oddities in today's era because of the size of racing, social media, etc., NASCAR certainly had plenty of quirks back in the day to make one scratch his head. 

NASCAR struggled to draw full fields for its races in 1975. One reason: lack of sufficient team sponsorships. Two: woeful track purses. So what was NASCAR's decision when one sponsor offered to sweeten the purse - even if it may have benefited the sponsor's own driver? Read on in this excerpt from the July 9, 1975 edition of The Tennessean.
NASCAR has turned down an offer by the STP Corporation to donate additional prize money to the first Dodge to finish in next Saturday’s Nashville 420.

The offer was intended to help Richard Petty, an STP-sponsored driver, reach the $2 million plateau in career winnings. Petty, who needs $10,172 to break the $2 million barrier, is one of only five Dodge drivers who generally make the 40-car lineup for Grand National races.

The winner’s share of the Nashville 420 is $6,085. Petty, however, can take no more than $5,485 as $600 of the total purse is posted by STP, and Petty’s earnings from the sponsoring corporation cannot be counted in his official winnings.

Yesterday’s offer of $5,000 in additional prize money to the highest finishing Dodge driver was flatly rejected by NASCAR. Lin Kuchler, Executive Vice President of the governing body, told Nashville Speedway promoter Bill Donoho permission for such an offer would be granting special favors to the Dodge drivers.

“They said they would not permit STP to boost the prize money, so it looks like Petty won’t have a chance to win his $2 million on this track,” said Donoho. Petty will likely reach the $2 million mark in the Aug. 3 Pocono 500, next stop on the Grand National circuit after Nashville.

Ironically, Petty narrowly missed another milestone on the local track as the first driver to win $1 million in 1971. Petty won the Nashville 420 that year but left town still $2,357 short of the $1 million mark. And now again it appears Petty is going to just miss making racing history on the local track. 
When the teams arrived in Nashville, Junior Johnson had added a bit of burnt orange to the hood, trunk deck, and hood of the 11. Cale also had a Monte Carlo at his disposal vs the Chevy S3 he raced on the superspeedways. The Monte became his go-to car for him as well as many others through 1980.

With his new colors, Cale and Junior were ready to get back the mojo they had for much 1974. Among their wins during the previous season was a controversial one in the Nashville 420. So the duo looked forward to repeating in 1975.

Another driver who planned to keep both Petty and Yarborough at bay was Darrell Waltrip. With a career still teetering between potential and a busted bank account, Waltrip still had his confidence. He was a two-time late model sportsman champion at Nashville and had 50+ victories at the fairgrounds. He also captured his first career Cup victory earlier in 1975 in Nashville's Music City 420.

Benny Parsons won the pole on Friday night, July 18th. Waltrip lined up alongside him. Yarborough, Petty, and Dave Marcis rounded out the top five starters.

Starting shotgun on the field in a car fielded by Bobby Allison was Neil Bonnett in only his third Cup start and his first one on a short track. Bonnett was no stranger to Nashville though. He had raced several time previously at the fairgrounds - including a win in a 100-lap late model race about a month before the Nashville 420.

Allison wasn't entered in the 420. He was in Michigan for the USAC Norton Twin 200, a twin bill of stock car and Indy car races. He raced his famed AMC Matador in the stock car race a Roger Penske McLaren in the Indy car headliner.

Though night races are now a common part of the Cup schedule, that wasn't the case in the 1970s. Even Bristol didn't host its first night race until 1978. Throughout the 1970s, the only track to host two scheduled night races was Nashville.

But Mother Nature screwed with Nashville's scheduling in 1975. Rather than race on a dark, hot, muggy, summer evening, the teams returned to race on a Sunday afternoon. They then got to race on a bright, hot, muggy, summer day.

Source: The Tennessean

When the green fell on Sunday, Waltrip got an early jump on pole-winner Parsons. Ol' DW - then a young pup - led the first 18 laps before losing a transmission and heading to the garage.

With Waltrip's exit, Yarborough took over the lead and picked up where he'd left off at Nashville the previous summer. Cale put his #11 in the wind and for the most part didn't look back.

The only wreck in the race happened at lap 30 when two Tennesseans tangled, Coo Coo Marlin of Columbia and Grant Adcox of Chattanooga.

Another caution fell just past lap 300 that must have caused Cale's stomach to lurch into his throat. Two-time Nashville track champ and Cup indepenendent David Sisco, lost his car off turn four and looped it down the front straightaway. To avoid clobbering Sisco, Yarborough looped his car right at the starter's stand.

With a lap lead over second place Petty, however, Cale never lost his top spot. He righted his car, got a fresh set of tires, re-entered the fray, and continued on another 100+ laps to capture his second consecutive Nashville 420.

The race was the 19th of 31 times Petty and Yarborough finished in the top two spots. Bonnett had a solid day. He rallied from his 30th and dead-last starting spot to finish 14th.

By finishing second, Petty still wouldn't have cleared the $2 million career earnings mark even if the STP incentive money had been allowed. It seems to me NASCAR was more in-the-way than necessary for a local track promoter's effort to draw attention to a race. But it wasn't the first time such a decision was made - and it certainly wasn't the last.

Yarborough celebrated in victory lane with multiple Miss Winstons - along with 18 year-old Sterling Marlin who photobombed the photo shoot while clinging to a fence post.

Credit: Marchman Family Collection

Source: The Tennessean


1 comment:

  1. So Sterling was an innovator. Photobombing before we even knew what it was!😃