Monday, August 14, 2017

August 14, 1982 - Nashville's Winston 200

On June 5, 1982, Mike Alexander and Sterling Marlin crashed as Marlin attempted to pass Alexander for the lead late in the 50-lap Grand American feature. Both went home with wrecked cars, but Alexander got the worst end of the deal with a concussion.

Doyle Ford, Nashville's race director (and later Winston Cup flag man), didn't like what he saw and filed a letter of reprimand against Marlin with the NASCAR office in Daytona Beach. Marlin's reaction? He returned the next week and won. Two weeks later, he won yet again - two days after NASCAR officially placed Marlin on probation for the rest of the season because of the June accident.

As the summer months rolled on, Marlin continued his scorching streak with two more feature wins in July. On August 14th, the track scheduled a 'big race', the 200-lap Winston 200.

While many eyes, cheers, and boos would be directed towards Marlin, the race featured another storyline. Tony Formosa, Jr. was scheduled to make his first Nashville start in 3 years. Formosa began his driving career at Nashville. He also watched his father Tony Sr. field formidable limited sportsman cars for Sonny Upchurch. Today, Tony Jr. is the leaseholder and promoter of Fairgrounds Speedway as Nashville's track is now known.

Source: The Tennessean
Alexander returned to the track after a five-week absence and won the pole for the race. His rival Marlin lined up alongside him on the front row. When the green fell, Alexander snagged the lead and set the pace for the first 20 laps.

But that was all Alexander had. A part failure sent him home early, and Marlin began his domination of the remainder of the race. Again.

Wayne Carden tried to fill the gap after Alexander exited the race. He dogged Marlin over half the race but couldn't quite catch him. A tire issue forced Carden to make an extra stop, and he wasn't able to recover to be a continuing challenger.

Marlin won going away and by six laps over second place finisher, Duke Monroe. His win came just a few days after NASCAR lifted his remainder-of-season probation penalty.

The notice from NASCAR about the lifting of the probation apparently included no explanation. In an interview with Larry Woody of The Tennessean, Marlin said "I guess the people there thought about it some more and realized I hadn't really done anything."

Source: The Tennessean
Marlin sloughed off the wreck with Alexander, the reprimand, the probation, and the lifting of the probation. He just kept on a'winning. Though he wasn't rattled, the track (and Marlin's car) had a couple of jitters during and following the Winston 200.

A couple of limited sportsman drivers and crewmen went to jawing with one another following their race. Track officials and a police officer were monitoring the situation, and the policeman thought things were about the escalate. Six cop cars were dispatched to the track - though the encounter was much ado about nothing.

In addition to the crew feudin', the track's scoreboard wasn't working because of a maintenance worker's mistake. To this day, the track's scoreboard - though prominently positioned - remains virtually impossible to read in any condition other than on a pitch black night.

The third (known) challenge of the night involved Marlin's car. During post-race inspection, officials found Marlin's #14 Coors Camaro had a bit more left side weight than technically allowed. Doyle Ford was willing to award Marlin the win and Duke Monroe his second place finish because a 2 percent variance had been judgmentally allowed during the season.

Carden, however, wasn't willing to accept the ruling. At stake was not only the race win but also the season championship. From his perspective, the decision had big consequences. Marlin's win would also give him the championship. A DQ of Marlin and a win by Carden would give Carden the title.

Ford then made the decision ... to wait. Rather than rule that night on his own, he agreed to discuss the matter with Bill Gazaway, NASCAR's Director of Competition in Daytona Beach.

The discussion with Gazaway didn't take long. A couple of days after the race, Marlin was awarded the win and, as a result, his third track title. Gazaway noted he wasn't a fan of the unwritten measurement tolerance - but agreed the track had to the discretion to have such a policy.

Source: The Tennessean
The decision clearly didn't sit well with Carden who had plenty of strong words for Marlin and the track's inspection process. He probably fumed over the next few months as he looped Luke The Drifter's ♫ Your Cheatin' Car ♫.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

August 5, 1972 - Nashville's STP 200

Forty-five years ago, several of NASCAR's national Late Model Sportsman drivers traveled to Nashville's Fairground Speedways. They prepared to race against many of the local drivers in the STP 200.

Darrell Waltrip was the local hot shoe at the fairgounds and wasn't yet a big timer at the Cup level. He won the track's LMS title in 1970, piled up a bunch of wins, and was seeking sole possession of second place for the most career wins at Nashville.

Source: The Tennessean

Though Waltrip was a full-time racer at Nashville, he had begun his Cup career with two starts in Talladega's Winston 500 and Atlanta's Dixie 500. He was hustling the first weekend in August 1972 as he practiced and qualified for the Talladega 500 and returned to qualify and race at the fairgrounds.

Despite the hectic traveling, Waltrip won the pole for the STP 200 in his #48 American Homes Chevrolet. Another local driver, Charlie Binkley, qualified on the front row next to Ol' DW. Some expected out-of-town drivers didn't arrive in-town on Friday for first round of qualifying. Drivers such as Jack Ingram, Grant Adcox, and Tony Bettenhausen raced elsewhere Friday night. They then made the overnight drive to Nashville for a quick practice, qualifying run, and race.

Source: The Tennessean
Early in the season when Waltrip secured his sponsor, his car was painted all white with blue numbers. Once the season got rolling, the sides of the car were painted red with white numbers.

Despite arriving on the day of the race, future NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Jack Ingram served notice he came to race. Waltrip, however, plan to defend his home turf.

For the first 75 laps or so, Waltrip was king of the hill. He leveraged his top starting spot to grab the lead and keep everyone behind him. He hit pit road on lap 76 under caution and returned to the track.

Two laps later, Ingram made his stop before the green returned - but had an issues that cost him a lap. Ingram believed he finished his stop in time to peel off  Nashville's makeshift pit road on its quarter-mile track and return to track ahead of the pace car. A track official felt otherwise, however, and held Ingram until the field passed. Home cookin' advantage for Waltrip? Who knows. But suddenly Ingram found himself a lap down.

A couple of laps after Waltrip made his stop, he was blackflagged for a missing gas cap. He acknowledged the flag and hit the pits to replace the cap. He returned to the track in the lead, but Ingram made up his lap during Waltrip's extra stop.

The caution flew once again on lap 114. Waltrip pitted once again for fuel that apparently wasn't even needed to make it to the end of the race. The reason for the extra and seemingly unnecessary stop isn't known. What is known is Waltrip and his team lost sight of the fact that Ingram was back on the lead lap.

When the race returned to green, Ingram found himself at the head of the pack with Waltrip at the end of it. Over the next 10-20 laps, Waltrip hammered down and sliced through the field in his pursuit of Ingram.

Waltrip dove low under Ingram coming out of turn 4 on lap 129. His #48 Chevelle twitched, and Ingram kept his lead with momentum on the high side. For the balance of the race, Waltrip stayed after Ingram's brown #11 Chevelle. Ingram kept his foot in it, however, and led the remaining 70 laps to take the win.

Source: The Tennessean
Waltrip had little time to lick his wounds over the pit call miscue. After cleaning up following the Nashville race, he had to make a beeline back to Talladega to race Sunday afternoon. He had a small victory in that he led for a seven-lap stretch in his recently purchased Mercury that had once been part of the Holman Moody fleet.

Following the race, an odd post-race note was published in The Tennessean. The article noted Waltrip was only the second rookie in NASCAR history to lead a superspeedway race.

I didn't realize such a stat was were ever maintained - though I suppose writers started crawling for information when Waltrip's #95 Mercury took the lead. Also, the internet for the general public clearly wasn't up and running, and information from sources such as wasn't just a click away.

But from what I've been able to determine, I'm not sure either fact noted in the column is correct. Billy Wade is not credited with ever officially leading a lap at Daytona. A few examples of other rookies leading a superspeedway race before Waltrip, however, include:
  • Tiger Tom Pistone - 1959 Daytona 500
  • Richard Petty - 1959 Southern 500
  • Richard Brickhouse - 1969 Talladega 500
  • Earl Balmer - 1964 Firecracker 400