Sunday, October 22, 2017

October 22, 1972 - American 500

For the next to last race of the 1972 Winston Cup season, NASCAR's finest raced in the American 500 at North Carolina Motor Speedway - known simply to most as Rockingham.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
The first round of qualifying was rained out on Thursday. The downtime created an opportunity for some great stories ... and lies ... to be told.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
After a half-dozen successful years with the #71 K&K Insurance Dodge team - including the 1970 championship, Bobby Isaac suddenly left the team after the Southern 500 nearly two months earlier. As race weekend continued, Isaac provided a few more details - but not many more - about his decision to leave the #71 and join Banjo Matthews' team for a couple of races.

Source: Spartanburg Herald via Google News Archive
David Pearson captured the pole in the Wood Brothers #21 Purolator Mercury - as was frequently the case in the 1970s. Buddy Baker qualified the K&K Dodge next to Pearson. Baker left his STP Petty Enterprises Dodge part-time ride to join the #71 team on a full-time basis after Isaac's resignation.

Richard Petty timed third in what was to be his final career start in a Plymouth. Former Rookie of the Year and 1970 sensation for Petty Enterprises, Pete Hamilton, qualified fourth. Future NASCAR Hall of Famers and rivals Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough made up the third row.

When the green dropped on Sunday afternoon, time at the front of the field was dominated by four of the top five qualifiers: Allison, Baker, Pearson, and Petty. Hamilton was the lone top five starter who didn't lead a lap; however, he ran a smooth, consistent race and finished fifth.

As the race entered its second half, however, Allison's Richard Howard-owned, Junior Johnson-prepared, Herb Nab-crewed Coke Machine seized control. Bobby led 217 of the race's 492 laps - including the final 176 - and easily won the race by 2 laps over second place Petty in his last hurrah with the STP Plymouth.

The first five qualifiers ended up being the top finishers of the race albeit in a slightly different order: Allison, Petty, Baker, Pearson, and Hamilton. The race was the 39th of 51 times that Petty and Allison finished in the top two spots.

Clarence Lovell finished twelfth in Don Bierschawale's car - his best finish of a twelve-race 1972 season. Sadly, Lovell would be killed in a passenger car accident near Talladega in May 1973.

Marty Robbins started 36th and finished 26th in the only Rockingham start of the Twentieth Century Drifter's 35-race Cup career. Hmm, 36-26-35. Pretty good sequence of numbers if you ask me. But I digress.

Source: Spartanburg Herald
Allison noted his chances of catching The King for the championship in the season's final race at Texas World Speedway were between slim and none. He was right. Buddy Baker won the race at Texas, Petty was third, and Allison finished fourth. As a result, Richard locked up his second consecutive and fourth overall NASCAR Winston Cup championship - surpassing Lee Petty and David Pearson.

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