Tuesday, May 11, 2021

May 9, 1970 - Darlington's Rebel 400

NASCAR began the second quarter of its 1970 Grand National division season with the Rebel 400 at Darlington on Saturday, May 9th. Because of state blue laws, Darlington's races were held for years on Saturday in the spring and Labor Day Monday in September for the Southern 500. 

The 1970 Rebel edition was the final one held on Saturday. A change in law or some sort of lobbying resulted in the 1971 race being scheduled for a Sunday. Darlington didn't host another Saturday Cup race until 2005 when their relocated Southern 500 was booked the day before Mother's Day for the better part of eight years.

Chargin' Charlie Glotzbach set a track record in winning the pole in his purple, winged Dodge Daytona. Bobby Allison timed second in another winged Daytona prepared by Mario Rossi. 

Defending and three-time NASCAR Grand National champion, David Pearson, qualified third. During practice prior to qualifying, Pearson clipped the wall four times. Crew chief Dick Hutcherson made several spring adjustments, and the changes helped as Pearson logged the third quickest lap without any additional misadventures with the fence. Nonetheless, the track's PA announcer had a bit of fun at Pearson's expense by introducing him to the crowd as David "Wall" Pearson.

Pearson was flanked by Pete Hamilton who was driving a second Plymouth entry for Petty Enterprises. After Hamilton's qualifying run, he commented candidly to reporter Bob Myers:
I honestly believe we are running too fast for this race track. In the fourth turn, we are headed straight for the wall coming out. There it is near impossible to avoid hitting the wall. - Charlotte News
Though Hamilton was in a second Petty team car, he had the only Petty Superbird in the race. His teammate, the King, qualified his Superbird seventh on the first day of time trials. After logging his lap, Petty returned to the track during a follow-up practice session. Just as Hamilton had observed, Petty lost the handle coming off turn four, popped the wall, sailed back across the track, and pounded the pit wall.

Source: Greenville News
Source: Charlotte News
The crew loaded the trashed Superbird, forfeited their starting spot, returned home to Level Cross, and readied the team's Plymouth Roadrunner short track car to qualify again the next day. After a quick night's work - likely with limited, if any, sleep - the team returned with its backup. The Roadrunner was plenty quick, and the King timed 12th - only five spots lower than his forfeited day one slot. Yet his weekend problems were far from over.

Glotzbach grabbed the lead at the drop of the green. After a few laps, Allison roared back by him to lead for over 50 laps. 

After the two Dodges led the first 60 laps, its factory cousin let it be known it wanted some prime time exposure. Hamilton's Superbird seized the lead for a couple of laps before teammate Petty put the Roadrunner out front. 

Allison, however, wasn't done. His red and gold Daytona returned to the point to lead a couple of stretches for another 30 laps or so. Near halfway though, the Dodge's Hemi could handle no more. Allison was done for the day, and he headed to the garage to join Glotzbach who'd also retired with engine issues about 10 laps earlier. After starting on the front row, Glotzbach and Allison ended their days by finishing 22nd and 20th, respectively.

Four laps after Allison's exit, Pete Hamilton spun and destroyed the Petty team's second Superbird in only a matter of days.

With Glotzbach's and Allison's winged Daytonas out of the race and Hamilton's wounded Bird loaded for the ride home, Petty's short-track Roadrunner suddenly became the stalwart Mopar on the track. The car was fairly sporty after having led a few laps. The 43 bunch just needed to wrap up the day and hope for better ones down the road.

About 25 laps after Hamilton's wreck, however, the Petty team's weekend devolved from bad to worse. Much worse. Similar to the wreck he experienced in the Superbird, the King destroyed a third team car with far more force and in the most spectacular fashion. As he did following qualifying, Petty pounded the wall coming off the fourth turn and drilled the pit wall. The force broke the cement wall and sent Petty's Roadrunner into a series of terrifying flips - right in front of the packed grandstands. 

The 43 crew, driver LeeRoy Yarbrough, Francis Allen (a Yarbrough crewman), and Glotzbach crewman Buck Brigance immediately broke into an all-out sprint to the car. Many fans and crew members feared the worst - especially when it seemed his body had come apart and ruptured blood onto the track. Though bad optically, it was several red shop rags that had flown out of the car. For much of his career, the King kept a wet rag in his mouth in an effort to help with hydration.

Though he was alive, the battered driver suffered a dislocated shoulder. The injury forced him to miss the next five races. The team skipped four short track races and fielded former team driver Jim Paschal in the World 600 at Charlotte.

After Petty's wreck, the race concluded with 100 caution-free laps. The final third featured great racing between factory rivals on the track but between drivers who were good friends off the track. Pearson in his Holman Moody Ford battled Bobby Isaac in the Harry Hyde-prepared Dodge Daytona. Each took turns leading sizable chunks of laps before the other went back out front.

With about 30 laps to go, however, Isaac drifted high with a cut tire. Pearson decided it was go-time and seized the moment. He eased by Isaac and led the remaining laps to capture his 58th career win. The victory was his second Rebel 400 win in three years after also capturing the 1968 Rebel 400

Though Petty spent the night in a hospital bed as his rival celebrated in victory lane, the King exhibited class as he always has. He called Pearson on Sunday morning to congratulate him on his win. 

Source: Charlotte Observer

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