Wednesday, June 9, 2021

June 9, 1966 - Maryville's East Tennessee 200

NASCAR's 49-race 1966 Grand National season hit its halfway point with the East Tennessee 200 on the half-mile Smoky Mountain Raceway. The track was located in Maryville, TN - just south of Knoxville.

The 26-car field was missing a key, regular driver and included a local driver racing on his home track. The missing driver was The King, Richard Petty. Six days earlier, Petty's 43 Plymouth blew a tire and pounded the wall at New Asheville Speedway. The wreck damaged the car enough that Petty had to skip races in Spartanburg, SC and at Smoky Mountain as Ol' Blue was rebuilt.

The local racer looking to make an impact was Jim Hunter. Many fans are familiar with the Jim Hunter who worked for Darlington Talladega, wrote as a journalist and publicist, served as a NASCAR executive, and was passionate about racing history. The Jim Hunter at Maryville; however, was a local late model sportsman racer at Smoky Mountain. The 1966 race was his second of five career Grand National starts. Four were on his home track, and the fifth one was just up the road at Bristol.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel
Tiger Tom Pistone won the pole in his independent Ford. He was flanked by another local racer, Paul Lewis. Rookie of the Year challenger, James Hylton qualified third, and David Pearson and Big John Sears rounded out the top five starters.

Pistone seized the lead at the start and began his domination of the race. Lap after lap, Tiger pulled the rest of the field around the half-mile, dirt track. 

Hunter's shot at running with the big dawgs was short-lived. Overheating issues after only eight laps sent his Ford to the trailer before he could even work up a good sweat. Two laps earlier, J.T. Putney - another driver from relatively close to the area in Arden, NC - parked his Ford with engine issues.

The engine issues experienced by Hunter and Putney turned out to be a harbinger of things to come for a third driver - the lap bully Pistone! After leading 72 consecutive laps, Tiger's engine began overheating. He headed disappointingly to the garage, and Pearson assumed the lead.

With Petty at home and Tiger on the trailer, Pearson went the rest of the way unchallenged. He led the remaining 128 laps and won his 21st career race by two laps over second place Buck Baker. Lewis had a great night with a P3 finish. He backed it up by winning Maryville's second 1966 race in late July.

After missing two races, Petty returned three days later. He wore 'em out in winning the Fireball 300 from the pole at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway.

The track remains in operation today though it is now known as Smoky Mountain Speedway. Hunter was inducted into the track's hall of fame in 2014.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel


Friday, June 4, 2021

June 3, 1973 - Dover's Mason-Dixon 500

As NASCAR's shortest season since 1950 near the halfway point, the Winston Cup circuit headed to Dover, Delaware for the 1973 Mason-Dixon 500.

Source: Motor Racing Progamme Covers
From mid-April through early-June, the Cup drivers raced on a variety of tracks yet with a familiar face up front at many of them:
  • egg-shaped Darlington - winner: David Pearson
  • Martinsville's half-mile paperclip - winner: David Pearson
  • the 2.66-mile Alabama International Motor Speedway aka Talladega - winner: David Pearson
  • Nashville's fairgrounds speedway and its funky 1/4 mile pit arrangement - winner: Cale Yarborough (with Pearson at home)
  • the 600 mile test of man and machine at Charlotte - winner: Buddy Baker
As the tour turned early laps on the one-mile, asphalt Dover Downs International Speedway, the Wood Brothers Purolator Mercury continued to be fast. Pearson captured the pole. In the five races in which Pearson and the Woods competed from Darlington through Dover, the car started on the front row in all of them including three poles.

The top five starters are all now in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Cale Yarborough qualified second followed by Bobby Allison, Bobby Isaac, and Buddy Baker. Coincidentally, the next five starters have not made the HOF (as drivers). Independent racers Cecil Gordon and G.C. Spencer timed sixth and seventh. Richard Childress, Dave Marcis, and eventual 1973 Rookie of the Year Lennie Pond rounded out the top 10 starters.

Pearson seized the lead at the start and controlled about half of the race's first 150 laps. Allison and Yarborough split the other half. Yarborough was the lap bully over the next 100 laps as he paced the field for a stretch of 85 laps.

Once the second half of the race began, however, it was Pearson all the way.  Except for two brief times when Baker's and Yarborough's numbers were posted P1, Pearson's #21 Mercury showed the way by leading 241 of the final 250 laps.

Pearson experienced a little bit of drama with about 100 laps to go. The car's handling went away a bit, and the team went to work trying to diagnose the problem as Pearson continued to hold a lead over Yarborough. 

In an era before in-car radios were common, Delano Wood used a pit board to first signal Pearson that his clutch may be the source of the problem. After Pearson apparently conveyed all was OK with it, the team changed the message to TIRES - perhaps an indication of worn out Goodyears or maybe a loose wheel. Again, Pearson (or perhaps the stopwatch) noted diagnosis #2 wasn't valid. 

The team finally deduced the 21's alternator had soured. Pearson began toggling switches to shut down as much power draw as he could. All hoped he could go the distance on the battery without any recharging efforts from the alternator, and that's precisely what happened.

Source: Wilmington Morning News
Pearson's 72nd career win extended a jaw-dropping 1973 performance. In the seven races in which the 21 team competed from Rockingham in mid-March through Dover in June, Pearson and the Woods captured six wins. Their lone blemish was a *gasp* P2 to Baker in the World 600 at Charlotte. Pearson also won back-to-back races at Dover after having led 350 laps to win the Delaware 500 the previous September.

A caution with 50 to go erased Pearson's lead over Yarborough. In a matter of laps, however, Yarborough watched helplessly as #21 pulled away yet again. Cale hung in there to go home with a P2 lead-lap finish. Allison finished third, three laps down; and Richard Petty left with P4, five laps in arrears. 

Source: Philadelphia Daily News

Thursday, June 3, 2021

June 3, 1966 - New Asheville's Asheville 300

With the assistance of relief driver, Richard Petty, Marvin Panch won the World 600 in a Petty Plymouth at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 22, 1966. A week later, the Petty team and the rest of NASCAR's Grand National drivers struggled to keep pace with David Pearson at Dog Track Speedway in Moyock, NC.

Scheduled in the middle of the two races was a trip to New Asheville Speedway on Friday, May 27th. Rain postponed the Asheville 300 to Friday, June 3rd giving the drivers a welcomed two extra days between the 600 and the bullring at Moyock.

Petty captured the pole when the teams returned a week later. The top starting spot was his third in a row in 1966 and his sixth in seven races. The King would eventually extend his streak to eight poles in nine races. 

David Pearson - winner at Moyock the previous weekend - qualified second and started alongside Petty's 43. The next three qualifiers were all a mild surprise. J.T. Putney timed third, Jack Ingram started fourth, and Elmo Langley rounded out the top five starters. 

Ingram's quick lap may have been the least surprising - at least to local fans. Though he'd made only one prior GN start, Ingram knew his way around New Asheville. He stomped around the track for a couple of decades and won more than his fair share of races. Ingram's qualifying effort turned out to be the highlight of his day. He developed fuel line issues early in the race and finished 19th in the 22-car field.

Petty seized the lead at the start; however, Pearson took over the top spot on lap 10. The King attempted to keep pace, but he blew a tire and pounded the wall on lap 90. The DNF sent him back to Level Cross with a P17 - only two spots better than Ingram.

Once Pearson took the lead, the day was over for everyone else. Petty hung around until his tire failure and DNF. Putney put up a reasonable fight and notched a career best second-place finish, albeit one lap down to the winner.

Though Pearson led 291 of the race's 300 laps, the effort wasn't easy. With a bit over 100 laps to go on the 1/3-mile oval, the throttle hung on his Cotton Owens' Dodge. For the remainder of the race, he toggled the ignition switch while rolling through the corners to help avoid launching the car into the fence. The effort was successful, and Pearson captured his 20th career win.

Source: Charlotte News


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

June 2, 1968 - Middle Georgia's Macon 300

After racing on a Friday night at New Asheville Speedway in North Carolina, NASCAR's Grand National teams rolled into Byron, Georgia's Middle Georgia Raceway for the Macon 300 on a Sunday afternoon.

Though the race was Middle Georgia's first Grand National race of the year, the track had already offered local racing action to fans earlier in the spring. Beyond action on the track, Middle Georgia experienced plenty of action under the track the previous fall.

On Saturday, September 23, 1967, the county sheriff and Federal agents discovered a remarkably well-concealed moonshine still under the track and confiscated 3,000 gallons of white lightning. Track owner Lamar Brown was arrested and charged two days later. Authorities opted to destroy the still by cutting it apart with torches rather than the traditional, more expedient method of using TNT. Had they chosen to blow up the still, the track above it would have been destroyed.

Source: Atlanta Constitution
With the track in tact and Brown out on bond as he awaited trial, racing continued as scheduled - including June's Macon 300. David Pearson recovered from an early DNF and a fracas between him, journeyman racer Stan Meserve, and their crews on Friday night in Asheville to capture the pole at Middle Georgia. Dodge driver and Pearson friend, Bobby Isaac, qualified second. 

Tiny Lund qualified third in Bud Moore's Mercury. The day before the Macon 300 GN race, Lund won the Cracker 100 Grand Touring preliminary race in Moore's Mercury Cougar.

Richard Petty had won the previous year's Macon 300 and captured the win in Asheville two days earlier. The 43 team obviously planned to keep their mojo rolling, and The King led 54 laps. His opportunity at a Middle Georgia Threepeat (he also won the track's 1966 spring race) ended, however, when he had to make two unscheduled stops. Twice, sharp edges from broken asphalt punctured his Plymouth's tires.

Isaac paced the field for 11 laps in addition to the 54 led by Petty. The remaining 235 laps (including the final 92), however, belonged to Pearson. His #17 Holman Moody Ford rebounded nicely from a dismal Friday night. Pearson captured his 38th career win, his eighth of the season, and his lone victory at Middle Georgia.

Lamar Brown posted a win of his own. His trial began in December 1968, and quick proceedings resulted in his acquittal. 

Source: Atlanta Constitution


Saturday, May 29, 2021

May 29, 1966 - Dog Track Speedway

In the early part of the twentieth century, greyhound dog racing was all the rage in southeastern Virginia -  especially for the Navy fellers in nearby Norfolk when they were in port with extra coin in their pockets. 

When the local track's sport was shut down by state authorities, the money folk moved about a half-mile south across the state line to the small town of Moyock, North Carolina. 

Trainers continue to run the dogs at the quarter-mile track known as Dog Track Speedway for several years, and the bettors followed. In the mid 1950s, however, North Carolina joined Virginia in doing away with dog racing which put the track out of business.

The facility was resurrected to host auto racing instead of the helpless dogs. The local promoter landed NASCAR in 1962 to begin a five-year streak of Grand National races. Putting their dog days behind them and positioning the track for the future, Dog Track Speedway was converted from a quarter-mile, dirt track to a third-mile, paved surface in time for the August 1964 GN race.

NASCAR's circuit raced once on the rebuilt oval in 1964, twice in 1965, and returned in 1966 for what turned out to be the locale's final big time event - a 300-lap, 100-mile swan song.

The King, Richard Petty, plunked his Plymouth on the pole. Petty raced the same team Plymouth Marvin Panch raced to the win in the World 600 a week earlier. 

Source: Newport News Daily Press
Though available resources note Petty raced #43 at Moyock, it's quite likely he raced #42 as still painted on Panch's Plymouth from a few days earlier. 

David Pearson qualified second. Independents Tiger Tom Pistone, James Hylton, and Elmo Langley rounded out the top five starters.

When the green dropped, the King set sail in pursuit of his first Moyock victory. As he'd done frequently the previous few years, Ol' Blue found an early groove and intended to go wire to wire for the win. With the race a bit shy of the one-third mark, however, the 43's ignition began misfiring. Petty came to the attention of his Dale Inman-led crew, but nothing could be done in the moment to rescue the day. The car was loaded for the five-plus hour tow back to central North Carolina.

With Petty loaded and ready to head home, Pearson took over and went the distance unchallenged. He led the remaining 200+ laps to score his 19th career win. Despite the improvements made to the track, Dog Track Speedway no longer had healthy support and ceased operations later in 1966.

Source: Newport News Daily Press

Friday, May 28, 2021

May 28, 1961 - Charlotte's World 600

When the famed Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959, a smaller track sat right off to its edge - the Daytona Beach Kennel Club. The track was a greyhound racing facility owned by John Masoni. 

As an effort to promote the track and bolster betting... errr, races, Masoni lauched a race team in 1960 and hired mechanic Ray Fox to lead his efforts. He hired Junior Johnson as his driver, and *BOOM* just like that Fox and Johnson won the second annual Daytona 500. Johnson won twice more in 1960 before moving on to Rex Lovette's Holly Farms Chicken Pontiac team in 1961. 

Though not at the same level as in 1960, Masoni returned in 1961 and ended up fielding cars for a handful of drivers. After putting established drivers such as Jim Paschal and Marvin Panch in his cars, Masoni gave young South Carolina driver Davie Pearson a shot in the World 600 - though late in the game.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
A week before the 600,  Richard Petty and Joe Weatherly won twin qualifying races. Their wins set them up for a front row start in the following Sunday's 600 and eased any anxiety they may have had about qualifying. Of course, neither driver ever showed much outward anxiety about their racing efforts anyway.

NASCAR sanctioned two Grand National points races in California as the regulars were in North Carolina. Lloyd Dane won at Riverside's road course the same day the good ol' boys ran the qualifying races in Charlotte. Eddie Gray then won a 100-mile race at the famed Ascot Stadium the day before the 600. No one in either race was a regular on NASCAR's GN circuit, so it's not as if anyone paid a points price for going coast to coast to coast in a matter of a few days.

Ralph Earnhardt finished second to Petty in the first qualifying race, and Johnson was runner-up to Weatherly in the second qualifying race. Unlike Daytona, however, where the qualifying races help set the odd and even starters, Charlotte's heats set only the front row. The remainder of the cars had to re-qualify for position in the days leading up to the 600.

Between Sunday and midweek, Johnson bailed from Masoni's car and latched on with the Holly Farms ride. Needing a driver, Masoni reached out to Pearson who hadn't even raced in the twin qualifying heats. The 1960 Rookie of the Year had made a handful of starts in 1961 with results that were all over the board. He jumped at the chance to get in Masoni's car and promptly put down the quickest lap during Wednesday's session to lock in the third starting position. 

Despite finishing second in his qualifying race, Earnhardt ended up starting sixth in the 600 in Cotton Owens' Pontiac - the team Pearson joined in 1963.

The Petty team entered a second car for the 600. Family patriarch and the all-time winningest NASCAR driver (at the time), Lee Petty, continued his recovery from injuries suffered in a savage, over-the-wall accident at Daytona in February. Yet the team soldiered forward. 

Richard raced his yet-to-be-famous #43 1961 Plymouth, and California's Marvin Porter was hired to pilot the team's #44 year-old Plymouth. Porter finished fifth in his qualifying race yet didn't fare so well when he re-qualified 31st. Things turned worse in the 600 when an engine failure doomed the effort to 45th place finish in the 55-car field.

Little Joe got the jump on Ol' Blue at the start. Weatherly led the first lap before Pearson jumped from his third starting spot to lead the next lap.

Weatherly rallied back to lead the next few laps before Earnhardt put Cotton's Pontiac in the wind to lead 75 of the next 120 laps or so. 

As the race neared halfway, Earnhardt faded a bit as Petty, Pearson, and Fireball Roberts hogged the top three spots. The trio exchanged the lead after each led a chunk of laps and set themselves up for the final quarter of the race. 

Several laps shy of lap 300; however, the caution waved for a vicious accident. Reds Kagle tore through the guardrail between turns three and four. His car came to a sudden stop as the guardrail pierced through the car mangling Kagle's left leg. Remarkably, Kagle survived though he did lose his leg to the accident. 

When the race returned to green after about 25 caution laps to tend to Kagle, Pearson seized the lead. While running second with about 70 laps to go, Petty's engine met the fate of his teammate. The pole winner, who had already endured engine failures in a few other races earlier in the season, cruised helplessly to the garage and had to wait another day for his third win of the season.

With his toughest competitor sidelined, Pearson built a three-lap lead over Fireball. Fox was in position to lead his team to another big win - when racing luck turned against him and Pearson.

As Pearson headed down the back stretch on lap 398 and looking for the white flag, his right rear tire blew. Being on the backstretch helped him a bit as he didn't spin. In the era before safety inner liners, Pearson's tire went kablooey and collapsed to the rim. He dropped to the apron and slowed his speed to a crawl in an attempt just to keep the car going straight for the next one and a half laps. 

Fireball stayed in the gas to make up as much lost time as possible. Though he made up a lap and then some on the leader, Pearson coaxed his car around the final four corners to score his first career NASCAR Grand National victory.

Source: Charlotte News

Friday, May 21, 2021

May 21, 1978 - Dover's Mason-Dixon 500

The middle third of the 30-race, NASCAR Winston Cup Series 1978 schedule opened with the Mason-Dixon 500 at Dover.

Source: Motor Racing Programme Covers
Buddy Baker captured the pole in M.C. Anderson's Chevy. Baker always had a reputation for running fast in small bursts - such as in qualifying. Yet his top spot at Dover was his first pole since the next-to-last race of the 1976 season at Atlanta. Baker's run also made him eligible for the inaugural Busch Clash scheduled for the following February.

Credit: Bryant McMurray / UNCC
Benny Parsons timed second in L.G. DeWitt's Chevy. Coincidentally, Parsons would move to Anderson's team in 1979 as Baker moved to Harry Ranier's team. David Pearson qualified third followed by Lennie Pond in the Ranier ride that would soon belong to Baker.

In an interesting twist on qualifying, drivers participated in some sort of drawing. Only the top 16 numbers were eligible to qualify on the first day. Richard Petty didn't draw high enough to lay down a first day lap. Pearson and his Wood Brothers team also missed the drawing as they were addressing an engine issue before their expected qualifying session. Yet the top 16 first-day qualifiers weren't locked in to their spots. Pearson returned on the second day, posted the third quickest lap over the two days, and knocked down the starters behind him by one spot.

Baker took off at the start to lead the first 24 laps before being passed by Pearson who led 10 of his own. Seventh place starter Darrell Waltrip then got around both of them and set sail out front for a stretch of nearly 50 laps.

Waltrip's career finishes at Dover had been nothing to boast about. He'd averaged around a P30 result for the first few years of his career. In 1977, however, the #88 Gatorade DiGard team found a little sump'n sump'n. DW finished fifth and sixth in Dover's two 1977 races, and the team looked to improve even more in 1978. 

Through a couple of cautions and cycling of pit stops, Baker, Pond, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, and Dave Marcis all took turns leading a lap or two. Waltrip, however, rallied back each time to lead sizable chunks of laps.

After leading a stretch of nearly 100 laps, Waltrip pitted during a caution on lap 333. By that point, he'd lapped most of the field and was on his way to going +1 on all of the field. 

He hit pit road for routine service. A stop that should have been a quick tire change and fresh supply of fuel instead turned disastrous. A wheel stud snapped during a left front tire change. The crew hastily replaced the stud and sent Waltrip back on track. In making the change, however, a brake line was not reconnected. After Waltrip nearly ran through another car, he eased his way back to the pits for the additional repair. After leading about 300 laps and gaining a one-lap advantage on just about everyone, Waltrip lost three laps and eventually settled for a bitter tasting P6. He had to wait two more seasons before capturing his first of two career wins at the Monster Mile.

Source: The Tennessean
Shortly after Waltrip had his woes, Baker had even greater ones. His engine failed, and he returned home with a P23. With the fastest car three laps down and the pole-winner loaded on the trailer, Pearson found his groove and led 137 of the final 150 laps.

Pearson's 101st career Cup win was his first of the 1978 season. It was also his fifth and final Dover win - all earned in the Woods' Purolator Mercury. The 21 team notched two more Dover wins with Neil Bonnett in 1979 and 1981. 

Source: Philadelphia Daily News