The 1967 Season
A Squabble, The Streak and Richard Becomes King
By Greg Fielden
|In the 17 Grand National events between the Atlanta 500 and Daytona's July 4 Firecracker 400, Richard Petty won 10 times. Plymouth cars won 14 of the 17 events.|
The 1965 and 1966 NASCAR Grand National seasons were marred by manufacturers boycotts--costly walkouts involving some of the sport's biggest names. The Chrysler boycott in 1965, which pulled Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Isaac, Paul Goldsmith and others off the tour, was particularly damaging for NASCAR and the sport of Stock car racing. The Ford withdrawl in 1966, taking Fred Lorenzen, Dick Hutcherson, Marvin Panch and Ned Jarrett out of action, had equally wasteful results.
The 1967 season got underway without the specter of another boycott. The Ford and Chrysler camp came to Daytona for Speedweeks with their guns fully loaded--although Chrysler had said earlier that the parent company was going to cut back its aid to the NASCAR teams. With all the top guns on hand, the Daytona 500 drew 94,250 paying spectators--an all-time record. Maybe the 1967 season would go on without a hitch.
Mario Andretti scored an upset triumph in the 500. Driving a Holman-Moody Ford, the USAC Indy Car star outdistanced Lorenzen to bag the $48,900 first prize. Andretti's feat gave Ford two 500-mile victories within a month. Parnelli Jones had won the Motor Trend 500 at Riverside in a Bill Stroppe Ford combed by the Wood Brothers. Through the first nine races of the 1967 season, Plymouth and Dodge cars won six of them. Ford had won only three events, but all of them were highly publicized affairs--the Riverside race, the Daytona 500 and a Daytona qualifier. Chrysler, supposedly heavy favorites at Daytona, had dominated the Big D since 1964. But this time they were being left in the wake of the speedier and healthier Fords.
Some of the Chrysler executives subscribed to the old adage that "if we ain't winnin', then they must be cheatin'." Things took an all too familiar twist just before the April 2nd Atlanta 500. From its offices in Detroit, Chrysler sent word that the company was disturbed with the pre-race inspection procedure by NASCAR, the fact that they felt a number of components used by the Ford teams had not met the minimum production standards, and that the new 'templates' which measured the contour of the automobiles were not being strictly enforced.
"We will withdraw from the Atlanta 500 if NASCAR does not uphold its rules regarding engine eligibility, minimum production standards and cylinder heads," said Bob Rodger, Special Vehicles Manager of Chrysler six days before the Atlanta 500. The controversy stemmed from Ford's use of a new intake manifold and cylinder head system. Rodger contended the new Ford parts were illegal because they did not meet the minimum production requirements--that is 500 units manufactured and available through dealers and parts outlets.
Lin Kuchler, Executive Director of NASCAR, said the new Ford manifold and exhaust systems were simply an improvement over those formerly used, and that they were generally available as required by the rules. "Since the 427 c.i. engine has been standard Ford racing equipment for almost two years," Kuchler stated, "there is no question that the basic engine meets our rules. And since the new parts now are standard equipment to go with the already approved engine, there is no controversy as far as we're concerned."
Chrysler factory teams Ray Nichels, Cotton Owens and Nord Krauskopf filed entries for the Atlanta 500 on a contingency basis: They would not compete unless NASCAR ruled the Ford parts illegal. Kuchler wired the three and said NASCAR does not accept conditional entries. "I told them they could show up ready to race, and we'd enforce the rules. And I also told them we consider that the new Ford parts meet our rules. If they don't intend to race, they should stay home."
Chrysler did not receive support from most of the teams they had contracted for 1967. "I have been told that it will be appreciated if we consider not running Atlanta," said Bill Ellis, car builder and crewchief for the Friedkin Enterprises Plymouth team. "But we can't take appreciation to the bank. We'll race at Atlanta." Richard Petty, who sat out virtually all of the 1965 season, had no intentions of being handcuffed to the sidelines again. "We race for a living," said Petty. "They are having a race in Atlanta. We'll be there. In fact, we'll take two cars. If we get a notion, we'll take three cars."
When the race teams were scheduled to arrive at Atlanta International Raceway, Chrysler's Rodger issued another statement, "Drivers of Dodge and Plymouth cars have decided to compete at Atlanta without protest," he said. "The decision was made when NASCAR officials agreed they will reconsider their position on earlier protests concerning NASCAR rules infractions and interpretations." No mention was made of the unwillingness of most Chrysler teams to join the parent company.
|Driving a Ford, Cale Yarborough won the Atlanta 500 by a lap over his competition despite protests by the Chrysler camp.|
NASCAR President Bill France didn't entirely agree with the contents of Rodger's statement. "We agreed to discuss the rules," said France, "but not to reconsider our decision on the Ford engines. It is as legal as the Chrysler engine. We have our own interpretation and Chrysler has its interpretation." Ford won another biggie in the Atlanta 500. Ford cars led for 317 of the 334 laps and Cale Yarborough beat Dick Hutcherson by over a lap.
Ford was cleaning up on the superspeedways, but they were nowhere to be found for the bulk of the Grand National schedule--the short track 100 and 150-milers. In the 17 Grand National events between the Atlanta 500 and Daytona's July 4 Firecracker 400, Richard Petty won 10 times. Plymouth cars won 14 of the 17 events--and during that span, 12 of the contests ranged from 100 to 150 miles.
Junior Johnson, whose Ford won the 250-miler at North Wilkesboro with Darel Dieringer aboard, pleaded with Ford Motor Co. to give him and other teams the go ahead to race in the 100-milers. "You learn something new in racing every time you race," said Johnson. "Whether you're racing 500 miles on a superspeedway or two laps on a dirt track, you pick up little things. I know all the arguments against running all the races, but I don't agree with them. Every time we go up against Petty in a major race, we're up against the education he has gotten in several smaller races that we didn't attend. If we get permission from Ford to go racing against Petty in all the races, we'll stop his streak."
When the teams arrived trackside at Daytona for Firecracker 400 preparations, NASCAR greeted the competitors with a rigid inspection. Of the 50 cars which entered the race, only one passed inspection the first time--the Bud Moore Mercury driven by LeeRoy Yarbrough. Most of the cars which failed inspection did not fit the templates. "We've got to get back to stock in Stock car racing," said Bill France. "We warned the teams we were going to crack down for the Firecracker. Apparently, nobody believed us."
Petty was one who had to make more than one trip to the inspection area. The templates left far too many gaps when measuring the lines of the blue Plymouth. "Finally," said Petty, "I just gave the fender a good kick and it fell into place so it would fit the template." Mario Rossi, mechanic for Jon Thorne's semi-independent team, thought NASCAR was walking along a pretty thin line. "We were about an eighth of an inch off and we had to go take a hammer and beat out a $20,000 race car," said Rossi.
Darel Dieringer said NASCAR's action was not a surprise. "There were some things going on," said Dieringer. "Everybody knew it and it was getting out of hand. Nobody is opposed to strict enforcement of the rules. As long as NASCAR keeps it up, everybody will be happy. When somebody sneaks away with something, it's going to start all over again."
All of the top teams eventually made it through inspection at Daytona. Cale Yarborough racked up another big track victory, leading a 1-2-3-4 sweep for Fords. After the Firecracker, however, the 1967 season belonged to Richard Petty. The 30 year-old Petty had already won 11 races by the mid-point of the '67 campaign. Two of the triumphs were on superspeedways--the Rebel 400 at Darlington and the Carolina 500 at Rockingham. Nine of the victories were on short tracks, including Martinsville, Weaverville and Richmond where he had ample competition.
|One of Ford's brightest stars, Fred Lorenzen, retired in 1967, leaving the automobile manufacturer scrambling for a replacement.|
Immediately after the Firecracker 400, "Rapid Richard" went on a rampage. He won a 300-miler on Trenton's 1.5-mile paved track. He finished second to Bobby Allison at Oxford, ME. Then he reeled off three wins in a row at Fonda, NY, Islip, NY and Bristol. Petty lost to Hutcherson in a close event at Maryville, TN, then won Nashville. A blown engine while leading put him out of the Dixie 500 at Atlanta; Hutcherson won again.
Then the lights went out for everyone but the Level Cross, NC gang. On August 12, 1967 at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC, Petty began a winning streak which borders on the unbelievable. For two months, Petty was unbeatable. Undefeated. Won 10 races in a row. A King of Stock car racing was rising to the top. And as his star beamed brighter, so did that of NASCAR Grand National Stock car racing. "I know of no other driver in NASCAR history who has brought more recognition to the sport," said Bill France. "In bringing the spotlight into focus on the Petty team, he is also bringing added recognition to NASCAR. They have worked many years to achieve success. I'm proud he is setting his records as a member of NASCAR." "We're not doing anything different from what we did last year," Petty said modestly. "We've just been running good and getting a lot of breaks. It's essential to winning, no matter what kind of competition you're against. We've been prepared to win like we are this year ever since I can remember. But we could never get the breaks. This year we are.
"Most of the credit for our success should go to Maurice (his brother), Dale Inman, Smoky McCloud, Tom Cox and Alex Yoder," continued Petty. "Oh yes, don't forget about the Old Man (Lee Petty). He still has a lot to do with this operation." Petty said his success was the product of good, solid teamwork. "We've got a durn good mechanical crew," said Petty. "We nearly always go into a race with the fastest car, or one that is competitive. If the car holds up, then I haven't done my job properly if I don't win. When the equipment is equal to the competition and it lasts, you can count on winning or coming close. Either that or the driver is not doing his job."
As the Petty victories were mounting up, the Ford camp became restless. Car owner Banjo Matthews was assigned to find a 'diamond in the rough'--a hungry and aggressive youngster. "My object is to find a young fellow who has ability, personality, good habits; a person who will be a credit to racing with whom I can work," said Matthews. "We need someone who has a desire to get into Grand National racing, but has never had the opportunity."
Ford, the acknowledged leader in uncovering raw, natural talent, needed to find another Fred Lorenzen. On April 24, 1967, Lorenzen announced his retirement from Stock car racing. Holman-Moody had withdrawn Lorenzen's entry at North Wilkesboro and Martinsville in the spring when he was unable to compete due to stomach ulcers. "I want to go out while I'm on top," Lorenzen said in his farewell speech. "I've won everything that you can win and there's no way to go but down."
Jacques H. Passino, Special Vehicles Manager for Ford, praised Lorenzen: "No man since Barney Oldfield has contributed more to the performance image of Ford products than Fred Lorenzen. Over the years, Freddy has shown himself to be a serious dedicated professional who chooses his races carefully, leaves nothing to chance and gives an all-out effort each time." Ford had called Lorenzen back in the winter of 1960 when he was down to his last penny. They offered him a seat in the primary Holman-Moody car--and the rest became history. He became an instant success.
Now, Ford was looking for another 'diamond in the rough'. Bosco Lowe and Swede Savage were saddled in factory backed Fords at Hickory on September 8. Lowe, 24-year old Sportsman driver, started 10th in the Matthews Ford and finished seventh--17 laps behind winner Petty. Savage, 21, who had been toying with motorcycles in California, drove a Holman-Moody Ford. He started eighth, but blew his engine on lap 226. The Ford effort had come up short as the Petty beat went on.
Later that month, the Ford big-wheels gathered in Dearborn, MI. Topic of discussion was how to stop Petty's winning streak. From the stormy meeting came word that Darel Dieringer had been fired from the Junior Johnson Ford. The reason: "He's not pushing the button."
Dieringer had driven Johnson's Ford in 16 Grand National events. He won once, finished second three times and third three times. Six times he was taken out with engine failure, including the last three he drove. "If I'm not pushing the button," said Dieringer, "what does that say about their engines that have been blowing up?" LeeRoy Yarbrough was hired to replace Dieringer at the Wilkes 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway on October 1.
Jacques Passino and nine other top Ford executives were on hand at North Wilkesboro to keep an eye of the Ford effort--and the fleet Petty. Reporter Bob Moore of the Charlotte Observer wrote, "Ten closely-knit gentlemen have thrown the second largest automobile company into a state of confusion. The company has pushed the button, lettered P-A-N-I-C." Early in the race, David Pearson, Lorenzen's replacement in the primary Holman-Moody car, lost an engine on lap 17. Lorenzen climbed down from Johnson's rig and spoke privately with Pearson, who was then led down to the Johnson pits. Lorenzen felt that Johnson should wave Yarbrough in the pits and replace him with Pearson. After a brief conference, Pearson headed back to the Holman-Moody pits. And Yarbrough stayed in the Johnson car. He brought it home third, behind Petty and Dick Hutcherson.
"I saw Ford's big boss standing on top of Junior Johnson's truck," said Petty. "I knew those Ford drivers were going to be showing what they could do. I laid back in the early going. It was awfully hectic up there in the lead pack. When it opened up, I went." Petty led for 256 of the 400 laps and won going away. It was Petty's 10th straight win and his 27th of the year.
The National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was the next event on the 1967 slate. Ford wasn't giving up--and there were only three races left in the year. A total of nine factory-backed Fords came to Charlotte in an effort to stop the Petty Plymouth. On Thursday, the Johnson Ford with LeeRoy Yarbrough at the wheel, took itself out of the 500. During a shake-down session, the fire extinguisher went off in the car. Blinded by the carbon monoxide, Yarbrough crashed heavily. "The thing exploded," said LeeRoy. "I couldn't see a thing. The windows became fogged and I rolled one down hoping I could see something. But with my safety belt on, I couldn't get my head out the window and I didn't have any idea where I was. I tried to steer it to the outside wall to get an idea where I was."
Yarbrough's heavy lick left the engine, radiator the frame and other parts scattered all over the banking.Yarbrough was a spectator for the race. NASCAR rules did not allow a back-up car to be brought to the track. The week had gotten off to a shaky start. And for Ford, it went down hill from there.
Whitey Gerkin, one of the outsiders Ford had brought to Charlotte, crashed his car in the second lap. Gordon Johncock, driving Bud Moore's Mercury, wrecked in the 28th lap. Mario Andretti, Jack Bowsher and David Pearson were wiped out in a big collision on lap 192. A.J. Foyt, who replaced Bosco Lowe in Banjo Matthews' car, lost his engine on lap 212. Donnie Allison blew his engine on lap 284, and Cale Yarborough cooked his engine with 33 laps to go. Dick Hutcherson was the only industry-supported Ford driver to survive the race--and he finished third.
Ford failed once again to beat Petty. Petty didn't win either, being the victim of an early wreck, which put him several laps off the pace. He parked the car later with a blown engine. Buddy Baker won the race in a Dodge. It was his first Grand National victory.
The third annual American 500 was scheduled October 29 at Rockingham. Ford brought in Jimmy Clark, the Formula 1 maestro from Scotland, and 10 other factory drivers. Latest addition to the Ford camp was a unit headed by retired Fred Lorenzen. During all the in-house bickering at Ford's headquarters, Lorenzen had gotten into the act. He had certain ideas, and he aired them freely. Ford didn't bite. They felt his obstinate ideas were insufficient to produce favorable results.
Lorenzen persistently nagged Ford enough so that a one line conversation went something like this: "If you think you can do better, take a car to Rockingham and do it." Ten days before the American 500, Lorenzen went to work--rounding up a car, crew and driver. He borrowed a Ford from Holman-Moody--a car that Mario Andretti had used as a back-up. He got a 396 cubic inch engine from the Charlotte-based shops, obtained the services of J.C. "Jake" Elder, and then telephoned Bobby Allison. "I've had my eye on Bobby for some time," said Lorenzen. "He runs so smooth and he has experience. I wanted him because I thought he could get the job done. I knew he would be my choice for driver--if I could get him."
|Chrysler driver Bobby Allison was fired for driving in, and winning a race in a Chevrolet.|
Allison had been struggling for most of 1967. He won three races in a lightly regarded Chevrolet in 1966, which earned him a ride in Bud Moore's Mercury at the start of the 1967 season. Moore and Allison enjoyed only mediocre success. When David Pearson left Cotton Owens' Dodge team to fill the vacancy on the Holman-Moody team when Lorenzen retired, Allison hooked up with Owens. It wasn't long before he won a 100-miler at Birmingham, AL. It would be Owens' last win of the year.
During the Firecracker 400 at Daytona in which Allison finished seventh, he was criticized for what some observers felt was a conservative driving style. "I have always raced as hard as my equipment would permit," countered Allison. "I was insulted when some people hinted that I wasn't driving all out in the Firecracker 400. I've always raced to win and I always will as long as I stay in this business."
The annual Northern tour followed Daytona. Owens had no intentions of dragging his car up the east coast when he wasn't involved in the point battle. Allison wanted to race, so he asked permission from Owens to take his J.D. Bracken-owned Chevelle up north. Owens said it was all right with him. Allison peeled off a victory at Oxford, ME on July 11. When Allison returned to Hueytown, he had a message waiting on his desk. Owens had phoned that Chrysler executives had spoken with him and were upset at Allison winning a race in a Chevrolet. Allison was fired for driving in--and winning--a Grand National race in which his Dodge wasn't entered.
When Lorenzen called, Allison was itching to get back into another front line car. He had some personal scores to settle. More importantly, he just wanted to race. Fords qualified 1-2-3-4 for the American 500. Pearson was on the pole and Bowsher was second. Allison put the #11 Lorenzen car into third place and Cale Yarborough was fourth. After Allison turned in the quick qualifying time, Lorenzen told members of the media, "You can color this car gone."
Allison felt the car was capable of winning right off the trailer. "From the first practice lap in the car," said Allison, "I felt this was a car I could win with. I had confidence in the car and complete confidence in Lorenzen's ability to run the crew. He knows what he's doing. Those victories he took as a driver prove that beyond doubt."
Allison led the American 500 on six occasions for a total of 164 laps. He finished a lap ahead of runner-up Pearson. Petty was taken out in a pit road accident with Pearson before the half-way point. Lorenzen had called the shots--all of them--from the pits. "He directed Allison on the track much like a TV director handles the start of his show," said Chris Economaki. "He wrote a long list of orders for Allison to follow, which he did."
Lorenzen told Allison to "Slow Down" late in the race. Allison slackened his pace from 112 mph to 108. "Slow Down Some More" read the next pit board from Lorenzen. Allison slowed down to 104 mph and crossed under the checkered flag with both hands clasped above his head--off of the steering wheel.
Joining the internationally acclaimed Jimmy Clark was Jochen Rindt, who was listed as Clark's designated relief driver. Clark's engine blew on lap 149--he was five laps behind at the time--and Rindt never got a chance to get behind the wheel. Italian Grand Prix driver Ludovico Scarfiotti had been assigned to drive a back-up Friedkin Enterprises Plymouth in the American 500. But the experienced road racer was having difficulty with the big Stock cars on the high banks of North Carolina Motor Speedway.
Scarfiotti complained to NASCAR President Bill France about the car. France had a hand in the negotiations to get Scarfiotti to Rockingham. He had expected a competitive car for his debut in NASCAR Grand National racing. He was able to get the car up to only about 110 mph. France donned a helmet and climbed in the car. Within a few laps, France was turning laps in the upper 109 mph bracket. His impromptu performance ended Scarfiotti's complaints.
Scarfiotti never drove in the race. Crewchief Bill Ellis was visibly upset about having to make four trips to the inspection area before the car was finally approved. He said after all the added work he did to the car, it wouldn't be a safe race car. Ellis withdrew the car. Ford had finally broken its drought. Lorenzen and Allison got the green light to race in the final event of the 1967 season.
The Western North Carolina 500 at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway was the scene of perhaps the most exciting race of the year. Allison's Ford and Petty's Plymouth, near equal in speed, fought each over the half-mile battleground. On lap 479 of the 500-lapper, Petty dove under Allison in the first turn. The King emerged with the lead as Allison wrestled for control. Allison caught back up on lap 494 and put a 'slide job' on Petty as he took the lead for good. "Those 500 laps took five years off my life," said a quivering Lorenzen afterwards. "But as far as I'm concerned, Bobby Allison has a lifetime job."
The 1967 season was uninterrupted by another boycott--although it was a real possibility in the spring. As the season progressed, Richard Petty became a King. And by the end of the year, Bobby Allison had arrived on the NASCAR front. The seeds for one of the most thrilling long-term rivalries had been planted.
Photo credits from top: NCMS, NCMS, CMS, NCMS