The 1969 Season
The Professional Drivers Association and the Infamous Talladega Boycott
By Greg Fielden
|Bill France Sr. stood up to NASCAR's biggest stars in 1969 and won, squashing the second unionizing attempt in eight years.|
In 1961, NASCAR driver Curtis Turner met with some Teamster Union leaders in Chicago and quickly laid the groundwork to organize the race drivers into the Federation of Professional Athletes; a proposed affiliation with the Brotherhood of Teamsters. Within a week, Turner had made an official announcement regarding a driver's union. Targeted benefits for members were better purses, more adequate insurance coverage, pension plans, a scholarship for children of deceased members and upgraded racing facilities.Turner's ideas were readily accepted among the NASCAR drivers, but he made a number of mistakes.
As part of the bargain, Turner was supposed to campaign for pari-mutual betting on the races. There were a number of hardcore traditionalists who were dead set against opening the door to organized gambling. Turner also made his announcement in haste, saying that a majority of drivers had signed up when they hadn't. By allowing the entire auto racing industry in on his "secret," he found himself a lonesome target to NASCAR President Bill France's attack. When Turner needed the drivers to back him as a unit, he had only Tim Flock still standing beside him. Turner and Flock were suspended "for life," and the FPA fizzled out.
In August of 1969, there was another attempt to organize the drivers into a union. Led by superstar Richard Petty, who surrounded himself with the biggest drawing cards in Stock car racing, the drivers kept the lid on their private discussions. On Thursday evening, August 14, three days before the inaugural Yankee 600 at Michigan International Speedway, eleven drivers met in Ann Arbor, MI. "Eleven of us -- all drivers -- formed it to begin with," said Petty. "It was an idea many people had been working with for a long time. We got together one night up in Michigan and agreed."
Before the meeting broke up, the Professional Drivers Association had been formed. The main goals of the PDA were very similar to Curtis Turner's original guidelines of the FPA. "Our main goals are a retirement plan and insurance plan for drivers, the formation of a uniform pension plan, and driver and crew convenience at the tracks," said Petty. "If we can clean up the sport from the inside out, it will draw more people to the tracks. The promoters will make more money and can undertake the costs necessary to maintain a pension plan."
News didn't leak out right away. Nobody knew about the meeting or the nature of the discussions. "Before we transact any business," Petty said, "we want to recruit as many members as we possibly can so we can speak for everyone. We want to sign up all Grand National and Grand Touring (NASCAR's compact sedan circuit) drivers first. The Sportsman and Modified drivers will be invited to join if they want to. Then eventually, we'll open it up to everyone who wants to join."
Petty was elected President of the Professional Drivers Association. Cale Yarborough and Elmo Langley were appointed Vice Presidents. On the board of directors were Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, LeeRoy Yarbrough, David Pearson, Pete Hamilton, Charlie Glotzbach, Donnie Allison and James Hylton. The group consisted of all the front line drivers except Bobby Isaac. He was not informed of the meeting. Some of the other charter members said Isaac, a loner, couldn't be trusted. In the feeling out process, Isaac had not showed any interest in a driver's union.
Petty said the PDA had retained Lawrence Fleisher, a New York attorney, as its general counsel. Fleisher, a vigorous campaigner in organizing athletes in other professional sports, was also executive Vice President of Restaurants Associates in New York. Petty, Yarborough and Langley issued a press release a few days before the race teams checked into Darlington Raceway for the Southern 500. Bill France expressed surprise at the new union. "NASCAR has been pretty great to this bunch of people," stressed France. "Some of these fellows have gotten to be big heroes and they have apparently forgotten how they got there. I can't see why LeeRoy Yarbrough, for instance, would want such a group. He's won $150,000 this year alone. That's not too bad.
"We're not planning to change NASCAR," France continued. "We'll post our prize money and they're welcome to run if they want to. If not, that's their business. There are no contracts with NASCAR. But these fellows had better realize that they can't go very far without factory cars. And I'm sure the factories would put someone in their cars if they should think about a strike or something."
|Despite his success on the NASCAR circuit, Richard Petty felt that the drivers needed more benefits and attempted to form a union.|
"We have made absolutely no demands at all," said Petty. "There have been no strike threats made. The PDA will devote its efforts to the betterment of the sport by seeking to work in harmony with NASCAR, the promoters and others involved in auto racing. However, I want to make it clear that we have elected officers and an executive committee who, with counsel from our attorney, will determine future policies of our association." Nevertheless, France felt something was up. Just around the corner was the grand opening of the Alabama International Motor Speedway in Talladega, AL, an 1,800 acre site that France had carefully groomed into what he hoped would be "the finest facility in the nation." The inaugural Talladega 500 was scheduled for September 14, 1969.
Construction on the Alabama International Motor Speedway got underway on May 23, 1968. On May 12, France invited newsmen to tour the yet unpaved 2.66-mile track in a tour bus. "Progress on the Speedway has been dramatic," beamed France. "Moss-Thornton Construction, general contractors on the project, have stayed ahead of schedule since ground breaking a year ago." Bobby Allison checked out the facility on several occasions. In early July, he issued some concern for the tires. "This can be a 200 mph track if the tire companies can make a tire that can stand it," said the Hueytown, AL driver. "One of the big limitations at Daytona is that once you get up to about 190 mph, a tire distorts so badly that it's crazy looking. I've been up beside other drivers at Daytona and their tires look strange at 190 mph."
Later that month, France said the track was 92 percent complete and testing could get underway in early August. Bobby Allison was the first driver to get a first hand look at the new track. On July 24, he drove around the enormous oval in a passenger car. At the time, he said the track was "extremely rough." It was the first negative comment heard about Bill France's new baby. The leading Ford and Mercury teams began rolling into Talladega the week of August 4. The Chrysler teams had elected to stay away from Talladega during initial testing of their new high-winged, snub-nosed Charger Daytona. Charlie Glotzbach, who had walked away from Cotton Owens' factory Dodge team in March over a disagreement with NASCAR, was itching to get back into the saddle. The Georgetown, IN veteran circled the 4.7-mile Chrysler testing grounds in Chelsea, MI at 193 mph. Further tests were aborted when the engine blew in his car.
Further tests for the Dodge Daytona were conducted at Daytona International Speedway. Glotzbach and Buddy Baker each turned laps at 192.6 in a brief session. Over at France's new track, LeeRoy Yarbrough and Donnie Allison were shaking down their cars for Ford. On Thursday, August 7, Yarbrough drove his Junior Johnson Ford around Talladega at 195.468 mph -- an unofficial world record on a closed course. Allison whipped Banjo Matthews' Ford around the high-banked oval at just a shade over 193 mph.
"This place is rough as a cob," Allison said after climbing out of his car. "It would be a beautiful speedway if it was smooth. The roughness bounces a car around so much that it feels like it's tearing the wheels off in the corners. Going into both corners and where the gate is on the backstretch is where it's so rough. And the only way they're going to fix it is to repave it." After his record setting lap, Yarbrough said, "It's plenty fast. It ought to make International Speedway Corp. (owners of Daytona and Talladega) stock go up."
Yarbrough came back a week later and engaged in extensive tests on August 14 and 15. "We ran a heck of a test and the tires took a beating," said the Jacksonville, FL star. "They've got some improvements to make, but I guess any new speedway has. They've got some rough bumps." Bobby Isaac and Glotzbach brought their Daytonas to Talladega the following week. Glotzbach spoke to track officials about the rough spots and he was told they would be taken care of. Isaac said, "it has a few really rough spots." Glotzbach and Isaac got their cars up in the 191-193 mph range.
Baker and Cotton Owens ran 195.250 on August 21. Bobby Allison, wheeling Mario Rossi's winged Dodge, eclipsed Yarbrough's mark with an electrifying 197.5 mph lap on August 25. Biggest surprise of the testing sessions in late August was a red and black #53 Ford Talladega. The car had been prepared by Holman-Moody and driven earlier in the year by Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti in USAC Stock car events. There was a new driver for the Talladega run. His name happened to be Bill France.
|Donnie Allison was one of the drivers selected to test tires in an impromptu session at Talladega.|
France was able to get the car up to about 175 mph. "It's a world record for a 59 year-old man," France said proudly. When the drivers -- and the PDA members -- arrived at Darlington, they began signing up the remainder of the Grand National drivers. Isaac, who was shunned in the original meetings, was recruited, but he turned the PDA down. "If I wasn't good enough for them two weeks ago," reasoned Isaac, "then I'm not good enough for them now. I don't want any part of that union."
Bobby Allison was cornered by several members of the media. "We formed an organization because we felt we were foolish in not forming one," he told them. "Every other major sport has its players organization. There are definitely things that we have grievances about. I don't feel the purses match the gate receipts on any of the big tracks and some little ones. And we have no pension plan. Insurance is inadequate. A guy devotes his life to racing, and he gets only $7,500 if he gets an arm torn off. If he gets killed, his wife gets $15,000. We've never had a voice in planning or scheduling. They might have a 500-mile race and two days later, a 100-miler a thousand miles away."
There was immediate speculation that the PDA was planning a boycott at some track in the near future. France was concerned about "New York interests." The PDA wasn't issuing any statements publicly. During the pre-race proceedings at Darlington, several small groups of drivers were seen in private conferences. When they were confronted by a media representative, they clammed up. Buddy Baker issued one public statement. "I think a lot of people, including the press, have the wrong conception of our association," he said. "We aren't going to start a bonfire like a lot of people think. We're not going to start a battle with NASCAR or boycott anything."
PDA President Petty made a similar statement. "We have no plans to boycott or strike any race track. Anything you've heard is strictly hearsay. We haven't talked about this whatsoever. We would like for you to keep in mind that anything that hurts racing, hurts us," said Petty. Larry LoPatin, President of American Raceways which operated four tracks hosting Grand National events, offered his opinion. "I think the sport has a long way to go before pressure groups start making demands from it. A driver's organization may be fine, but Bill France and Bill France, Jr. are no patsies. I believe their interests in the drivers is sincere," said LoPatin.
Petty wouldn't say exactly how many members the PDA had signed up, but it was most of the Grand National regulars and many of the Grand Touring competitors. Each member had paid the $200 initiation fees. Eight days before the running of the first Talladega 500, Bill France filed an entry for the big race. He had spoken with Bobby Allison at Richmond. "He asked me if he drove in the race," said Allison, "could he join the PDA. I think he's serious about it. He told me he had a car and he had filed an entry.
"My reaction to that?" Allison responded to questioning. "I'd say that he would be a foolish old man. He wants to get in the PDA any way he can." If France became an active driver, it would open a legal avenue for him to join the Professional Drivers Association. Then he could elbow his way in on some of the meetings and find out what really was going on. On Tuesday, September 9, teams began checking into Alabama International Motor Speedway. All of the Ford teams were there in force -- and there were seven winged Dodge Daytonas on hand. Two were entered by Nichels Engineering; driver Charlie Glotzbach would get his choice of the faster of the two.
Glotzbach shook down both Nichels Engineering Daytonas and found the royal blue #88 faster than his primary entry -- the #99 purple car. The quickest lap in the #88 was a staggering 199.987 mph lap, an unofficial world record. It made him an early favorite for the pole and a good bet to hit the 200 mph barrier. In late Tuesday practice sessions, a few of the faster cars experienced tire problems. But it was not unlike similar first day shake-down sessions at other new tracks.
On September 10, teams got down to the finer tuning in the run for the pole. As practice continued, speeds began to creep up toward the magical 200 mph barrier. And some of the teams were alarmed at the number of tires that were coming apart. Only nine cars made the run against the clock. Glotzbach turned a lap of 199.466 mph to win the pole. The other qualifiers in order were: LeeRoy Yarbrough (199.350), Cale Yarborough (198.651), Buddy Baker (197.814), Richard Petty (196.964), Bobby Isaac (196.386), David Pearson (196.060), Bobby Johns (188.961) and James Hylton (187.401). Fifteen spots had been open.
Many of the tires had blistered and cracked in the two lap run against the clock. France quickly stepped in and waived the tire rule, which stated that a driver must start the race on the same set of tires he qualified. Goodyear and Firestone representatives said they would bring in new tires on Thursday. Twenty-one spots were open on the second day of time trials, but only four cars made runs through the timing lights. Bill Seifert (174.426), J.C. Spradley (164.307), Cecil Gordon (161.459) and Frank Warren (159.387) earned positions 10-13. The Allison brothers had not attempted a qualification. Neither had Dave Marcis; or John Sears; or Richard Brickhouse; or Bill France. Most of the teams had discovered the new tires shipped in overnight were not any better than the ones on Wednesday.
By Thursday night, tire company reps were in a frenzy. Phone calls were placed to the headquarters -- and both Goodyear and Firestone promised another compound would arrive via chartered plane on Friday. Throughout the morning practice session, teams tried all available tire compounds. Although they were no marked improvement, 14 cars did take time trials. They ranged from Donnie Allison's 197.847 mph to Henley Gray's 145.067. Many trackside conferences took place on Friday. As the sun was beginning to slide down the blue Alabama sky, an impromptu test session was arranged. Charlie Glotzbach's Dodge would mount all available Goodyear tires; and Donnie Allison's Ford would carry all the Firestones in controlled tests. Every four laps, the two daring drivers would come in the pits and change. "My heart was in my mouth the whole time," said Allison. "That was the most scared I've ever been in all my life."
Glotzbach was seated in his car, which broke an A-Frame during the test. "They ought to call this race," he said. "Nobody has any tires good for more than 15 laps." Firestone officials studied the tires and made their decision. They would not mount a single tire on any car in the Talladega 500. They packed up their gear and headed out. Goodyear was about to make the same decision. But Bill France convinced Goodyear's Public Relations Manager Dick Ralstin to hang around a little longer. After a private conference with France, Ralstin said Goodyear would bring in another tire by race time Sunday.
As far as most of the drivers were concerned, that was it. Most of the drivers went to bed Friday night knowing they would not race in the Talladega 500. Petty talked with several of the PDA members that night and virtually all of them were in favor of not racing on Sunday. At 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Petty and France met face-to-face in the garage area. Petty informed France of the PDA's decision not to compete. An argument followed -- a heated one at that. "There will be a race tomorrow," France yelled to Petty. "If you don't want to be in it, pack up and leave."
Petty loaded his Ford onto the trailer. Several other teams followed suit. By late morning, there were 12-14 cars loaded. Shortly after lunch, Petty and France met again in the garage area. This time, Petty was joined by an array of fellow drivers. Petty tried to convince France that there was no alternative other than to postpone the race. "What you hot-dogs do is your business," barked France. "But quit threatening the boys who want to race. If you want to go home, then go!"
"Wait a minute," Petty shot back. "That threatening goes both ways. Don't threaten us." Donnie Allison stepped in and said to France, "Bill, look at the right front tire on Dave Marcis' car. It's shredded all to pieces and he was only running 185." "If the tires shred at 190," countered France, "then run 175 or 180. It's like flying. If you run into bad weather, you slow down." LeeRoy Yarbrough stepped up and spoke in a hushed tone. "Bill, how would you like to attend a couple of funerals next week?" "I'll take my chances on that," came his reply. "There will be a race tomorrow and we will pay the posted purse. If you aren't going to race, then leave."
On Saturday afternoon, the Grand Touring cars engaged in a 400-mile battle. Ken Rush of High Point, NC drove a Camaro to victory. There were no spin outs or crashes in the 400 miler. Nor were there any tire problems. After the GT race, another dozen or so Grand National drivers had loaded their cars. But no one pulled out of the garage area. NASCAR officials had gone through the GT garage, telling the drivers to stick around. They may be needed on Sunday if worse came to worse. As darkness spread over the sprawling facility, a booming voice was heard over the public address system. There was no mistaking this voice. It belonged to Bill France.
"All those who are not going to race, leave the garage area so those who are going to race can work on their cars." It was now or never. This was the moment of truth. Within a few moments, a truck motor cranked up. It was the Petty Enterprises truck. The headlights came on and the famous #43 was pulled from the garage area. Others followed. A total of 32 cars were hauled out of the pit and garage area late Saturday afternoon. As the Grand Nationals were being towed out, the Grand touring cars were being pulled into the primary garage. It was a hectic hour and a half.
"Most of us felt the Talladega track was too rough and the tires we had were not safe to race at speeds around 200 mph," explained PDA President Petty. "It was just that simple. We stick our necks out every time we race. We aren't foolish enough to play Russian roulette. The track is rough and dangerous. We will not race on the track as it is now." James Hylton was another who left the track. "If they don't do something about this track, somebody's going to get killed. There's no tire that will stand up to speeds over 190 mph. I put three hard laps on mine and they came apart."
|Richard Brickhouse drove the #99 Ray Nichels Dodge Daytona to victory at Talladega, his only NASCAR Grand National victory.|
Richard Brickhouse, who had joined the PDA at Darlington, said as a member he wasn't given any choice. "We were told we couldn't race," said the sophomore driver. "We were told we couldn't race." GT driver Buck Baker, who shunned the Chrysler and Ford boycotts in 1965 and 1966, offered his opinion, "Things must have gotten a little plush for a lot of these guys," said the crusty Baker. "They must want things a little better than they are. When I sign an entry blank, I'll race. I remember driving around holes in the track big enough to bury a man."
The Talladega 500 went on as scheduled. A crowd of 62,000 showed up -- many of them drawn by curiosity. Each spectator was handed a written statement from Bill France. It read: "I am very much surprised that some of our drivers and car owners would wait until the last day prior to a major race and withdraw their automobiles from a race. Track officials and NASCAR officials worked until the last moment to get the drivers to fulfill their obligations to the fans who traveled from some distance to see the event. Everyone expected they would race.
"It would be unfair to the spectators who traveled to Talladega to see a race to postpone it. It would also be unfair to the drivers and car owners who wish to compete. Therefore, we will start the first annual Talladega 500 at 1:00 p.m. Sunday, as scheduled, lining up the Grand National cars in the order they qualified. We will allow the Grand Touring cars to start in the back of this field in order that they finished the 'Bama 400. We will pay the purse of $120,000 as advertised.
"Persons who attend the race, and those holding reserved seat tickets who do not attend, will be allowed to exchange them for tickets for a future race at Daytona Speedway or for a future race at Alabama International Motor Speedway. They can see two races for the price of one. This does not apply to press tickets, complimentary tickets or credentials. Sincerely, Bill France."
Shortly before the race got underway, PA announcer Ken Squier said, "Folks, this one is on the house." The starting field for the Talladega 500 consisted of 13 Grand National cars. The remainder of the 36 car field was filled with Grand Touring automobiles. Bobby Isaac sat on the pole in his K&K Insurance Dodge Daytona. Jim Vandiver, last minute replacement for Bobby Johns in the Ray Fox Dodge Charger, was on the outside rail position. Jim Hurtubise, started third in the L.G. DeWitt Ford. DeWitt, Vice-President of North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, had been encouraged by France to keep his car in the field. Regular driver John Sears, a PDA member, joined the walk-out.
Other Grand National drivers not honoring the boycott were Dr. Don Tarr, rookie Dick Brooks, Coo Coo Marlin, Roy Tyner, Homer Newland (an ARCA driver), Richard Brickhouse (who was seated in the Nichels Engineering Dodge Daytona), Les Snow (ARCA driver who hopped aboard Neil Castles Dodge), privateer Earl Brooks, and Tiny Lund (last minute substitute for Bill France himself). Brickhouse had joined the PDA at Darlington. A promising driver, Brickhouse had been told that the #99 Dodge Daytona would be available for him to drive if he wanted it.
The 29-year-old Rocky Point, NC sophomore pilot stayed up nearly all night Saturday trying to make a decision whether to race or not. "If I had known or suspected a boycott," he said, "I never would have joined the PDA." Brickhouse tried to get in touch with PDA President Petty Sunday morning. He wasn't able to contact him. So he had his resignation from the PDA announced over the Public Address. "When I entered Grand National racing, my only objective was to make something good out of it," he said. "I wanted to get to the top if I was capable -- to make racing my profession. I have spent a great deal of money and a lot of time to do it. I have sacrificed.
"I can't afford to be a playboy. I can't afford to gamble. I went to Talladega to race. I had no intentions of jeopardizing my life or that of others. I ran a comfortable speed until it came time to win the race. Then I pumped it up to a speed necessary to take the lead. I backed off once I had a lead." Brickhouse won the first Talladega 500 finishing 7.0-seconds ahead of runner-up Vandiver. "I think anybody in my position would have done the same thing. All my life I've dreamed about driving a factory backed car. I couldn't pass this opportunity up."
Both Ford and Chrysler factory representatives left it up to each team owner whether to race or not. All team owners pulled their cars out with the factory backed drivers -- with the exception of Nord Krauskopf, whose driver Bobby Isaac said all along he wanted to race; and Ray Nichels, who provided his back-up car to Brickhouse. Isaac led the first competitive lap at Talladega, but his Dodge experienced tire problems even at conservative speeds. He wound up fourth. Third place went to Ramo Stott, who was a last minute replacement for Brickhouse in the Ellis car.
France greeted Brickhouse in victory lane and congratulated him for winning his first Grand National event. Later, France issued a statement to the press: "This race reminded me of what the great Cannonball Baker (NASCAR's first National Commissioner) used to say, 'Quitters never win and winners never quit.' The guys who raced today were the real winners." Wendell Scott had intentions of competing in the race, but his two year-old Ford was sabotaged before the race -- to the extent that he was unable to drive it.
Monday, September 15, Petty received countless telephone calls from other drivers and members of the media. He explained the action that the PDA took. "We first discovered we were going to have trouble with tires on Wednesday," he said. "NASCAR right away lifted the tire rule. Rubber company officials started promising us a different tire. They brought in a bunch late Thursday and a couple of the boys took them out to test them. They didn't blister as bad, but they were filled with cracks after three or four laps. Three different tires were tried and each time, they proved unsatisfactory.
"Finally, the tire people told us they could have 170 of a new compound ready by race time on Sunday. This meant no scuffing in and no practice laps. In addition, they said they wouldn't mount any tires on any car that ran over 190 mph. We tried to talk to Bill France into postponing the race two or three weeks until the tire companies had a chance to come up with a tire that would work." "We did things wrong at Talladega," admitted Petty. "But so did they (NASCAR). It was about 50-50, maybe 60-40 in our favor. We should have found a quiet place to talk instead of hashing it out in the garage area," said Petty.
France said he thought about postponing the race. "I could have put it off until, say, November," he said. "But how do I know that they wouldn't have done the same thing again." At 4:30 p.m., Thursday September 18, 1969, the PDA issued an official statement. The contents of the written draft, in its entirety:
"The Professional Drivers Association, whose members withdrew last Saturday (September 13) from the "Talladega 500" restated the reasons why the drivers felt it was absolutely necessary to take this step. Drivers who drove and tested this new 2.66-mile racing surface had informed the president of NASCAR as early as July 24th, that the layout of the track was extremely rough. Since it was felt that the track could not be resurfaced in time for the race scheduled for September 14, the drivers were led to believe that this dangerous condition could be overcome with proper tires. The tire companies were aware of the problems after testing, and they promised to undertake all possible action to solve them.
"During the five days of practice and qualifications for the "Talladega 500," additional promises to correct the grave safety problems of the track were made to the drivers. In fact, six different types of tires were utilized during the preliminary runs without success. None was able to withstand speeds of 190 mph or over for more than eight laps. Moreover, tire failures were not restricted to any particular make of car. After a final special testing period Friday evening, one of the two tire companies withdrew its products completely from the race. The other tire company promised to solve the problem on Saturday with a new tire that would arrive Saturday afternoon.
"On Saturday, a spokesman for the remaining tire company was quoted as saying: 'We will not guarantee that any tire we have available for the race will not come apart at full racing speeds.' A meeting of the PDA was then held in order to bring the tire problem to the attention of its members who were planning to drive in the race. At that meeting it was clear that the only tires available for the race would be untested and without proper break-in. The result of the meeting was that all of the members present determined that they could not compete because, as Richard Petty, the elected President of the PDA stated: 'This track is not ready to race on.' Since full racing speeds could not be attained on the available tires, Petty stated: 'There isn't a PDA member alive who will deliberately run behind another driver when his car can run faster. Every serious race driver wants to win, right from the start. If full racing speeds could not be risked, the race could not be run in a proper way.' The meeting recommended to NASCAR that the race be postponed for several weeks so the roughness of the track could be repaired and proper tires supplied.
"Bill France, the track president, and also the president of NASCAR steadfastly refused to postpone the race, insisting that it go on under the conditions that existed, and with the available tires. "In the face of this indifference to the safety of the drivers, the drivers asked: 'How can Mr. France, president of NASCAR look out for the welfare of NASCAR drivers, when he owns the track?' The drivers pointed out that they gave up $100,000 in prize money in missing the race in order to establish the right of drivers to be protected from unsafe track conditions.
"The PDA regrets that many of the fans were inconvenienced and disappointed by the lack of its participants. However, the members felt that in view of the hazards involved it would be unfair to the drivers and their families to compete. The tire companies themselves admitted they had no tires that would withstand the punishment of this extremely rough racing surface for an undetermined number of laps at full speed. It was also the feeling of the members that a race of less than maximum capability of the race cars, as was ultimately staged, would be unfair to the fans and contribute to the deterioration of the sport.
"The membership of the PDA is open to all active race drivers who are interested in improving the sport and the quality of the drivers. Its purpose is the safety and general welfare of its members, as well as the entire racing fraternity. Our members are race drivers first and accept the risks involved, but when these life and death risks become both unreasonable and unnecessary then corrective action is essential. Despite this, Mr. France has been unwilling, since the race, to discuss the problems with the drivers and with their lawyer."
Bill France had a statement of his own, which was published in the NASCAR Newsletter:
"I would like to take this opportunity to explain to you some of the reasons the decision was made to run the Talladega 500 Stock car race on September 14 on schedule, despite a boycott by a majority of the drivers who had entered and qualified their cars.
"NASCAR has two major responsibilities to consider:
(1) NASCAR must see that the fans purchasing tickets see what was advertised and publicized if humanly possible. It is the responsibility of the sanctioning body, the track operators and the drivers to do everything humanly possible to see that a race is run as scheduled.
(2) NASCAR must protect the drivers who wish to compete from being deprived of fair competition while guaranteeing that they will receive the posted awards that have been advertised and publicized.
"In refusing to postpone or cancel the race, NASCAR and the speedway fulfilled obligations to the ticket purchasers and to the drivers.
"I have received numerous letters since the race. The ticket buyers, and a vast majority of our NASCAR members are in support of the action taken.
"I want to personally thank the NASCAR crew of officials, many who had to work all night Saturday to get a new field of cars ready, for their dedication to NASCAR and to the sport. I also want to thank the tire manufacturers and the other accessory companies for their efforts in servicing the cars.
"I feel the right decisions were made for the public. They went to Talladega to see a race and they saw one. In addition they will be allowed to exchange their rain checks for a future race at Talladega or Daytona.
Sincerely, Bill France."
Before the ink was dry on each prepared statement, NASCAR had announced that the Wilkes 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway had been postponed from September 21 to October 5. Track president Enoch Staley requested the change "to protect the public and speedway from anything like what happened last weekend at Talladega." France's first step was to insert a clause that said the race cars, once entered in a NASCAR Grand National event, would have to race. If the original driver was not able to compete for any unforeseen reason, the car owner would agree to name a substitute driver. France flew to Detroit to discuss the proposal with the automotive factories. He was turned down by both Ford and Chrysler. "That was ridiculous," said a Chrysler spokesman. "Our cars would become property of the race track until the race was completed."
Within a few days, France and NASCAR announced that all entry blanks for future Grand National events would contain a "Good Faith to the Public" clause. On each entry blank the following was written:
"In signing this blank, both driver or drivers and car owner recognize their obligation to the public and race promoters or speedway corporation posting the prize money and conducting the event. Therefore, we agree to compete in the event if humanly possible unless the event is postponed, cancelled or if the car fails to qualify for the starting field."
NASCAR's Vice-President Lin Kuchler made the officials statement from Daytona Beach. "As the sanctioning organization," said Kuchler, "NASCAR has two major responsibilities. One is to see that the fans who purchase tickets see what was advertised and publicized. Second, there is the responsibility to the driver to see that the race is run on schedule under the rules and that the prize money is paid as advertised. In order to protect the public and the track operator from a situation such as the late-hour driver boycott at Talladega, the Good Faith to the Public will be in all future entry blanks."
"If a driver does not want to sign the pledge and if there is any doubt in his mind about his willingness to compete, he should not enter the event," said Kuchler. On September 24, 1969, the PDA had announced that members were having a meeting in Charlotte. All track promoters and Bill France were welcomed to attend.
The day before, September 23, France met with track promoters in Greensboro. At the meeting, the NASCAR president discussed the new entry blanks, but more importantly, he told them not to attend the PDA meeting in Charlotte. Most promoters sided with France. However, Richard Howard of Charlotte Motor Speedway, J. Elsie Webb of North Carolina Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway's Clay Earles went to the PDA meeting anyway. All three of them had races coming up in the immediate future and they felt it was in their best interests to be present.
"The Talladega incident is behind us all," declared Petty. "All PDA members plan to race in all the remaining events on the 1969 schedule. This meeting is called to clear the air about certain things." Fifty-eight people attended the PDA meeting. Drivers and track promoters were welcome; the press was not. The 36 drivers present signed the new entry blanks for the upcoming races at Charlotte, Rockingham and Martinsville.
PDA Vice-President Elmo Langley was disappointed Bill France was not in attendance. "We were hoping he would care enough to attend the meeting," said Langley. Attorney Larry Fleisher said, "I don't know why Bill France is trying to avoid meeting with us." "I had more important things to do," was France's reply.
There had been rumors that the drivers were planning a strike of boycott at Talladega -- to hurt France. But preconceived reasons -- if there were any -- were forgotten when the tire problems and track conditions gave the drivers a ready-made opportunity to balk. Armed with plenty of reason, then, France acted in the only way he felt he could at Talladega. Faced with the last minute problem, he adjusted in the face of controversy to give the public a race and a free ticket to a later show.
Photo credits from top: All NCMS