The 1971 Season
A Pivotal Year: NASCAR Loses Factories and Drivers, Gains Winston
By Greg Fielden
|The entrance of Winston as the title sponsor in 1971 changed NASCAR racing forever.|
Chrysler Corp. had unexpectedly announced their factory backed efforts in 1971 would be severely reduced. Bobby Isaac and Bobby Allison had finished first and second in the 1970 Grand National point standings, and both lost their factory sponsorship for 1971. Chrysler's Gayle Porter said, "We had to cut back. There was no alternative."
Chrysler cut back from six teams to two for the 1971 NASCAR season -- and both teams would operate out of the Petty Enterprises complex. Richard Petty and Buddy Baker would be the drivers. On November 19, 1970, Ford Motor Co. dropped a bombshell. Matthew McLaughlin, Ford Sales Vice-President, announced that his company was getting out of Stock car racing -- entirely. "We believe our racing activities have served their purpose, and we propose now to concentrate our promotional efforts on direct merchandising and sale of our products through franchised dealers. Accordingly, effective immediately we are withdrawing from all forms of motorsports competition."
Two Ford factory teams, under the direction of Jacques Passino, were engaged in a shake-down session at Riverside as McLaughlin made his announcement. They were forced to pack up their equipment and come home -- immediately. Passino, 50, who had been among the leaders of Ford's racing efforts since 1962, was shocked by the sudden pull-out. Rather than being reassigned by Ford, he quit. "Although Ford has severed its ties with racing," said Passino, "I still feel the race track, which has proven to be the real test track for automobile production, will be the same -- even more so in the future. A year ago, auto racing drew 53 million spectators and millions more saw it on television. I feel auto racing is on the way to being the number one sport in the United States, and I wanted to be a part of the future. I have considered the other areas offered to me at Ford in manufacturing and merchandising, but I wanted to devote my energies to performance. Effectively immediately, I hereby resign from Ford Motor Co."
Passino had been part of Ford's racing effort since the summer of 1962 when openly, they said they would support Stock car racing. "I was told to pack my bags, move down South and not to come home until Ford was a winner," reflected Passino. "I thought I may never get to see my wife again. Fortunately we did win and I was able to come home." On the heels of Ford's retreat, Cale Yarborough announced he was jumping to the USAC Indy Car circuit. "I have been offered one of Gene White's Indy Cars," said Cale. "It seems like the best route to go. The Ford withdrawal had a lot to do with my decision." Ford car owners Junior Johnson and Banjo Matthews were concerned about their future. "I can't race without a sponsor," said Johnson. "I've sold one car, in the process of selling another and hope to sell the third car. After that, I'm out of racing."
"I still have three cars," said Matthews. "But I can't race without some backing. If someone isn't footing the bills, the car owner is wasting his time and he's not going to make any money." The Wood Brothers and Holman-Moody, Ford's other factory-backed teams in 1970, said they would run if they could locate sponsors or where track promoters were willing to give them a sizeable appearance fee.
Two weeks after Ford pulled up stakes, NASCAR and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. formed what would turn out to be the most fruitful and important relationship in the history of Stock car racing. Beginning in 1971, the Winston brand of cigarettes would sponsor a 500-mile race at Talladega -- and a special point fund worth $100,000. R.A. Rechholtz, Vice President of Marketing for R.J. Reynolds, said his company decided to sponsor the Winston 500 at Alabama International Motor Speedway "because it is the fastest race track in the world and destined, we feel, to be the number one motorsports facility of the future; which is appropriate for Winston, being the number one cigarette brand in the United States.
|Ford's sudden withdrawal from racing left factory-backed stars like Junior Johnson searching for sponsorship.|
"We are very excited about starting our association with NASCAR," Rechholtz added. "We intend to work closely with them in making 1971 the best year ever for the sport of Stock car racing." The Winston Cup point money would be channeled to the Grand National drivers at three intervals during the 1971 season. A $25,000 pay-off going to the Top 10 drivers in the Winston Cup point standings would be distributed on May 30. The second leg, worth an additional $25,000, would be given out after the Labor Day Southern 500. The big chunk of point money -- $50,000, would be paid to the Top 20 drivers after the conclusion of the season.
"The $100,000 posted by Reynolds for the Winston Cup will assure the Grand National division of one of the largest point funds in automobile racing history," said NASCAR President Bill France. "It will be the largest point fund in NASCAR's 23 year history. Our agreement with Winston calls for having advertising and promotional support on a nation-wide scale." Curiously, only the events of 250 miles or more would comprise the "Winston Cup Series," although the three payments would be determined by points from all races, including the 100-milers on the short tracks.
One of the first steps by R.J. Reynolds was to place a large number of ads in daily newspapers in areas where the Winston Cup Grand National drivers were scheduled to race. The ads would promote the event -- along with the Winston product. Billboards also went up along interstates and major highways. "No doubt about it," said Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway promoter Paul Sawyer, "all of this has helped us attract a large crowd for our (Richmond 500) race."
R.M. Odear, Winston Product Manager, said the newspaper advertisements and billboards would only be directed to the events on the Winston Cup Series. Any race shorter than 250 miles was not included in the promotions. "Everything we do to promote the Winston Cup also promotes all Grand National races," said Odear. "We intend on making our presence felt this season and let everyone in racing know we're in it in a big way." Winston's plunge into Stock car racing was one of the few high water marks in an otherwise troubled year.
The carburetor plates introduced by NASCAR in August of 1970, were spawning epic controversy. The heavy hitting Ford 'Boss' 429 engines and the Chrysler 426 Hemi power plants, were heavily restricted under the 1971 rules. The big engines, specifically designed for racing, could compete with a 1-1/4-inch carburetor opening. In an effort to equalize competition and make racing more affordable to the independents, which there were many, NASCAR allowed the 427 cid Ford wedge engine to utilize a 1-1/2-inch opening. The larger the holes in the carburetor, the more horsepower could be attained.
By early spring, the Wood Brothers and Holman-Moody made the switch from the heavily restricted 429 to the conventional 427 wedge. Most of the independents, who had used the bigger engine in 1970, couldn't afford the costly conversion to the 427. "It's hurting all of us independents," said privateer Jabe Thomas. "That plate has made finishers out of a lot of those hot dogs. Buddy Baker used to always blow up. Now he's finishing, and knocking us poor boys down another notch. And none of us can afford to switch over to wedge engines."
|Unfazed by the new restrictor plate rules, Bobby Allison drove to five straight wins in 1971.|
Through the first half of the year, no Chrysler car had opted to use the old wedge engine, even though it was allowed the largest opening of 1-5/8-inches. As the season progressed, the Chrysler teams were hollering the loudest -- claiming their choked down Hemis couldn't keep up with the "new" 427 cid Fords. "We're being played with," said Richard Petty. "When the Fords want to go, they drive off from us."
In the Yankee 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Bobby Allison, who left his self-owned Dodge to join Holman-Moody in May, and Petty's factory backed Plymouth were locked in a tight battle. As the pair whipped off the fourth turn for the final time, Petty backed off and gave the win to Allison. "I know when I'm being played with," said Petty. "I just decided to stay out of the pictures at the finish. I didn't have a chance."
As the season progressed, many former top car owners had thrown in the towel. Mario Rossi, L.G. DeWitt, Junior Johnson and Banjo Matthews had pulled off the circuit. Defending champion Bobby Isaac had been taken off the tour by his car owner Nord Krauskopf, who parked the champion's cars in protest of the carburetor plate rules. Petty objected to the concept of having three different size plates. "When you have two or three different size plates," said Petty, "it's easy to wonder if someone else doesn't have the right size plate. When you beat a guy at one track, then he turns around and blows your doors off a few days later, it's easy to suspect he's got a different size plate."
Petty was in favor of a uniform size carburetor plate for all competitors. "Everyone's got four tires, a 22 gallon gas tank and one four-barrel carburetor -- all the same. So everyone should have the same size plate," said Petty. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that David Pearson had won a 125-mile qualifying race at Daytona using a 'cheater' plate. NASCAR allowed him to keep the victory. They said they were unable to determine if the plate had been used in the race.
Bobby Allison, who had hopped aboard the Holman-Moody Mercury, immediately went on a tear. He won the World 600 at Charlotte, the Mason-Dixon 500 at Dover, both 400-milers at Michigan and the Talladega 500 -- all within three months. "If Richard Petty wins a race by 10 laps," said Allison, "everybody says it is because of superior driving. If I win by a half car length, they say I'm cheating."
The whole carburetor plate situation had gotten out of hand. So much that NASCAR's Vice President Lin Kuchler had to make an official statement, clarifying the rules. "The carburetor rule does not specify brand names of cars," said Kuchler. "It goes by types of engines. The controversy has erupted because of the misunderstanding that one brand is handicapped by the rule more than another brand." The car owners could use any type of engine they wanted, Kuchler added.
"The rule was written not to handicap any one manufacturer," said Kuchler, "but to improve competition by making it possible for the less expensive wedge-type engines to compete with the 429 Ford 'Boss' and the 426 Chrysler Hemi. We feel the rule has accomplished our goal because our races have been the closest in the history with more drivers leading and more lead changes than any time I can remember. We also have more different brands competing than we have had in recent years. That is what the spectators want."
Bill France had a short statement of his own. "The restrictor plates have made for better racing at lesser costs for most drivers. The wedge engines cost half what the Hemis do. Therefore, we see no need for a change at this time," said France. By the July 4 Firecracker 400, four of the leading Chrysler teams had made the time-consuming change over the wedge engine, which had the largest size plate allowed under NASCAR rules. Bobby Isaac was brought back into racing by Krauskopf, who relented to crewchief Harry Hyde. Hyde had wanted to go to Daytona to do some "experimenting" with the wedge.
The teams owned by Petty Enterprises (two cars), K&K Insurance and Cotton Owens brought wedge engines to Daytona. Their drivers, Isaac, Petty, Buddy Baker and Pete Hamilton promptly finished 1-2-3-4. Now, this brought outcries from the Ford people. Glen Wood pulled his Mercury off the tour following the Dixie 500 at Atlanta. In the August 1 event, Bobby Allison and Richard Petty had embarrassed the entire field. The two rivals put on a dazzling show -- nine laps ahead of anybody else. Petty edged Allison at the wire. Third place Benny Parsons was nine laps behind. The Wood Brothers Mercury, with Donnie Allison aboard, was 11 laps back.
Shortly after the Atlanta event, NASCAR changed the carburetor rules. The controversial carburetor plate would be replaced by limiting carburetor base openings. The new regulation served the same purpose -- reducing speeds -- and NASCAR was hopeful it would eliminate the dissent that has prevailed since the introduction of the restrictor plate. "I think the restrictor plate was one of the greatest things NASCAR has ever done," stressed France. "And if the new carburetor base opening formula doesn't work out satisfactorily, here comes the restrictor plate back again."
The new regulations, which went into effect on September 15, called for a "sleeve" in each of the four discharge holes, thus limiting the amount of air and gas to pass into the carburetor. There were four different size base openings outlined in the new specifications. The results were basically the same. Bobby Allison and Richard Petty continued to do most of the winning. And, when a Chrysler product won, the Ford people grumbled. When a Ford product won, the Chrysler people complained.
It was the same thing which had been going on all year long. Trying to muscle up toward the leading Fords and Chryslers was a little white Chevrolet built by Junior Johnson. Johnson had liquidated all of his Ford equipment and was virtually out of racing. Richard Howard, General Manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, was concerned about the prospects of a poor spectator turnout for the May 30 World 600. Several of the leading teams had quit when they ran out of good equipment. The remaining teams were racing with tired machinery. Except for the three or four teams that had the means to get new parts, everyone else was lagging behind.
Howard had an idea. What if a competitive Chevrolet came back on the scene? It would fill a void that had existed since 1963. At Daytona in February, Junior Johnson was seen huddled with some General Motors representatives. There was speculation that Johnson would begin a gradual shift over to General Motors once he got rid of his Ford equipment. In March, Howard said publically that he wanted a potential winning Chevrolet in his World 600 field -- and he would like Junior Johnson to build and drive it.
"Junior would bring several thousand spectators if he drives," said Howard. "And even as a builder of a Chevy, he'd be valuable to our promotion." Johnson decided against driving, but he worked out an arrangement with Howard to build a Chevrolet. On April 8, Howard said, "I have made a deal with Junior to build the Chevy. And it could be the most competitive Chevy to race since General Motors quit backing Stock car racing. I wish Junior would drive it, but if he won't, we'll have a good man behind the wheel."
Charlie Glotzbach was selected to drive the Howard-Johnson Chevrolet. "I like Charlie," said Johnson. "He'll make a car go. When he goes out of a race, you know it went out wide open." In shake-down runs a week before the World 600, Glotzbach was turning in some very impressive speeds on the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway. It appeared that Howard had his competitive Chevy. Glotzbach went out and won the pole for the World 600 with a speed of 157.788 mph. And presto, 78,000 spectators showed up on race day.
And Glotzbach didn't disappoint them. He led the 600 on four occasions for 87 laps. While running second on lap 234, Glotzbach plowed into the front stretch wall after he swerved to keep from hitting Speedy Thompson in the rear. Glotzbach said Thompson had pulled out in front of him. Within moments, Richard Howard made an appearance in the press box. Bob Latford introduced him, "And now, we'll have a word from the car owner." Howard took the microphone and told the members of the media, "I just want to let everybody know that we're real happy with the way the car ran today. And we're going to build another one for the National 500 in October."
Howard spent the money for Johnson to rebuild the car before the return trip to Charlotte. Johnson did so, and took the car wherever promoters were willing to pay for it. The new team was able to make 13 races during the last half of the 1971 season. Glotzbach drove in the Firecracker 400, but went out with a blown engine. The third start for the car produced a popular victory. Glotzbach and relief driver Friday Hassler teamed up to win the Volunteer 500 at Bristol.
The car was always fast -- never qualifying below fourth position. When it finished, it was among the leaders. Glotzbach and Johnson finished six of the 13 races, and each time they made the distance, they finished in the top five. Toward the end of the year, NASCAR made a major procedural rule change. Effective August 6, 1971, the smaller Grand American automobiles -- Mustangs, Camaros and AMC Javelins -- would be allowed to compete in all Winston Cup Grand National events on the short tracks.
"The Grand Americans have not joined the Grand Nationals," said Kuchler. "We feel it will benefit the sport and the fans to see the smaller cars run against the Grand Nationals on short tracks." Actually, NASCAR made the change to provide a schedule for the failing Grand American circuit. The compact car series had floundered and was virtually out of business half-way through the season. The "mixed" races would also spice up competition for the Grand Nationals on the short tracks. The Winston Cup Grand National regulars weren't too pleased with the latest ruling. "If the small cars win," said Petty, "it will damage the prestige of the Grand Nationals."
In the Myers Brothers Memorial event at Winston-Salem, NC -- the first meeting of the two divisions, the Grand Americans ran circles around the bigger Grand Nationals. Bobby Allison won in a Mustang, followed by Petty's Plymouth. The next five spots were taken by Grand Americans. "I figured something like this would happen," said Petty. "They'll probably win all these races." One independent driver, who requested anonymity, said, "The Grand Americans spoil the image of the Grand Nationals. They race for a hobby; we race for a living."
In the next meeting, Petty beat Allison's Mustang at Ona, WV to even the score. After the second race, Allison elected not to drive a Mustang anymore. "I didn't get credit for a Grand National win," said Allison. "In fact, nobody got credit for a win. You look in the Grand National record and nobody won the Myers Brothers Memorial." What Allison said was true. NASCAR gave Allison credit for a Grand American win. There was no Winston Cup Grand National race winner for that particular event or at the Motor Trend 500 at Riverside staged back in January. Ray Elder, who was competing for Winston West points in that event, got credit for a Winston West victory when he won on the 2.62-mile road course in 1971 (and again in June of 1972). According to the Officials NASCAR Record Book from 1972-1975, Ray Elder had zero Winston Cup victories. However, that was adjusted in 1976 -- and sanctioning NASCAR properly gave him credit for the two races he won.
|Richard Petty won 21 races in 46 starts in 1971, a feat that remains unequaled.|
They never did that with Bobby Allison's victory at Winston-Salem in a Mustang, which occurred under the same circumstances in the same year. Tiny Lund, who won two late 1971 events in a Camaro, never was acknowledged by sanctioning NASCAR for his fourth and fifth career Winston Cup triumphs. There were six "mixed" races run in late 1971. The Winston Cup Grand National cars won three, and the Grand Americans won three. Under the NASCAR rules, eight events were to be opened to the compact cars. But Martinsville promoter Clay Earles and Richmond owner Paul Sawyer refused to allow the Grand Americans to enter their races.
"I'm not going to allow the Grand Americans to put me out of business," huffed Earles. "I have nothing against the Grand American boys, but I think they should run as a separate division and not intermingle with the bigger Grand National cars. I'm doing this for the good of Martinsville Speedway," Earles continued. "As manager of the track, it is my duty to manage it to the best of my ability. We've scheduled a Grand National race and that's what we'll run." Bobby Isaac won the Old Dominion 500 in a Dodge.
At North Wilkesboro, the Grand Americans were permitted to enter. But a number of Winston Cup car owners didn't like it. "If these little cars hold together," said Ralph Moody, "there might be three or four of them several laps ahead of the field." Junior Johnson agreed. "They use less tires and less gasoline," said Johnson. "They also have a better power-to-weight ratio. How much could you ask for?" queried Johnson. Tiny Lund won the Wilkes 400 in a Camaro.
Richard Petty enjoyed a banner year in 1971, winning 21 races in 46 starts. Including the point money and the Winston Cup bonus, his winnings came to a record $351,071. He became the first man to top the $300,000 plateau in winnings. The 1971 season was also the last year that the Winston Cup Grand National schedule consisted of 48-50 events. Winston only recognized the 'major' events as part of the Winston Cup Series in 1971. By 1972, all of the others had been removed from the tour.
Photo credits from top: All NCMS