The 1972 Season
France Steps Down, Schedule Reduced; Allison and Petty Ignite Feud
By Greg Fielden
|The introduction of Winston as the title sponsor in 1971 ushered in the "Modern Era."|
For 17 years, from 1955-1971, the NASCAR Grand National circuit had consisted of a seasonal average of 51 championship events. There were as many as 62 races in one season and no fewer than 44. Most of the stops on the Grand National tour were short track contests of 100-125 miles, where the total prize money rarely exceeded $10,000.
The Winston Overhaul
In 1971, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (Winston) came on board as the series' premier sponsor. During the negotiations, NASCAR President Bill France, Sr. convinced the Winston people that the best way to invest their dollars was to back the entire circuit, which they did. But Winston had plans to cut the tour to races of no less than 250 miles.
Winston posted $100,000 in year-end bonus money for the 1971 season to be shared by the top drivers in the NASCAR point standings. The award was to be known as the "Winston Cup." And the races of at least 250 miles were to be known as the Winston Cup Series. Races of less than 250 miles were not included in the original Winston Cup Series.
Winston also became deeply involved in the promotional aspect of Stock car racing. For each Winston Series event, giant billboards were rented in the area surrounding the speedway during the weeks leading up to the race. Advertising space was purchased in daily newspapers. These promotion efforts significantly helped NASCAR through the transition period when the automobile factories -- and their millions of dollars -- were leaving the racing scene.
The days of the short track races of less than 250 miles were numbered. Those races could not provide the exposure necessary for the type of promotion Winston had in mind. Even in 1971 none of the races under 250 miles were part of the Winston Cup Series, although points earned in those races would help determine the national champion. It became increasingly clear that Winston was more interested in supporting a condensed tour, featuring only major events with a higher level of exposure. Thus was born the "Winston Cup Series" as we know it today.
Despite the large sum of year end bonus money, only a few teams tackled the entire circuit in 1971. Only one driver made every stop possible -- privateer Frank Warren. Only one "name" driver, Richard Petty, made a concentrated effort to win the title. By late 1971, the writing was on the wall. Many changes would be in store for the 1972 season.
Within two weeks after the new year, the major overhaul of the Winston Cup Grand National tour was implemented. There would be a new point system to determine the champion. And there would be a new president for the largest and most successful Stock car racing sanctioning body.
Big Bill Steps Down
On January 11, 1972, Bill France, Sr., who had traveled from a mechanic to a part-time driver to one of the most influential men in international auto racing, said he was stepping down from the presidency of NASCAR. The 62-year-old France would turn over the reins to 38-year-old William Clifton France, or more commonly known as Bill, Jr.
"In the past 24 years, NASCAR has grown to be one of the largest and certainly the finest sanctioning body in the world," said France. "Bill, Jr. has lived with NASCAR all his life, and he has the foresight and capability to handle the varied and demanding duties of this position. "We feel that the staff at NASCAR is of the highest quality, blending experienced personnel with young and talented people," France continued. "I'm sure that NASCAR will continue its dynamic leadership in the sport of automobile racing."
Passing the Torch
As Bill France, Jr. took the controls, he delivered a prepared statement. "Right now NASCAR is the largest Stock car sanctioning body in the world. With the dedication of our fine staff, the leadership at NASCAR headquarters and the cooperation of the track operators, car owners and drivers, I am sure NASCAR will not only continue to grow but accelerate in its leadership in the sport of automobile racing," said the new president.
Big Bill said he would continue to be involved in NASCAR affairs in an advisory capacity and would continue as Chairman of the Board and President of the International Speedway Corp., which operated the tracks at Daytona and Talladega.
Big Bill's Last Deal
|Bill France, Jr. took over NASCAR at age 38.|
But Big Bill was not yet through with NASCAR. Before the season began and before he made his announcement, Bill, Sr. and Winston had worked out the reorganization of the tour. Gone were all the 100- and 125-milers. They would be placed into a separate division, which would be called the Grand National East. It would be similar to the Grand National West series, later to become the Winston West.
The 1972 Winston Cup Grand National Series would consist of 31 "major" events, all 250-miles or more. "We feel the changes in scheduling and in the divisions will benefit the sport in a number of ways," said France, Sr. "The new schedule will make it possible for more top flight drivers and teams to pursue the Winston Cup. Also, sponsorship for teams should be easier to procure with the broader exposure which is sure to become a reality.
"The Grand National East and Grand National West divisions will give active NASCAR drivers a second area in which to compete, if they wish, and another championship possibility. It also gives Grand American (American made sports car types, i.e. Camaros, Mustangs, etc.) drivers continued competition as they will be eligible to compete in Grand National East races," said France, Sr.
The Sponsor Scramble
Sponsorship became increasingly important for the teams. The factories had all but gotten out of racing in 1971, which left many former heavily financed teams scrapping for operating dollars. NASCAR inaugurated up-front appearance money for the top teams as an added incentive to make all the races. It was the forerunner to the "Winner's Circle Program" which was to follow four years later. In previous years, all appearance money was paid under the table.
Although there were no detailed criteria accompanying the announcement, NASCAR said four top teams -- of different makes of cars -- would receive extra money each time they entered the race. The four teams would be Petty Enterprises (Plymouth), the Richard Howard/Junior Johnson unit (Chevrolet), Nord Krauskopf's (Dodge) team, and Bud Moore (Ford), who was planning to re-enter NASCAR after a successful stint on the SCCA Trans Am circuit.
Each of the four teams would get an additional $2,000 in all races 400-600 miles in length; and they would pocket $1,500 each for all races 250-300 miles. The track promoters would be responsible for paying the appearance money. For the first time, drivers who aligned themselves with big corporations found themselves in a good position to negotiate for the top rides. Very few top rides were available in 1971 and 1972. The first to announce a change was Bobby Allison, who departed the Holman-Moody team to join the Richard Howard-owned Chevrolet unit managed by Junior Johnson. Holman-Moody folded its operation following the 1971 season. Charlie Glotzbach, driver for the Howard team in 1971, found himself out of a ride.
|With the virtual elimination of factory-backed teams, STP's sponsorship of Richard Petty in 1972 represented a major shift in team financing.|
Allison had $80,000 of Coca-Cola money available. "I hate to lose Glotzbach," said Johnson. "Sponsorship is the thing, though. You've got to have it to race, and we'll have it this way." On Wednesday, January 19, 1972, the STP Corp., headed by Andy Granatelli, announced that he had purchased the Petty Enterprises team. "Purchased" was just another term for sponsorship, it seemed. "The reason we decided to acquire the Petty stable and make it a part of our organization involved the launching of our all new STP oil filter, which is a breakthrough in design," said Granatelli. "We have chosen passenger car racing for this reason since it relates to the passenger car use of this remarkable new STP product."
The Pettys were in a market for support when Chrysler Corporation announced they would pull out of NASCAR Stock car racing. The two-car Petty team was their only contracted deal in 1971. "We reached a point where we had everything to lose and nothing to gain," said a Chrysler spokesman. He also cited the constant changes in rules as a major factor. "Ford won virtually all the big races in 1968 and 1969, so we built the cars to beat them," the spokesman added. "We came up with the Plymouth SuperBird and the Dodge Daytona. Both were approved by NASCAR for three years. But as soon as the cars won some races, NASCAR changed the rules. They cut the engine size to 305 cid compared to 426 and 427 cid for the other teams. The alternative was to build a 366 cid engine, but that was outlawed after just one race. We built 25 of them, and we have 24 of them left. We had to start all over again."
NASCAR Vice-President Lin Kuchler said it would be a healthier sport if the sponsorship came from other than factory sources. "The trouble had been that the factories tried to control the sport," said Kuchler. "They would prepare a car they felt complied with NASCAR rules. The difficulty came on our end when we didn't feel the car conformed to our specifications. It became a question of us backing down or sticking to our guns and making them comply. The factories would infer that unless we waived enforcement for a particular rule or modified it or granted them a grace period to comply," Kuchler added, "then they would withdraw their cars. I operate on the theory that all written rules should be enforced without favor. Period."
The high ranking NASCAR officials were pleased with companies coming into racing for a different purpose. "Most of the sponsors the teams are getting now just pay to get publicity or to use their racing affiliation in advertising," said Kuchler. "This creates a better atmosphere between all parties." With corporate sponsors on the increase, NASCAR was aware of potential problems with conflict of interest. The United States Auto Club had suffered a severe blow when Viceroy cigarettes came in and sponsored a two car team with Al Unser and Mario Andretti driving. The announcement upset the Indy Car series sponsor L&M so much that they withdrew their support entirely. NASCAR didn't want a similar occurrence with its primary supporter Winston. And another fly in the ointment was the recent ban of cigarette and hard alcohol advertising on television. NASCAR felt it would be better if they issued a policy regarding advertisement on race cars rather than possibly being policed by the government later.
Effectively, NASCAR prohibited any other major tobacco company to sponsor a race car within their Winston Cup Grand National circuit. And they issued a limit on the size of Winston decals on the race cars.
The statement, in part:
Television coverage of NASCAR sanctioned events is of increasing importance ... NASCAR must have an awareness of television's public media responsibilities if the number of racing events is to be enlarged.
By law and industry practice, television is restricted in the advertising that it broadcasts ... The Television Code of the National Association of Broadcasters deems the advertising of hard liquor (and cigarettes) as "unacceptable."
... For a number of years NASCAR has limited the size and location of sponsor's names on the body surface of cars participating in NASCAR events. NASCAR will cooperate with the television industry in television's conscientious effort to abide by the law as well as the Television Code. NASCAR will endeavor to restrict the size, placement, or use of decals, identification or advertising on race cars participating in publicly televised events in a manner which complies with the law and the Television Code ... In this regard (NASCAR) will limit any cigarette and/or hard liquor decal, identification or advertising events to a total area of 32 square inches.
NASCAR recommends, therefore, that all owners and drivers advise would-be sponsors ... of NASCAR's intentions to set forth in this policy announcement, prior to entering any agreement (with a potential sponsor)."
Any ideas other tobacco companies might have had about entering NASCAR racing were choked off. An area of 32 square inches is about the size of a 4x8 inch decal. Markings larger than this would not be permitted.
NASCAR also made a massive overhaul of its point system. Previously, points were awarded based on finishing positions in each Winston Cup Grand National race. The longer races did have more point value. The races of 400 miles or more awarded 150 points to win with a drop of three points per position. The 250-milers carried 100 points to win with a drop of two points; and the 100-125 milers awarded the winner with 50 points with a drop of one point per position.
The new point system for 1972 placed emphasis upon mileage completed in competition, rather than winning or finishing high. There had been a number of wholesale park-outs in 1970 and 1971 -- events in which great numbers of drivers pulled out of the race shortly after the green flag dropped. In order to address that situation, which certainly was not looked favorably on by sponsoring R.J. Reynolds, France instituted a system in which drivers would earn points for every lap completed. If any driver entertained the thought of pulling out in the first or second lap, he would only cut his own throat in the point fund at the end of the year.
A New Point System
The new 1972 point system would reward each race winner with 100 points, with a drop of two points for each position thereafter, plus the lap points. The individual lap points would be broken down into six different categories depending on track size. The breakdown:
*Tracks under 1-mile 0.25 point for each lap
*One mile tracks 0.50 point for each lap
*1.3 mile track (Darlington) 0.70 point for each lap
*1.5 mile tracks 0.75 point for each lap
*2 mile track (Michigan) 1.00 point for each lap
*Tracks over 2.5 miles 1.25 points for each lap
The small-time independent teams liked this idea. They could lumber around the track gaining points each lap that they completed. The high dollar teams, going all out for the win, risked more mechanical problems, which could tell greatly in the final outcome in the standings. James Hylton led the point standings through the first 10 races. He held a 33.6-point lead over Bobby Allison. Third was Richard Petty, 45.8 points behind Hylton. The alarming statistic here was that Petty had finished ahead of Hylton in nine of the 10 races and had won four times, but was not gaining much ground on Hylton. Hylton's best effort up to that point was fourth, but he was running at the finish in all 10 events, which meant he was racking up the lap points.
"I didn't make the rules about the points," said Hylton. "I just run for them. If I had the money the other top guys had, I could afford to run to win, too. But I don't. I pay my own bills, and I have to make sure I earn enough money to go to the next race." In the Winston 500 in May, Hylton's Mercury crashed early, which allowed Petty to make up the deficit and move into the point lead. Petty took a slap at the point structure. "I should be the point champion because I'm leading in points," he said. "James should be the lap champion. That's the difference. Actually, I admire him because he's figured out a way to beat the system. I really think NASCAR needs to look at the point deal."
Petty and Allison would eventually take a firm grip on the point battle. They became the principles in the title struggle. The K&K Insurance team would experience multiple mechanical problems which would eventually lead driver Bobby Isaac to unseat himself from the ride. Buddy Baker would take over in September.
David Pearson, who many veteran observers said was "washed up" following a disastrous 1971 season, got a reprieve when the Wood Brothers seated him in their powerful Mercury in the spring. He would win six superspeedway races in the 1972 season. And James Hylton would win the Talladega 500 by a car length over Ramo Stott. The Inman, SC driver took advantage of tire problems which socked all the favorites, and he sped to victory using year-old rubber. It was the second career win for Hylton and his first on a superspeedway.
Petty vs. Allison
|The 1972 Bobby Allison (#12) and Richard Petty (#43) feud became the on-track version of the Hatfields and McCoys.|
But the focus was on Petty and Allison from the start of the season. The two headliners had engaged in a well documented feud as early as 1966. And it had been rekindled in 1971. For most of 1972, there were no signs of the Petty-Allison feud. Allison had remarked earlier in the year that he and Petty teamed up in an effort to run down A.J. Foyt's Wood Brothers Mercury at Ontario. "Foyt was ridiculously faster than my Chevy in the straights," said Allison. "Petty got behind me and literally gave me a push to catch the draft and Foyt. Even the worst of enemies can be friends against a common foe."
As the 1972 season approached autumn, there were no common foes left. It was all Petty and Allison. The feud began again on September 9, 1972 at Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway. In that event, Petty and Allison would finish eight laps up on the entire field. And as they ran circles around the rest of the drivers, they were busy running into each other. With just over 100 laps to go, Petty tapped Allison wide in the second turn. Petty drove his red and blue Plymouth into first place down the backstretch. As the pair hit the third turn, Allison thrashed Petty's rear bumper.
"I bumped Bobby from behind off the second turn," admitted Petty. "Then after I passed him, he bumped me in turn four -- I guess just to let me know that I had hit him." Petty's Plymouth shot toward the railing as Allison steered his car low. Petty climbed on top of the steel guard rail. For a moment, it appeared he was headed for the grandstands. But amazingly, the car clipped a chain link fence just beyond the retaining barrier and bounced back onto the track. And to top it all off, Petty held onto the lead. He held first place to the finish and beat Allison handily.
"I went completely out of the track and back in," commented Petty after his 146th career victory. "When I hit the fence, it must have throwed me back onto the track. I was surprised the car still had wheels on it. I couldn't believe I was still in the lead."
Both Allison and Petty scoffed at any hint of a feud. "Richard is a great driver," said Allison. "You have to agree he's still the man to beat every time a race starts. I get more of a kick out of beating him than any other driver. But we are not engaged in any kind of feud that I know of." Petty concurred. "We've had a few little fender-banging incidents, but I respect him as a driver. It's over and done with as far as I'm concerned."
Two weeks later, the tour checked into Martinsville Speedway for another pivotal event in the championship race. This time, Petty and Allison only lapped the field twice. Allison started on the pole and would lead most of the way. He put his Chevrolet in front on seven occasions for 432 of the 500 laps. At one point, when Allison was in front for 156 straight laps, he was only a car length from putting Petty a lap down. Petty had fallen behind when he had to make an extra pit stop to fix a flat tire.
When Petty returned to the track, he was given the "move-over" flag, which he failed to obey. "I wasn't holding him up," Petty would later say. "The passing flag is supposed to be used to get slower cars to move over and let the faster cars go. Allison didn't get that far ahead of me by running on the track. If he had gained a lap on the track, I would have moved over."
Petty was able to catch up during a caution flag. The two leaders then engaged in a crowd-pleasing, close quarter duel. In the last 50 miles, Petty was following Allison closely. In an effort to move to the inside of his rival, Petty's Plymouth climbed the curb and shot into the side of Allison's Chevy. The contact jarred Allison's fuel cap loose.
NASCAR officials noticed the cap dangling by the chain and blackflagged Allison. He ignored NASCAR's mandate and raced on. A caution flag ended the suspense as Allison was able to pit without losing a lap. As the race wore on, Allison sideswiped Ben Arnold, which creased the left rear fender onto his tire. Petty raced past in the 462nd lap and would lead the rest of the way. Despite the deflating tire, Allison pressed on -- until he swerved and hit the Dodge of Ed Negre, forcing Negre into the wall. Another caution flag. Petty went on to beat Allison by 6.0-seconds.
After the race, NASCAR fined Allison $500 for ignoring the black flag. No action was taken against Petty for not obeying the move-over flag. "If you can ignore one flag," Allison queried, "why can't you ignore them all? If you must obey one flag, why shouldn't you have to obey them all? "The other competitor (Petty) wrecked me and tore off my gas cap. Yet I get fined for ignoring the black flag."
As far as the on-track encounters, both drivers still insisted no feud existed. "There was no more bumping than usual," said Petty. "Even if the cars are handling good, there will be some bumping here." Allison said, "I don't hold grudges against anyone. I take each race as they come, and Wilkesboro is a new race. That's the way I'll run it."
Negre cornered Allison after the Martinsville race and explained that he felt he had been caught in an incident which shouldn't have happened. After a private discussion, Allison agreed to pay for the repair to Negre's Dodge. Negre took the car to Petty Enterprises in Level Cross, NC to have it repaired. "I didn't touch him, but maybe I caused him to wreck his car. Since that's the way he felt about it, I told him I'd pay for the damage," said Allison.
After Negre's car was repaired a $3,000 bill was sent to Allison. "This thing started out at $1,500," said Allison. "But by the time I got the bill, it was up to $3,000. I feel like I have paid for a Dodge (Negre's) and a couple of Plymouths, too."
There was no more feudin' until the next race a week later at North Wilkesboro. And that one was a doozy.
Per usual, Petty and Allison had put four laps between themselves and the remainder of the field. The season had become strictly a two car show. Allison once again led most of the way. One lone caution flag in the last 60 miles put Allison and Petty nose-to-tail for the final shootout. The two drivers would swap the lead 10 times in the final 39 laps. It was turning out to be one of the most exciting short track races in the 24 year history of NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National racing.
But the excitement turned into a violent outburst in the final three laps. Petty had taken the lead on lap 389 and was holding off Allison's charge. Allison moved to the inside of Petty on the backstretch, but appeared to be boxed in by the slow car of Vic Parsons. Instead of backing off, Allison crowded his way into Petty. The two warriors continued to swap the lead almost every lap. Allison plowed his way through and took the lead on lap 398 as Petty slammed into the third turn wall. Petty quickly recovered and made a bid to retake the lead on the high side in Turn 1. The two cars came together again -- and this time Petty climbed on top of the guard rail. Allison swerved but continued on. Petty got his mount going and set out on the chase again.
Allison's car, with right side wheels rubbing the sheet metal, began smoking heavily. The entire driver's compartment had filled up with smoke. The white flag waved with Petty three car lengths behind. When Allison got to the first turn, he ran high to miss parts of the front and rear bumper of Petty's car, which were lying in the middle of the track. Petty darted under Allison to take the lead. He won by a two car length margin.
Publisher Hank Schoolfield called it "an automotive boxing match." Noted motorsports journalist Bob Myers said "Petty and Allison are NASCAR's answer to the Hatfields and the McCoys."
The verbal fireworks started as the cars came into the pit area. And this time, there was no denial of a feud. "He could have put me in the boondocks," said Petty of the first turn encounter on lap 398, "and he tried. There's not going to be any trouble until he hurts me. But if he does that, there's going to be real trouble. He's playing with my life out there. That, I don't like." Allison countered, "I got under him fair and square (on lap 397), but he hit me so hard that it bent my fender in. When he did that, I just ran back into him."
Petty said he wished he had films of the race. "It was pretty obvious what was going on," he said. "I know in my own mind what happened. If I had films of this, I could sue him for assault with intent to kill, or something close to that."
Through the weeks of the frenzied activity on the track, NASCAR officials had little to say. Following the North Wilkesboro event, Bill Gazaway, Chief Technical Director, said, "I have a feeling something will be done toward preventing future incidents. What has happened is not good for the sport, and we won't tolerate it."
"All of the trouble has occurred on the short tracks," said Allison as the tour arrived at Charlotte Motor Speedway two days later. "There are no more short track races, and consequently, there shouldn't be any more trouble. I don't really look for any here." Petty agreed with that. "I think this deal should never have happened, and I know good and well it shouldn't happen here."
Petty and Allison got together at Charlotte and shook hands. They were persuaded to do so by Elmer Horton, photographer for The Charlotte News. The two stars ironed things out and there was no more feud the rest of the year. Petty went on to win his record-setting fourth NASCAR championship in 1972. He finished 127.9-points ahead of Allison. Allison authored a noteworthy record. He led at least one lap in the first 30 races, and coupled with the final nine events on the 1971 slate, the Hueytown, AL driver led in 39 consecutive Winston Cup Grand National events -- an all time record.
Postscript on Bill France, Sr.
Big Bill was born on September 26, 1909 in the outskirts of Washington, D.C. In 1934, at the age of 24, he moved to Daytona Beach, FL and opened a service station. Two years later, the first Stock car racing event was staged over the sands of Daytona Beach. The Daytona Beach-Volusia County Racing Association, Inc., headed by Chairman Millard B. Conklin, proposed a 250-mile contest carrying a $5,000 total purse. A prize of $1,700 would await the winner. Only the top nine finishers would earn a slice of the prize money.
A number of prominent drivers, including former Indianapolis 500 winner Bill Cummings, entered the race. On March 8, 1936, the field of 27 roared off the starting line. Milt Marion of St. Albans, NY, won the race and the top prize. An unknown Bill France, driving a Ford owned by Isaac Blair, finished fifth, 12 laps behind Marion. France pocketed $375 for his efforts. Marion averaged only 47.8 mph as the sandy course became deeply rutted. Many cars bogged down in the loose sand.
Although the event was only a marginal success, France felt it was important to keep Stock car racing in Daytona Beach. The 250-miler had been an experiment. Many of the city fathers expressed interest in keeping motor racing in the Daytona Beach area. Prior to the advent of the Stock cars, Daytona had become famous for speed trials. However, the international world record trials were moved to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, and Daytona Beach was in danger of losing the flair of auto racing.
France persuaded the local Elks Club into backing another race in 1937. This one was only a 50-miler, and such a small crowd turned out that winner C.D. "Smokey" Purser pocketed only $43 for his triumph. It appeared that auto racing would not survive another winter in Daytona. But later that year, a motorcycle event was staged on the shores of the ocean. Spectators came from all parts of the country. That particular event was a financial success. Big Bill felt that with upgraded promotions and proper organization, Stock cars could become an equally big hit in the resort city. He took control of Beach racing in 1938. And he won the first event that year in a Ford.
One of France's first promotional efforts was in the form of lap prizes. He solicited prizes and small sums of cash from local businessmen. In 1940, some of the lap prizes were a bottle of rum, $2.50 credit at a local men's shop, a box of fancy Hav-a-Tampa cigars, a case of Pennzoil motor oil, a pair of $5.00 sun glasses from Walgreen's Drug Store, two cases of Blue Ribbon Beer and a $25 credit on any automobile in Dick Rose's used car lot. At least France had the local merchants interested in the beach front proceedings.
World War II halted all auto racing in the United States, but France revitalized the auto racing in 1946. In 1947, he had spearheaded the National Championship Stock Car Circuit (NCSCC), and a year later had formed NASCAR. The rest is history. Although he turned the reins over to Bill, Jr. in 1972, Big Bill said he would continue to be involved in NASCAR affairs in an advisory capacity and would continue as Chairman of the Board and President of the International Speedway Corporation, which operated the tracks at Daytona and Talladega. France, Sr. became Florida Campaign Manager for Alabama Governor George Wallace's bid for the United States presidency. When Wallace failed to gain nomination from his Democratic party, France, Sr. became Vice-Chairman of the Democrats for (Richard) Nixon campaign.
Bill France had made his mark. For twenty-three years he had labored mightily for the success of the NASCAR Grand National series. He left it in good order -- approaching the time when the late models would run more superspeedway races, attract more race fans through the gates than any other sanctioning body or series of racing, and become the premier racing attraction on television. By any measure, Bill France was a success.
Photo credits from top: NCMS, Sam Sharpe, NCMS, NCMS