The 1975 Season
After A Shaky Start -- The Sport Stabilizes
By Greg Fielden
|Richard Petty secured his sixth WC championship in 1975 and would have no truck with talk of retirement.|
Following the close of the 1974 Winston Cup Grand National season, virtually everyone was bidding good riddance to one of the most troubled years NASCAR had ever endured. Multiple rule changes and a costly transition from the huge muscle engines to the more contemporary power plants had drained the cash flow from many teams.
Team owner Junior Johnson, whose driver Cale Yarborough won 10 races in 1974, lost Carling beer's sponsorship dollars. Johnson and Yarborough had won one-third of the races and finished second in the Winston Cup standings but were unable to secure financial backing for 1975.
Bud Moore, whose Ford was manned by Buddy Baker, lost his sponsor, too. RC Cola bailed out after one season with the Spartanburg, S.C., car owner. The growing cost of racing continued to have ill effects at nearly every level. And it was more than just a hangover from the days when automotive factories were pumping so much money into the sport that cost didn't matter. Gone were the fresh high-performance parts that were delivered to the top teams at no cost. The privateers no longer could rely on hand-me-down parts discarded by the factory teams. Everything had to be paid for.
As costs increased, fewer team owners found it feasible to battle the surging waters. In six years, NASCAR's premier Stock car racing circuit lost such renowned team owners as Holman-Moody, Ray Nichels, Cotton Owens, Mario Rossi, Ray Fox and Banjo Matthews. Junior Johnson himself had tossed in the towel, but he was rescued by Charlotte Motor Speedway general manager Richard Howard, who fielded and financed a stable of Chevrolets to be managed by the famed former driver.
The sport had made a number of team owners independently wealthy. But it could not command that they gamble the wealth back into the sport. The writing on the wall was this: If a profit was not guaranteed, the top team owners would walk away from it. Not only was there a mutiny among the premier car owners, several top independents had been forced to pull up stakes. Some of those were John Sears, Neil Castles, Ben Arnold, Earl Brooks, Wendell Scott and Roy Tyner.
Awards & Achievement Plan
The 1975 season was destined to begin under a veil of uncertainty. To help the car owners fight the problems of paying their own bills, NASCAR developed the Awards and Achievement Plan. Actually, it was an offspring of Bill France Sr.'s personal crusade against the Professional Drivers Association, which was started in 1969. By 1975, NASCAR had arranged a program where additional money would be paid to team owners. The Awards and Achievement Plan was simply a disguise for "appearance money."
For the 1975 season, four teams would be paid $3,000 for each superspeedway race and $2,000 for each short track appearance. Those four teams were Petty Enterprises (Richard Petty), Junior Johnson (Cale Yarborough), Bud Moore (Buddy Baker) and K&K Insurance (Dave Marcis). The K&K Insurance Dodge team, owned by Nord Krauskopf of Fort Wayne, Ind., was coming back into NASCAR full time. From 1971 through 1974, they had been engaged in an on-going battle with NASCAR over the rules. K&K Insurance, which won the Grand National championship in 1970, had sat out most of the 1974 season in a dispute with NASCAR.
K&K crew chief Harry Hyde said his team checked with all promoters before signing Marcis. "We couldn't run for the title unless all promoters agreed on our driver," said Hyde. "They pay that money to us, so we felt obliged to contact them before we struck a deal with any driver. All promoters agreed to pay with Marcis driving." The appearance money was paid by the promoters through NASCAR. It was merely a forerunner to the Winner's Circle Plan, which is still in use today.
To assist the independents, NASCAR orchestrated a payment plan where teams, which were ranked in the Top 20 in points, would receive $500 for each superspeedway and road course race, and $250 for short track events. NASCAR encouraged each of the four teams on the A&A Plan -- the ones expected to do most of the winning -- to enter all the races. Petty Enterprises and K&K Insurance said they intended to make every stop on the 30-race tour.
But Johnson and Moore made no such commitment. They were convinced that $2,000 - $3,000 would not guarantee their appearance at every race. Johnson and Moore were without sponsors, and they had to keep a watchful eye on expenses. In many cases, each would engage in private negotiations with promoters to get more than the NASCAR-mandated amount.
In some cases, track promoters would help locate one-event sponsors. Moore's white Ford gained a number of one shot deals during 1975 -- including Coppertone sun tan lotion, U.S. Army, United Gunite, Holiday Inn, Shoney's Restaurant, Sunny King and Mitchell-Howell Ford dealerships and Norris Industries. Johnson and Yarborough often held out for more money from the promoter. Usually, they got it.
The New Face
Another team of interest was the husband-wife team of Darrell and Stevie Waltrip -- Stevie the owner and Darrell the driver. Waltrip, at age 28, was one of the brightest newcomers to Stock car racing. He came at the time the sport badly needed a new face in the competitive ranks. Waltrip lifted some eyebrows in 1974 while fielding his own team. He entered 16 races and led 15 of them. No small accomplishment considering three drivers won 27 of the 30 races. Waltrip finished second in the Southern 500 in 1974. For 1975, Waltrip had acquired sponsorship money from Terminal Transport, an in-family trucking company. He also hooked up with J.C. "Jake" Elder, one of the most respected crew chiefs in the business.
Waltrip felt he was capable of winning and putting on a good show. He struck a deal with the promoters to assist him with a sizable portion of 'appearance money.' "We have made an arrangement with the promoters which would give us almost as much money as the Big Four," Waltrip said in January of 1975. "We have the proper financing to field a first class team. We will win this year." Waltrip had to win a race in 1975. He had burst onto the scene in 1972 after piling up a stack of credentials in the Sportsman ranks at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. But after three years and 40 starts, he had failed to break into Victory Lane in the Winston Cup Grand National Series.
In addition to the plan money going to the various drivers, Goodyear began giving away tires to top qualifiers in each Winston Cup Grand National event. On the superspeedways, 144 tires would be given away to the top 12 qualifiers. The fastest four in time trials got 20 tires. Twelve tires went to the teams qualifying fifth through eighth. And four tires were awarded to the ninth through 12th fastest qualifiers. On the short tracks, eight tires were awarded to the top five qualifiers, with four tires going to the next five fastest in time trials. NASCAR, the track promoters and Goodyear all worked together in an effort to solve some of the pressing financial problems the team owners were confronted with.
The Point System -- Again
Not surprisingly, the Winston Cup Grand National point system was changed again -- for the fifth time in the last nine years. The latest point structure was designed to encourage more teams to make a run for the championship. For the first time in NASCAR history, each and every race would carry equal point value. In the past, races posting more prize money and of a greater distance, awarded more points to the drivers.
And bonus points would be introduced -- another NASCAR first. Five additional points would be awarded to any driver who led a lap, and five additional bonus points would go the driver leading the most laps. The point distribution would be between 185 and 43 points in a 40-car superspeedway race.
The plan was designed by Bob Latford, who had worked in public relations at Daytona, Charlotte and Atlanta. "Last year, there were remultiplications of multiples," said Latford. "To be successful, a system has to be understood by the public." The season began at Riverside in January. The field of 35 was filled mostly by West Coast drivers. Only 12 regulars on the Winston Cup Grand National trail made the trip across the country.
The Daytona 500 attracted a full field of cars and a record 110,000 spectators. But the next few events were not able to draw enough cars to fill the entire starting field. Richmond had only 22 cars for its February 23 contest. Only 31 cars went to Rockingham and just 23 showed up at Bristol. Bobby Allison, teamed with Roger Penske for 1975, won the season opener at Riverside and finished second in the Daytona 500. Although leading in the point standings, Penske and Allison did not enter at Richmond -- the third event of the year. "I was hoping I'd get a chance to run all the races," said Allison. "I guess I'll keep busy in Sportsman racing. A guy can have a lot of fun and make good money in Sportsman racing. But at this stage of my career, I'm not doing it for the money. Grand National racing is a disease, and I guess I've got it."
Off-setting some of the early troubles was the announcement that more Winston Cup Grand National events would be televised. ABC Sports planned to televise the last half of the Daytona 500 and Atlanta 500 live. ABC also inked a contract to present additional races on a delayed basis -- the Mason-Dixon 500 at Dover, the Firecracker 400 at Daytona, the Southern 500 at Darlington and Charlotte's National 500. These would be aired over the popular Wide World of Sports program.
The Daytona 500 got surprisingly good ratings. The race was aired opposite an NBA game on CBS and a hockey game on NBC. The Daytona 500 drew a 10.7 rating compared to 8.6 for the basketball game and 4.1 for the NHL. Just before the 1975 season, NASCAR hooked up with CBS Sports. Frank Charkinian, executive producer of CBS Sports Spectacular, announced that the Winston 500 at Talladega and the World 600 at Charlotte would be presented just one week after they were run. "We are very pleased to announce that CBS will be adding NASCAR style racing to its Sports Spectacular programming," said Charkinian.
"We are looking for a fruitful association with CBS," said NASCAR president Bill France Jr. "With CBS participating, we expect to have the best television line-up we've ever had.
"Not only is added televising of NASCAR races a boon to the sport itself," France added, "but will be highly attractive to sponsors and potential sponsors of racing teams at a time when exposure for them is most needed."
The increased television coverage did turn a few corporate heads. Holly Farms Poultry latched onto Junior Johnson's team in April -- following the two live telecasts by ABC. Holly Farms had modestly backed Johnson from 1961 - 1966 during his driving days. Unlike the early '60s when Holly Farms provided small sums of financial aid, the 1975 deal was for a healthy sum. Curiously, Holly Farms waited until after the April 6 Gwyn Staley Memorial event at North Wilkesboro Speedway -- the team owner's and sponsor's home stomping grounds -- to announce their pact. One race not included in the sponsorship agreement was the June 8 event at Riverside. Holly Farms felt they could get more mileage for the dollar by entering Southeastern-based races. They felt a trip out West would not sell that much chicken in and around North Wilkesboro.
By the end of the year, other corporate sponsors jumped on the NASCAR bandwagon. Pepsi Cola, Nitro 9 (engine additives), Cam 2 (motor oil/gasoline), Armor-All, Gatorade and Norris Industries would announce sponsorships for the 1976 season. Late in the 1975 season, CBS picked up two more races -- the Champion Spark Plug 400 at Michigan and the Dixie 500 at Atlanta. CBS had lost the Kentucky Derby to ABC, and they were going after Stock car racing, which had been dominated by ABC since 1961. Ironically, CBS aired the Michigan event and ABC televised the Southern 500 on the same day -- September 20. It was the first time that two television networks had shown two Winston Cup Grand National races on the same day.
Of the 10 NASCAR races aired on network television in 1975, half were won by Richard Petty. For the entire season, Petty won 13 of the 30 races and easily captured his sixth national championship. He wound up 721 points ahead of runner-up Dave Marcis, who won once. Other 1975 winners included Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Cale Yarborough, Benny Parsons and Darrell Waltrip, who finally did win in 1975.
Waltrip's first Winston Cup Grand National win came on his home turf at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway on May 10. The Franklin, Tenn., driver pushed his Chevrolet in front with 100 laps to go when a blown engine sent Yarborough to the sidelines. "I didn't think it would take this long to finally win one," said Waltrip. In August, Waltrip signed a contract with DiGard Racing Team, headed by Mike DiProspero and Bill Gardner. Donnie Allison, who had been DiGard's driver since its inception in 1973, was released after coming up winless for parts of three seasons. Waltrip won the October 12 event at Richmond -- in his eighth start for the DiGard team. It was the first win for DiGard.
In that event, the 26th of 30 races, Petty clinched the 1975 Winston Cup Grand National title. "This has been perhaps my best year ever," remarked Petty. He won a record $481,750.80 during the 1975 season. He collected $284,980 in race winnings, $51,000 from Winston, $22,885.40 in NASCAR point money (an equal amount for NASCAR owner point fund), $80,000 in Achievement Awards and various contingency money. He also received a .22 rifle and a .410 shotgun from his sponsor STP.
When old rival Bobby Allison was told of the prizes STP had given Petty, he had this to say, "I apologize to Richard for everything I ever said about him -- now that he has those things." Members of the media questioned Petty about possible retirement. Petty was philosophical. "As a man gets older, his reflexes give way to anticipation," said Petty. "They can't be as sharp as they were when he was younger. When a cat first starts racing, he drives strictly on reflexes and guts. As time progresses, he loses both of them, but he gains maturity. As he gains maturity, he also gains experience and it all levels off.
"The hardest thing to do is to quit when you're on top," he added. "As long as you're winning, you are afraid to even think about quitting. Right now, I'm winning as much as we've ever done, so retiring is not exactly crossing my mind."