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."
The 1974 Season
The Energy Shortage, Multiple Rules Changes -- and Petty Wins 5th Title
by Greg Fielden
In the autumn of 1973, the oil exporting nations (OPEC) announced a general boycott on oil exports to Europe, Japan and the United States. The goal was to raise oil prices. Virtually overnight, supplies of crude oil were drying up.
An Energy Crisis
On Thursday November 15, 1973, auto racing executives launched a campaign aimed to keep the sport alive. Representatives of five major sanctioning bodies – NASCAR, USAC, SCCA, IMSA and NHRA, met in Chicago to pool their ideas. All big wheels attending the meeting were well aware that auto racing was the only sport that had gotten the ax during World War II. Other major league sporting activities continued merrily on, but auto racing was given the black flag early in 1942. Bill Smyth, Executive Director of USAC, said, “We’re naturally concerned about that possibility if the fuel crisis worsens.”
Offspring of the Chicago meeting was the National Motorsports Committee. Executive Director was John Cooper, former President of Ontario Motor Speedway and a close associate of the Bill France family.
President Richard M. Nixon mad a statement before a national television audience on November 25, 1973. Nixon said that all gas stations from coast to coast will be closed between 9:00 pm Saturday and midnight Sunday until further notice in an effort to conserve energy.
That was anything but good news for auto racing promoters. The immediate concern among NASCAR promoters was the possibility of being forced to reschedule their events for Saturday rather than Sunday. “We fought (South Carolina Blue Laws) for years to get Sunday racing and we’d had it for three years,” said Darlington Raceway President Barney Wallace. “If we went back to Saturday racing for the spring event (April 7, 1974), we would kill all we fought for. But we’d do that before we would close our doors.”
NASCAR promoters wanted to explore all other possibilities rather than shift to Saturday race dates. “We don’t want to be singled out for massive reductions,” said Larry Carrier, President of Bristol International Speedway. “Those of us in the automobile racing fraternity ask for no special favors – only equal rights.”
While the auto racing promoters were mapping out their own course, the Government took some steps of its own.
The Federal Energy Office was originated to monitor the usage of fuel nationwide.
Within a week, the National Motorsports Committee had released figured on petroleum consumption by various sporting associations and leisure time activities. According to the in-depth study, auto racing ranked a distant seventh in fuel consumption. Vacation travel, not surprisingly, ranked first with 5,416,140,827 gallons of fuel consumed annually. In comparison, auto racing consumed 93,639,696 gallons each year. Among the sports using more fuel than auto racing, basketball and football. Movie theaters and non scheduled aviation also consumed more fuel annually than auto racing, the study said.
The figures for the other sports included spectator travel and chartered flights carrying reams across the country.
Practically speaking, it would be impossible to gather such precise statistics in only a few days, but the figures greatly helped auto racing’s cause.
The National Motorsports Committee’s finding were delivered to the Federal Energy Office.
All major sports groups were asked to find ways to reduce fuel consumption by 25%.
On January 3, 1974, the Federal Energy Office reported it had received general agreement from representatives of major sports in the United States as a voluntary goal of reducing the energy usage. John C. Sawhill, Deputy Energy Administrator, singled out three entertainment entities for tribute.
* The National Football League for donating valuable television commercial time to public service announcements.
* The Motion Picture Association for similar contributions.
* Auto racing for “having the foresight to compile figures on energy consumption in the sports and leisure time areas”.
Sawhill added that the National Motorsports Committee’s findings were “the best figures the government has on the subject.”
Sawhill said the wanted each sports representative to deliver itemized methods to reduce fuel consumption by January 31, 1974. “We want your plans by the end of the month and we want to know how to intend to police the,” he said.
Texas World Speedway, which had hosted Winston Cup Grand National races off and on since 1969, threw in the towel without a fight. Track President Dan W. Holloway said the doors of his financially troubled facility would remain closed “until the end of the energy crisis”. But nobody else in the racing fraternity was willing to give up.
Bill France, Sr., who stepped down as President of NASCAR in 1972, took the bull by the horns. Cleverly groomed in the world of politics, Big Bill had represented the entire auto racing fraternity in a meeting with Sawhill and the Federal Energy Office authorities. “While auto racing uses a minimal amount of fuel in contrast to other leisure time activities, we are anxious to cooperate in the overall curtailment of the use of fuel,” said France. “Auto racing is a highly visible sport and it has a public relations problem inasmuch as we are very vulnerable. We feel it is important to cooperate with the government’s request to exceed the 25% overall cut if possible. I am sure the quality of NASCAR racing for our fans and competitors will be unaffected.”
John Cooper said he wanted all track operators to send their energy reduction proposals to his office by January 25. “We have an unprecedented opportunity to establish our own guidelines, free of government control ,” said Cooper. “The sport should act quickly and forcibly to formulate such plans and formulate them to the Committee by the deadline of January 25.”
France, Sr., Chairman of the Board at International Speedway Corp., took the first step. He canceled the 24 Hours of Daytona sports car event.
France also said there would be reduction in other areas. Racing distances would be cut by 10% -- or 50 miles for the Daytona 500. France strongly urged other tracks to do the same. In addition to reduction of race distance, practice days would be cut from eight to five during Speedweeks. And a 30-gallon limit of fuel to drivers for practice sessions would be enforced. By using France’s methods, figured released by Daytona International Speedway revealed they used 30.1% less fuel in 1974 (18,009 gallons) than they did in 1973 (23,964 gallons). France proved that NASCAR intended to deliver on its promises made to the Federal Energy Office – and then some.
“As far as the government is concerned,” said France, Sr., it is looking at all sports with one eye. All sports have agreed to cut energy usage by 25% across the board and we will gladly comply with this requirement.”
Other tracks along the Winston Cup Grand National tour would adopt similar reductions. The starting fields were reduced in most other events.
Point System Overhaul
Another noteworthy change on the NASCAR scene was a major overhaul in the championship point system. It would be the fourth procedure used in determining the national champion in the last eight years.
The big change was a return to the general philosophy that NASCAR had in its pioneering days – basing point awards on prize money.
Money winnings from track purses (qualifying and contingency awards didn’t count), in dollars, multiplied by the number of races started, and the resulting figure divided by 1,000 would get the number of points earned.
Publisher Hank Schoolfield said, “The new point system will cause more head scratching than a swarm of gnats on Labor Day at Darlington”
He was right about that.
Bu Bill France, Jr. said it would be beneficial. “We feel that both the sport and fans will benefit from the dollar formula,” he said. “Winning or finishing high in an event will be the prime importance to the Winston Cup competitors. And every race on the 1974 schedule will now have a marked effect in contributing points toward the championship.”
Actually, the new point system rewarded drivers who would run up front in big money races. The basic prize money accumulated during the season would be multiplied by the number of starts a driver made. No race offered any specific schedule of point awards. The points which could be won would vary with each driver.
And, a driver who won a bundle in a major race (i.e. the Daytona 500) would recap the benefits when he merely started the next race.
The point system was a complete flop. Midway through the year, NASCAR knew it was going to have to be changed again.
Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough, one-two finishers in the Daytona 500, ran away from all others in the point race. Petty, who would win his fifth title, had over twice as many points a third place finisher David Pearson. That’s because with every race Petty started, he again got his Daytona 500 point total figured in the new updates.
The eye-stabbing drawbacks of the point system occurred in the fall. Petty crashed early in the Southern 500, winding up 35th in the final rundown. Darrell Waltrip finished second in the race. However, when the points were tallied following the Darlington event, Petty’s point total increased by 160 points, while Waltrip only boosted his point total by 95 points. Petty received more points at Darlington that 33 of the 34 drivers who finished in front of him.
Then at Martinsville, Petty’s car succumbed after just 22 laps. Yarborough, his closest adversary in the point battle, drove a total of 421 laps before his engine blew. He finished 11th, while Petty was 20th. Still, Petty increased his point lead by 10 point over Yarborough that day.
“This whole point deal has got me confused,” admitted Petty.
Petty won 10 races in 30 starts in 1974 and fully deserved being crowned champion. And Yarborough, who also won 10 races, fittingly wound up in runner-up spot in the final Winston Cup standings. But the route by which they did so confused everyone, including the contestants.
Once the season ended, NASCAR did not hesitate to change the point system again. Most observers felt the general principle of the 1974 point structure was a good one – for a change it rewarded drivers for winning races. But the complicated intricacies of it created controversy and confusion.
Rule Changes – Again
Unfortunately, controversy and confusion were not limited to the point system in 1974. No less that five major rule changes went into effect during the year.
The season started out with the same specifications as when the 1973 season ended. NASCAR Executive Vice President Lin Kuchler said NASCAR had been prepared to make a rule change at the start of the 1974 season, “but the petroleum shortage hit us and we wanted to concentrate all our efforts on weathering that problem.”
Keeping the 1973 specs disenchanted the K&K Insurance Dodge team – owned by Nord Krauskopf and driven by Buddy Baker. During the winter, Krauskopf and crew chief Harry Hyde insisted they would not compete in NASCAR events unless the controversial carburetor plate and its varying sizes for different types of engines we scrapped. The highly regarded team boycotted the Daytona 500. “We are not competitive under the existing rules and do not plan to compete in the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit until they are changed,” said Krauskopf.
The fuel shortage had a marked effect on the spectator turnout at Daytona. Only 85,000 spectators were on hand in 1974 whereas 103,500 had paid their way in a year earlier. But no one was complaining. It could have been much worse. And there were a few gas stations open along I-95 Sunday after the race to accommodate the race fans.
Seven days before the Daytona 500 was held, ABC Sports made an announcement that the second half of the event would be televised live for the first time in its 16 year history. The network planned to pick up the telecast at 2:00 pm – two hours after it started – and stay on the air until 3:30 pm when it ended. ABC had paid $300,000 in TV rights. The Daytona International Speedway received 55%, 25% went to the drivers ($1,800 apiece), and 20% went to track operators who did not have televised events in 1974.
NASCAR and ABC kept the lid on the agreement until the week of the race because Speedway officials felt an earlier announcement would deter the trackside crowd.
Twenty-four hours before the Daytona 500 got the green flag, NASCAR released a statement that said as of March 18, the rules would be changed. It was supposed to be the only rule change of the year.
The controversial carburetor plates would be removed from all cars. A new Holley carburetor especially built for the Winston Cup Grand National cars, would be placed on all engines larger than 366 cubic inched. “We are phasing out the high performance big engines primarily because the Detroit manufacturers have done so,” said Bill France, Sr. “We are sort of governed by the size they make and sell to the public.”
The first race under the new rules was the Atlanta 500.
Teams running the small engines approved of the rule change. “This is what we’ve been looking for,” said owner Bud Moore, who had tried for two seasons to field a competitive small-engine Ford. “This will put us back in the ball park.”
Glen Wood carefully studied the written rules. “Looks like they put the big engine out of business. We may have to go to Atlanta with a small motor if we can get one put together in time.”
The Wood Brothers and engine builder Tommy Turner came to Atlanta with a 366 c.i. Ford engine. They promptly ran a lap of 159.160 mph. That was better than a three mph spread.
Benny Parsons qualified third in a small engine Chevrolet.
The K&K Insurance team, as promised, returned with a big block Hemi and ran the fourth fastest time. Jody Ridley timed Junie Donlavey’s small block Ford fifth. The small engines took four of the top five spots. Cal Yarborough and Richard Petty, who stuck with the big motors, qualified five mph off the pace. “If NASCAR wants to get rid of the big engine, it’s a good rule,” said Petty. “If they want to equalize competition, it’s a bad rule.”
Pearson led most of the way, but an extra pit stop cost him a certain victory as Yarborough won the race.
Pearson won the Rebel 450 at Darlington two weeks later. Virtually all the front runners had switched to the small motors.
Then came the second rule change. “We feel the larger engine could use more help,” said Lin Kuchler. “so we’re giving it a little more carburetor to intensify competition.
The second rule change, which allowed the bigger engines to breathe more air, went into effect on April 22.
Petty felt the frequency of the rule changes was unnecessary. “You have winners and losers every week,” said the King. “no matter what the rules are, he same teams are going to win. The only difference is it costs everybody more money to make all the changes.”
The Virginia 500 at Martinsville was the first race under the new rules. Yarborough, whose Richard Howard-owned team switched to a small motor for the short track event, lead a 1-2-3-4-5-6 sweep for cars equipped with the little engine. The nearest big block car was 13 laps off the pace. The petty Enterprises beefed up a 340 c.i. Chrysler motor and finished second. He had won the previous week at North Wilkesboro. “This (small engine) project has cost us $50,000,” declared Petty.
At Talladega, the separation between the big and little engines grew even more. Pearson logged a 186.086 mph lap to take the pole for the Winston 500. Baker was the quickest of the big engines at 179.060 mph in his 426 c.i. Hemi. Petty, back to the big engine for durability on the superspeedways, lumbered around at 172.767 mph in qualifying. He was 14 mph off the pace.
Pearson and Benny parsons finished 1-2 in small engine cars.
Following the Winston 500, two cars engaged in private tests to assist NASCAR in formulating some equitable rules. The Richard Howard-Junior Johnson Chevrolet and the K&K Insurance Dodge, and their drivers Cale Yarborough and Buddy Baker tested many different set-ups. David Pearson appeared at NASCAR’s request to drive each of the cars. NASCAR was wary that Yarborough and/or Baker just might be sandbagging during the tests.
“NASCAR has been operating blind-folded,” said Johnson. “Their intentions are good. NASCAR has got the big engine where they want it, but the other motor has gotten away from them.”
After a number of runs at Talladega, the teams tested at Atlanta. NASCAR took the findings back to Daytona for study.
More rule changes were on the way. Following the Martinsville event NASCAR said that effective May 20, two different size carburetors would be placed on big engines depending on the size of the track they were racing on. At the same time, NASCAR announced that as of June 24, the maximum cubic inch displacement for small engines would be reduced from 366 to 358 c.i.
When the rules were announced, K&K Insurance quit again. Crew chief Harry Hyde said, “NASCAR has made it both unrealistic and virtually impossible for us to compete with a chance to win. The tests accomplished nothing because the disadvantage of the big bore the tests showed and what NASCAR gave up wasn’t even close. Nord (Krauskipf) can’t see embarrassing Buddy any longer.” Baker would later team with Bud Moore, who fire Gorge Follmer after 11 races.
All the juggling around frustrated many drivers. “It’s getting worse instead of better,” said Dave Marcis.
“It’s a joke,” commented Benny Parsons.
“NASCAR has things so screwed up now I don’t know what’s fair and what isn’t,” said Richard Petty.
“I don’t care what they do,” said Junior Johnson. “But they ought to make rules and then stick to them.”
The rule changes began taking a toll on the independent drivers. “I got home from Martinsville and found another rule change in the mail,” said Richard Childress. “A few hours before I opened the mail, I spent $70 for a carburetor change that was obsolete before I ever used it.”
NASCAR President Bill France, Jr. made a public statement in the face of all the complaints. “We catch a lot of criticism for constantly changing the rules,” he said. “But if you’ve made a mistake and you have a bad rule and you know it, why stick with it?”
In July, NASCASR made its fifth – and final – rule change for the season. This one singled out the Ford products. There were new limitations on cylinder head modifications which mechanics could do to the Ford Cleveland 351 c.i. engine. Glen Wood said it cost them 20-25 horsepower.
During the summer, NASCAR announced that no engine over 358 c.i. would be allowed on the Winston Cup Grand National tour in 1975, although that would be altered to let the big engines compete again the following season.
The Sponsor Merry-go-round
In July, the Carling Brewing Co. made a big splash into the NASCAR circles. The Toronto, Canada based company had backed rookie Earl Ross, of Alsa Craig, Ontario, on the Winston Cup Grand National tour early in the year with modest financing. Carling had dabbled in the sport as early as 1972 when they joined leading Rookie of the Year candidate Larry Smith. Smith went on to win the 1972 award for freshman drivers, but he was killed in 1973 at Talladega. Carling backed out of NASCAR and concentrated on supporting Canadian drivers Ross and Norm Lelliott in north of the border Sportsman racing.
With Yarborough leading the Winston Cup standings in June, Carling was putting the finishing touches on a deal to “acquire” the Richard Howard-Junior Johnson stable. Howard, owner of the Chevrolets Johnson had built and prepared since 1971, would bow out. Carling said they had “purchased” the Howard organization – purchased was a popular term in those days which actually meant sponsorship – and Johnson would field two cars. Yarborough would continue his bid to win the Winston cup championship and Ross, driving the second Johnson car, would step up his efforts in the 1974 Rookie of the Year race.
Carling like the idea of jumping on board during the middle of the season – provided the team they were eyeing was doing well.
Carling’s deal was to sponsor Johnson for 1974 and at least the first part of 1975, with options for another three years. Howard, General Manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, was the man who bought the Chevrolet nameplate back into the sport three years earlier. In the face of the factory cutback in 1971, crowds at stock car races were on the decline. Howard put up the money to bring a competitive Chevrolet back for the 1971 World 600 at Howard’s track – and he hired Johnson to build it.
From May 1971 through June of 1974, Howard-owned, Johnson-engineered cars entered 87 Winston Cup Grand National events and won 21 times. “Carling has bought my cars,” Howard revealed in late June of 1974. “They have put together one of the most attractive sponsorships in racing. I’ve made some money by selling you, but Junior and racing will be the big winners. The day that one man can afford a first class team is about over. That is why it is so vital to have big company in our sport”
Yarborough lost his bid for the 1974 Winston Cup title, finishing second to Richard Petty. Ross won the Martinsville Old Dominion 500 in September and captured the Rookie of the Year honors.
Petty clinched the championship in the next to last race at Rockingham. Within two weeks, Carling Brewing Co. dropped a bombshell. They announced that all sponsorship in the Winston Cup Grand national ranks would be discontinued after the 1974 season. They sponsored Johnson for four months when they had agreed to for up to four years.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Johnson. “They called and said they were dropping out of Grand National racing. It’s one of the biggest disappointments in my career. It was really a big letdown.”
Don Duncan, promotional director for Carling, said, “We ae going to withdraw with the 1975 season. The decision was predicated on rising costs of the beer industry and that we don’t sell that much beer in the Southeast where the Grand Nationals race.”
Johnson said that whe he inked the deal with Carling in June of 1974, “they indicated Carling would be in Grand National racing for at least three years. They went so far as to say that ‘we are in it for good’.
“They hurt us more than they did us good,“ added Johnson. “They were only around four or five months.”
Many observers felt that since the Carling-sponsored car did not win the NASCAR championship, they no longer wanted to be associated with the sport.
Johnson said he would likely have to rely on appearance money to make some of the gig races in 1975, unless a sponsor could be located. “I won’t spend a dime of my own money to race,” he stressed.
Winding Down the Year
The first 15 events on the 1974 Winston Cup Grand National tour were reduced 10% -- as France, Sr. had requested at the beginning of the year. But as of the July 4 Firecracker 400 at Daytona, the full distance was restored. “We have complied with all conservation requests and are meeting our target on fuel saving,” Bill France, Jr. said in a prepared statement. “NASCAR will continue to be prepared to meet andy adverse changes in the national energy situation and we will continue to allocate fuel to contestants, closely regulate and condense practice and qualifying periods, and retain our carburetor limitations. This will enable us to meet the requests of the Federal Energy Office and still conduct the events at full distance.”
Despite all the rule changes design to equalize competition, only three teams won 28 of the 30 races. Petty and Yarborough won 10 races each, with David Pearson winning seven superspeedway events for the Wood Brothers. Ross, in the second Johnson Chevrolet, won at Martinsville after mechanical problems sidelined Petty and Yarborough. Pearson was not entered.
Bobby Allison was the only driver to beat the big guns heads up. He won the first short track race at Richmond in his own Chevrolet, and he finished first in the season finale at Ontario, CA. In that race, NASCAR officials found illegal roller tappets in Allison’s Roger Penske-owned Matador. The sanctioning body allowed him to keep first place, but they fined him a record $9,100.
As Pearson, Petty and Yarborough were taking most of the headlines in the major leagues, a couple of aspiring youngsters were beginning to make waves on the weekly short track Sportsman tour. Dale Earnhardt, 22 year-old son of the late Ralph Earnhardt, won his first Sportsman race on July 19, 1974 at Metrolina Speedway in Charlotte. Earnhardt drove his Chevrolet past Tommy Houston in the 41st lap and went on to win the 55 lapper in the Ned Jarrett promoted event.
And there was a lanky red-head in Georgia by the name of Bill Elliott. The 18 year-old youngster drove his Ford around Larry Lancaster in the final lap to win the September 7, 1974 50 lap feature at Dixie Speedway in Woodstock, GA. Elliott won $660 for his first career win in the Sportsman ranks.
There was yet another budding success story happening in the Midwest. Fifteen year-old Mark Martin of Batesville, AR, who barely looked 12, won the 6-Cylinder championship at Benton Speedbowl in Arkansas. He captured the title in a September 12, 1974 50 –lap contest. He made a bold charge from 10th starting spot to win the race and the championship.
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
The 1973 Season
Pearson, Wood Brothers Run Wild; Cheating Mars Late Season Events
By Greg Fielden
|This was a common scene in 1973, as David Pearson and the Wood Brothers dominated, winning 11 of the 18 events in which they entered.|
It was Wednesday October 3, 1973. The Winston Cup Grand National drivers were in force at Charlotte Motor Speedway. This particular event was drawing every bit as much attention as the annual speed gathering at Daytona in February. The handful of front runners were on hand. David Pearson and the Wood Brothers were in their second year as a unit; Richard Petty's STP Dodge; Cale Yarborough and a newcomer by the name of Dick Trickle both saddled in Junior Johnson-prepared Chevrolets; Buddy Baker in the Harry Hyde wrenched Dodge; Bobby Allison in his own Chevrolet; and Darrell Waltrip in the Bud Moore Ford.
Also trackside was a Sportsman whiz named Harry Gant, who was trying to earn a starting berth in a Winston Cup Grand National event for the first time. And there was also Wendell Scott, back from severe injuries he suffered in a 21-car crash at Talladega in May. It would be the final fling for the 52-year-old Danville, VA driver -- his last time in a Winston Cup car.
Virtually every team was ready to make a run for the pole on Wednesday. Charlotte Motor Speedway's National 500 carried $166,693 in posted awards -- plus a record $33,400 in lap prizes. The leader of each of the 334 laps would pocket $100. With the premium on an up-front starting spot, all teams were ready to make a run for the pole. The National 500 was the 15th superspeedway event of the 1973 season. Pearson and his maroon and white Mercury had won nine of them. It had been the most awesome display on the big track ovals in the 25 year history of NASCAR. It was practically a one-man show.
With Pearson winning week after week, most of the other competitors were pulling out all the stops at Charlotte.
Back in January, the 1973 season held so much promise for so many teams. The sport was becoming a truly big league affair, with attendance and purses at an all-time high. And an eventful season would unfold by October.
Cale Yarborough was back in NASCAR's fold following a two year hiatus on the USAC Indy Car trail. Yarborough had enjoyed a less than successful splurge on the country's premier open wheel circuit. "I got pretty down," said Cale. "About as down as a guy could get. Nothing had worked out like it was supposed to. I made a bad mistake when I left NASCAR." Yarborough had taken himself out of the famed Wood Brothers Mercury ride after the 1970 season. At that time, Ford Motor Co. had announced they would not back any car on the NASCAR tour. Yarborough had an offer to drive the second Gene White entry on the Indy Car Championship Trail. Not knowing what the future held for him in NASCAR, Yarborough accepted White's offer.
"The factories were pulling out and Glen Wood wasn't sure what he was going to do," Cale reflected. "I had the opportunity to sign a two year contract with Gene White. That meant I'd eat for another two years. I left the Wood Brothers on friendly terms." Yarborough drove 12 Indy Car races in 1971 for White's team. He posted a pair of top five finishes and earned $39,342 and managed to finish 16th in the final USAC point standings.
Just as the 1972 Indy Car season began, White was forced to cut his team from two cars to one. That left Yarborough without a ride. He started only the Indianapolis 500 that year. A disgusted Yarborough turned to his native Southland in order to remain active in automobile racing. He hooked up with James Hylton and Hoss Ellington for a few token NASCAR appearances in late 1972. Then he went looking for a full time driving assignment.
Cale didn't have to look very long. Junior Johnson, Manager for the Richard Howard-owned team, and Bobby Allison were splitting up despite a banner season in their only year on the Winston Cup tour. "When I heard that Junior's ride would be open, I knew that was the car I wanted," said Yarborough. "I'm very, very fortunate to be away two years and then, with a lot of good drivers sitting around without a ride, to come back and be able to land one of the best rides in racing. If I hadn't been able to get back in a good ride, I'd really be regretting my decision about going to USAC."
Richard and the PDA
A short time after Cale's attention-grabbing announcement, Richard Petty delivered a quiet statement of his own. Without any fanfare, Petty said he was withdrawing from the Professional Drivers Association, which he had helped form in 1969. Petty was the first president of the PDA, and the fledgling organization made its mark in a hurry. The PDA, under Petty's direction, had boycotted the inaugural Talladega 500 at Bill France's Alabama International Motor Speedway.
In January of 1973, Petty made a brief announcement: "I have severed all ties with the PDA. I feel there is no need for an organization of this type since Bill France, Jr. has taken over as Presidency of NASCAR. I told members when they made me their president that I wasn't sure I could do much for them."
Coincidentally, France, Jr. was speaking at an STP breakfast in the early days of Speedweeks. "This man (Petty) has won many an award and just the other day won another (The Daytona Beach News-Journal's Man of the Year), and I'd like to go on record as saying he is the best ambassador stock car racing has ever had." Petty's withdrawal from the PDA left the organization without any power. It's membership had been dwindling over the three year period. By 1973, the membership had fallen to 30 drivers of various lower divisions and 400 fans.
John Green, Executive Director of the PDA, said Petty's resignation "was because he was under pressure, possibly from sponsor STP. If it is decided to continue the organization, then someone will be named to the presidency. An attempt to continue the PDA as an entity fighting NASCAR would be suicidal at this time. But there is a need for it as a marketing organization," said Green. The Professional Drivers Association fizzled out within a few months.
Pearson's Great Season
The season kicked off at Riverside, and Mark Donohue's Roger Penske Matador led most of the way. He won by five miles over runner-up Allison. At Daytona, Richard Petty outlasted a speedier Buddy Baker to capture his fourth 500. Pearson had fallen victim to mechanical problems in the first two 1973 races. In the season's second superspeedway contest, Pearson led 499 of the 500 miles at Rockingham. He failed to lead only a single lap -- and that was when he was in the pits for a routine tire change.
Pearson won his next start in the Atlanta 500, beating runner-up Bobby Isaac by two laps. Then, he won the Darlington Rebel 500 by an astounding 13 laps. It didn't stop there. Pearson won the Virginia 500 at Martinsville's half-mile oval with a superspeedway Mercury. He won the Winston 500 at Talladega. He finally lost one -- the World 600 at Charlotte where Buddy Baker prevailed. Pearson was second. He won Dover, passed up the big track race at Texas World Speedway, then won again at Michigan in a caution free contest. In 10 Winston Cup Grand National starts in the first half of the 1973 season, Pearson had won seven times. And finished second once.
Then he beat Petty in a last lap shoot-out in the Firecracker. The two Chevy favorites driven by Allison and Yarborough, fell out. Next, Pearson nailed down win number nine at Atlanta. A late engine problem knocked him down to third in the Talladega 500. Dick Brooks, driving an underpowered and outdated 1972 Plymouth, pulled off a stunning upset. Pearson won the Delaware 500 at Dover despite crashing into a slower car in the second half of the event. He lost a lap to the field but came charging back in a wrecked automobile to win going away.
"I can't believe what's been happening this year," said Pearson. "The credit has to go to the Wood boys. They're the best pit crew, they save me time on the race track and they have beat these rules NASCAR has clamped down on us. Plus, we've been having good luck. Not having bad luck is having good luck."
Dick Brooks - and the Talladega 500
It was a typically weird Talladega event. But this one was a little stranger than most. Dick Brooks, a fifth year driver who had never won a race, captured the Talladega 500. His team owners, Jimmy and Peter Crawford of East Point, GA, had never seen their car finish better than 16th. "I was going to drive the car," said Jimmy Crawford, an Eastern Airlines pilot. "But NASCAR had been on my back about my driving. They wouldn't let me drive my own car here. I almost pulled it out of the race."
|During the 1973 Talladega 500, Bobby Issac called his crewchief and said, "get a relief driver. I quit."|
Crawford had competed in the Winston Cup Grand Nationals off and on since 1970. But he had been involved in wrecks at Talladega and Daytona, and NASCAR told him they would assist him in finding a more experienced driver for the Talladega 500. Brooks had showed up at Talladega hoping to be able to drive something. A last minute deal to put him in a Ford had never materialized. Crawford and NASCAR officials met behind closed doors and a deal was made to put Brooks in the car. The rest is history.
Fighting overheating problems nearly from the start, a pit road collision and losing a lap twice due to long pit stops, Brooks never gave up. He took the lead with eight laps to go and scored what would be Plymouth's last Winston Cup victory. Pearson had finished third -- on seven cylinders. The mechanical problem interrupted his bid to win his fifth straight superspeedway event. Larry Smith, the 1972 Winston Cup Grand National Rookie of the Year, had died in the 14th lap. Smith's Mercury had a tire go down and he slapped the retaining wall in the first turn. It looked like a very routine accident.
But within a few moments, Speedway physician Dr. J.L. Hardwick delivered the bad news. Smith had died of "massive head injuries and a basal skull fracture," said Hardwick, "although his helmet is not broken." Official statement of Smith's death was not released until next of kin had been notified. Two laps before the fatal impact, Smith had dropped off the pace. Some observers had said he was driving on the inner-liner of the right front tire. Smith had been concerned about running well at Talladega since a number of top executives from the Carling Brewing Co. had come to watch him compete. Up until Talladega, Smith had struggled all season.
In the 90th lap, Bobby Isaac suddenly delivered a message to crewchief and car owner Bud Moore via two-way radio. "Get a relief driver. I quit," said Isaac. Moore located Coo Coo Marlin sitting on a bench in the garage area. He had fallen out 32 laps earlier with engine problems. Isaac brought the car into the pits, dismounted and told Moore, "I quit. I quit racing." Isaac later said, "I don't have anything to prove to myself or anyone else. I know how it feels to want to drive and I know how it feels to win and lose. I know how it feels to be a champion, and now I know how it feels to quit."
Roger Penske and MIS
When Roger Penske took over the Michigan International Speedway early in 1973, the first thing he did was cancel the Yankee 400, scheduled for August. "We will hold the Motor State 400 Grand National race for NASCAR drivers and cars on June 24," said Penske when he took over. "But we will not hold the Yankee 400-mile NASCAR stock car race in August because of the tight schedule. Instead, we plan to hold twin 150-mile Indy Car races." The Motor State 400 drew what was termed to be the largest crowd in the track's six year history. The NASCAR event netted a profit of $190,000. It was too late to reverse his decision about the Yankee, but Penske promised to consider two annual NASCAR races in 1974.
Rules and Rule Changes
In the meantime, Junior Johnson, crewchief and team manager of Richard Howard's Chevrolet team, was calling out for rule changes. "The only reason I got back into NASCAR was because they were going to phase the big, exotic racing engines out," said Johnson. "But it looks like NASCAR is helping them out with their rules. Those exotic engines Petty and Baker are running can't be bought. I couldn't buy one if I had a million dollars. My engines cost only $1,100, and I can't compete against those exotic engines."
Johnson's remarks brought sharp responses from Maurice Petty and Harry Hyde, two of the best at tuning Chrysler Hemi engines. "Tell Junior to come on down here with $6,500 and we'll sell him a race-ready Hemi engine. He doesn't need a million dollars," said Maurice. Hyde took offense at Johnson's claim that his engines are bought for $1,100. "That's a 14 carat gold lie," said Hyde. "There's no such thing as an $1,100 engine running 188 mph."
By the July 4 Firecracker 400 at Daytona, sanctioning NASCAR had adopted a new set of rules. Gone were the carburetor "sleeves." The much talked about carburetor restrictor plate was once again a fixture in Winston Cup Grand National racing. And, not surprisingly, the new specs helped the Chevrolets. For the Firecracker, Chevrolets qualified in the top two spots. Bobby Allison, who won the pole at 179.619 mph, said, "I'm sure the restrictions will bring down the Hemi. I think we have reduced our disadvantage rather than gained an advantage," he said.
Hyde, crewchief on Buddy Baker's K&K Insurance Dodge, was outraged that the new specifications rendered his Hemi-powered car uncompetitive. "NASCAR is admitting the Hemi engine is better than the Chevrolet engine," said Hyde. "We are being unfairly penalized. If everybody did things like NASCAR, pro basketball would make Wilt Chamberlain play on his knees and horse racing would tie a sled behind Secretariat. I see no basis for having different size plates on different engines."
Glen Wood said he admitted to having an advantage under the prior rules, but it was not because of the guidelines in the NASCAR rule book. "The credit belongs to Leonard (Wood, Glen's brother and crewchief on the #21 Mercury driven by Pearson). If the rules favored us, all the Fords and Mercuries would be running faster than the Chevrolets. That's just not the case. Leonard has done his homework and we shouldn't be penalized for that."
Richard Petty said the 400-miler at Daytona wasn't a true indicator of the new NASCAR restrictions. "The rules are half okay here. But what I'm concerned about is when we get to the shorter tracks. The Chevys have been beating us up there. There's no telling how much farther they'll be ahead at places like Atlanta and the short tracks." Hyde was nabbed by a second inspection the morning of first day qualifying. "They gave me a 50-page set of rules three days ago 4,000 miles from here and expect everyone to check in right to the letter of the rule," huffed Hyde. "They caught us on the air breather. There's a new rule now saying the air breather has to be three inches from the firewall."
Although the mid-season rule change made the Chevrolets among the fastest on the track, they had scored few wins. Yarborough had only two short track wins to his credit; Benny Parsons had won at Bristol, and Bobby Allison didn't score his first win of the season until Riverside in June. Junior Johnson was grumbling again. "I race to make money. We're in the red this year. We've put on a good show, but we have nothing to show for it."
Luck took a turn for the better at Darlington. Yarborough delivered a sudden burst of speed in the late going of the Southern 500 and ran away from Pearson. No one had been able to do that all year. Some railbirds were wondering where all that power came from.
The National 500 and a Little Cheatin' Goin' On
|Richard Petty and his crew got a little "creative" with the engine at the National 500 in Charlotte in 1973.|
Coming into Charlotte for the National 500, the drivers were looking at the biggest payday in NASCAR history. The word was getting around that some of the teams were bending some of the rules. Lap leader awards which were greater than the winner's share seemed to have a way of turning some heads. And some wrenches the wrong way.
Pearson was among the favorites for Charlotte's National 500. On Wednesday, the all-important starting positions would be determined. Everyone would be pulling out all the stops in qualifying for this event. In the biggest upset in pole day qualifying in 1973, Charlie Glotzbach went out and turned in a 158.730 mph lap. It earned him the pole. It was the first time a Hoss Ellington car had won a pole for a Winston Cup Grand National race. Pearson qualified second.
On Saturday October 6, one day before the National 500 and three days after starting positions had been set, NASCAR pulled a surprise inspection on the Winston Cup Grand National cars -- just before they went out for a shake-down session. It was at that surprise inspection that Gazaway's troops discovered an ingenious, illegal carburetor plate lodged in pole-winning Glotzbach's engine. The NASCAR-mandated carburetor plate was rigged with a cable running from the plate to the driver's compartment. Conveniently, Glotzbach could tug on the cable and remove the restrictor plate during the race, whenever he wanted to.
NASCAR stripped Glotzbach and Ellington of the pole and instructed them to requalify. At first Glotzbach threatened to pack up and leave Charlotte Motor Speedway. "We got caught," admitted Glotzbach. "But we didn't qualify with the cheater plate on. We just put it in there Saturday to do a little experimenting. From the looks of the goings on here in the garage area, that's what it's going to take to win or even lead this race."
Car owner Ellington said, "NASCAR really stuck it to us. How do you take a pole car with the plate sealed after we qualified (on Wednesday) and three days later said it was illegal when we qualified?" Racing scribe Benny Phillips wrote, "The penalty of disqualifying Glotzbach is like putting someone in jail on Saturday for being drunk on Wednesday." Pearson inherited the pole slot as Glotzbach requalified at 155.328 mph. Glotzbach lined up 36th in the field of 41.
Bobby Allison told Bill Gazaway, NASCAR's Technical Director, that he intended to protest any car that finished ahead of him in the Charlotte race. "I'm running faster than I ever have here, and if I finish the race with no problems, I want to look at any car that finishes ahead of me. I'm curious as to how I can get blown off the track by as much as I am when I know my car is running the best it has this year. It just gets you to wondering."
Yarborough and Petty ran away with the National 500. Together, they led for 310 of the 334 laps. Yarborough was in front for a total of 258 laps, which was worth $25,800 in lap money. Glotzbach and Pearson were eliminated in a wild crash in the fourth turn of lap 46. Glotzbach, trying to overtake Pearson, slipped sideways for a split instant, then overcorrected his car. Glotzbach took off directly for the wall, taking Pearson with him. Darrell Waltrip was also kayoed in the mishap.
During the middle portions of the race, Buddy Baker was called into his pits by crewchief Harry Hyde. The pit board said "Pit". Knowing it wasn't time to pit, Baker raced on. Within a few laps, a new message was flashed to Baker. "Boss Says Pit." That meant Nord Krauskopf, owner of the K&K Insurance team, had ordered Baker to pit. Baker pulled in and crew member Harlan Cox was instructed to take the car to the garage area. Krauskopf and Hyde were upset that their car was not in the least competitive in the National 500.
When NASCAR officials told car owner Nord Krauskopf they wanted to inspect the car again, he refused. "They've checked my car four times this week. They're not looking at it any more." Baker's car was disqualified on the spot by NASCAR officials for not allowing their car to be torn down in a post-race inspection. Yarborough and Petty raced on, lapping third place Bobby Allison and the rest of the field at least three times. Immediately after the race, Allison chased down Gazaway and posted $200 in protest money. "That's $100 to look at the #11 car (driven by Yarborough) and $100 to look at the #43 (driven by Petty)," said Allison.
As Yarborough was going through the customary victory lane ceremonies, NASCAR inspectors had rolled the first three cars -- driven by Yarborough, Petty and Allison -- into the Union 76 building. At that point, Gazaway told Allison that NASCAR was going to conduct an official post-race inspection. He returned the $200 Allison had posted. The three cars were rolled into the inspection station at a few minutes past 4 pm. Engine blocks were removed from each car and a bore and stroke inspection took place. In most instances, checking the size of engines takes no more than an hour or so. But something was brewing in the orange and blue building in Charlotte's garage area. It was the general opinion that one or two of the engines were in excess of the 431 cubic inch limit.
Allison's Chevrolet was rolled out of the inspection area first. It was declared 'legal' by Gazaway. But there was no word on the Chevrolet of Yarborough or Petty's Dodge. Complicating matters was the hastened departure of NASCAR President Bill France, Jr. and his top aide Lin Kuchler. They left aboard a jet immediately after the race. Gazaway was in charge of the inspection, and apparently he stayed in close contact with France by telephone.
|Bobby Allison decided to sue NASCAR after the Charlotte fiasco, citing permanent damage to his racing career and withholding of prize money.|
Allison was curious why it was taking so long. "It didn't take but a few minutes to check our car because we were clearly legal," he said. "But why is it taking so long to inspect those other cars?" Allison joined a number of newsmen standing outside the inspection station. There, he revealed what he saw moments after the race had been completed. "I followed Petty into the pits after the race and was going to park in the garage right beside him," Allison began. "But some of his crew ran out in front of me before I got stopped. Anyway, I saw members of Petty's crew raise the hood and jerk the air breather off and run away with it. I saw a NASCAR official standing right there with his knees against Petty's car watching it all. Now he says he didn't see anything.
"I am satisfied I know how Petty was beating the game," continued Allison. "Now I want to know about that #11." Richard Howard, owner of the first place car and promoter of the race, told another group of newsmen that he might take legal action against the sanctioning body if the results were changed. "It is not fair for race fans to come and spend the afternoon watching a race and then go home not knowing who the winner was," said Howard. "But NASCAR waits and comes up with something like the Glotzbach deal on Saturday and then this on Sunday -- and they say they can't make up their minds until Monday.
"They give you a stamp of approval at race time and six hours later can't give you a winner," Howard said, shifting into high gear. "I've been paying NASCAR inspectors to be here all week and insure that the cars are legal. Now they tell me they might not have done their job and some illegal cars may have gotten by them. If so, what have I been spending my money for?
"If they rule against the order of finish that the fans saw Sunday, I'm going to court." Howard added. "By letting the cars start, the NASCAR inspectors said they were okay. Now they are reneging. I'm not bluffing about this. I'm sick and tired of seeing stuff like this being allowed to happen, possibly leading to the ruin of a great sport."
At 10:15 pm, over six hours after the teardown began, Gazaway opened the doors and read a prepared statement to the members of the media still waiting to file their stories. "The official measurement of the engine size in car #11 has been sent to Daytona Beach," said Gazaway. "A final decision will be made on the race tomorrow. I have no further comment." Gazaway's prepared statement neglected to mention Petty's car or Allison's. One newsman asked Gazaway about the other two cars. "Excuse me gentlemen," said Gazaway. "I meant to say that the measurements on cars 11, 12 and 43 have been sent to Daytona and a final decision will be reached Monday. Now, I have no further comment."
By Monday morning, no official word had come from NASCAR headquarters in Daytona. It wasn't until 5 pm Monday, 25 hours after the race had been completed, that NASCAR ruled Yarborough's win was official. A printed release by NASCAR said: "The decision to let the results stand was made following a meeting of NASCAR officials after reviewing information that showed in a post race inspection the procedure used to check all of the engine sizes in the pre-race inspections proved inadequate. Since the purpose of the pre-race inspection is to determine that the cars in competition conform to the rules prior to the actual running of the race and that this procedure was in effect for the Charlotte race, the results are official."
When the official announcement came from NASCAR, Allison hit the ceiling. "I figured they would lie out of it. It stands to reason that those two cars did not conform to the rules. Otherwise, it wouldn't take six hours if they were legal. The time spent on their cars wasn't whether they were legal or not. But how to worm their way out of it. We were lied to and cheated out of the money. The first two cars were cheating and that's a fact," Allison complained.
Allison said one NASCAR inspector told him that both cars were illegal. "I was told by one inspector who was in on the post-race inspection that the smaller of the two engines measured 438 cubic inches, and the other one was a whopper," claimed Allison. Petty said all eight cylinders in his car were not checked -- that only three were. And the average of the three were within specifications. He admitted one was above the cubic inch limit. "NASCAR checked three cylinders," said Petty. "They measured 425, 431 and 435. The measurements averaged 431 c.i. NASCAR did not check the other five cylinders of my engine so I guess the inspectors were satisfied with measuring just three. So as far as I'm concerned, I was cleared at the end of the post race inspection when Bill Gazaway first announced that only the measurements of the car #11 would be sent to Daytona. That told me my car was legal."
Most all the attention was being focused on Johnson's car. Junior finally made a brief statement himself. "I don't know what the NASCAR measurement said, but I'll assure all of you that if I ran a cheater engine, it would be nothing less that 500 cubic inches. If I got caught, I'd want it to be worth while," said Johnson. By late Monday night, Allison had said that he was considering quitting NASCAR. "I'm definitely considering not running any more NASCAR races," said Allison. "I don't think my sponsor (Coca-Cola) wants to be involved in a cheating game."
The following day, Allison phoned North Carolina Motor Speedway and withdrew his entry to the American 500. All the next week, Allison sat up and answered all telephone calls from the media. And there were a bunch of them. "They have been caught red-handed and are still being protected and covered up for," said Allison. "I'm very disappointed in an outfit that I thought was working toward the betterment of racing. But instead they had to stoop as low as to lie to protect themselves in their (Yarborough and Petty) behalf."
"All of my equipment is obsolete if it gets into a cheating game," he added. "And what are the limits? I might build a 500 c.i.d. engine and that might be 100 short. I've never had to cheat to win and I don't intend to start now.
"On account of NASCAR's arbitrary and capricious conduct, I find it necessary to withdraw from the remaining races this season. They need to satisfactorily resolve the matter of rewarding people for running illegal engines, while penalizing others for staying within the rules," said Allison.
On Thursday, October 11, Allison announced that he was going to sue NASCAR. "NASCAR has stolen money from me and permanently damaged my career," remarked Allison. "NASCAR has stolen a minimum of $39,000 and maybe as much as $65,000 from me considering point bonuses by covering up for the two other cars involved. I am quite sure I have a good case. I have arranged legal counsel on the assumption of filing a suit."
Allison declined what dollar figure would be affixed to the suit. "It would be a good guess if you said the amount was substantial," he said. News reports continued to hit the Southern dailies, and a good measure were distributed nationwide by the wire services. "If you use the standards utilized by NASCAR, we ought to give Spiro Agnew (former Vice President of the United States) his job back. If you get caught cheating, it doesn't seem to matter in NASCAR's eyes. I'm just one of 38 who got cheated. I feel sorry for the other 37, but I can't speak for them. It was just a case of NASCAR having to discipline the little guys because they don't have enough guts to do what's right with the big guys."
Allison said he would make a precise announcement on the legal suit on Monday, October 15. "I want to prove just how right I am," he said. "This thing has set racing back 15 years, and it's time to do something about it. It's time to take the first step." During all of this, NASCAR President Bill France, Jr. was "unavailable for comment." Over the weekend, NASCAR and Allison agreed to meet and discuss matters in Atlanta on Monday, October 15.
The session was a long one, according to reports. Late that night, Allison and France, Jr. emerged from the room. They issued a formal statement: "Grand National Stock Car Driver Bobby Allison, who had previously withdrawn his entry to compete in the Winston Cup NASCAR Grand National Stock Car race to take place at the Rockingham, N.C. Motor Speedway, Sunday, October 21, 1973, has announced his intentions to compete. "This change came as a result of a meeting Allison had with Bill France, Jr., president of NASCAR Monday night.
"The purpose of the meeting held in Atlanta was to discuss the official outcome of the National 500 stock car race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 7, 1973. As a result of this meeting, Allison said, 'I am confident that NASCAR will take positive steps in the future to avoid any misunderstandings about rules and penalties' and that 'the meeting was most constructive and for the good of stock car racing.' Furthermore, France reaffirmed his previously stated position released last week 'that a study into all inspection procedures is being conducted at this time.' In addition to the pre-race inspection procedure, France said that at the Rockingham event 'there will be a post-race inspection on the carburetor plates, air cleaners, and the engine size'".
The statement was made available at Allison's office in Hueytown and NASCAR's headquarters in Daytona Beach. Aides who were taking calls said there would be no further comment. France and Allison were not available to questioning. Both parties declined to comment on the speculation that a financial settlement had been made. Later, Allison would only say, "I have received satisfactory restitution, and you can read that any way you want to."
|After early contact in the season's final race, everyone in the garage area pitched in to help repair Benny Parsons' battered race car. In the end, it was enough to help him with the 1973 championship.|
The teams went to Rockingham on October 21 not really knowing what to expect.
In qualifying, Richard Petty won the pole for only the third time in 1973. "With a good inspection," Petty said, "the Chrysler cars are closer than they were without a good inspection. I'm not accusing anybody of bending the rules. I'm just saying there's been a lot of stuff going on."
Yarborough had earned the sixth starting spot, but NASCAR inspectors said the carburetor plate was a little out of whack after his run had been completed. They ordered Yarborough to qualify again the next day. Team Manager Junior Johnson didn't understand NASCAR's findings. "The plate they took is the same one I've run all year," said Junior. "I've been expecting trouble from the inspectors. It looks like a way of getting revenge. I think this is part of the Allison deal." Cale qualified the next day at 134.378 mph -- faster than his clocking of 134.058 on pole day. "That ought to show 'em," said Cale. "We ran faster legal then we did illegal." Benny Parsons started fifth on the grid. The Ellerbe, NC Chevrolet driver was gunning for his first Winston Cup championship. He held what was considered a good lead going into the final event -- 194.35 points over Richard Petty. He was 208.65 points ahead of Yarborough.
No one was sure where Parsons had to finish to wrap up the title. NASCAR's point system made that physically impossible. The point system awarded 100 points to the winner of a race plus a half-point for each lap completed.
"All I know is that the race awards a maximum of 375 points and a minimum of 22 points. It's up to what I do and what they do in the race," said Parsons.
Parsons was nervous. He had won one race -- the Volunteer 500 at Bristol -- and built up a good lead via consistency. A comparatively small-time operation was about to cash in on NASCAR's most prestigious prize. "My very livelihood is at stake," said Parsons. "Petty's or Cale's isn't.
"The championship would assure us of continuing. Everyone needs a sponsor and winning would give us a selling point for additional backing next year. Nothing less than winning the championship affords that opportunity."
Parsons settled back in fifth place during the opening laps of the American 500. All he wanted to do was stay out of trouble. Keep it between the fences and keep everything under the hood humming. Then in the 13th lap, Johnny Barnes' Mercury went out of control in the first turn. Parsons tried to sneak past but snagged Barnes' left front quarter panel. The impact ripped Barnes' left side apart -- and it tore the entire right side off Parsons' car. Pieces were scattered all over the track. The roll cage had been ripped apart. The rear end assembly was lying in the middle of the track. Parsons' car was a complete wipeout.
With as many as five drivers in the running for the title, Parsons figured he was destined to finish fifth. "There just went $50,000 down the drain," he moaned. "I thought it was impossible to get the car running again. But Travis (Carter, crewchief) never gave up. I got pumped up when I saw everybody from so many teams pitching in to help. I felt the championship was gone. I figured the best I could do was third."
Parsons got a break when second-ranking Petty dropped out of the race in the 133rd lap. His early demise dropped him to fifth place in the final Winston Cup point standings. Cale continued to buzz around the track in contention for victory. By lap 149, Parsons' rebuilt car rolled back into action. For the remainder of the day, he cruised around slowly, earning the lap points. By the 394th lap, he had accumulated enough points so that the championship was his. Parsons pulled out of the race in his 308th lap with vibration trouble. He got 28th place as Yarborough came in third. The margin of victory was 67.15 points.
David Pearson went on to win the race. It was his 10th superspeedway victory in just 15 starts. For the year, he was 11 for 18. Pearson won one of two short track races, and he failed to finish his only road course start. Harry Hyde, who had suffered through a tough 1973 season, congratulated the Wood Brothers and Pearson. "Give them credit," said Hyde. "They ran against overwhelming odds and won anyway. They wound that thing past the red line and got away with it. Their record is incredible and may never be broken. I know it will never be broken under the circumstances it was set."
Photo credits from top: All NCMS
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