When the Winston Cup traveling road show arrived at Dover Downs in 1979 for the September 16th running of the CRC Chemicals 500 the season’s championship seemed to be Darrell Waltrip’s for the taking. Waltrip rolled into Delaware with a 187 point lead in the standings riding a great year with seven victories. Darrell won a thrilling late race battle with Richard Petty at Darlington in the Spring also clicking off big wins at Charlotte and Talladega adding to his totals. Darrell was about to embark on a different kind of battle running to the end of the season looking for his first Winston Cup title.
This race would be pivotal in the championship run as the one mile steeply banked oval was notoriously brutal on men and machine. Dover’s 500 mile grind would live up to it’s reputation as a back breaker and more importantly the maker of champions.
The 1979 season is mostly remembered for Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough’s last lap altercation at Daytona in February. Richard Petty’s surprise win is almost a footnote in comparison to the impact that this race had on the television viewing audience and to the sport in general.
In reality 1979 proved to be one of the most competitive season’s in the history of Nascar. Several races were decided in their final moments as the best in the business put on a show that has not been seen before or since. Statistically the decade of the 70’s is not that impressive as only a handful of drivers dominated the Winston Cup Series but the competition was breathtaking. Breaking into this exclusive club of all time greats was not easy by any stretch as Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and David Pearson had a stronghold on this series that seemed impenetrable.
Darrell Waltrip broke into the exclusive club by winning at Nashville in 1975 driving his own car. Waltrip then signed with Digard racing and provided them with a win at Richmond late in the season. Darrell finally arrived and with no problem telling anyone who would listen.
Richard Petty had been the King of Nascar for well over 10 years but some wondered if his crown was starting crumble after going winless in 1978 and having stomach surgery during the off season. Winning at Daytona put those thoughts to rest but could Richard still compete at the highest level after years on top of the racing world ? The “79” season would answer that question. Richard lurked in the shadows early in the season winning his second of the year at Martinsville in the Spring. Petty winning at Clay Earls half mile paper clip surprised no one but there was more work to be done. Richard served notice to the competition that the 43 bunch was for real by winning at Michigan in August. His consistency was uncanny while staying close to Waltrip in the championship battle.
Waltrip could see the brass ring after dusting Petty at Darlington possibly losing sight of the big picture and losing his tongue. Darrell’s comments that maybe the older drivers needed to hang it up did not fall on deaf ears but rather got the attention of a cool cat from North Carolina. Darrell made two mistakes in 1979 by thinking that it belonged to him and by telling everybody that this deal was his.
Dover Downs would break his back as Waltrip was regulated to a 29th place finish losing 104 points of his lead in the standings. Petty’s mastery of the mile speedway in Delaware became clear as he took control late in the event holding off a charging Donnie Allison by less than a car length at the checkered flag. Richard had driven beautifully all year and Dover’s result was no exception.
Petty made a statement a month later at Rockingham with another stunning performance finishing just ahead of Benny Parsons as Waltrip again lost more momentum that he would never recoup. The battle for the title came to a head in the season’s final race at Ontario California with Waltrip carrying a 2 point lead over Petty. The two had been going back and forth over the last month of the season trying to take control of the championship. This battle was a reminder of the slugfest between the two at Darlington in April but this time the outcome would be different.
Early in the race Buddy Baker breathed his black and silver Chevrolet allowing Petty to lead gaining a precious 5 bonus points. Waltrip led the very next lap keeping his advantage but as the race progressed Waltrip lost a lap due to mechanical difficulties. He was never able to regain the lost track position as Richard cruised to a 5th place finish winning his 7th title as Benny Parsons took the checkered flag.
Richard’s spectacular season is in the numbers. Five victories including the Daytona 500 with 23 top five and 27 top ten finishes out of 31 events. Incredibly Petty’s brilliant run included 19 straight top ten finishes with 15 top five’s to finish the season. It is little wonder that Waltrip couldn’t get it done.
The 1979 season is remembered for Daytona but on a hot Sunday afternoon in Dover Delaware Richard Petty held court as he had many times before showing why he is the King.
Just before the end of the 1964 season Bill France announced the banning of the Hemi engine and the Ford 427 High Riser. France was relenting to pressure from Ford concerning the potential dominance of the Hemi. Ironically the Championship for “64” was hotly contested with Petty only winning because he competed in two more events than second place finisher Ned Jarrett. The final point totals are misleading as during that time points were calculated by events entered and miles completed.
France’s decision made little since considering that Chrysler products won 26 out of 61 races in 1964 with Petty winning nine times. The Ford and Mercury teams gave a good accounting and were very fast with great performance taking 35 checkered flags with Ned Jarrett winning 15 times. The untold story is that Petty’s embarrassment of the field at Daytona in February was not taken kindly by Bill France. He would pay for his decision dearly.
Chrysler responded to the Hemi ban by boycotting all Nascar events there by parking Petty and the other Dodge and Plymouth teams. They refused to run approved available engines to make their point. Ford was content with France’s decision knowing that their approved engine would be competitive.
Richard Petty and Petty Enterprises decided to go drag racing in 1965 and were very successful until a child was killed when Richard’s car lost control due to mechanical failure at a race in Dallas Georgia. This tragedy ended Richard’s quarter mile runs forever.
Without the very popular Petty on the track and no Chrysler product’s for fans to root for Bill France and Nascar took a huge hit at the box office and it is likely that the sanctioning body would have become bankrupt during the 1966 season with the loss of so much revenue. Bill France finally relented allowing the Hemi back into competition on July, 25th of 1965.
Richard and Petty Enterprises regrouped to finish the season with four victories. The fans were again going to the races, the track promoters were happy and Chrysler was back in the racing business.
Early in the 1966 Daytona 500 it did not look to be Petty’s day as he lost two laps to the leaders with tire issues. Once the tires woes were corrected Richard easily outran the field taking his second Daytona victory by over a lap with Cale Yarborough finishing second. Bill France must have winced as the electric blue Plymouth streaked under the checkered flag but there were no tears for France as he took a suitcase full of money to the bank after the festivities concluded at Daytona. The fans were back en force with Petty and Chrysler on top again at Daytona.
Richard had a relatively quiet and workman like year winning eight times with a third place finish in the Championship after David Pearson’s great season which included 15 wins and the title driving Cotton Owens Dodge. 1967 would be anything but quiet for Richard Petty.
The 1967 season has been well documented and surely is one for the ages. Why this happened is subject to speculation. What did happen will never be seen again. Richard Petty started the season with blistering the field by over 2 laps at Augusta’s half mile bull ring. At Daytona Petty fell short with a late race engine failure while Mario Andretti shocked the racing world by winning the 500 with a thrilling performance.
Mario’s great Daytona drive would soon be eclipsed by Richard Petty’s incredible season. The competition was showing up thinking about finishing second. An amazing 27 victories turned the racing world on it’s head as Petty ran the gauntlet that included four separate back to back wins, a stretch of three in a row and an eye popping ten victories in a row from August 17th at Winston Salem to October 1st in North Wilkesboro. Richard remarked of his 10 win streak by stating that the other drivers mentally were losing the race before it even started. The lowest finish that Richard recorded while running at the end of an event was 11th at Daytona in July and Petty managed an 8th place at Daytona in February while parked in the garage with a blown engine His other low finishes were due to mechanical failure or accidents. One can only imagine what Richard’s season totals would have been if not for 8 DNF’s. The legend was born with nicknames like the Randleman Rocket, Ole Blue and the King. The later stuck at Richard was on top of the racing world.
The 1966 Plymouth Belvedere was so good that after crashing the car at a short track race damaging the front suspension Richard told his crew to fix it instead of parking. After repairs Petty made up a seven lap deficit to win this event by two laps.
Supposedly nothing changed at Petty Enterprises between the 1966 and “67” seasons as Maurice Petty only re skinned a 1966 Plymouth with 1967 trim and of course fresh engines. When Maurice and Dale Inman were questioned about this huge turn around they only shrugged their shoulders and did not give an answer. Could it be that Petty received a phone call from Auburn Hills Michigan after blasting the field at Daytona in 1966 to Bill France’s chagrin ? Was Chrysler concerned about Nascar’s scrutiny of the Petty powered freight train after embarrassing Bill France’s marquee event two of the last three years ? Or did it all come together just right with great cars and great driving. It did not matter as Richard Petty made a statement that will forever be chiseled into the record books.
Richard Petty’s career up to this point was marked by consistent finishes with flashes of brilliance as he and Petty Enterprises took advantage of their opportunities on the way to becoming the first family of racing. The coming years would see more jewels added to the crown as there was much yet to accomplish.
For many years people of this small town in North Carolina went about their business working farms, raising families and keeping the home fires burning . Sixty years ago the quite solitude of this beautiful countryside would become a little faster paced and a little more noisy. A twelve year old boy was there to experience this change of scenery drinking it all in like a cold Coca a Cola on a hot day.
The sound of an engine at full song was music to his ears and feeling the steering wheel was as comfortable as wearing his Cowboy boots. Many years of winning and defeat, crashing, hard hits and many broken bones have taken a toll on his body but the spirit is still there. In this arena his legend will never be equaled. In this mans realm we have learned what his legacy is.
Richard Lee Petty was born July, 2nd 1937 in Randleman North Carolina. No one knew what was to come but if stars do align creating magic, Richard Petty surely is a magician. So very rare is it to have the torch passed from a blood line to make it burn even brighter and cary the torch through. Richard carried this flame to become a King.
Achieving royal status for Richard was not really about taking checkered flags but about him as a person. Being humble and good natured would soon pay huge dividends. Richard's father Lee also reached the heights of stardom but Lee's way of doing things was not just to give away the throne to his son as an heir. Richard had to earn the mantle with hard work and experience. Richard asked his father to let him drive before the age of 21 but Lee flatly refused telling his son that he needed to mature before driving a race car. Lee Petty's lessons to his son would prove to be unbelievably successful.Soon enough we would see a Royal Flush.
Early in Petty's career he thought to have won a short track race but the finish was protested by of all people, his father. The finish was overturned giving the win to Lee. When Richard questioned his father about this turn of events Lee stated, "We made more money by me winning this race".Lee Petty finally turned the reigns over to Richard shortly after being seriously injured at Daytona in 1960. At Daytona for Speedweek this year it looked as if the Petty's were more into acrobatics than driving on the track as both Lee and Richard flew over the third and fourth turn gaurd rails during seperate qualifying races. Lee was nearly killed and was bed ridden for several months. Richard was much more fortunate suffering only a sprained ankle. Neither competed in the 1961 Daytona 500
Richard learned his lessons well and became a regular winner in the Grand National circuit finishing 2nd to Joe Weatherly for the title during the 1962 and 1963 seasons while racking up 27 victories. 1964 would be a historical and tragic year for racing as Richard began his methodical climb to the top of the mountain.
This year was significant for many reasons. The automobile manufactures had a keen eye on what was happening at Daytona knowing that a win here would result in brand new cars flying out of show rooms across the country. Bigger and stronger engines were needed to accomplish this goal and Chrysler broke through with the introduction of the HEMI engine. Richard Petty was more than happy to bolt in this beast of an engine and let it rip.
Chrysler worked hard to build the HEMI into race trim while not letting the cat out of the bag. The engines arrived at Daytona in a cloud of secrecy as the Plymouth and Dodge race teams installed these monster engines. Once on the race track the Hemi powered cars sand bagged for fear of Ford or Chevy crying foul. Even with the Dodge and Plymouth powered cars not using all of their butterflies they still started up front with the other camps pointing fingers knowing that the jig was up.
For Richard Petty it was time to be a part of history.
Once Richard put his Plymouth on the race track two things happened. The HEMI developed a coolant leak and the car would not turn through Daytona's steep banks. Petty and his crew discovered that the HEMI had a defect in one of the block decks. Petty welded up the deck himself and they were in business. The car not turning would be a difficult nut to crack as his crew chief Dale Inman threw everything at the car to fix it. They finally realised that Richard was sliding out of his seat driving through Daytona's steep banks at speeds never seen before ! Inman took a 2X4 wrapped in a towell and bolted it to the right side of Richard's seat.
When the race started it the rules could not be changed as Nascar was powerless to reign in the HEMI engine. Richard could now drive the car and pour all the gas into his high powered Plymouth. Petty obliterated the competition winning by over one lap. At one point late in the race coming into the pits just to ask his father how he was doing or rather decrease his huge lead.
The 1964 Daytona 500 to this day is considered the greatest field ever for this race having six current or future Nascar champions, nine current or future Daytona 500 winners, three Indianapolis 500 winners and two drivers with Formula One experience. Sadly five drivers who competed in this event would lose their lives before the year was over. Richard Petty would go on to power his way to the championship in 1964 but his title was tempered by the loss two very good friends in Joe Weatherly and Glen "Fireball" Roberts.
Richard Petty's climb was about to get very steep.
What really gets race fans and drivers going are the cars. It is all about the automobile. These fourwheeled gasoline driven machines changed this country and the world. Going to the store for supplies went from an all day trip to just a few minutes thanks to the car. For the first time people could quickly travel hundreds of miles to visit family and friends or just to take a drive.
A new world was at our finger tips and with it came a new addiction, Speed. Not long after automobiles became available to the masses we wanted to go fast. Speed became king, the thrill and excitement of going fast is part of our deep seeded desire to feel good.
Daniel Boone blazed the Wilderness Trail from the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky during the 1800's by walking slowly. What would Boone think if he were here today standing beside the backstretch at Talladega with a freightrain of cars blasting by at 200 miles per hour. He would be amazed and in awe as we are of him being a legendary frontiersman.
The love affair with cars is part of the fabric of our society and our desire for speed will never go away. From Indianapolis to the sandy Florida beaches a young William France's desire for going fast started a dream and a vision to create a world of speed never before seen. His idea to build a curved ribbon of ashpalt would surely come true as France knew the legend of Indianapolis very well and had an idea on how improve it. Race tracks were very popular at the beginning of the 20th century from the famed speedway in Indiana to the much smaller high banked wooden speed bowls and dirt tracks that dotted the country at the time. This knowledge gave France the motivation to create something that would change the face of motorsports forever.
Bill France decided to do something completely different. Why not build a track as big as Indianapolis but with steeply banked turns similar to the wooden tracks that were prevalent early in the century. The same cars that were in everyones driveway would be running on the high banked Super Speedway. Daytona truly is the birthplace of speed as Big Bill France accomplished the smooth transition from having automobiles race on the same beach where the first land speed records were established to the opening of Daytona International Speedway in 1959. The age of the Super Speedway was about to take center stage.
The American Muscle car was born on Daytona's sprawling two and a half mile tri oval and our love affair with the car had now reached a fever pitch. The sparkling new Daytona Speedway grabbed everyone's attention from the best Indianapolis racing drivers to auto manufactures that wanted their cars and engines to be showcased and of the homegrown drivers that were cutting their teeth on the bull rings. Daytona was it. The inception of Darlington Raceway gave a little taste of speed but Daytona was different. With it's long straight aways and steeply banked turns a car could negotiate the entire circuit at close to full throttle. For a driver to run on Daytona's high banks meant that he was one of the fastest men on wheels.
Daytona singlehandedly changed the way that racing cars and engines were built due to it's unique layout. The big track changed everything. No one had ever gone this fast before on a closed circuit in something very close to a production car. It would take several years for the stock cars to reach Daytona's potential. Within ten years of the first Daytona 500 qualifying speeds increased by almost 50 mph as men and their machines continued the search for speed. The high banked super track enticed engine manufactures and builders to produce more power but the introduction of the HEMI engine in 1964 forced the competitors to rethink every aspect of navigating this track. The cars could not handle the powerful engines requiring better wheels and tires, and stronger chassis to handle loads created by the steep banks.
The Muscle car and the Superspeedway were in their renaissance during the late 60's with beefed up factory production models ripping around Daytona at over 180mph. For the real speed junkies the love affair with Daytona and the addiction to speed was in full force with some of the greatest racing drivers in history gracing Daytona's hallowed banks. Where else could you see the same car that you drove or could buy hammer Daytona's Superspeedway at blinding speeds. The sweetest of addictions is to go fast and Daytona filled that desire perfectly.
Big Bill France Sr. also had the addiction and his dream coming true gave us something we may never see again but we will always have our love affair with speed and with the real Hot Rod.
If he could find a piece of straight highway one hundred miles long with his foot to the floor ....this would almost be heaven. Any turns on this road would be an inconvenience unless they are banked at 33 degrees.
Born in Florence, South Carolina, 1941 Elzie Wylie Baker Jr. is one of the fastest men in the history of Nascar. Buddy could not be more different than his father Buck, who was one of the toughest competitors ever in stock car racing. Buck made his living banging fenders and pounding the short tracks. Buddy is happy with himself and his accomplishments while never being concerned about living in his fathers shadow.
Buddy Baker was only concerned about one thing and that was going fast and he was pretty good at it. Baker was a part of racing when the Superspeedways became what made Nascar truly special and unique. From 1959 to 1969 the Big Tracks sprouted up across the country from Daytona to Michigan and from Atlanta to Charlotte.
This was Buddy Baker's playground and play he did. Baker is one of only eight men who have won Nascar's Grand Slam by taking victories at the Daytona 500, the Talladega 500, the World 600 and the Southern 500 at Darlington. He is also the first man to record a lap of 200mph on a closed course at Talladega in 1970.
Short tracks were never really Baker's cup of tea even though he did win two of them. The first was at Nashville in 1973 with Buddy covering the field by four laps. The second was at Martinsville in 1979. One can only imagine Buddy's crew talking with him about how to drive Martinsville, or maybe they just put a block of wood under the gas pedal so Buddy's big foot would not be able to bend the floor board.
Baker's exploits and frustrations at Daytona are well known, as for years his efforts were met with frustration, blown engines and just getting beat. It all came together for Buddy at Daytona in 1980. Waddell Wilson and his crew put a major effort into the body of Baker's Harry Ranier owned Oldsmobile in preperation for the upcoming Daytona 500.
Those efforts paid off as Buddy had a nearly perfect run in the Daytona 500 and was in a class of his own leading 143 laps with an average speed above 177 mph which is still a record. Wilson spent $75,000 on the body of this super slick car just to win Daytona. They did not give the bill to Harry Ranier until after winning the race.
Buddy's career record is not that impressive but when it came to the big tracks none were better. Baker also was fortunate enough to drive for some of the best car owners in the history of Nascar including Ray Fox, Cotton Owens, Richard Petty, Bud Moore, the Wood Brothers and others. His warm personality, persistance and a heavy foot puts him among the all time greats in racing.
While Buddy was driving home late in the evening after winning Daytona he was still seeing that long straight highway and was pulled over for going too fast. After speaking with the officer the only thing Buddy signed was an autograph.
Buddy definetly had the big tracks down with four wins at Charlotte and Talladega also winning races at Darlington, Michigan, Atlanta, Ontario and College Station Texas. Driving for Richard Petty Baker won the Spring race at Darlington in 1971 and the World 600 in 1972.
Who would have thought that the two most popular drivers in Cup racing are under achieving. One is not winning enough and the other is not winning at all.
Kyle Bush and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have pretty much been under the microsope since the beginning of their careers. At the mid point of the 2009 Cup Series season Kyle Bush is feeling the heat and Jr. has to buy a new set of sunglasses every week.
The finish of last weeks event at Daytona was a dissapointment to say the least. Then Bush missed an opportunity to be more endearing to the public with his press conference on Thursday. No one likes getting wiped out at 190 mph but how the public percieves Kyles reaction and comments is more than what we think, it is what Kyle thinks.
Being in a high profile or public position quickly seperates the men from the boys and Kyle is looking like a boy right now. Nobody has a harder head than Tony Stewart but at least he had misgivings in victory lane at Daytona and called Kyle earlier in the week to clear the air. Kyle is not a media darling but he might want to speak with his older brother Kurt for some pointers on what to do.
Daytona is over and done and it is time to move on. Kyle seems to have carried Daytona with him to Chicago. Kyle, if you want to be one of the best, forget about it right after it happens and move on.
On the other side of the Nascar world, Dale Earnhardt Jr is scratching his head trying to figure what it takes to win a race or even catch a top ten. A new crew chief has not shown much improvment eventhough things do look a little better.
Could it have been a mistake for Jr. to bring Tony Eury Jr. with him to Hendrick Motorsports ? Earnhardt's results with Eury Jr. have not been that impressive even at DEI. Dale seemed to be in better shape when Eury's father was on his pit box. Changing crew chiefs during season is never a good sign but it could not get much worse for the 88 bunch.
Jr. knows that he will never drive out of his fathers shadow but the upside is that he understands this. Jr. is nothing like his father was and was not raised by him, it shows on and off the track.
Dale's struggles are well documented and how he deals with the pressure says alot about the man. Jr's season is pretty much a wash out as he is already looking at next year. Maybe nothing can really be done to turn the corner as the fourth car in the Hendrick stable seams to have a black cloud over it.
Do not count either one of these guys out yet. Kyle has his whole career in front of him and Dale is driving for one of the best orginisations in the history of Nascar. It is ironic that two of the most popular drivers in this sport are heading in different directions. One is struggling with winning and the other, with losing. They just may end up in the same place.
Here is a real good look at Bobby Allison's Buick Regal ripping Pocono in 1983. This year Bobby won his first and only championship. Allison drove for well over 20 different car owners including himself during his career and won races for just about all of them. He is the Alabama Gang and the ultimate Barnstormer.
Allison is one of if not the best driver/ mechanic in Nascar's illustrious history. In his day it was not unusual for drivers to work on their cars. Bobby did this better than anyone as he could build a race car top to bottom. In his career Bobby did not seem to be concerned much about staying with a particular team or owner even though settling down in later years finally brought him the title.
When it comes to turning a wrench Bobby Allison was the man and anybody who worked with Allison knew what it meant to take the checkered flag.
Allison probably will not be part of the first Nascar Hall of Fame entrants but soon enough Bobby will be there.
Here are the Wood Brothers pitting Neil Bonnett at Pocono
Glen Wood is one of the 25 nominees for the Nascar Hall of Fame's first group of inductees.
The famed Wood Brothers refined the art of the pit stop and were among the first to use tire stagger to increase handling. The Wood's were so good that they were asked to pit Jimmy Clark's car for the 1965 Indianapolis 500. Clark won that race in large part due to the Wood Brother's fast pitwork.
They made history at Daytona in a bizare way in 1961. With their driver, Marvin Panch injured they picked Tiny Lund to drive their 21 Ford for the Daytona 500. Lund amazingly won this race without changing tires for the entire 500 mile distance.