Petty sets win mark with Darlington victory

Saturday, May 13, 1967 – Richard Petty becomes the winningest driver in NASCAR’s premier series with career win No. 55 when he captures the Rebel 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Prior to the victory, the 29-year-old Petty was tied with his father, three-time series champ Lee Petty, with a series-leading 54 victories.

• Petty dominated the race although an early scrape with the wall sent him to the pits for repairs. He led 266 of the race’s 291 laps. David Pearson, the runner-up, finished one lap down.

• Lee Petty, the series champion in 1954, ’58-59, had earned his final victory in 1961, winning at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla.

• Richard Petty began the ’67 season with 48 wins and was tied with Herb Thomas for fourth in all-time wins in the series. In addition to Lee Petty’s 54 victories, Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson were tied for second with 50 career victories. By the end of the season, Richard had scored a single-season record 27 victories, giving him 75 overall.

A Place of Honor for NASCAR’s Legends

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 – The NASCAR Hall of Fame, located in Charlotte, N.C., officially opens to the public. The $195 million project took four years to complete. Kicking off the official opening were NASCAR officials, the governor of North Carolina and legends of NASCAR, including Richard Petty and Junior Johnson, two of the Hall’s inaugural inductees.

A mix of memorabilia and interactive displays are located inside the 150,000 square foot building. The Hall’s centerpiece, however, is Glory Road, a sweeping display of 18 famous vehicles stationed on a “road” that gradually increases in banking to simulate the banking found on various race tracks hosting NASCAR events.

The Hall of Fame inducted its first class in 2010, a class that consisted of NASCAR founder William H.G. France, longtime chairman William Clifton France, known as Bill Jr., Petty, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt.

Isaac finds trouble, Pearson nets win

Sunday May 7, 1972 – Davie Pearson managed to swing around trouble when it struck race leader Bobby Isaac and the result was a victory in the Winston 500 at Alabama International Motor Speedway for the Wood Brothers Racing driver. Pearson was trailing Isaac with two laps remaining when the leader hit the wall after contact with the lapped entry of Jimmy Crawford.

Isaac, who still managed to finish second in spite of his skirmish with Crawford, had ignored a black flag from NASCAR due to an unattached gas cap as the final laps wound down. He was allowed to keep his runner-up finish but fined $1,500. NASCAR president Bill France Jr. said afterward that officials had the option of penalizing, disqualifying or suspending Isaac for the infraction. “It isn’t easy inspecting a car going 190 mph,” France told reporters.

Asked how the call could have differed had Isaac won the race instead of finishing second, NASCAR Vice President Lin Kuchler said, “I guess we’d still be meeting.”

Richard Petty finished fifth and earned a $10,000 bonus for leading the points standings after the season’s 11th event. Another $10,000 was split among the drivers second through fifth in the standings after the race.

Country music star and sometimes racer Marty Robbins finished 18th in the race to earn Rookie of the Race honors. However, officials stripped Robbins of his finish for an improperly installed carburetor, leaving him last in the 50-car field.

The race saw the debut of Darrell Waltrip in NASCAR’s premier series. Waltrip qualified 25th and finished 38th in the No. 95 Terminal Transport Mercury. It was the first of 809 career starts in the series for the three-time champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame member.

Tragedy strikes at Talladega

Sunday, May 4, 1975 – Tragedy struck at Talladega when a pressurized water tank explosion claimed the life of Randy G. Owens, a crewman on the No. 43 team of Richard Petty, during the running of the Winston 500 at Alabama International Speedway.

Petty had pitted with a fire in his left-front wheel on lap 141 of the 188-lap race; Owen, 21, turned on the pressure on the tank to put out the fire when the explosion occurred, throwing him into the air.

The brother of Petty’s wife Lynda, Randy Owens worked with the Petty team for approximately four years. He left a wife, Jan, and two sons – Travis, 2, and Trent, 1. Trent Owens is currently crew chief for the No. 37 JTG-Daugherty Chevrolet of driver Chris Buescher in NASCAR’s premier series.

Also injured in the explosion was Gary Rogers, a crewman for driver Benny Parsons. He was treated for minor injuries after being struck by debris from the tank.

Buddy Baker won the race, holding off David Pearson to score the victory.

NASCAR rules no gas cap, no problem

Sunday, April 25, 1971 – Richard Petty was flagged the winner, David Pearson filed the protest and career win No. 10 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for Petty was put into question when he completed the final 18 laps of the 500-lap race with the gas cap on his ’71 Plymouth not secured.

Petty held a half-lap lead when he pitted for a splash of gas and returned to the track side-by-side with Pearson. He eventually pulled away and won the Virginia 500 by more than 1.5 seconds.

Ralph Moody, Pearson’s team owner, met with NASCAR officials as soon as the race ended to lodge a complaint. Len Kuchler, NASCAR competition director, said because Petty took only a small amount of fuel, none was spilling onto the track and the unsecured cap did not create a safety hazard.

Pearson filed an official protest and when it was disallowed by Kuchler, appealed to the NASCAR Racing Commission.

One week later, the Commission disallowed Pearson’s protest, declaring Petty the official race winner. Pearson’s $100 protest fee was returned.

Unofficially, the race was the last of three at the tiny half-mile oval to see only one caution flag wave during the course of an event. As of 2019, there has never been a caution-free premier series race on the .526-mile track.

Return of a champion

Sunday, April 22, 1962 – Lee Petty returns to NASCAR competition more than a year after he was seriously injured in a crash at Daytona International Speedway. Petty, founder of the legendary Petty Enterprises racing operation, resumed his racing career with a fifth-place finish in the Virginia 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

Petty suffered injuries to his right leg, a punctured lung and broken ribs in an accident during his qualifying race at DIS the previous year. He was hospitalized for four months.

The three-time series champion made roughly a half-dozen starts after his crash but by ’64 his was through as a driver. After the Martinsville start, his only race in 1962, Petty made three starts in ’63 and two in ’64.

Richard Petty said talk of his father’s retirement “never came up,” when the two were competing. “I don’t think it came up in his mind because he was still winning races and winning championships (at that time. I don’t think he ever thought about not driving,”

The Daytona accident changed all that. “One of the last races he ran, I think it was Martinsville, he got out of the car and he said, “I’m through,” Richard Petty said. “I said ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘I don’t enjoy it anymore; it’s not fun.’ He had lost his enthusiasm. If he hadn’t gotten hurt, he wouldn’t have lost it. Who knows how much longer he might have raced?”

NASCAR King dines with King of Jordan

Tuesday, March 30, 1976 – Richard Petty, a six-time champion in NASCAR’s premier series, attended a State dinner at the White House where he dined with King Hussein of Jordan as well as President Gerald Ford.

“Richard was getting real hungry and had to go to the White House to get a little bit to eat off the government,” Lee Petty, Richard’s father, told the media.

The defending series champion, Richard Petty had one win in ’76 at the time of his visit and was among those favored for the upcoming weekend’s race at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway, where he had 13 career victories.

Also attending the State dinner were heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali and jockey Willie Shoemaker.

Petty’s wins are exactly that – wins

So we’ve moved on from trying to compare Kyle Busch’s soon-to-be 200 wins across three different series with Richard Petty’s 200 NASCAR premier series wins to this: many of Richard Petty’s victories shouldn’t count because they took place in shorter races often against shorter fields.

Really?

Someone did a lot of research to reach that conclusion. That’s too bad. Because at the end of the day, Petty remains the only driver with 200 career victories in NASCAR’s top series. They came on tracks of all shapes and sizes, against big fields and small fields, on dirt and asphalt, but when you add them all up you get the same thing – 200.

When was the last time any Cup team HAD to compete 3-4 times during the same week because that’s how the races fell on the schedule?

Do today’s drivers and teams have anywhere near the concern about parts breakage? Engines blowing? That Petty won as often as he did when drivers were more likely to fall out of a race due to something on the car breaking speaks volumes. Parts failures didn’t discriminate when it came to race length so why should we?

Today’s drivers race with power steering, disc brakes and radial tires. For much of his career, Petty and his fellow drivers competed without power steering, used drum brakes and bias-ply tires.

I wouldn’t want to drive across town without power steering, much less race without it.

Win under those conditions in a 100-mile race or a 500-mile race and tell me the two shouldn’t be considered equal.

Faulting Petty for winning a 100-lap race against a field of 24 is like faulting Busch for winning a fuel-mileage race. “Well, he didn’t really beat anyone, he just outlasted them.” Really?

Do we even want to mention the differences in everything BUT driving in the race? You know, like the crew having to transport the car across the country to the next race, set the car up at the track, pit the car on race day, then haul the car all the way back across the country to get home, unload and get ready for the next race? The same crew mind you. And often volunteers at that.

Not a couple of fellas hired to drive, and only drive, the transporter to and from the track. Separate mechanics to set up the car. A separate pit crew that does nothing but pit the car.

Hell, if Petty had those “luxuries” during his prime, he might have won 300 times.

Of course, someone would probably find fault with that, too.