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Copyright © 2003 by Curtis Redgap, Orlando, Florida. All rights reserved. Contact Allpar for reprint permission.
Plymouth by Petty?
Petty by Plymouth?
Which came first? The Plymouth or the Petty?
The picture of Richard Petty leading Matt Kenseth (2003 Winston Cup
Champion) set off some controversy.
The car Richard is driving is painted in Winston advertising, probably
in a salute to R.J. Reynolds and Winston for their 32 year sponsorship
of the NASCAR racing series, a relationship that has finally ended.
The reporter did not do his homework; it shows a 1969 Dodge as being Richard's. In 1969, the Pettys had no
MoPar products in their stable, instead racing Ford Torinos
in a lucrative deal. By then, Richard was pretty wise in business
and made certain that it was an "experimental" type of relationship,
and good for one year only. It sent shivers up and down spines at
the Chrysler along with grumbles of displeasure from the Ford teams.
The 1969 model Road Runner, which had little change from the 1968 model, had prompted Richard Petty to request being given a more aerodynamic Dodge Charger to drive. He asked twice. He was told no twice.
To establish the story, I need to go back to the early years when Lee Petty, the father of Richard, started his NASCAR
racing career. In part, the storied history of stock car racing claims
to trace its roots back to modification of stock cars to haul moonshine
(homemade illegal liquor) so that they could outrun the tax
enforcement people. Lee and a brother named Julie (like a boy named Sue?)
were running a trucking business that had been
started by their father. Part of their recreation was to go and watch
the car races that had begun to grow in popularity.
No one has ever even hinted that the Pettys were ever
involved with hauling "moon." I am reasonably certain
that they were well aware of the practice, and probably tolerated it
only for the fact that they did not want to cause trouble. As
long as it didn't touch them, it can be presumed they
choose not to see it happening. After all, Randleman, North Carolina was (and still is) a small community where
news travels fastest by passing over back fences.
Whenever the local "runners" weren't out hauling moon, a sort
of rivalry developed over who had the fastest car. Impromptu races resulted, late at night. As it grew, so did the size
of the betting. Sometimes a couple of thousand dollars could be had for
the winner of one of these late night, unsanctioned contests.
Lee Petty and his brother admitted that when they were not
running the trucking business they joined in a few of the races. The
bug then bit Lee pretty hard. Before World War II (exactly when is not
clear), he and his brother knew they could build a car that was every
bit as fast as what they had seen already running.
Their car of choice was a 1937 Plymouth coupe. They modified it, and
put a much larger Chrysler inline engine in it. Probably one of the
big straight 8 cylinder jobs that Chrysler was famous for at the time.
Lee won his first race out of the box, along with a big share of other
contests, which netted nice sums of money, in most cases. It appeared
to be better than the pay days from the trucking concern. Lee enjoyed
the heat of competition along with the adrenalin rush that accompanied
After World War II, word about a promoter named Bill France got around the southern
communities quickly in 1947. Something like NASCAR was needed if
only to get rid of the shady promoters, establish some guidelines, and ensure that the drivers got paid for their efforts. NASCAR's early
years were fraught with tough times, but Lee Petty saw the value
in having an organization establish stock car racing
as a legitimate enterprise. Lee also saw it as making it a clean,
fun entertainment for families. He supported Bill France's efforts
entirely. His unabashed admiration for NASCAR translated into a mode of
life for his son, Richard, as well as his entire family. Undoubtedly
Richard Petty is the most recognized name to date in NASCAR history.
Further, #43 is also the most recognized car number in NASCAR history.
I believe that people fail to
recognize how hugely significant it was for NASCAR that Lee Petty
decided to go racing at age 35. If he had
not done so, NASCAR would have never grown much
past where it had gotten to be in the late 1960s. It was Lee Petty's
unbridled support for Bill France's efforts through NASCAR, along with
Lee's popularity, that kept people coming back. No matter what, Lee
always behaved with humility and deference to the fans whereby he
created a huge following in his own right. People would state that they
came to a race to see Lee win! It is unfortunate that he doesn't get that recognition.
the support of great women, great men rarely emerge. It is beyond doubt that the Owens family also had superb people.
Certainly, without Linda's being there, Richard could not have done all
that he did.
Lee Petty's first real foray into
racing came at a dirt track on June 19, 1948, when he was already 35
years old. He had fast talked a family friend into loaning him (just
try to imagine that) his brand new 1948 Buick Roadmaster which included
inducements of earning the kind of big money that staggered the
imagination. Well into the race, Lee was digging (almost literally) his
way to the lead, when a sway bar broke on the big Buick. It barreled
rolled four times, spewing parts and body pieces all over the track.
Lee was fortunate, getting only a very small cut. Crawling out of
the car after the wreck, Lee was sick at the sight of the big car. It
was gone beyond any repair. Hasty arrangements were made to buy the
friend a new car. Whether they remained friends after that is not
known. However, Lee decided that big and powerful is not
the best way to go to win races.
In 1949, Lee bought a brand new
'49 Plymouth coupe with a 97 horsepower flat-head 6 cylinder engine. In 1950, he
had a new '50 Plymouth Coupe. He finished third in points in 1950. In
1951 he raced another Plymouth Coupe. He finished fourth in points for
1951. 1952 saw more of the same, where he finished third in points.
In 1953, Dodge introduced its first Hemi V-8. Lee saw the advantage
of having that engine in a light car such as the new 1953 Dodge coupe. The major differences, other than the Dodge having a Hemi V-8
over the Plymouth, were in wheelbase and weight. The 1953 Plymouth
coupe, with virtually the same drivetrain that it had in 1949, had a
slightly longer wheelbase for 1953. It was increased from 111 inches to
114 inches. The Plymouth weighed in at around 2900 pounds. The new '53
Dodge coupe also had a slight increase in wheelbase, from 115 inches to
119. It weighed about 3100 pounds, so that when equipped with the new
V-8, it was very fast.
However, for the Daytona Beach race he drove a 1953 Chrysler. We don't
know if he bought it, or if it was furnished to him by Chrysler
Corporation. It appeared that he alternated between the large Chrysler
and the Dodge for certain races. The Dodge was best suited for the
majority of NASCAR's events, which were held on dirt tracks. He garnered
Dodge's first NASCAR win, as he had already done for Plymouth, and went
on to finish second in Grand National points.
1954, Lee switched to the Chrysler two door Club Coupe Windsor model. The
Hemi now packed a 235 horsepower punch. With his tuning, it put out
much more. The Hemi engine was backed by a Dodge truck transmission. It
made Lee unstoppable at the Daytona Beach race course in that car that
year. Yet, it appears that he did not abandon his Dodge cars for 1954.
It is not clear whether they were 1954 models or just reskinned 1953
cars, since there had been little design changes in the Dodge between
those years. Dodge did make horsepower increases in its Hemi V-8 for
1954. With 37 races slated for 1954, Lee Petty participated in every
one of them. He won his first Grand National Championship in 1954 in
the Chrysler. That included the beach race at Daytona, which even then
stood out as "the big one."
The association with Chrysler
Corporation cars continued in 1955 and 1956 with Lee Petty continuing
to drive Dodges along with the most powerful cars in America at that
time, the Chrysler 300s. Again, it is not known if Lee had to buy the
cars, or if he was given assistance from Chrysler. More than likely he
had to buy them himself.
Tim Flock was Grand National Champion in 1955 driving a Chrysler. Lee finished third in points.
In 1956 Buck Baker, Buddy's father, won the Championship, in a
Chrysler. Lee Petty finished 4th over the course of 56 races
alternating between Dodges and Chryslers.
There was an event that occurred in 1956 that finally got Chrysler's
attention. It did not happen in a race, but it certainly shook the
racing circles. Coming "out of the closet," Ford Motor Company hired
Pete De Paolo to form a factory backed circle track racing team.
1957 was a tough year for stock car racing. First, General Motors
President Red Curtice persuaded the American Manufacturers Association
to pull out of providing any more factory participation or assistance
in racing events. It was believed that Henry Ford pulled a political
end run to get Curtice involved so that General Motors in particular
would no longer be making special or export parts for their cars.
Ford, in gesture only, said they would observe the ban, while
continuing to supply parts to racing teams through an outside agency.
Pete De Paolo quit the factory backed Ford racing effort, which lead to
a future major NASCAR race preparation team being formed. It was called
Holman and Moody. Under the guise of being an independent company, the
H & M team worked closely with the Ford factory in development of
"export" parts for Ford engines.
Chrysler Corporation closely followed Ford's lead in that area,
except they labeled their development "police packages" or "severe
duty" parts. A group of Chrysler engineers on their own formed an
organization which provided assistance to any one that asked for help.
They were not paid through any funds from Chrysler itself. Only General
Motors strictly observed the racing ban participation, which is exactly
what Henry Ford II wanted.
Secondly, in the Spring race at Martinsville, Virginia, a 1957
Mercury jumped the outside wall in front of the grandstands. Without a
catch fence, the resulting crash into the main bleacher seats resulted
in a highly publicized loss of life, among them a young girl.
Accordingly there were quite a few spectator injuries as well.
Suddenly, safety became a large issue. The public expressed their
concern by staying home. Income at all the races went way down, and the
future of NASCAR to continue as it was, became doubtful.
Certainly, the AMA racing ban was not something that Bill France wanted
to see happen coming right at the time that his organization was
gaining national recognition. The ban did not prevent the automotive
factories from cranking out more horsepower for their engines. 1957
marked a banner year for the horsepower race out of Detroit. To
continue racing, owners and racers found the money to buy what they
needed to compete.
to showcase its power, Oldsmobile division of General Motors came
calling on Lee Petty in a deal that took place prior to the AMA racing
ban. Olds had introduced its J-2 model V-8 engine for 1957. It was a
371 cubic inch beauty that had three, two barreled carburetors, along
with dual exhausts. After initial preparation, Lee Petty took the J-2
powered Olds down the beach in the 1957 speed week contests at 144.9
miles an hour! Remember, this was a strictly stock car! Bill France
took one look at the numbers and promptly banned the engine in that
configuration. He was correct in citing that it was not a regular
production engine when it was initially introduced. Olds quickly
changed that, but, by then the ban was in place, and France's ruling
would not be rescinded. It was 20 miles an hour faster than anything
else. That, combined with the strict compliance within the GM
corporation to the AMA racing ban put Oldsmobile's active participation
in Lee's racing activities in a sort of standstill.
The Plymouth and Dodge season in 1957 was dismal at best. With
some of the best designs on the market, and some of the hottest
engines, Plymouth did not score a single win in 1957 or 1958! There
were no hot teams to field the cars since Lee had switched. The other
major Chrysler user, Carl Kiekhaeffer abruptly left NASCAR altogether.
Bill France probably breathed a sigh of relief. The Kiekhaeffer Dodges
and Chrysler 300s (Karl owned Mercury outboard boat engines) had
dominated NASCAR in 1955 and 1956.
At that time, there were two divisions in NASCAR. One for steel
roofed cars and the convertible division where the cars ran with the
tops down. Lee Petty had received two 1957 Oldsmobile cars that
consisted of a 2 door hard top and a convertible. He competed in the
1957 season in both divisions. By this time, Lee's youngest son was
fully involved in the racing enterprise. Richard Petty acted as
everything that involved racing, except for driving. He spent many
hours on the road driving cars and/or parts to all sorts of
destinations for his father. He wanted to race and so indicated that to
Lee. Lee said that Richard should wait until he was 21, and then he
would make a decision about having Richard go out and race.
For 1957, Buck Baker, the 1956 Grand National champion had
switched from Chrysler to Chevrolets. He won his second Championship in
a Chevrolet. Lee Petty finished '57 in 4th place.
we have come to know it in NASCAR today just did not exist in 1958.
NASCAR was more known for organizing races at your local friendly dirt
track for county fairs, instead of at the huge paved tracks we see
today. Money was there, but in no way was there any sense that you
could afford to go outside of a meager budget. So, it was with Petty
Enterprises in 1958. Not one to waste anything, Lee elected to stay
with the 1957 Oldsmobiles for 1958. Most cars in '58 were sort of
"stand pat" vehicles in that they did not change too much, with the
exceptions of the General Motors cars. They grew in size and weight.
Ford and Chrysler made some styling changes, however, the drive trains
were nearly the same as was the weight. Please keep in mind that these
cars were held to "strictly stock" standards. Very much unlike the
NASCAR mandated units of today.
Richard Petty turned 21 years old
on July 2, 1958. He again approached his father about driving a race
car. Lee gave him a rather tired, but true 1957 Olds convertible that
he was no longer using. On July 12, 1958, Richard, accompanied by his
brother towed the Oldsmobile behind Richard's 1956 Dodge to a dirt
track in Columbia, South Carolina. Richard acquainted himself well for
his first race. He survived and finished in the money in 6th for a pay
day of $200. Richard went on to compete in 8 more races in 1958. He
finished 36th in points. Lee, on the other hand, competing in all 51
races sponsored by NASCAR. He ended up winning his second Grand
National Championship in the 1957 Oldsmobile.
Money was always tight in the early years. Nothing existed of any sort
of sponsorship except small amounts that vendors would pay if you won
and had their logo on your car. Prize money, while being decent, seemed
like it was just about enough to keep everyone coming back, waiting for
the big pay check.
1959 found Petty Enterprises in the position of being able to
buy one new car. With the completion of the new high banked, two and a
half mile long oval built by Bill France in Daytona Beach, Lee felt a
large, heavy car would be best suited for that race. Seeking
assistance, he found that Oldsmobile was willing to help in his
purchase, at cost, (imagine) of a 1959 Oldsmobile Super 88 coupe. The
support came from the Oldsmobile dealer association, not the factory.
It was equipped with a three speed transmission and a 394 cubic inch
V-8 that was factory rated at 315 horsepower. That relegated Richard to
make due with the older model 1957 Oldsmobile for 1959. This is the
first time that Richard choose to use his own number, picking the
famous 43, one number after his Father. It was also clear that the
Petty organization now had two full time drivers. Richard emerging as a
fast rising NASCAR star in his own right. The 1959 Daytona 500 found
Richard in his '57 convertible starting in 6th place. He lasted 8 laps
before the engine expired in the 57 Olds. A first for #43, along with a
57 place finish in a 59 car field. Richard won $100 for his first
Lee Petty won the first race ever held at the Daytona Beach high
banked oval. He was locked in a three way dual on the final lap. An
unusual angle for the finish line camera seemed to show that John
Beauchamp had won the race. However, other pictorial evidence indicated
that Lee Petty had won by a width of the Oldsmobile's bumper. Finally,
after three days, a lap recount was made, and it turned out that not
only was it a length of a bumper, it included one full lap. Beauchamp
had only turned 199 laps to Lee's 200. Lee Petty was declared the
outright winner. Lee reverted back to the trusty 1957 Oldsmobile for
short tracks. The 1959 model was to big.
Lee knew the 1957s were too old. He had his eye on a certain make of
car that would lead him back to his earlier philosophy that lighter is
better. He made a few inquiries and was rewarded with a phone call from
Highland Park, Michigan. Within a few hours, 4 "in white" 1959 Plymouth
Fury cars were on their way to Level Cross, North Carolina. Plymouth
was rather eager to help. They had not recorded a single win in two
NASCAR seasons when Lee Petty had left them for the Oldsmobile. Dodge
went one full season without any wins in 1958. 2 of the cars were
convertibles for Richard, and two of the cars were hardtops ostensibly
for Lee. Just about the time that the deal was struck in the spring of
1959, NASCAR announced that 1959 would be the last season for
convertible racing. Too dangerous for the driver was their conclusion.
Top down racing provided no protection in a roll over. And there were
plenty of them on short dirt tracks. With no thought to that, Richard
competed heavily in his new Plymouth convertible. Lee responded to the
help given him by Chrysler Corporation by winning the very first event
that he ran his new Fury in June 1959. After using the Oldsmobile cars
for 20 races, the Plymouth's took over, and the Petty organization
never looked back.
Richard's Fury wasn't ready until just before the July 4 Firecracker
250 at Daytona. Both Lee and Richard competed in the hardtop Fury's in
that race. Lee lasted 77 laps, only to watch his son make one more
circuit and retire on lap 78. However, things like that were not the
norm for the Pettys. They prided themselves on being prepared before
getting to a race track and it showed. Richard competed in 21 races in
1959. He came in 4th in the convertible division and 15th overall in
the Grand National points chase. Doing Plymouth and Petty Enterprises
proud, Lee Petty won his third Grand National Championship. The cement
that made the organization had Plymouth written all over it. 1959 also
marked the first use of "Petty Blue" for the paint on the Petty built
When asked directly about the "Petty Blue" color, Richard
related, years later, that indeed, it had been a fluke. Late in the
1959 season, after having to rebuild one of the '59 Plymouth Fury's,
Maurice told Richard that they didn't have enough white paint for the
painting of the entire car. Being brought up to waste nothing, Richard
found some dark blue paint, but not in a sufficient amount to paint the
whole car. Richard said they he looked at Maurice, and Maurice looked
at him, and they just dumped the two paints into one tub, then
proceeded to paint the Plymouth in the color that came out. When they
got done, they were impressed themselves with the hue. Lee came back
from an out of town race, and marveled at how that color set the car
off. Almost electric is what he said. Of course, Richard and Maurice
had to scramble to remember the right mix. Once they did, the formula
became their secret, even to the point of being patented by a paint
company as Petty Blue.
When the 1960 season dawned, their was only one color on the Petty cars. The "electric" Petty Blue. It became their trademark.
1960 was a very good year for Petty Enterprises. Plymouth sent two
hardtop Fury models to Level Cross, North Carolina. They were prepped
exactly the same, leaving no further doubt that the racing efforts were
meant for two drivers of equal measure. In a lot of races that year,
the two Petty men competed against each other. Both cars were equipped
with the 383 cubic inch V-8. Factory horsepower was rated at 330. The
good news about the '60 cars were that they had top speeds of near 150
miles an hour.
The bad news is that Pontiac had made some well prepared moves
for NASCAR. The 1960 Daytona race saw the pole position occupied by
Cotton Owens in a 1960 Pontiac. It was becoming well established that
the Chrysler Corporation wedge designed engines had real wallop in the
low end with copious amounts of torque. On short tracks, they were
unbeatable in the hands of drivers like Lee and Richard Petty. But, on
long high speed tracks, where they had to turn up high engine speeds,
they gave up about 50 horsepower to the Pontiac's and Chevrolet's.
However, the '60 Fury models equated themselves well in the Daytona
race with Richard coming in 3rd place with his father, Lee, right
behind him in 4th. The season turned into a see-saw battle over the 40
race schedule between Richard in his Plymouth and Rex White in a
Chevrolet. Each week seemed to put one above the other, back and
fourth. In the final tally, Rex White won the 1960 Championship battle,
with Richard Petty coming in a close 2nd . A truly amazing achievement
since this was only his first full year of competition. Lee Petty
finished the season in 6th place.
A couple of other important things happened during 1960. CBS Sports
decided to include the qualifying runs for the Daytona 500 in the
"Sports Spectacular" coverage. For two hours, images of NASCAR racers
filled TV screens everywhere in January 1960. A later TV rating found
that 17 million people had been watching! Big time TV discovered NASCAR
racing. It was a portent for the future and would catapult NASCAR and
Richard Petty into national fame and fortune.
The Petty organization began to experiment with the larger 413
cubic inch V-8 towards the end of the 1960 season. Chrysler helped by
labeling it as being "over the counter available" for anyone that
wanted to buy it. Factory wise, it was only 30 more cubic inches and 20
horsepower better than the 383. In the hands of tuner Maurice Petty and
Dale Inman (Lee's nephew, and Richard's cousin), the 413 proved to be
much more competitive on long, high speed tracks. Further, with its
monstrous low end torque, it proved nearly unbeatable on the short,
The racing group at Chrysler decided to make the 413 more eligible
for NASCAR by dropping the 413 in 100 vehicles as homologation. The
lucky recipients were State Police agencies around the country. I
recall taking delivery of some 413 cubic inch V-8s in the 1960 Plymouth
for the State Police through our dealership. This was the Chrysler New
Yorker engine with a 350 horsepower rating, making it only 20 more than
the standard 383. At least 100 cars were equipped with the 413 and it
is said that upwards of 150 may have been completed, with one agency in
particular making it a requirement.
The 1961 season dawned with high hopes. Plymouth again furnished two
1961 Plymouth Fury hardtops to the Petty Enterprise organization. These
were fitted with 413 cubic inch V-8 engines. They were extremely fast,
and Lee said, "stout and capable." They just didn't handle like the
other Plymouths that they had driven. The body style was quirky, and it
translated that to the way the cars drove at high speed. The rear deck
was sloped downward, providing no down force at all to the rear end.
The rear fender areas were concave which caused the wavy air forces to
buffet the rear of the car around. But, Lee, the head of the
organization was confident, and that meant Richard was too.
The qualification runs for the 1961 Daytona 500 saw some odd
coincidences that did not bode well for the Petty men personally or the
There are two forty lap qualification races to get into the
500. Richard Petty in # 43 was in the first qualification race. Richard
completed 39 laps. Going into the 40th and final lap, entering turn 1,
Richard tangled with Junior Johnson in a Pontiac. Junior swerved when a
tire blew. Frantically trying to avoid the spinning car, Richard angled
towards the infield on the inside of the track. Junior's car was
gyrating wildly, and it slammed into Richard's Plymouth on the right,
rear corner. It immediately turned #43's nose towards the outside guard
rail. At that point, Richard became just a passenger as dynamic forces
took control. #43 slammed head on into the heavily reinforced guard
rail. Turning about 35 degrees to the left, it mounted the rail and
rode along on top of it, for a couple hundred yards. With the front and
outside right tires out of contact with the pavement, the brakes did
nothing to slow the car down. In the blink of an eye, air caught the
front end, suddenly lifting the car, whereby #43 was catapulted
upwards, flying out over 200 feet into the parking lot, where it
slammed devastatingly onto the ground.
Young Richard was extremely fortunate. He hastily crawled out of the
wreck, having sustained only a small cut. In his haste to get away, he
turned his ankle, causing it to be tender and painful. Checked out by
medical personnel, he hobbled back to the Petty Pits.
Lee was about to get going in the second 40 lap (100 miles!) qualifying event in
#42, when Richard began to experience much pain in his eyes. Rushed
back to the infield medical center, it was discovered he had hundreds
of tiny glass particles in them. Removing the glass bits took some
time, and just as Richard stepped out the medical care center, he heard
the announcement that the second race had completed the 39th lap, with
just one more to go. Right at that moment, he heard a terrible sound of
a collision. Looking to the first turn, in almost the same spot that he
had gone off the track, he saw John Beauchamp's '61 Chevrolet and Lee's
#42 Plymouth airborne, tangled together. When they both hit the outside
guard rail, it slung both cars high into the air. Bad ankle or not,
Richard ran as fast as he could to the spot where #42 lay in a tangled,
crumpled mass of twisted metal. It was only just a few feet away from
Richard's earlier crash site.
Seeing the crash site as he looked at the wrecked Plymouth, Richard
first thought that his father was dead. He certainly seemed to be, at
first. Yet, he clung to life. There is no explanation for Lee being
able to survive the devastating trauma and injury to his body other
than sheer will power to survive.
It took a long time to cut Lee out of the wreck. There were no
helicopter air care units in 1960, so a quickly assembled cadre of
various police units at the track gave the ambulance a 100 mile an
hour, screaming escort to the Halifax Hospital in Daytona Beach.
Fortunately, there were was a trauma trained doctor on duty. Richard
believed that he had witnessed his father's last ride.
Lee Petty had previously been voted as the most popular driver in
NASCAR several times. Word of his awful crash spread quickly through
the Daytona Beach community. When the police and ambulance arrived at
Halifax Hospital, a large crowd of well wishers had already gathered. A
watch was established at the hospital by members of the Petty family. A
group of the well wishers established their own watch both outside, and
inside, the hospital lobby. This impromptu group rotated watch duties
and stayed until Lee was able to leave and travel to his home for long
months of rehabilitation. Even with the terrible specter of Lee lying
near death inside, one of the members of the Petty family came out
daily to express their gratitude. It was touching and it went a very
long way to establishing the Petty clan as a class act, with or without
first, Lee slipped in and out of consciousness. Each lapse sent a
terrible sense of immediate loss through the family. Yet, Lee showed
small signs of rallying. He suddenly began demanding that Richard and
Maurice be at the hospital. Fighting off another lapse of
unconsciousness until both of them got there, Lee then dictated that
they get back to the shop at Level Cross and get busy putting the cars
back together for the rest of the season. After he had made the order,
he seemed to gain strength. He then became convinced that he would be
back racing within a week. That was a good sign, but it was not meant
to happen. Lee's racing career was over. He just did not know it then.
It would take months of rehabilitation for him to fend for himself, let
alone apply the skills needed to pilot a race car.
follow their Father's directions, Richard, Maurice and Dale went back
to Level Cross. They rebuilt both '61 Plymouth cars. It marked the
first time that specialization was considered. One car was for the
short tracks, and the other for the big, long high speed runs.
Richard drove both under the number 43, not wishing to
compromise any of his Father's recognition that he had gained with #42.
Of the 47 race schedule, Richard competed in 41. He ended up the 1961
season 8th place in Grand National points. While not extremely
prosperous, it did keep the shop open while providing wages for all
that were involved. It was a great effort. It tested Richard Petty for
certain, because now, the whole organization rested squarely on the
decisions he made. Lee Petty was no longer able to be involved.
1962 dawned with a totally different atmosphere at Petty
Enterprises. Lee Petty was home, but was not an active participant in
the decision making process. Heavy rehabilitation efforts were his only
focus. As well, due to a judgment blunder made by the former Chrysler
President, Newberg, both Plymouth and Dodge makes were downsized. In
the process, Virgil Exner's original designs for the 1962 models were
horribly applied by a non supervised styling staff. As a result, the
1962 Plymouth and Dodge rode on a truncated 116 inch wheelbase. The
styling was just plain outrageously ugly. Still assisting Petty
Enterprises, Plymouth furnished two sedans for 1962. They were not the
Fury. Instead they were the least expensive Savoy, 2 door, post models.
Faced with having to build another totally new car, their 4th such
effort since 1959, the new '62 model, while ugly, soon became Richard's
car of choice. He had used the 1961 model for a few races early, before
the Daytona 500 in February.
It was at the 1962 Daytona 500 that Richard Petty showed how driving
skill could mean just as much as brute horsepower in winning races. For
1962, Pontiac had made an all out effort to dominate NASCAR. They had
quietly introduced a "super duty" engine of 421 cubic inches in limited
quantities in 1961. The 1962 effort put the 421 available to anyone
that had the down payment. "Fireball" Roberts, in a 1962 Pontiac,
prepared by Daytona Beach garage owner and self made automotive genius,
"Smokey" Yunick, put on a show that up until that time in NASCAR, had
never been seen before.
First, Roberts went out and ran a qualifying lap at 156.99
miles an hour! Everyone just looked at each other. That was about 10
miles an hour faster than anything that had ever gone before. Second,
in his qualifying race, Roberts dominated it, beginning to end, winning
it convincingly. Third, at the end of the 500 mile race, Roberts won,
from the pole position, another first. Yet, even though it was obvious
that the little Plymouth of Richard Petty was giving up at least 50
horsepower to the Pontiac, Richard used the draft and his skill, and
put the Savoy sedan into second place, and held on! He had started in
10th place, moving right up as he put the Plymouth out in front three
different times, leading for 27 laps! If Richard Petty had not been
noted before, he certainly was then. TV sports and large news
organizations actually made more of his second place finish in the
obviously underpowered Plymouth than they did of Robert's dominating
performance. Richard Petty still talks about this race, and remarks to
this day, that the 1962 Daytona was his all out favorite! After that
race, the 1961 cars were never used again. Lee Petty never got into a
race car in 1962, still recovering from his near death accident in
Ford Motor Company introduced the Galaxie sedan for 1962. It lacked
the slippery roof line of the 1961 Starliner coupe. In an effort to
help the NASCAR teams, Ford introduced a "Starlift" top, especially
made to turn the convertible models into a car with the roof line that
mimicked the 1960 and 1961 Starliner. NASCAR let it race in one
competition and then banned it. With that ban, Henry Ford announced he
was no longer (not that he had made much of an effort to stop before)
going to observe the AMA ban. Promptly, Chrysler Corporation followed
suit. The open factory backed "war" was back on! General Motors seemed
reluctant to step up, leaving teams to soldier on with whatever they
had, or so it was made to seem.
1962 saw Joe Weatherly win the Grand National title. Close on his
heels, after a hard charge came Richard Petty for second place. It was
clear to everyone that Richard Petty had the "stuff." He just needed
the equipment to make it happen.
Lynn Townsend, Chrysler's new president, who had emerged after
the Newberg and Colbert internal scandals, had made his plans well
known. Townsend's two teen aged sons had told their Dad that the
Chrysler Corporation cars were "non-existent" on the street.
In the spring of 1962, Chrysler engineering introduced an all out
effort with the "short ram" 413 cubic inch V-8 engine. Right out of the
box, the light weight Plymouth and Dodge cars absolutely dominated drag
racing efforts. As was the usual for Chrysler engineering in that time,
the Super Stock 413 had more than been built to be rugged and reliable.
Over the spring and into the summer, well into the fall of
1962, Dodge and Plymouth stock cars terrorized drag racing tracks all
over the country. Plymouth made the most inroads. In July 1962, a young
kid out of Oakland, California set the stock car world on its ear. He
accomplished what no one thought could be done up to that time. He
posted a record of under 12 seconds for a stock car in the 1/4 mile.
His elapsed time stood at 11.93 seconds with a speed of 118.57 miles an
hour. The '62 Plymouth was ugly, but it sure moved out! Townsend was
elated. He called his engineers and ordered to start building something
for Richard Petty "to whip the ass off Ford!"
Rumors had been circulating for weeks about what Chrysler had in
store for the 1963 season. What Chrysler had not taken into account was
the will of Henry Ford II. Stung at the ban of the "Starlift" top in
'62, and challenged by the statement of Lynn Townsend that Chrysler was
set to "whip Ford's ass", Henry threw a lot of money into the NASCAR
Billed as "1963 and ?", the Ford line introduced a big block,
427 cubic inch FE V-8, for the newly designed Galaxie called the
"Sports Hardtop." While it didn't have the sloped back glass of the '60
and '61 Starliner models, it sure was meant as a slippery aerodynamic
fastback. The introduction was timed just right for Ford's race teams
to be able to build that body style for the upcoming Daytona 500.
Certainly not asleep, Chrysler had made major sheet metal
changes for the 1963 Plymouth and Dodge models. Engineering wise, the
413 had been bored out to 426 cubic inches (NASCAR limited engine size
to 428 cubic inches). Internal changes resulted in a "Stage 3" version
of the engine that substantially increased its power. The 426 Stage 3
engine was rumored to put out over 600 horsepower in the NASCAR trim.
Styling changes in the Plymouth improved the aerodynamics in spite of
having the "square back" looking roof line. Richard Petty seemed poised
to be a dominant factor in NASCAR in 1963.
Chrysler sent three 1963 Savoy sedans to Level Cross that year. Each
was loaded with the stage 3 426 V-8. With Lee Petty still not fully
comfortable from the near death situation in 1961, Jim Paschal had been
hired in the off season to be the other driver in the Petty
organization. On occasion, brother Maurice raced #41 Petty Plymouth,
thereby finding three Petty Blue machines charging around a race
course. It was a sight that filled Plymouth fans with pride and hope.
for the '63 Daytona was meticulously done. Three identical cars had
been prepared. #41, #42 and, of course, #43. Maurice was not
comfortable with the idea of driving in such a big race, so USAC
Plymouth driver Jim Hurtibise was recruited to sit in #41. Jim Paschal
was set to go with #42, and Richard was all smiles in #43.
The qualifying races did not inspire much confidence in the
new cars. Richard finished his 40 lap run, covering 100 miles, in 12th place. Jim Hurtibise
managed to get into 17th place and Jim Paschal started out in 23rd spot
and finished in 23rd place.
When the checkered flag fell on the 1963 Daytona, Ford had proven its
point. The first five places were all Fords. Richard Petty was the
first non-Ford, in 6th place. Jim Paschal in #42, lasted only 72 laps,
and Hurtibise in #41, went out on lap 113. A one time deal, Jim
Hurtibise went back to USAC. In August, Jim Paschal left the team to go
drive for Pontiac. Bob Welborn was hired to drive #42. #41 was driven
occasionally by Maurice Petty. Neither was very successful. Richard
finished second, again, in the Grand National points race in 1963 after
battling "little Joe" Weatherly all season. Weatherly astounded the
NASCAR establishment with the Championship because he had no regular
ride that year! He pulled off his accomplishment with 8 different
owners that were considered nowhere near capable enough to win, with teams that no one had ever heard of before!
There was an interesting development at General Motors in 1963. Chevrolet
arrived at Daytona with a 427 cubic inch V-8. Modestly, it was
advertised to have 425 horsepower. The upper GM brass was upset and nervous about this engine; Chevrolet had built it
without letting the top hats at GM know that it was to be used for
racing. Until its appearance in Daytona, most GM executives thought it
had been built to power Chevrolet station wagons. Not
much was known about it around NASCAR; it was labeled the
"mystery engine." To further put a dark side to this engine, only 50
blocks were ever built, and NASCAR let it run, despite their own rules
that it be an available production engine!
Junior Johnson was so
impressed with the power that he jumped off Pontiac's ship and landed
on Chevrolet's deck. Smokey Yunick, the legendary engine builder out of
Daytona Beach, was heavily involved in preparation of these engines. He
claimed that there had been only 48 of them built. The reason for the
difference is that, somehow, the Ford racing team of Holman and Moody
had obtained two of them! No one has ever determined how they did it,
nor exactly who was involved in the surreptitious adventure that
spirited two of the top secret Chevrolet engines into the Ford camp.
was from H & M that details of the engine became known. The true
secret to Chevrolet's 427 Mark IV V-8 engine were the heads, which
housed a near hemi combustion chamber, and the multi angled valves.
Someone remarked that the way the valve stems stick out of the head
made it look like a porcupine. The tag stuck. Junior Johnson put
everyone on notice when he set the 1963 hot lap record in a Chevrolet
Impala at 165.183 miles an hour! It beat Fireball Roberts’ hot lap, set
just one year earlier, by 9 miles an hour. Junior Johnson went on to
win the 40 lap qualifier with his fellow Chevrolet driver Johnny
Rutherford easily capturing the second 40 lap race. It had began to
look like Chevrolet had become the car to beat.
There was a big glitch in the whole thing, however. Nervous GM
executives decreed that the 427 porcupine engine was a violation of
their non-racing policy under the AMA. That frustrated the GM camp
because Ford and Chrysler had clearly declared they were not going to
follow the AMA ban nearly a year earlier. What made matters worse that
after the 50 engine run, no spares were available. Junior Johnson, as
the standard bearer for Chevrolet, was clearly worried. He was noted
for his wide open throttle style of driving. He put his foot on the
accelerator and held it to the floor. When the Daytona race
qualifications began, he had only the one engine that was in his car.
knew he needed to have back up engines. He also knew through Smokey
Yunick where two of the precious V-8s were. You can imagine the
surprise that shot through the headquarters of the Holman and Moody
building when Junior himself showed up wanting to have them do a huge
favor and let him buy those two engines!
Of course, there was immediate denial by H & M personnel
that they had any such Chevrolet stuff. Junior had no other choices, so
he hung on, enduring the repeated denials, like a bull dog to a soup
bone. Smokey Yunick may have had something to do with H & M getting
the engines in the first place, although he always sort of denied any
hand in such action. Junior evoked Yunick's name a lot in what little
is known of the delicate, but desperate negotiations.
In the final tally, H & M somehow found out that one of the
engines that they didn't have had been mysteriously shipped in error to
a warehouse close to their HQ. In the spirit of the "good old boy"
racing circles that existed (and in some cases still do) Junior Johnson
was able to obtain that mis-shipped engine from that warehouse, if he
used an unmarked truck, and came after dark. How much money, if any,
was involved is not known. Junior won't talk about it, even today.
It was all for naught anyway, since the Chevrolets ended up involved in
accidents or had engine failure. The Ford cars finished 1 to 5, with
Richard in 6th. It did make it more imperative that Chrysler work up a
Certainly by this time, it was plainly obvious that Petty
Engineering had all it would take to win championships. Richard had won
14 races in 1963! The only ingredient it lacked was an engine that had
all the "stuff" that the other competitors had. They had nothing to
worry about. Lynn Townsend had sent the Chrysler engineers to the
drawing boards with orders to get something together that would beat
everything out there........ and do it yesterday!
Chrysler's engineers knew that the basic 413/426 block was rugged
and reliable. It had proven itself over and over ever since its
introduction in 1959. That in itself was remarkable since the gestation
period for the 413 was only 18 months, instead of the usual 30 to 36
months in bringing a new engine to production.
Looking over past performance figures, it was obvious that the
technology in the hemispherical combustion chamber engine heads was
just the way they wanted to go. Fortunately, most of the engineers that
had been involved in the earlier Hemi V-8 development program were
still working in Chrysler engineering. They didn't have much time.
Therefore, utilizing the basic current 426 block was an imperative and
an obvious choice. The final decision to build Hemi heads for grafting
onto the 426 block came late in March 1963, after the Daytona 500 race.
Getting the design right proved to be the nagging element in continued
development of the Hemi. The current wedge heads had a 4 bolt pattern
around the cylinders. With the sort of pressure that was envisioned for
the Hemi engine, the engineers knew that at least 5 bolts were needed
around each cylinder. The problem was that the fifth bolt interfered
with the valve train and push rods. After weeks of wrangling, it was
found that the fifth bolt could be put on the underside of the head in
the intake valley between the valve push rod guides. Putting the design
into castings went pretty quickly after that. Getting the engine all
together was a monumental task. While the engine was of 426 cubic inch
displacement, essentially it had to have some redesign. The crankshaft
web base had to be deepened and increased in strength. It got a four
bolt bearing cap bottom end.
much fastidious engineering, the first engine was assembled by hand. It
was the last week in November 1963. It took 80 man hours to put the
race engine together. It was set to go to testing the first week of
December 1963, only two months before the Daytona '64 race.
Dynamometer test runs revealed a huge amount of horsepower.
Just how much has never been revealed by Chrysler! Later insider leaks
said about 750 horsepower under racing conditions. An easy 650
horsepower at factory specs!
The tests also revealed some major design faults. The piston walls
on the right hand side were cracking. It was evident that the engine
would not be able to last out in a race. It needed to have thicker
Engineers worked nonstop in the lab and at the forge to try to
ensure proper strength to stand the racing forces. A myriad of
problems ensued. Day after day went by with the engineers trying every
thing they could imagine to get the casting correct. Each new day sent
them back with discouraging results.
Finally, at the end of January 1964, after working 24 hours
straight, one engineer came up with a series of techniques that
garnered a good casting. Cast in groups of 12, the final casting was
successful. Taking a risk, because the engine had to be in Daytona
Beach on February 4, 1964, an original design Hemi engine was sent out
to Ray Nichols for testing. Ray had been given a Belvidere to run, and
he had put Paul Goldsmith in to drive it. In unmarked vehicles, Ray
took the Belvidere to Goodyear's 5 mile long testing facility in San
In total secrecy, Goldsmith put the Belvidere into the wind.
Untested up to now, the first run off the truck gave a 180 mile an hour
lap speed. Goldsmith had said that the surface was very rough. Indeed
it was. A bump in the back stretch put the rear end right off the
ground. When it came back down, it burned rubber! At 180 miles an hour!
Afterwards, Ray Nichols remarked that while all Chrysler engines have a
distinct exhaust note and heavy intake roar, the Hemi had made a sound
that was more bellow than roar, like it was coming from deep inside the
belly of the Plymouth. It was a sound never to be forgotten.
In a huge gamble, the original design Hemi engines were shipped to
Daytona Beach for installation in the team cars. They arrived on
February 4, 1964. Teams promptly went to installation and setup
concerns. The engineers were betting that the original design engines
would last through qualifying and the 40 lap long elimination races.
They had no other choice as the first casting for the "thick wall" Hemi
had been cast one day before on February 3, 1964!
All the MoPar drivers were keeping the power of the Hemi a closely
guarded secret. Not one of them ran a full out lap. Not in on the track
testing, not in pre races, not in time trials and not anywhere. They
were holding around 165 miles an hour. Right with the 1964 Fords.
Hemi Andersen wrote: “It sure was good to see that 1964 Belvidere that won the 500. I remember the day and the SOUND. It was like none other. It hurt your ears to sit in the stands as I did. It was such a deep sounding EXPLOSION as the cars came by each lap. I was so worried that the 43 would not last the race as it came by in the front lap after lap. ... Cool to go into the pits after the race. Got to say hi to Lee and see Householder.
Chevrolet was almost non-existent in 1964. The mystery motor
was no where to be seen, and the 409 cubic inch V-8 just wasn't a
Junior Johnson had come to the Chrysler camp for 1964. He
remarked how much difference there was between the Chevrolet 427 of
1963 and the Hemi 426 of 1964. He said he had never felt the kind of
power ever before in any car he ever driven. He held the Hemi in awe.
Even on the back stretch at Daytona, you could push down on the
accelerator and the Hemi would just pick up and go some more.
Of course, the plan to hold back was designed to put NASCAR at ease,
along with Ford. Had they used the full power, before the race, it was
a very real risk that Ford would protest because the Hemi was not, at
that point, a full production engine. It was also known that going full
bore would have seen lap speeds 20 miles an hour faster than anything
that had ever been at Daytona!
That did not mean that they held back all the way. In the
qualification lap, Paul Goldsmith set a two lap record of 174.91 miles
an hour. Not to be outdone, Richard Petty set his two lap qualification
run at 174.41 miles an hour. In the February 7 respective 40 lap
races, Junior Johnson's Dodge won the first at 170.77 mph with Bobby
Isaac in another Dodge winning the second at 169.81 mph. Ford
immediately became suspicious. After all, the lap speeds in a race with
other cars around, was 10 miles an hour faster than Junior Johnson had
been able to go in 1963 in a timed run, where he had the track all to
himself! Chrysler pleaded that it was all aerodynamics. NASCAR let it
all ride, for the time being.
Not quite all went as planned. Junior Johnson finished his 40 lap run
with only 20 pounds of oil pressure. When the engine was torn down for
inspection, the block had cracked right down the oil line between the
camshaft and the main bearing bulkhead. Much worse than expected.
The February 3 castings had been meticulously cleaned, machined and
assembled. They were roaring at full throttle in the Chrysler testing
labs. So far, so good.
On February 9, 1964, more molten iron began flowing into a dozen molds
in a forge plant owned by Chrysler in Indianapolis Indiana. It was one
of the best facilities in the entire world. Earlier castings were hand
assembled with some set to go to the teams, and others for testing.
Acting quickly, but deliberately, the engine blocks were meticulously
checked and then, cleaned. After that the blocks were x-rayed,
zyglowed, baked out, and re-checked. All the parts were cleaned,
x-rayed, shot peened and meticulously hand assembled. Millions of
dollars had been expended by Chrysler to get those engines to this
point. Not wishing to take a chance of having those engines lost in a
plane crash, the Hemi engines were crated up and trucked from Michigan
The miracle had happened. All the teams got the thick
walled 426 Hemi racing engines just before the February 23 date of the
1964 Daytona 500 race! The next day, spare engines and Chrysler
racing group director Ronnie Householder arrived in the pit area.
February 23, 1964 in Daytona Beach was cool, but clear and sunny. A
good day to go racing. Paul Goldsmith in his red Nichels prepared
Plymouth Belvidere sat on the inside front row at the pole position.
Richard Petty sat beside him on outside pole position. Behind them, in
the next 5 positions were Dodges and Plymouths. Buck Baker was behind
the wheel of the second Petty car #41 in the 5th starting spot.
The green flag fell around 12:30 p.m. They were off! Now, all the
hopes, fears, trials, triumphs, and yes, dreams, rested in the hands of
the drivers behind those big engines.
The race did have its moments. Around lap 25, one by one, the Chrysler
team cars came into the pits. Immediately the hoods flew up. That was a
sure sign of big, big trouble! Ronnie Householder recalled that he felt
the blood rush from his head. Then after a few seconds, the Hemi bellow
resounded as the cars flew back onto the track. What had happened
there? Were the engines wounded so badly that they were sent back out
to run until they just blew up? With deep fear inside, Householder made
his way through the pits. Relief! The track was so covered with debris,
that paper and junk had been sucked up against the radiators causing
heating problems. After the garbage was cleared, the Hemi engines
distinctive bellow dominated the entire race.
Three hours and fifteen minutes after the first green flag,
Richard Petty crossed the finish line, in first place. Behind him was
Jimmy Pardue in another Plymouth. Right behind him was Paul Goldsmith
with yet another Plymouth. A 1-2-3 sweep. Exaltation sweep through the
entire Chrysler Corporation camp, but nowhere was the pride in product
bigger than at the Plymouth division. Right after the race, banners,
flags, jackets, hats, pins and dozens of other memorabilia broke out
all over the Plymouth factories, as well as at the Chrysler Corporate
offices. In fact, the very next day, hundreds of buttons appeared
throughout the corporate headquarters that read: "Total What?" It was a
mimic in response to Ford's 1964 ad campaign that said "Total
As an aside, Lee Petty was back in apparent good health and fully
recovered when the '64 season started. He mostly worked in the pits
since he was a mean mechanic in his own right. Lee drove a couple short
track races in the #41 car, choosing not to participate in any high
speed tracks. His last race effort occurred at Watkins Glen. He never
got back into another race car.
In another important issue, Lee Petty for all practical
purposes no longer ran Petty Enterprises. He deferred the decisions to
his son Richard. After the dominating 1964 Daytona win, Richard was no
longer referred to as"Lee's son", having won his "bones." He was
Richard Petty, winner in his own right and a man no longer standing in
another man's shadow. Richard had emerged to cast his own shadow in the
Richard went out to garner his first Grand National Championship. It
was remarkable because the 1964 schedule was the highest total ever in
NASCAR at 61 races! It was not as easy as it might seem. One could
easily say that "yea, with gobs of horsepower, winning was easy." That
was not the case. Sorting out how to harness the Hemi engine's power
was a trial and error process. The twister under the hood made so much
power that at full throttle in was just simply spun the rear wheels
continually on short tracks. In the same vein, over a dozen events were
lost because the differential failed. The Hemi just was a torque
delivery monster that had not gotten the time devoted to it to try to
foresee developmental problems before the engine got on the race track.
The teams ended up being the testers as they competed over the season.
1964 season also just wasn't as lopsided as it may appear. Richard
Petty was locked in a heated three way battle for the Championship. The
Ford cars were not "lay downs" by any means. They were competent,
powerful, and fast in their own right. Ned Jarrett in his Ford and
David Pearson in a Dodge gave the Petty organization fits all year
The final tally rested on one critical area. So close were Ned
Jarrett and Richard Petty that the Championship came down to number of
events entered. Richard had competed in all 61 events. Ned Jarrett had
been in 59, two less than Richard. That was the main difference that
clinched the Grand National Title that year!
However, Bill France was not happy. Before the final race in 1964,
he made an announcement that chilled the Chrysler camp. In one sweep,
he eliminated the Hemi engine from competition, along with the newly
introduced Ford 427 "hi- riser." Ford was pleased. Chrysler was not.
Ten days later, Ronnie Householder issued a statement that no
Chrysler supported teams were going to participate in any NASCAR event
under the current dictated rules. He blasted NASCAR, at times appearing
furious with the decision handed down by France. It had started when
Ford officials had been making it known that if NASCAR did not declare
the Hemi engine illegal as a non production item, they would boycott
the 1965 season. Their suspicions about the Hemi were confirmed in
their mind with aerodynamics having nothing at all to do with the
winning ways for Chrysler.
When France made his decision to ban the Hemi, Householder called
Ford and NASCAR to task. Without a doubt, the threat of a boycott from
Ford prompted Bill France to write the Hemi out. Yet, he did not
specifically refer to the Chevrolet 427 "porcupine" engine, encouraging
the GM teams that it would be welcomed on NASCAR tracks. Certainly, he
had looked the other way in 1963 when the mystery Chevrolet engine
appeared. So the lines were drawn. Chrysler turned to other events,
USAC and drag racing.
It is unfortunate that the United States Auto Club didn't tried
harder. They were a great racing sanctioning body whose rules were
applied fairly across the board while encouraging racing development.
They were also better than NASCAR because they were not a dictatorship
style of management.
The decision by Chrysler not to race in the 1965 NASCAR season was a
setback for the Pettys. Richard had been eager to defend his title. The
new Plymouth Satellite was essentially the same car as the 1964
Belvidere. Along the way, the techniques for utilizing all that the
Hemi engine had to give were ready for application to the new 1965
cars. Richard accepted the decision by Chrysler. After all, at that
point, he was on Chrysler's payroll. How he or any of the Petty clan
felt about the loss of their independence has never been talked about.
However, I am certain that they did not easily accept being ruled by
outside forces. Steps were taken to insure that they would never have
to follow the lead of any influence other than their own in the future.
Maurice and Lee went drag racing in 1965! Supplied with a new Plymouth
Barracuda fastback, Maurice set out to make it a drag racer to be the
one to beat. He succeeded. The highly modified Plymouth, called 43 Jr.,
had a 426 Hemi that was warmed over by Maurice and Dale Inman. Richard
made appearances in events all over the Southeastern United States. In
every place that he ran, it was standing room only. Not quite satisfied
with the first Barracuda, Maurice built another one. This one had an
altered wheelbase, and different suspension modifications. It too, had
a 426 Hemi, that was modified even more than the first. The torqueflite
was replaced with a 4 speed manual transmission. This Petty Blue
Plymouth was named "Outlawed." The first run out of the box was at 140
miles an hour in the 1/4 mile. Over the course of the spring and summer
of 1965, Richard lost only 6 events between the two Barracuda cars.
did not fare well with the Chrysler teams sitting out. Even though Bill
France had set rules that clearly favored Chevrolet and the 427 Mark IV
engine, GM sat tight on its racing ban observance. Ford and Mercury
were the only cars out on the circuit. The public stayed home in
droves. Financially, it drove NASCAR into dire straits.
Bill France faced one of his worst crisis ever. It was an
awful position. Race track owners were unhappy and angry. Car companies
were unhappy and angry. Promoters were howling angry. Race car
companies were unhappy and angry. Race car drivers were unhappy. The
paying public was disgusted, unhappy and angry. Something had to give.
France tried everything that he know how to get the public back into
race track grandstands. Not one thing worked! Specters of bankruptcy
loomed right ahead.
Finally, late in July, France relented. On Sunday July 25, 1965, the
entire Chrysler factory sponsored teams returned to NASCAR. There were
some rule revisions that allowed the Hemi engine back, however in a
clear indication of how he felt, France favored the Ford cars.
The '65 Satellite used by the Petty team equated itself well. In 14
NASCAR races that he got to compete in, Richard won 4. He placed in the
top ten in the rest. With the short season, he was 38th in points.
Petty Enterprises had made more than enough money for all it's racing
efforts so that 1966 promised to be a very good year.
1965 marked the very first start of what could be called the modern
era. Even at that time, with all the rules, the cars appeared stock,
but teams were involved with such modifications that the outward looks
of the cars were about all that was "stock" any more. With the advent
of the 1966 season, more silliness, rule bending, manipulation, and
yes, outright NASCAR favoritism, set the norm for the future. It wasn't
a good old boy thang anymore. It was big business with millions of
dollars starting to change hands. With that kind of money, major
influence could be had! Bill France sat on top of it all. He had
established a virtual one man lock on any and all competition. In no
other sport would that have been allowed to stand. Yet, it exists
exactly the same way, right to this moment, just as it was when France
1966 saw the Hemi allowed to race again, but only with 405
cubic inches in the 116 inch wheelbase class. A myriad of rule changes
favored the Fords, and definitely shined for Chevrolet. France may have
relented on Chrysler, but it was well known that he was not a forgiving
or forgetting sort of person. He had taken set in particular over the
fact that Chrysler had nearly done NASCAR in by their boycott. It was
well established that if France had not brought Chrysler back to the
fold, NASCAR could not have made the cut for the next year!
France also faced the fact that Lee and Richard Petty had gone
a long way in promoting, supporting, and establishing what NASCAR was
in the eyes of the public. Both Lee and Richard had been voted most
popular NASCAR driver several times apiece. If he reached out and
smacked down Chrysler, he would be slapping around one of the most
popular, highly visible and dedicated NASCAR image defining teams that
he ever had. It was a tightrope walk for him. He had been heard several
times telling anyone that he didn't give a "goddamn if Chrysler never
won another race."
Richard Petty won his second Daytona 500 in the 1966 Belvidere. He went
on to win 7 more races. He also registered 19 pole positions. 15
outside pole positions, 20 top five finishes and 22 top ten finishes.
Unbelievable as it may seem, he did not win the championship. He was
third that year.
kicked up a fuss about not being allowed to run their overhead cam 427
cubic inch top oiler in anything but a large, weight penalized Galaxie
body. Ford claimed that it was putting out 625 horsepower. NASCAR did
not change their ruling. To emphasize that he meant what he said, Bill
France visited both the Ford and the Chrysler engine factories in 1966.
Ford showed him the huge overhead cam V-8. He just said no. When he got
to Chrysler's factory, he saw that the 426 racing Hemi had been changed
to enable it to be a normal street application engine. It was made
clear to him that the Hemi 426 was now a regular production engine,
available to anyone that had the money to buy it.
He also saw Chrysler's answer to the overhead cam Ford engine.
Chrysler had a double overhead cam 426 cubic inch V-8. It was a
monster. It had already turned over 800 horsepower in factory tests.
France took one look at that engine and exclaimed that it would never
be allowed at NASCAR. As well, neither would the Ford cammer engine.
Ford's answer was to pull out of racing on April 15th 1966. It did not
have the effect that Chrysler's pull out had on NASCAR.
Bill France got a wake up call when it was clear just how much clout
Chrysler seemed to have with the fans. He was still not one to forgot
however. Junior Johnson showed up at a race in August with a Ford so
radically altered, that the drivers called it the "yellow banana"
because it was so obviously chopped, dropped, and channeled. Yet, it
sailed right through the pre race technical inspection! In that same
pre-race technical check, Cotton Owens was informed that David
Pearson's Dodge had to be raised 1/4 inch in the front. He was furious.
In a highly visible and well publicized gesture, Owens made his
feelings known and loaded up the Dodge. He left the race track in a
cloud of smoke, and not just from the tires.
In the very next race, NASCAR brought in the stock shaped body
templates that all cars had to match. Templates are still in use today,
however, they now conform to a NASCAR configuration, and in no way
resemble a stock car.
Ford drivers as a whole refused to heed the boycott. Ned Jarrett, a
famed Ford pilot made a deal with independents and got back into
competition quickly. So did many other drivers. In the end, Ford did
not obtain the impact that they thought that they would. The drivers
just wanted to compete. Many hooked up with independent car builders so
they could race. After failing to achieve what they thought they could,
Ford quietly came back to NASCAR in September. Rather than run the big
cars, a few Comets and Fairlanes were built to take advantage of the
smaller wheelbase. David Pearson driving a Cotton Owens Dodge won his
first NASCAR Grand National Championship. Richard Petty won only 8
races, and they were towards the end of the season. The new body style
and changes to the Hemi took some time for Maurice to sort out. As a
result, Richard finished in third place in points.
1967 found everyone sort of settled down. The rule squabbles and
threatened boycotts seemed behind everyone, well, almost. The
differences between the 1966 and 1967 Plymouth Belvidere were minor
trim changes. Otherwise, they were the exact same body style and
undercarriage. Yet, the 1967 was just not as fast as Richard needed.
After losing the Daytona 500 in February, Maurice took the winning 1966
car and reskinned it to look like the 1967. It was the start of
something that earned Richard his crown as "King" as well as a season
of records that will probably never be broken. Yet the winningest
single season in NASCAR history was put under a cloud when Chrysler
started complaining loudly about the Ford advantages. The Chrysler
factory representatives kept up the rhetoric for several races, even
though Plymouth and Dodge won in 6 of the 9 races after Daytona! When
the complaints were not addressed, Chrysler Corporation declared
publicly that all Chrysler teams would boycott the Atlanta race on
April 2, unless NASCAR did something about the Ford advantages. When
asked about it, Richard sort of laid back with a small frown, and
replied: "we are a racing organization, and that is what we do. We are
going to Atlanta with one car, and likely two cars, and maybe three if
we feel it is the thing to do."
Not one Chrysler team stayed home. Not a single one observed
the called for boycott. They all showed up at Atlanta. Which Richard
handily won. Chrysler executives said no more about any boycott. Nor
did they continue with their constant complaining about Ford.
It was a good thing. The 1967 looking 1966 Plymouth was just a car
of the ages. It was seemingly unbeatable. Of the 48 races in 1967,
Richard Petty put that Plymouth into first place an unbelievable 27
times! 10 of those victories were in a row. Along the way, the Plymouth
scored 11 top fives, and 10 top ten finishes. Just to give you an idea
how good this car was, in Nashville, Richard crashed during the race
and hit the wall. The front end was knocked out of alignment, and a
rear spring was broken. The crew said: "park it." Richard said: "fix
it." With a sort of guess on the alignment with a string and a wire,
along with replacing the rear spring, Richard went back on the track, 7
laps out of the lead. In a few laps, Richard had run the field down,
and one by one, he began to pick off the leaders. At the end of the
race, not only had he made up the 7 laps to take the lead, he finished
the race 5 laps ahead of second place! That car was that good.
Ford teams and officials were beside themselves! They just couldn't
believe that no matter what they did, the Petty Plymouth just keep
blowing them away. How could a year old car be that good? Maurice Petty
just smiled and shrugged his shoulders saying: "damned if I know."
Uh.... right. From one of the best crew chiefs ever in NASCAR. Richard
won his second NASCAR Grand Championship with that 1967 looking 1966
Plymouth. However, he was looking at the 1968 models as the season
ended. The new Dodge Charger certainly appeared to be a lot more
aerodynamic than the up coming Belvidere-based Plymouth Road Runner.
Taking a cue from information supplied by Cotton Owens, Richard made a
request that should have been heeded in Highland Park. He asked
Chrysler to be able to switch to the Dodge Charger for 1968. He was
season was one of some frustration. The new Plymouth Road Runner was
about as aerodynamic as a brick. Of course, Richard had seen that
coming in the latter part of the 1967 season. That is the reason for
the request for a Charger to drive.
However, the new restyled
1968 Dodge Charger, for all its slippery looking shape, had some real
aerodynamic problems that were causing it to lose speed and handling.
The grill was sunk inside a surrounding rectangular body. The rear
window was sunk between two sail panels from the roof. The grill area
was acting just like an air brake. The rear window was actually causing
lift, due to the vacuum created when the air passed over the roof to
the trunk, forming a low pressure area on the window itself. It was
making the rear wheels loose, skewing the rear end around at high
In earlier tests, Buddy Baker had repeatedly said that the
front end acted "funny." Like when you turned it left or right and
nothing happened! However, when a qualifying speed of 184 miles an hour
was achieved with the '68 Charger, everyone just sort of laid back and
smiled. It was, after all, faster than the track record set in 1967 by
the earlier first design Dodge Charger!
These things were not clear prior to the start of the 1968 season.
Aerodynamic testing was unheard of prior to that. If the styling looked
OK, then it would probably run well. That was the current thinking.
Ford had also been busy in their styling department, coming up with the
Ford Torino Talladega and the Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II. Styling wise,
they looked every bit as slippery as the Charger.
Anticipation for the Daytona 500 race was high at Chrysler and
Ford. Tension increased as race day neared. Millions of dollars rested
on being able to capture the Daytona 500 race. It had evolved that
quickly from its first 1959 running.
As the '68 Daytona 500 progressed, it was very clear that the 1968
Chrysler products were no match for the Ford products. Fords finished
the 1968 Daytona 1-2-3, with USAC driver Al Unser in a Cotton Owens
prepared Dodge Charger in 4th. Richard Petty was 8th, his Plymouth
being two laps down. The fact was that the Torino and the Cyclone were
superior. They were smaller and had better performance.
Working diligently, Maurice Petty and his crew did everything trick
that they could think of to get the Road Runner competitive. He stated
flatly that the '68 was the most "tricked" up car that they had ever
tried to run. To his credit, eventually, he got the Road Runner to be
faster than any factory team, and that included quite a few of the
Charger cars as well.
It appeared to the folks at Plymouth that
Dodge was getting all the assistance they needed, while Plymouth was
left to fend for itself. (Sound familiar?) This perception was
reinforced when Dodge announced the new 1969 Charger 500 in June 1969!
This was a car model completed in record time. Initially intended to be
a 1970 model, suddenly it became a 1969. The engineers mounted a
Coronet front grille flush with the front body, eliminating the air
brake effect. Lifting a rear window from another Coronet coupe, the
rear sail panels were eliminated and the window was mounted flush to
the outside of the roof. Since 500 units were needed to qualify for
NASCAR, Creative Industries in Detroit was selected to make the 500
cars necessary to race. The actual cars began to show up in August,
ready for public sale in September 1968. More than enough time to get
some racers built for the upcoming year.
Richard Petty was
increasingly concerned. The Road Runner was just not getting it done
the way he wanted. After the previous season, it was no wonder that he
felt that way. The 1969 Road Runner was going to be exactly the same
car as the 1968. He again asked for a Charger towards the end of the
1968 season. Chrysler again said "no."
The end of the '68 season
saw Richard finish third in NASCAR points. David Pearson took the
Championship, his second. Pearson was not in a Dodge however, having
left to go drive in the winning Fords.
On November 25, 1968,
Richard Petty made a fateful announcement. He was not going to be
driving Plymouths in 1969. He had accepted a deal with Ford to race
their Torino. Chrysler fans were despondent, but Plymouth fans were
prostrate in agony on the floor! The move caused regular Ford teams to
wonder if they shared much of what they learned with the Pettys, would
the Petty clan add their own formula and not share it with Ford? Then
would they go on to perform their winning magic? Much grumbling
resulted from the Petty decision to drive in the Ford camp, from other
Chrysler President Lynn Townsend took the
announcement in rare form by reverted back to his un-corporate self,
which had earned him the nick name "flamethrower." He was spitting
bolts in between sheets of hot flaming invectives. He wanted Petty back
in a Chrysler product, and "by damn somebody down there in engineering
and racing better goddamn see to it right now!"
1969 started out
totally different at Level Cross. Many a tractor trailer truck was
spotted with large Ford markings all over them heading for the Petty
garage. Totally different was the way in which the race Torino was
built. Holman and Moody, which in reality was a subsidiary of the Ford
Motor Company, shipped all the parts and body pieces necessary to make
a race car.
Ordinarily, Maurice got the Plymouth cars, took them apart and
put them back together the way he wanted them. Ford supplied everything
including the engines through Holman and Moody. All Maurice had to do
is put the bits and pieces together.
The first race of the 1969 season was the road course in Riverside
California. Despite spinning out twice, Richard Petty put his Torino in
the winner's circle. A howl went up in the Ford camp. Already
suspicious, the other teams were certain that the Petty clan had found
a way to beat them all and wasn't sharing any of the knowledge.
Things went sort of sour for Richard at the next race, which was
Daytona. His engine just didn't seem to develop the power that the
other teams had. He qualified in 12th spot and finished the race in 8th
place. After hearing much from other individuals about political
shenanigans directed towards them, Maurice followed his instincts. He
"appropriated" another engine that was supposed to go to another team.
Richard gained over 10 miles an hour with that engine. It took a little
while, but Maurice quickly learned how to make the Ford engine run. The
power problems never occurred after that. They also didn't rely on
Holman & Moody for engines anymore.
Tension and excitement began building for the 1969 Daytona 500. In
the first 40 lap qualifying run, the Ford products finished 1-2-3.
Elation over at Ford. Grim determination over at Dodge.
The second qualifying 40 mile race saw a complete turn around
with the Dodge cars finishing 1-2-3! The stage was set for one of the
fiercest battles ever in stock car history. What a battle it was. It
went back and forth with little or any indication that the Dodge
Charger was better than the Ford Torino. Going into the 200th and final
lap, Charlie Glotzbach in a Dodge was in the lead. He was being drafted
by Lee Roy Yarborough in a Torino. Yarborough's crew had mounted a
softer tire compound on the Ford so he was able to hold it down tighter
at the bottom of the track. He managed to get by the Dodge on the back
straight going into the third turn. Glotzbach was not too worried,
because it set him up for the perfect "sling shot"out of the fourth
turn. Slipping off the 31 degree banking, heading for the finish line,
Glotzbach tried desperately to get by Yarborough. He managed to slip up
to the left rear fender of the Torino. It was not enough. Ford won.
Chrysler management wanted to win. Even though it was less than a
car length, the fact is, they lost. It was just not acceptable within
the Chrysler group at that time. Something had to be done, and done
quickly. Department heads from Plymouth and Dodge were called to get
together for a meeting on ways to improve their cars. Either they had
to find 85 more horsepower out of the Hemi engine or they had to
decrease drag by 15% to achieve enough speed to put the Fords in the
back of the pack.
It was already well documented that the Hemi in NASCAR racing
form was developed as much as it would ever be. So, the answer to more
speed was to cut the drag. The answer to that was already sketched out
by two different designers totally independent of one another. The
amazing thing is that their respective designs had the nose of the
proposed car nearly the same! The rear wing on one design was a two
stage affair, while the other resembled the final result of the
proposed Dodge Charger Daytona.
Moving quickly, the engineers got the go ahead from the
Vice-President and General Manager of the Dodge division. He promised
full support, and to keep everyone else out of their way. They had to
Bill France, using his own money, had built a 2.66 mile super
speedway in an obscure little town near Talladega, Alabama. He had set
the date for its inaugural race as September 13, 1969. The Dodge boys
set September 1, 1969 as the date that the Dodge Daytona would be ready
to go racing! That meant introducing the car for production by April
15, 1969 so that 500 cars would be in the dealer's hand by September 1.
They had only gotten approval at the end of February. It left precious
little time to get the job done.
The extraordinary thing about the Daytona program was that it did
not follow any traditional rules. For the July 1968 Daytona race, Dodge
had built two Charger 500 cars that were known as 2 x 2's. They had
been lowered two inches all the way around. They performed well, but
had not made that much improvement in speed. After the race, NASCAR
banned them. There was one other lowered car. It was a Plymouth, and
the Petty crew continued to use it. NASCAR seemed to not see the rake
on it. So, there were two test Dodge Chargers already in racing trim,
ready for testing with the new designs. The new Dodge Daytona was ready
for racing at the first Talladega event. It won. Chrysler was elated.
Richard battled David Pearson all season long for the points lead.
Along the way, Richard achieved something that at the time, no other
driver had even come close to. On August 22, 1969, in a Ford, Richard
won his 100th career victory. A stunning achievement. However, he would
have to settle for second place in the points chase. David Pearson won
his third and final Grand National Championship.
Prior to the Daytona's introduction, Plymouth officials held a
conversation with Richard Petty in June 1969. He was well aware, as was
everyone else of the winged Dodge Daytona that was upcoming. Richard
wanted one. Instead, Plymouth made their commitment to build a winged
car. Their own version. This was based on Richard's commitment to
return to Plymouth to drive that creation. Richard also wanted to be
the single point distributor of all of Chrysler's racing parts. Up
until then, Nichels Engineering in Illinois had been the single source.
Chrysler's president was cryptic. "Get it done" he said.
Someone thought that doing the Plymouth version would be easy. Just
send a Belvidere two door over to Creative Industries Inc., where the
Dodge Daytona for the commercial street market had been built. There
they could hang a sloped nose and rear wing on the Plymouth and go
racing with it. Faced with having to build 2,000 cars for commercial
sale prior to January 1, 1970, didn't leave Plymouth much time. This
had to be done in order to qualify the car for NASCAR racing.
aerodynamic engineers warned Plymouth that it wasn't going to be
anywhere near as easy to get a winged car with the Plymouth that was as
good as the Dodge. Scoffing, Plymouth went ahead and had Creative
Industries literally hang a nose on the front and put a wing on the
rear of a stock Belvidere. It was awful! It looked terrible. In that
form, it was some sort of monster.
Locked out of the styling of the Dodge Daytona, the styling
department at Plymouth made sure that they were involved with the
creation of the wing Plymouth all the way. When they saw what Creative
Industries had, they threw a fit. Faced with having to build 2,000 cars
since NASCAR had upped the ante to get in, commercial acceptance was
vital. Plymouth designers balked at what they saw. Something had to be
done and done quickly. Pressure built quickly from the top.
A proposal to hang a Charger front clip on the Belvidere was quickly
rejected. The two body styles were vastly different. Trying to tinker
with the current Belvidere fenders just didn't work out. Wind tunnel
testing showed that by doing that, it actually increased drag!
They also had a problem with the rear window on the Belvidere.
It, like the earlier Daytona was causing a vacuum and a large drag on
the rear of the car. Engineers had the means to cure it, but the
surgery to do it stuck out like a sore thumb on the roof. They had some
money for development, but to cure the rear window drag would have
meant changing the entire rear quarter panels, the rear deck lid, the
roof sail panels where it sweep into the truck, and leading edge of the
rear window where it went into the roof, the rear window itself, and
the back valance where the trunk lid locked down. Essentially, a whole
new car. No way, said the top management.
Instead, they concentrated on the rear wing. In the end, the side
stabilizer part of the wing were 40% larger than the Daytona. The wing
was swept back further, and the stabilizers titled in towards the trunk
more. The front "beak" of the Plymouth cut into the air at a slightly
higher angle than the Daytona. The front air inlet was redesigned to
stop any overheating problems. In the end, what had been achieved
without redesigning the entire car was a 99.5% stability rate with a
small increase in drag. It was not quite as clean as the Daytona. The
numbers looked excellent.
Suddenly the Plymouth styling department put a stop to the whole
concept. They would not commit to the current style of the car, and
withdrew any further support to the Winged Daytona Belvidere project.
They felt that there wasn't enough money to pay for the changes needed
to make the car into a viable commercial success.
Suddenly, two weeks later, they reversed their decision, and the
project was back on with a vengeance. Rumor has it that Lynn Townsend
had put his "flamethrower" into action. Jobs were on the line.
that, there was no looking back. Things happened very quickly. All
around, from the Petty organization, to Plymouth design, to
engineering, to the Creative Industries group, nothing but instant
feedback on everything. Richard Petty remarked that this was the most
enjoyable project he had ever worked with. He said it was just as good
In the final analysis, Coronet front fenders and a Coronet hood were
grafted on the Belvidere body. The lines were the same, but the Dodge
was more aerodynamic. Once that decision was achieved, it took only a
week to clay in the entire car and get that model into the wind tunnel.
With results coming in that looked decent, two weeks later a fully
operational car was off and running at the Chrysler Proving Grounds at
Chelsea. Having achieved that, then the prints and materials were sent
over to Creative Industries where the street commercial Plymouths were
built. Just prior to that, the model designation was changed from
Belvidere to Road Runner SuperBird!
the high profile of the SuperBird, winning in any NASCAR race was never
a sure thing. The Petty organization built two SuperBird cars for the
'70 season. As well, they also had two Road Runners for short tracks.
Pete Hamilton, a new comer, was hired to run the #40 Petty SuperBird.
He acquainted himself well. At the Daytona 500, Richard's #43 expired
on the 7th lap. Pete Hamilton went on to win the race. A nice high
profile victory for the new SuperBird.
The real feather in coming back to Plymouth was that Petty
Enterprises was now the single source for any and all Chrysler racing
in any organization anywhere in the world. They had it all, and when
they didn't have it, they would build it, either for themselves or for
any Chrysler racing organization or team. It truly was the prize that
Richard coveted more than the SuperBird itself. It was a good thing.
At Darlington Race track for the Rebel 400, Richard Petty was nearly
killed in his most devastating racing accident. Struggling to adjust
his Road Runner, (not the SuperBird) he came off the 4th turn onto the
front straight. Losing control, he slammed head on into the infield
concrete wall. The wall actually broke at the point of impact.
Resulting forces spun the Plymouth slightly sideways, and tossed it
into a series of left front to right rear barrel rolls. You could see
Richard inside being tossed around like a rag doll in a dryer. The car
came to rest on its roof with a limp Richard Petty hanging 3/4 of the
way out the driver's window. Fortunately, he was not severely injured.
He did lose his ability to drive in the next 6 races. That put the
Championship out of his reach for 1970. This incident was what made
NASCAR mandate window netting for future races. Driving a Dodge
Daytona, Bobby Isaac won the 1970 Grand National Championship.
In the Spring race of 1975 tragedy once again
struck inexplicably. Richard Petty who had led a good portion of the
race came storming into the pits on the 141st lap with a wheel bearing
that was so overheated the grease was ablaze. His brother in law and
crew member Randy Owens went over the wall with a pressurized water
tank to extinguish the blaze and when he opened the valve the canister
exploded sending him thirty feet into the air. He was dead on arrival
at the infield care center.
Something very big also happened in the 1970 season. Looking at
the loss of advertising in broadcast mediums, tobacco companies went
looking for a means to let people know about their product. R. J.
Reynolds was already involved in NASCAR through their sponsorship of
Junior Johnson's car. Someone came up with the idea for Winston
sponsorship for all of NASCAR. R. J. Reynolds credits Junior Johnson
for the idea. He felt that it would take the pressure off NASCAR with a
guarantee of prize money and promotions. Junior approached Bill France
who was immediately interested. Getting the Winston people to a meeting
with Bill France was easily done. The rest, is of course, history. The
biggest changes coming for the 1971 season, which was the first of the
Winston Cup Series, was that the prize money went way up.
Something else pretty big happened at the end of the 1970 season at
Chrysler. For whatever reason they declared that they were cutting way
back in their racing operations from the factory. They were willing to
sponsor two cars. A Plymouth and a Dodge. Imagine the surprise that
went through the Dodge teams when Chrysler declared that the Dodge was
going to be built at Petty Enterprises and that Buddy Baker had already
been selected to drive it. Bobby Isaac had just given Dodge a major
Championship and they thanked him by dropping the whole racing program.
Richard Petty was also surprised and disappointed because he intended
to retain Pete Hamilton as his driver in 1971.
he couldn't write the winged cars out of competition, Bill France could
mangle the rules to fit his desires. He was never comfortable with the
specialty cars that had been built by Ford and Chrysler. So, for the
1971 season, any of those cars, which included the Ford Talladega, the
Mercury Cyclone, the Dodge Daytona, and the Plymouth Superbird were
limited to a 5 litre engine. That translated to 305 cubic inches. The
specialty vehicles disappeared overnight, almost. But that is another
Faced with having to meet his sponsor's wishes, Richard Petty dug in
and moved on after the factory announcement. The building of the two
body styles was not all that difficult. The 1971 intermediate cars from
Chrysler had been redesigned into the "fuselage" style. The Plymouth
and Dodge Charger shared a lot of underbody components. The new
Plymouth Road Runner was a great body style for racing. It was smooth
and stable. Buddy Baker was put into a team Dodge Charger.
Although, Richard remarked that he thought maybe the Charger was a bit
cleaner. It didn't seem to show during the season.
the 1971 Road Runner, Richard Petty scored 21 wins in 47 starts. He
also recorded an astounding 26 top five finishes! The great 1971 season
started with Richard's win of the 1971 Daytona 500. That was made
sweeter because Buddy Baker’s Charger was right behind
him in second place. From there on it was nearly a repeat of the 1967
season, with total domination by the Petty Blue Road Runner. There
were, however, some striking differences. In 1967, Richard took home
$130,000. In the 21 wins for 1971, thanks to the Winston sponsorship,
he was paid a handsome $309,000. It made Richard Petty the first NASCAR
driver to earn over a million dollars in his career.
For the season, Winston only sponsored tracks where races were
over 250 miles. This was the original Winston Cup Series. 1972 would
see even bigger changes to that schedule. For his 1971 Grand National
Championship efforts, Richard Petty earned an additional $40,000 from
Winston. He remarked that he had never smoked cigarettes, but if he
did, he would have been smoking Winston.
NASCAR had been making some big waves in high places. The President
of the United States, Richard Nixon, in a first such invitation of it's
kind, had many members of NASCAR to the White House! Richard Petty got
to show his winning Plymouth to Richard Nixon. Notice had also been
given from General Motors. Having lost Dodge sponsorship, Junior
Johnson was looking for a place to go. He ended up at Chevrolet. While
they didn't admit that they were no longer observing the AMA ban, they
also did have some very racy equipment in the Monte Carlo. As well,
American Motors Corporation, the number 4 American Auto producer,
entered NASCAR with a competitive Matador.
At the last race of
the season, a surprise visitor appeared in the Petty pits. He was very
well known in all areas of motor sports because he sponsored some high
profile racers. He shook Richard's hand and congratulated him warmly.
Then he left with no further conversation. Andy Granatelli was
President of the famous Studebaker Technical Products. He was a motor
sports magnate in his own right. His sponsorships meant a good supply
of money along with security.
Chrysler sent its regards by notification that it would no
longer be sponsoring any factory race teams. Thanks a lot. For the
second season, a race team gave Chrysler a major championship, and the
corporation rewarded them by dropping them. Of course, that also meant
that the parts distributorship was also gone from Level Cross. A real
This was the acid test of the Petty Enterprises Organization. Would
they be able to support themselves and continue with development with
the unbridled support of the factory along with access to the money the
factory spent? Some tentative agreements had been signed with large
corporations by some teams to sponsor the cars in turn for advertising
the products. In 1970, Richard had signed soft drink maker 7 Up for a
few races. In 1971 he made a deal for a few races with "Pepsi-Cola." He
well recognized that most major racing teams would need to secure some
sort of sponsorship if they were to continue to be leaders in the
racing circuit. Development costs money. The Petty organization
continued to produce two cars. Buddy Baker had been retained to drive
the Dodge Charger for 1972.
During the "off" season, Andy
Granatelli telephoned Richard Petty at Level Cross. Mincing no words,
he wanted to know if Richard could come to the STP headquarters in
Chicago to discuss sponsorship for the Petty cars. Acting cool, Richard
said he would work it into his schedule before the first race of the
1972 season. He took along Maurice and Dale Inman when he did go to see
Granatelli. Negotiations went quickly. Everything seemed set to make it
a big go, when a large sticking point came up.
Andy Granatelli wanted the cars painted with his trademark
Fluorescent Red. Richard Petty said he would not drive anything that
was not painted Petty Blue. Negotiations continued long into the night
with neither man ready to give an inch. Finally, it got so late that
Maurice and Dale had to leave to fly to California to make the first
race. Richard stayed behind and continued with Granatelli in their tug
of war. When it was apparent that Richard had to go to be able to make
the race, Granatelli offered a stunning compromise. He suggested that
the cars be painted with both colors! Just that quickly was born the
most recognizable race car paint scheme in the entire world. After that
a handshake agreement was reached with the paperwork to follow later.
Richard arrived at Riverside race track to find STP Vice-President
Ralph Salvino standing by with huge red oval STP stickers for the rear
fenders of the Petty 1972 Road Runner. With huge grins everyone pitched
in to get the big ovals on the rear fenders. It was an achievement that
sent shock waves up and down pit road.
1972 marked the beginning of the Winston Cup Series sponsorship for
all the races. Over the off season, Winston and Bill France worked up
an entirely different set of circumstances. First, the point system for
the Grand National was replaced with the Winston Series. All races were
scored in 6 different categories. As well, dirt track races were
eliminated as well as paved track events of less than 100 miles. In the
end, the 1972 schedule was for 31 events. NASCAR sought to ensure
quality, not quantity as in the past.
1972 was also a year for
other first events. Bill France stepped aside and gave the reins of
NASCAR to his oldest son, Bill France Jr. Their attitudes and looks
made them more appear to be brothers rather than father and son. It
also marked the end of the Petty built Plymouths. Richard Petty never
really indicated why he switched to the Dodge Charger in mid-season.
But, he did. He debuted the new STP Dodge on May 7, 1972 at Talladega.
He came in fifth behind team mate Buddy Baker who was in third. All
Richard said about the switch was that he thought maybe the Charger was
a bit cleaner. Andy Granatelli disavowed all knowledge concerning the
changing of cars. He said he didn't really care, as long as Richard
Petty was driving it, he would sponsor it.
Richard alternated between the Road Runner and the Charger for
the rest of the 1972 season. The final run for the Plymouth was at
Dover in September 1972. At the end, Richard Petty won the first
Winston Cup Series Championship. His fourth NASCAR Championship. A good
effort for his sponsor, STP.
With that, there is no more to say about the Plymouth racing
efforts. There were no more at the NASCAR Winston Cup level. Plymouth
is now gone. Arguments continue as to
the wisdom of cutting off the once most popular Chrysler Corporation
brand. All I know is that had there not been a Plymouth car, there
would not have been a modern day Chrysler. An ignominious end to a
great car. It deserved better.
James Hannaford noted that while Petty ran the 1972 Charger, all eight of his victories during the 1972 season came using the Road Runner. Curtis responded:
I tried to avoid figuring what might have been in Richard's
thoughts, since he didn't share them with anyone that was in a position
to report them. I am sure someone might know, but, to avoid controversy
(impossible) I didn't go into the racing results since the switch to
the Charger was settled by contract as being permanent. That according
to Petty Enterprises. The Plymouth era was officially over.
The racing results are well documented with the Road Runner clearly
a winner in its last gasp, but 1972 was a HUGE change for NASCAR and
the Pettys. R.J. Reynolds was in its first full year of sponsorship,
cutting the schedule to 31 races. The new point system was in effect.
Anything less than 100 mile (dirt) and 125 (paved) races are gone.
It was also the first year for Petty being sponsored by STP. (STP
had previously sponsored FRED LORENZEN, trying to make a comeback
of sorts, in 1971, driving a RAY NICHELS prepared PLYMOUTH ROAD
As well, in 1971, Chrysler announced a huge cutback in racing
operations along with funding. Only two cars were going to receive
money. One Plymouth and One Dodge. The operation of both of them would
be through a single source, that being Petty Enterprises in Level
Cross. That effectively cut NICHELS and OWENS out of the entire
picture. It was a good thing for Richard that STP came along, since at
the end of his fourth winning season in 1972, Chrysler followed
Ford and announced it was no longer in racing. Ford previously
had announced at the end of 1971, it was leaving NASCAR
completely with no operations at all. General Motors, which had never
made any sort of attempt at being in NASCAR since 1957, suddenly
found Junior Johnson, free from Fords. Suspiciously, a very hot
Chevrolet Monte Carlo began showing up at NASCAR races.
Perhaps the 1969 encounter with the Plymouth people may have soured
Richard on where the division was headed. Or it may have been
influenced by Andy Granatelli of STP. My thoughts were that it was
more important to try to avoid speculation of what made Petty switch,
since no one has those thoughts except the Pettys, and concentrate
on the fact that he did make the switch and didn't look back on what
might have been. Instead, turning his Chargers into racing winners from
the switch in 1972, through a rule change that allowed it to run
Most racers agree that the Charger was cleaner aero wise since the
rear had a spoiler of sorts built in, with the roof line seeming
to cut the air better, aiding in cornering at racing speeds.
Richard seemed to express as much in that regard. By then, 1972, the
cars were far from stock. The Charger body probably lent itself to
better hidden tricks, such as a cleaner roof area
smoothing into the air dam truck, than the Road Runner. In
any event, Richard won his fourth NASCAR championship using both
cars, even in the face of winning his third Championship in 1971 with
rebodied Road Runner.
Once...as Jerry Olesen wrote..."The cars were production line models, which were reinforced at key points...These days, they race 'cars that never were,' so to speak, and much of the relevance to actual automobiles has been lost. "
Chrysler 1904-2018 •
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