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1973 Winston Western 500: Donohue Dominates
By: MRN Staff on December 23, 2014 | 12:45 P.M. EST

Donohue had his Penske-owned AMC Matador in the lead for 138 of the 191 laps. It took nearly five hours to run the race, with Donohue the only driver to complete every lap. (Photo: ISC Archives)
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In January 1973, driver Mark Donohue and car owner Roger Penske kicked off NASCAR’s 25th season with a command performance in the Winston Western 500 at Riverside International Raceway.
Donohue humbled his 39 rivals and tamed the 2.62-mile Southern California road course, lapping the field for his first Cup Series win in just his fifth career start. Donohue had his Penske-owned AMC Matador in the lead for 138 of the 191 laps. It took nearly five hours to run the race, with Donohue the only driver to complete every lap.
His racecar was equipped with four-wheel disc brakes.
"It made the difference," Donohue said. "I could carry the car deeper in the corners and that's what it takes on a road course."
After the race, Penske had high praise for his driver.
"One of the reasons Mark is so good is that he can evaluate what we're doing on the drawing board," Penske said. "You might call him a built-in reliability factor. He's the most consistent driver in the business. He's not driving 102 percent - over his head. It's more like 98 percent. There's always something in reserve."
Future Hall of Famer Bobby Allison finished second with Ray Elder, Bobby Unser and Jimmy Insolo completing the top five. Pole sitter David Pearson failed to lead a lap and completed less than half the race distance before retiring with clutch failure. He finished 22nd.
Benny Parsons placed 14th to open what turned out to be a championship season. Despite winning just one race – in July at Bristol, Parsons had 20 other top 10s among his 28 starts. He topped runner-up Cale Yarborough by 67 points.
Riverside would be the site of the season-opening race until 1982, when Daytona International Speedway took its place at the top of the schedule – where it remains today. Riverside was dropped from the NASCAR slate following the 1988 season.
 

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Well that is one cool story I have never heard of before. Thanks, appreciate that!
 

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I hadn't quite gotten to the '73 Riverside Nascar season in the Nascar historical thread, but as long as Ed started this thread, here is the way that the "L.A. Times" reported the race. BTW, the late Shav Glick was a multi award winning motorsports reporter, for those not familiar with him.

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Here is how the race was reported in "Competition Press". The race report stretched over 5 pages and we tried to get as much as we could posted on this thread. Hope those that are interested can follow the story. Sorry they're so old and faded guys. They were up in the garage rafters for too many years.


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View attachment 3926 Found a post card I had buried in my archives. Beautiful car indeed!
Good story about the front bumper being installed upside down for better aero. Inspectors though it looked 'funny' so looked around the parking lot for a production example. They found one! The team had changed the bumper on that one too! :cool:
 

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Good story about the front bumper being installed upside down for better aero. Inspectors though it looked 'funny' so looked around the parking lot for a production example. They found one! The team had changed the bumper on that one too! :cool:
I guess the AMC race team support staff learned a valuable lesson from the disqualification of Smokey Yunick's 7/8 scale cheater Chevelle that qualified on the pole of the 1967 Daytona 500. The story goes that, although there was a long list of violations, the clincher for the Nascar inspectors was that, by sheer happenstance, somebody drove a street Chevelle into the pits and parked it near enough to Smokey's that it became readily apparent that his was only 7/8 scale in it's body dimensions :D.
 

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Were the wins in the model with the smaller 1/4 windows? The pic above would catch a lot of air...
 

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Were the wins in the model with the smaller 1/4 windows? The pic above would catch a lot of air...
Yes, most of them were with the "formal" roofline model with the smaller quarter window. Here is a publicity card photo of Penske and Bobby Allison from around the time they won the race @ Ontario in 1974;

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Here is the Penske AMC Matador being driven @ Riverside in 1975 when Bobby Allison took the pole and then won the race;

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A few weeks later, Allison won one of the 125 mile qualifiers for the Daytona 5oo with this model Matador and then finished 2nd in the race.
 

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I recall that car getting busted for having roller lifters in it. What race was that?
Makes you wonder if they ran them before.
 

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We had an AMC/jeep dealer in my town while I was growing up.
I recall thinking that the Matador was so distinctive at the time it should have sold well. Then that damn gas crisis came along...
 
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I recall that car getting busted for having roller lifters in it. What race was that?
Makes you wonder if they ran them before.
I believe it was after they won the Ontario, CA race. Bobby Allison was flippant about it - something to the effect of "so what............everyone in Nascar cheats" and ol' Roger Penske was not happy about that. If I ever locate my Ontario stuff, I probably have the newspaper articles.
 

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I believe it was after they won the Ontario, CA race. Bobby Allison was flippant about it - something to the effect of "so what............everyone in Nascar cheats" and ol' Roger Penske was not happy about that. If I ever locate my Ontario stuff, I probably have the newspaper articles.
That rings a bell! There were many more gray areas back then. But it was specifically spelled out in the rule book, NO ROLLER LIFTERS.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
I believe it was after they won the Ontario, CA race. Bobby Allison was flippant about it - something to the effect of "so what............everyone in Nascar cheats" and ol' Roger Penske was not happy about that. If I ever locate my Ontario stuff, I probably have the newspaper articles.
At Ontario, California, Allison won the final race of the season, only to have his car caught with illegal roller tappets, instead of the solid ones mandated by NASCAR. The roller tappets, which fit between the camshaft and pushrods have less friction than solid lifters and thus produce more horsepower.
“He almost got away with it,” former NASCAR Winston Cup Director Dick Beaty said in a 1988 interview with NASCAR Winston Cup Scene’s Deb Williams. “I told one of the crewmen to hand me one of the tappets. At first, they pretended like they couldn’t get if off. I told him he was going to take it apart if we had to cut it. Finally, they got one out. The one he handed me was as cold as ice. He had a rag in his hand and it had a flat tappet in it. When he pulled the roller tappet out of the car, he kept it in his rag and handed me the flat one. Now, there’s no way a tappet that’s just come out of a car that’s run 500 miles is going to be cold. I grabbed the rag that was in his hand and sure enough, there was the roller tappet. If he had taken that [flat] tappet and heated it, he would have gotten away with it.”
 

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That rings a bell! There were many more gray areas back then. But it was specifically spelled out in the rule book, NO ROLLER LIFTERS.
Working off a 40 year old memory here, but IIRC, Penske was madder about Allison's comments than he was about the illegal motor itself, which was built by TRACO under AMC contract. There were reports that Allison would lose his job driving for the team but by the time the 1985 Nascar season began, he and Penske had obviously patched things up.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Here is a picture of the Matador taken at the 1973 race mentioned above in the lead article. Amazing what you can find in your stash of stuff if you look hard enough.
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