The ’75 Season Wasn’t What We Wanted – But Things Would Get Better
For Junior, the 1975 season did not begin the way he had hoped or had anticipated. Hardly.
In 1974, Carling Brewing Co. acquired the assets of Junior Johnson & Associates and provided it with the means to field a second car for Canadian rookie driver Earl Ross, who would be Cale Yarborough’s teammate.
Competitively, the situation worked out very well. Yarborough won 10 times in 30 starts and finished second to Richard Petty in the final Winston Cup point standings.
Ross won at Martinsville, captured the rookie of the year title and wound up eighth in points.
However, by the end of the season, Carling announced that it was leaving NASCAR. It would divest itself of Junior’s team and drop its sponsorship, which included not only the 1974 season, but also options for three more years.
So when the 1975 season began Junior found himself in somewhat of a familiar position – he had a star quality driver but no sponsorship. He didn’t have many options, either.
Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.
Here it is, the start of the 1975 season. Carling left, of course, but I came out pretty good financially. Cale was back and eager to run for a championship. I was in complete command of Junior Johnson & Associates because Carling had bought out my partner Richard Howard, who had some battles to fight over his track, Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Things should have been pretty durn good. But they weren’t. Once again, I didn’t have a sponsor. I didn’t have the means to run for the championship again after coming so close in 1974, which was an excellent year.
Obviously, I had to find some financial support. There was no way I was going use my own money to race.
At the start of the season about the only option we had was to rely on appearance money to race when and where we could. Richard and I had done something like that about four years earlier, when we raced the Chevrolet for the promoters who were willing to pay for it.
Sponsorship-wise, this was a tough time for NASCAR. Earlier most of the financial backing had come directly from the auto manufacturers. But when they pulled out, as Ford did when I was racing for the company five years earlier, all of us had to find other means of support. And that wasn’t easy.
NASCAR knew that sponsorship dilemmas might keep some of its best teams out of racing. Understand, the sanctioning body was going through some tough, controversial times of its own and the last thing it wanted was to lose some of its best, most popular organizations.
So NASCAR came up with a policy it hoped would ensure the presence of the top teams – and be representative of all the manufacturers.
It selected four different teams running four different makes of cars to receive special appearance money. The teams were Petty Enterprises (Plymouth) Bud Moore Engineering (Ford), K&K Insurance (Dodge) and our team with Chevrolet.
Each team would be paid $3,000 for a superspeedway race and $2,000 for every short-track event. In order to get the money, however, we had to enter every race – we had to compete on the full schedule.
Back in 1975, to get $2,000-$3,000 per race sounded like a pretty good deal.
But I didn’t think so. I turned it down.
I figured the money wasn’t nearly enough to cover expenses to enter every race – of which there were 30. The total payout would be less than $90,000 for the entire season. I didn’t think that was going to be sufficient.
So I decided to go back to an old strategy. When Richard and I peddled the Chevrolet, we charged promoters $10,000 per race and while not all of them paid it, many did. Now, I didn’t know if I could get the same amount of money in 1975, but I was going to negotiate the best deal I could.
All the while I had to watch expenses. Cale and I did not enter two of the season’s first six races because promoters wouldn’t provide what I thought was appropriate appearance money.
We skipped Riverside, Calif, the first race of the season. We ran in the Daytona 500, where Cale finished third behind Benny Parsons and Bobby Allison, who was driving an AMC Matador, of all things, for Roger Penske.
We bypassed the next race, at Richmond, where only 22 cars showed up. Then we went to Rockingham for only our second start of the season, where Cale beat David Pearson to earn $17,200, which certainly helped the cause.
The seventh race of the year was scheduled for North Wilkesboro, my “home” track, on April 6. There was no way we were going to miss it, even without a sponsor, if for no other reason than we would compete in front of family, friends and neighbors.
Turned out North Wilkesboro was, I think, the turning point of the season. Cale finished second to Petty in another good, profitable run.
But, more important, after the race we got our badly needed sponsorship. It came from Holly Farms, a North Wilkesboro-based poultry firm that had been one of my financial backers when I began racing full-time in 1960.
I was very familiar with the Holly Farms folks and they also knew me well. It seemed like a natural fit. When we got back together, they said they were going to stick with me and with NASCAR.
That was very important during a time when sponsors were bouncing off the walls and teams couldn’t find much financial stability.
With Holly Farms on board, Cale and I resolved to return to the form we had established in our first two years together. I thought we were well on our way with three finishes among the top three, including a victory, already.
But I’ll be honest with you. The 1975 season wasn’t what we hoped it would be. The championship was out of the question because we had missed a couple of early races and were out of the hunt before it hardly got started.
The season was a disappointment. With Cale we won only three races – Nashville and Rockingham twice – in 27 starts and wound up a distant ninth in the point standings.
There were a few folks who thought, even with the Holly Farms sponsorship of 1975, that we were slipping. We had lost the impetus of 1973 that led to the terrific 1974 season.
Of course, I didn’t think we were slipping at all. But there was only one way to prove that – and our opportunity to do just that came in 1976.