The ’75 Season Wasn’t What We Wanted – But Things Would Get Better

 

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.


 

Coke Zero 400: Let’s Be Friends


After last weekends Sonoma Sprint Cup race you’d think that retaliation would be on everyones mind. Nope, not at Daytona, there’s too much to lose in a plate race. Points are paramount and payback can wait. http://www.motorsportsunplugged.com

When The July Daytona Race Was A Casual, Laid-Back Affair

The Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, scheduled for this weekend, is one of the glitziest and most-anticipated races of any NASCAR Sprint Cup season. And why shouldn’t it be?

It is run during a major holiday weekend in one of Florida’s most recognized resort cities and on a speedway many consider NASCAR’s most famous.

It is conducted under the lights and night racing has long been vastly popular with NASCAR fans. It comes complete with speed, the intrigue of carburetor plate racing and there are plenty of fireworks – always a good thing for both night events and Independence Day.

Might seem hard to believe, but there was a time when the race, formerly known as the Firecracker 400, was anything but spectacular.

It was one of the most laid-back races in NASCAR. It wasn’t conducted with a lot of fanfare. DIS officials sure didn’t spend a lot of money marketing the event.

Racing under the lights? Hardly. Instead, the Firecracker 400, always held on July 4, got the green flag anywhere from 10 – 11 in the morning and by 3 p.m., fans and competitors alike were gone – back on the beach.

There was really no need for DIS to get overly involved in race promotion. People were already amassed in Daytona Beach for the holidays and it wasn’t difficult for the track to sell tickets to folks who wanted to smell gas and burning rubber along with salty sea air.

For years it was tradition for nearly everyone to take their summer holidays during the week of July 4. In fact, textile mills, factories and other businesses throughout the South deliberately shut down for a week or longer because their employees were off on vacation.

Beaches were extremely popular as family getaways. Myrtle Beach in South Carolina always did a bustling July 4 business (still does) as did other sand-and-sea sites in the Carolinas and Georgia.

It was, and is, the same for Daytona Beach. But along with an established reputation as a family resort, the city also benefitted from its reputation as the heart of stock car racing, along with the sport’s most famous speedway and race, the Daytona 500.

While it was all about racing and its fans every February Speedweeks in Daytona (no one cared about getting a suntan, after all), when it came to the July 4 holiday, folks could spice up their walks on the beach and dips in the pool with a couple of hours of NASCAR.

And they did. DIS didn’t pack ‘em in like it did for the Daytona 500, but that wasn’t necessary. The Firecracker 400 was perhaps more of a diversion than a singular event and thus never cost the track nearly as much money to produce.

That it was so casual made the race fun for fans and media alike.

In fact, it’s likely the media preferred the Firecracker 400 to any other race on the NASCAR schedule. It was so easy to cover.

Every team and competitor showed up at the track early in the morning and went perfunctorily through preparation, practice and qualifying. Unless there was some type of controversy, which did arise from time to time, it was all simply a matter of getting the work done as quickly and satisfactorily as possible – then get the hell away from the speedway.

There were a couple of reasons for all of this. First, it was hot as hell – the main reason why the race started so early in the morning. Second, drivers and team members didn’t want to stay at the track any longer than they had to. They wanted to get back to the beach, motels, pool and the families they had brought on vacation.

It got to the point where any team spotted working in the garage area around 1 p.m. or so was obviously having problems. Otherwise, the place was almost abandoned. Hardly anyone else was around.

Most of the media wasn’t, that’s for sure. We’d file the news as quickly as possible – didn’t have to do much since the space our newspapers allowed us was drastically reduced because of the holiday – and then get back to the beach as quickly as we could.

Oh, we didn’t shirk our responsibilities. We just met them in a different way. For example, if there was a team or two still laboring after 1 p.m. we had to make sure we knew what was up so it could be duly reported.

Therefore, we appointed one writer, usually a rookie, to stick around and give us a full report when he finally made it back to the motel.

As fast as we could get back to the comforts of the beach, drivers and crewmen, who were splashing in the water by the time we arrived, nearly always beat us there.

Perhaps the perfect example of all this was the Firecracker 400 of 1979.

It was a very fast race that took just over two hours to complete and thus allowed everyone – competitors, fans and media – to get back to the beach with plenty of sunlight remaining. As far as everyone was concerned, it couldn’t have been any better.

It had been a tumultuous year for Wood Brothers Racing. That February, with driver David Pearson, it had barely lost the Daytona 500 to Petty Enterprises in one of the most historic finishes in NASCAR history. The Woods fell short of winning the first race ever broadcast flag-to-flag by a national network.

In the CRC Chemicals Rebel 500 at Darlington in April, a pit-road miscue, caused when Pearson drove away before a four-tire change had been completed, created a crash at the exit of the pits and ultimately ended the Pearson-Woods relationship.

The Woods hired Neil Bonnett, who had shown promise driving for Hoss Ellington and Kennie Childers, among others.

Bonnett first won for the Woods at Dover in May. Then, on July 4, he was scheduled to compete at the track on which his predecessor had performed so admirably so often.

When the race began, Bonnett drove as if he knew he had big shoes to fill. He powered his way into the lead and kept his foot firmly planted on the throttle. If he knew anything about caution or finesse, he had forgotten it.

It reached the point where the Woods, concerned about the survival of their car, sent Bonnett a message via the pit chalkboard: “EZ.”

On the final laps Bonnett was leading Benny Parsons when the pair came up on a group of 10 cars. The daring Bonnett thought he spotted a hole just big enough to slice through, which he did to win the race by one second over Parsons.

Once his post-race interview was complete, Bonnett disappeared from the speedway. It didn’t take a genius to figure out where he had gone.

The media’s work done a couple hours later, it was time for most of us to get to poolside. It was just mid-afternoon.

When we arrived in our bathing suits, sure enough, there was Bonnett.

He was stretched out on a lounge chair, resplendent in his sunglasses and shorts. He had popped the top on a cold one.

He gave us a puzzled look.

“Where the hell have you guys been?” he asked.

 

Kurt Busch: Road Course Ringer

In a weekend that had both NASCAR top series on road courses. Nationwide at Elkhart Lake was a wild race but the skills of the younger drivers shown through. Kurt Busch drove a flawless Cup race at Infineon to take his first road course win. http://www.motorsportsunplugged.com

Busch Nearly Flawless All Around In Victory

Just passing some thoughts about the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.

 

** With nearly flawless race strategy, Kurt Busch and his Penske Racing team made victory on the 11-turn road course look easy.

Not that any NASCAR Cup Series is all that easy, you understand. It’s just on some days, drivers just seem to have a simpler time of it than on others.

So it was for Busch. He claimed his first win of the season and his first ever on a road course with the classic combination of a fast car and the proper tactics. The driver from Las Vegas, Nev., quickly took the lead and ultimately led 75 of 110 laps.

Busch said that his Dodge hit its stride early and then got better as the number of laps mounted. Along with that, the team had established a strategy through which it hoped it could complete the race on only two pit stops – always the plan at Infineon, but seldom achieved.

“We had a goal,” Busch said. “Our fuel strategy from practice gave us the calculations we needed. It showed that we could make it on two stops.

“It was one of those unbelievable days where having a game plan going in, we weren’t questioning it, it was just old school on how we were going to make it on two stops.

“With the pace dropping off like we saw it in practice, it was going to take one of those perfect efforts to make sure we maintained our lap time throughout the run to be able to make it on the stops and not worry about tires as well as the fuel strategy side of it.

“A lot of guys said that they couldn’t make it on two stops. So we knew that there was going to be teams pitting around lap 10, lap 15 to get those fresher tires.

“My thought was inside the car. I needed to continue to push this car hard and run a lap time that wouldn’t allow those guys with fresh tires to chop off and be able to catch us.

“The race played out perfectly for us.”

The victory was the 23rd of Busch’s career and it elevated him to fourth place in points, 34 behind leader Carl Edwards.

The win gave him a welcome piece of insurance in the quest for the Chase, given that the “wildcard” selections will be drivers with the most victories who rank 11-20 in points when the Chase begins.

Busch seems safe enough at No. 4, but like any other driver, he’ll take any edge he can get.

“It’s awesome to have that insurance package,” said Busch, whose fortunes have changed over the past few weeks – remember his sarcastic rants over the radio when performance wasn’t what he thought it should be?

“We got a win, but we still need to run hard and that’s what we’ve been doing of late with the Penske Dodge.”

 

** The back-and-forth scrap between Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart isn’t likely to stir much response from NASCAR – at least, that’s one man’s opinion.

It began on lap 37, when Stewart locked on to Vickers’ rear bumper entering turn 11, causing Vickers to spin and, among other things, creating damage to the radiator of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Chevrolet, which was gathered up in the mishap.

Vickers returned the favor on lap 87. He allowed Stewart to pass him going into the 11th turn and then hit Stewart from behind, which drove him into the tires stacked in the corners of the turn.

Stewart’s car was badly damaged, repaired somewhat, and returned to racing with less than 10 laps remaining.

Stewart was unapologetic. He said that Vickers had moved into position to block him, a tactic that Stewart would never abide.

He maintained that if it was going to be done to him – and the driver’s identity didn’t matter – then he was going to respond exactly as he did at Infineon.

Vickers, meanwhile, contested the opinion that he intentionally blocked Stewart. He suggested that track conditions and crowding rivals forced him into Stewart’s path.

By the way, the TNN broadcast analysts were in agreement with Vickers.

Stewart’s candor, however, reflected perfectly on what “Boys, have at it” used to be in NASCAR – and what I think the sanctioning body would like it to be today.

Competitors freely expressed how they liked to be raced, noted the on-track tactics of which they did not approve and how they would respond to it all.

They also knew they could expect reaction if they affronted others on the track. Even Stewart admitted what Vickers did to him was indeed “payback.”

Given that, don’t expect NASCAR to take any action. What happened at Infineon is exactly what it has told us it wants to see – drivers settling differences among themselves.

 

** For most of the race, neither Jeff Gordon nor Edwards attracted much attention. Both were unspectacular in qualifying – Gordon 13th, Edwards 23rd – but when the race was over, Gordon wound up second and Edwards third.

Not a real big surprise as far as Gordon is concerned. He’s easily one of the best road-course racers in NASCAR.

Edwards stormed forward throughout the race to finish third and, thus, clearly indicate it’s going to be hard to knock him out of No. 1 in points before the Chase begins.

The finish was Edwards’ 12th among the top 10 in 16 races this season, which suggests that regardless of how NASCAR changes its points system, consistency still counts for a lot.

 

** Among the top 10 in points, only Earnhardt Jr. (seventh), Clint Bowyer (eighth) and Ryan Newman (10th) do not have insurance victories. They would all breathe a bit easier if they did.

No driver from 11-20 in points has a victory, yet. Brad Keselowski, 10th at Infineon, ranks 22nd in points and has one win. He will, obviously, put himself in a much better position to make the Chase, which begins after the next 10 races, if he can move up at least two positions by then.

 

The NASCAR Sonoma Slugfest

Many fans are beginning to warm to road racing in NASCAR based on the intensity of it. This weekend the Sprint Cup Series invades Sonoma’s Infineon road course. Expect to see rough racing as the noose tightens on those desperate to get into the chase. http://www.motorsportsunplugged.com

Road Racing In Sprint Cup-The New Bristol

Were you to ask a NASCAR fan 5 years ago what they thought about the road races that NASCAR runs you would have by and large gotten a negative answer. The front-running opinion would have been that it’s boring and processional. No more. Nascar’s history has seldom been without a road race on the schedule with good reason. Bill France, Sr. liked it, he saw it as a way to make inroads into the Western United States and he knew most of the sports car racers of the day. In fact, he drove a Ferrari at Daytona one year, presumably for fun.

In the mid 1970’s it was unusual not to see what we called “Road Course Ringers” in the mix and up front. Now it’s Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon and all of those you might not have expected. It isn’t news that they enjoy it. But what about the fans?

If you were a fan of Bristol, as were we all, you saw bumping, beating and banging–you know, “Rubbin is Racin”. Since the repaving of that iconic little track that sort of enthusiasm hasn’t been seen. The drivers like it, but overwhelmingly the fans don’t. Road racing has taken its place.

The last two seasons from Sonoma to Watkins Glen have produced some of the most exciting door to door, bumping, pushing and temperature raising racing that NASCAR has to offer. How did this happen? NASCAR is more competitive than it’s ever been in its history. Sponsors expect a championship or at least an entry ticket to the big show, The Sprint Cup Chase. The points system is now such that a team must grab all they can in the beginning of the season because certain tracks, or styles of racing, have lent themselves to be unpredictable. Those styles would be road racing and restrictor plate racing. The teams simply don’t have a true handle or more often than not a strategy that survives the first shot. It’s a slugfest.

In road racing there is indeed a strategy and that is track position, fuel and tire management and, this is the best one, anger management. If you look at the races from Sonoma and Watkins Glen what you see is a group of about fifteen road course experts that would truly push their Granny off a cliff to be up front. That’s racing.

These races now represent a means to an end, it just depends on what your agenda may be. Are you trying to survive the event in order to preserve points? That won’t work anymore. Are you desperately in need of a win? That would include practically the whole field, particularly those who have to win to have any chance of making the Chase

. Truth is some of the drivers have to punch above their weight to stay near the front to gain precious points while the others, anyone from 7th in points down to

20th, have to Banzai their way to the front come hell or high water.

If this type of racing sounds familiar it should. It’s what Bristol used to be.In keeping with the corporate directive that NASCAR should be a family friendly sport, what could be more enjoyable than sitting on a nice hill overlooking the track, having a picnic with your family and watching 43 cars try to push each other out of the way? It’s comfortable, it’s exciting, no one runs away in a NASCAR road race and the skill required is easily seen by the fans. When’s the last time you could say that about Fontana?

If NASCAR drivers truly want to be considered the best in the world, they have to be able to navigate virtually any type of track. NASCAR has made great gains on the global stage, it’s time to bring the core fans to the party.

 

Opinion: Why Red Bull Left NASCAR


Michele Rahal has an opinion as to why Red Bull unceremoniously announced it is leaving NASCAR. The Cup team is Toyota, Renaul-Nissan sponsors Red Bull F1. Why would Nissan allow it’s infinity brand to be diminished with the Cup team driving Toyota’s? http://www.motorsportsunplugged.com

Earnhardt “Pissed Off” With Martin’s Driving


Dale Earnhardt Jr. was squeezed into the wall by Martin in the closing stages of the Michigan 400 NASCAR race yesterday. Earnhardt blew a tire and flattened the side of Earnhardt’s car. Denny Hamlin took his second win this year shuffling the points. http://www.motorsportsunplugged.com

Hamlin Does What We Thought He Would Do – At Last

A smattering of observations after the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 (now that’s a helluva name) at Michigan International Speedway.

** Think is more than fair to say that most of us figured Denny Hamlin would have won a race by now – especially Hamlin.

After all, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver won eight races and nearly captured the Sprint Cup championship last year. As the season began, he was cast in the role as a driver who might end Jimmie Johnson’s five-year reign as champ.

Instead, Hamlin was winless entering the Michigan race and overcame a rough start to rise to 12th in points.

Hamlin was frustrated by his performance so far this season and he said so. But he also felt that Gibbs’ recent performances were evidence the team was on the verge of victory.

“In the last six or seven weeks, we’ve been as good as anyone,” Hamlin said. “Feels good to get a win after sneaking up on everyone.”

It seemed he sneaked up, somewhat, on the field at Michigan. His crew worked on his Toyota all day and, with some key adjustments, he worked his way to the front and took the lead on pit road with just eight laps left in the race.

After his team got his car tightened up, Hamlin made his way forward and emerged in second place after he pitted during a caution on lap 162.

Carl Edwards took the lead on the restart and stayed there, with Hamlin in tow, for the next 29 laps.

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. clipped the wall on lap 191, which brought out a caution flag with just eight laps remaining, Hamlin won the race off pit road.

He held off Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, who finished second and third, on the restarts.

With his first victory of the season, Hamlin rose three positions in points, to ninth. He’s also firmly in contention for one of the two Chase “wildcard” positions should he not finish among the top 10 in points following Richmond in September.

“It’s so tough because you know you belong in the top-10 and you deserve to have a Chase spot, but the results don’t show for it,” Hamlin said. “So, for us, it’s good to kind of get over this hump, get our first win of the season and hopefully it’s the first of many.

“You have to pay attention to the points. If you’re not points racing at this point you’re not paying attention to the obvious, because with this new format you either got to win or you’ve got to be inside that top-10.”

The Michigan finish was Hamlin’s sixth among the top 10 this season. It was also his second consecutive victory in the spring race and his seventh top-10 finish in 10 races at the track.

Hamlin gave credit where it was due – to his team.

“Mike (Ford, crew chief) just kept working on this car,” Hamlin said. “At times we had a 10th-place car and at times we had the best car. We just didn’t get it all put together until right there at the end.

“I just can’t thank this whole team enough. Awesome pit stops – they are the ones that got me out in front on that last restart and that’s what we needed to win.”

Carl Edwards remains first in points with his fifth-place run and is now 20 points of Kevin Harvick, who finished 14th.

Earnhardt Jr. remains third in points despite a 21st-place finish following a late-race altercation with teammate Mark Martin. The finish was Earnhardt Jr.’s first outside the top 20 this year

Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson, a pre-race favorite, lasted only a handful of laps before he spun and broke the sway bar on his Chevrolet.

The Hendrick Motorsports team repaired the car but there just weren’t enough cautions for him to make up the lost ground. His 27th-place finish pushed him from second to fifth in points.

On the other hand, Paul Menard qualified ninth and finished fourth for his third top-five finish in 2011, the most in his career.

And in 13 starts this season, Landon Cassill hadn’t finished higher than 24th until he came home 12th at Michigan driving for Phoenix Racing.

 

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