NASCAR, Give Us More Road Racing

Kyle Busch and Wife Samantha after his Sonoma road course win.

Kyle Busch and Wife Samantha after his Sonoma road course win.

It strikes me as odd that more road courses didn’t work their way into the minds of NASCAR fans in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. They were wild and rapidly changing times. However, to an American audience, for which NASCAR had built itself, the idea of being up close as the cars ran an oval was more appealing.

Times have changed. Dramatically.

The first live broadcast of a NASCAR race was the infamous 1979 Daytona 500 starring Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers whose crazy leg flailing and wild air punches ushered in the television era of NASCAR.

Road racing was part of NASCAR long before most of the present day fans were born, but not a big part. California was the main player as the west coast demographic seemed to take to the big thundering cars turning right and left.

Big Bill France had often said that in order to have a healthy NASCAR that they needed road racing to be healthy as well. Road racing is where NASCAR actually started. Let’s face it, Junior Johnson didn’t just turn left on his way to deliver his spiritual goods.

Road racing is reviled by many NASCAR fans as not being pure enough and too hard to watch, at track. Television changed that as now one could watch the action from anywhere on the course, not just the grandstands.

The fight that put NASCAR on the map. Cale Yarborough and the Allison Brothers. NASCAR's first full length television broadcast.

The fight that put NASCAR on the map. Cale Yarborough and the Allison Brothers. NASCAR’s first full length television broadcast.

Part and parcel to the allure of road racing is just that. You can’t see the whole track so you have to walk around the facility to take in the whole experience. That’s what road racing is, a complete experience where people, not just fans, are in constant motion.

According to Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR EVP, “It is something that is being considered maybe more so for a longer term basis. Obviously, the schedule is full at this point but we’ve really evolved and when you look at the road course action, it’s almost on par with short tracks.

These cars at the end of a race really look like they’ve been beat up and guys are getting out there and really getting after it to where I think we’re putting on the best road racing in the world. It used to be where you used to bring in three to four ringers and they would finish in the top 10. Now our guys are consistently finishing up front and have proven to be the best in the world. So we really like the progress that’s been made. It’s certainly exciting. We share in the fans’ excitement, for sure. But the teams also like the ability to have those two opportunities to win a race and achieve that spot in the Chase.”

Whatever the history, whatever the reason, the modern NASCAR road races are as brutal and as fender banging as was Bristol. Pre-fix-it Bristol.

When you tune into a NASCAR road race, you expect to see the fender rubs, the ‘bump and run’ or ‘chrome horn’ as it’s sometimes called, being applied with joy by any driver close enough to the driver in front of him/her to execute said ‘chrome horn’.

It still seems to be somewhat of a novelty to the rank and file NASCAR fan, but it is gaining in popularity as a direct result of just how physical these drivers are with cars that won’t turn, won’t brake and slide around with 700 HP pushing them.

That sounds pretty cool to me rather than watching cars go around in a circle for 500 miles.

I’ve had several drivers, who are primarily road racers, tell me just how hard oval track racing really is. I believe them. Merely watching the backend of these cars slide around at 190 MPH is an art form.

On the other hand, if you are going to tell the world that NASCAR drivers are the best in the world, as O’Donnell claims, you have to show them and not having a road race in the Chase playoff is not the way to do it.

Arguably the Chase should represent the most watched races of the season. The global economy, alternate leisure activities and life compressing in on you be damned. This should be when most people are excited to see what’s going to happen from race to race.

2015 has been a strange year in many ways across the globe, so no one really knows what the Chase will look like from a fan perspective. However, this should be the year that a new road course is brought onto the 2016 schedule. It probably won’t be, despite every road race, so far, has been a cliffhanger, particularly with the green/white checker in play.

I hope that road racing will find it’s way into the NASCAR mindset soon as the world simply keeps changing and with great speed.

NASCAR needs something as the viewing and leisure time habits of consumers across the world are changing even faster than your 401K balance.

Perhaps two more road courses and at least one in the Chase may bring viewers that NASCAR wouldn’t normally attract.

 

 

JUNIOR JOHNSON: In 1987 First Choice As Driver, Dale Earnhardt, Inexplicably Turned Down

When Junior Johnson's two-car operation came to an end after the 1986, it evolved that he hired Terry Labonte, the 1984 champion, as the driver for his single-car team in 1987.

After the 1986 NASCAR Winston Cup season, things underwent significant changes at Junior Johnson & Associates in Ronda, N.C.

Gone were the tandem drivers Darrell Waltrip and Neil Bonnet – a union that lasted the three seasons Johnson committed to a two-car team.

Waltrip had been with Johnson since 1981. Together they won three championships and 43 races. From 1974-80, Cale Yarborough also won three championships and earned 44 victories driving for Johnson.

All three men are now members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

But in 1987, Johnson was at a crossroads. He had to determine if he was going to continue to operate a two-car team or return to a single-car operation.

But what was even more important was for Johnson to find a new driver.

At the time there were more than a few accomplished drivers available.

But Johnson really didn’t consider most of them.

He knew exactly who he wanted.

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

The 1987 season was going to be a new start for Junior Johnson & Associates. You might say the slate was clean.

After Darrell and Neil departed I mulled over what I should do. I didn’t think it was possible to field two teams again because I was pretty certain Budweiser didn’t want to stretch its investment.

I decided to put the sponsorship money in one basket and field just one team. I thought that would increase our competitiveness and I knew it would help the budget.

I knew who I wanted to be my driver – Dale Earnhardt. Yep, that’s what I said.

I know this sounds very surprising, given I got very angry and upset with him because of his actions at Richmond in 1986, where wrecked Darrell and took him out of the race.

Despite that, I knew Earnhardt was the man.

Yes, he wrecked Darrell but that, to me, was the sign of his aggressiveness and willingness to win at all cost.

His run-in with Darrell certainly wasn’t the only one he had in 1986, but it did enhance his growing reputation as a driver who wasn’t going to be trifled with.

He reminded me of Cale. Both of them knew only one way to race – very hard and up front as much as possible.

Besides, Earnhardt won five races in ’86 and beat Darrell for the championship. It was his second career title and I thought he could win a lot more.

So why not let him grab of couple of championships in my cars?

The driver Junior wanted in 1987 was none other than Dale Earnhardt, who had his run-ins with Darrell Waltrip in 1986. However, Junior's sponsor, Budweiser, would not approve.

In the past Dale had indicated to me that he would like to be my driver some day. In 1987, he was scheduled to be Richard Childress’ driver for the third consecutive year.

They first joined forces for the last portion of the 1981 season, when Dale bolted from owner J.D. Stacy, and they reunited in 1984.

I had done a lot of favors for Richard over the years, both when he was driving and when he concentrated on being an owner.

I had helped bring him and Dale together in ’81 and also assisted in locating a sponsor.

So I didn’t feel bad about offering Dale my ride.

But I couldn’t.

For some reason – and I don’t know what it was to this day – Budweiser didn’t want Dale.

I was very, very surprised. He was an up-and-coming driver who had already won two championships and was likely to win more.

His presence on and off the track had to make the folks at Wrangler – his sponsor for six years – delighted.

But Budweiser was insistent. It wanted me to get someone else.

So after a while I got together with Terry Labonte.

Labonte was a winning driver. He was also the 1984 Winston Cup champion. He had raced since 1979 with team owner Billy Hagan but by 1987 that was coming to an end due to Hagan’s financial problems.

Terry might not have been my first choice but he was the man Budweiser wanted.

There were a lot of drivers I could have tapped at the time but Budweiser had been part of Terry’s career in the past and liked him and what he did for them as far as public relations was concerned.

When I hired Terry, I knew things were going to be different – and not necessarily only on the track.

Terry had a personality unlike Darrell’s and even Cale’s. I don’t have to tell you how outspoken and, let’s face it, “mouthy” Darrell could be.

Terry, well, his nickname was “The Iceman.” That was partly due to his cold, calculating style of racing – he reminded folks of David Pearson.

But he also got the name because he didn’t talk much. He was just a quiet guy who said something only when he felt he had something to say.

It was going to take a while for all of us at Junior Johnson & Associates to get used to him.

I liked his demeanor. He took his racing in stride. It didn’t matter what happened to him. He didn’t blame anyone for what happened to him. He took all the blame, even when I thought it wasn’t necessary.

For the most part he let others do the talking.

When the 1987 season began I was optimistic that we could do good things with Terry. He was a proven commodity and, if we could put good cars under him, there was no reason we couldn’t win.

But even with that, inside I felt like a man who let a record-setting fish get away.

If I had it to do over I would have put Terry in the Budweiser car and found the sponsorship to put Dale in a second car. I think me and Dale would have done very well together.

That, however, was not going to be the case.

Nevertheless, I still thought Dale was going to do very, very well in 1987.

Turns out it didn’t take long at all to learn I was right. Not long at all.

Personal Recollections Of Two Newest HOF Inductees

Cale Yarborough (left) raced into the NASCAR Hall of Fame with multiple championships and victories, accomplished mainly by his driving style - tough, with no quarter given. Darrell Waltrip is also the winner of many races and championships and was perhaps the first vibrant and controversial personality racing had ever encountered.

Idling in a bit of a reflective mood the other day, it occurred to me that I have been lucky enough not only to have met, but also interacted with, most of the15 members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

In many instances my relationship with a few of them was mainly on a professional level. With men such as Bill France Sr., his son Bill France Jr., Lee Petty, and Modified superstar Richie Evans – whom I covered regularly at Martinsville – there wasn’t much personal interaction.

But it wasn’t that way with the Hall’s other 11 members. The media-athlete standard, one that decrees that mutual cooperation is good, but any personal relationship is bad, simply dissolved.

With some (Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt) it was easy to talk about politics, world affairs and life itself. With others (Bud Moore, David Pearson, Dale Inman, Junior Johnson) it was so natural to swap tall tales, jokes, anecdotes and laughs.

It was pretty much the same with others (Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison) but they also spoke their minds about the racing issues of the day. Often they were more blunt and direct than they would have been in public.

Throughout my career, I always practiced what I preached. When I said something was off the record, with me, it remained so.

Over time and increased trust, they all knew this. When I asked them if they wanted their opinions printed sometimes they said no.

At others, they told me to come out with my guns blazing, their words as bullets.

This wasn’t always the case. Inman and Wood, while always friendly, were very cautious with their words.

Ned Jarrett is the only Hall of Fame member with whom I actually worked. After his racing career he became established – and gained further notoriety – as a broadcaster.

In the late 1990s, it came to pass that I joined the panel of TNN’s “Inside NASCAR,” of which Ned was the host.

During the course of one summer we were the only panelists on camera and had to basically carry the show by ourselves.

Ned was the ultimate professional, ably orchestrating our discussions. Working those months alone with him ranks as one of the highlights of my career.

I have said all this not to suggest to you that I am anything special. Far from it.

I did so only to say that in my profession I have been, simply, very fortunate – no more and no less.

I would like to offer some personal observations about two of the incoming members of the Hall of Fame, and do the same for others at a later date.

My life as a motorsports writer had progressed only a few years when I was able to witness the launch of what would be two spectacular careers.

Well, to be honest, it wasn’t the inauguration of Yarborough’s career. By the early 1970’s he had already established himself as a NASCAR star, sweeping to victories with Holman-Moody and the Wood Brothers.

But Yarborough became charmed with Indy Car racing – then easily the dominant form of motorsports in the United States. He got an offer enter the sport and compete in the prestigious Indianapolis 500.

He took it and walked away from NASCAR.

The experience was a disaster.

In only a couple of years Yarborough was out and hunting, again, for a NASCAR ride.

As fate would have it in 1973, there was a good one available. Allison had driven for Johnson in 1972 but their competitively successful yet personally unsatisfactory relationship had some to an end.

Johnson didn’t waste any time. He snatched Yarborough immediately. And, as they say, the rest is history.

You know all about their numerous victories together and the domination that led to three consecutive Winston Cup championships from 1976-78.

It was a perfect fit. As a driver Johnson never coddled a car. Yarborough didn’t either. He didn’t know how.

He was short, stocky and barrel-chested. When he finished a race he was red-faced and sweating profusely – because of the heat, for sure – but many times also because he had wrestled with an uncooperative car over 500 miles and made it win.

He was a tough guy who came from a tough background. It didn’t take long for the media – with whom Yarborough was comfortable – to print stories of his football and boxing days, or how he came to unwillingly wrestle an alligator when he dove into a river, or got bit on the toe by a rattlesnake and the snake was found dead the next day (Yarborough was just fine) or how he survived a hit from a bolt of lightning.

He was the perfect example of the stereotypical stock car driver of the day – rugged, tough and unafraid.

He was much more than that, of course, as I learned over the years. But during his time no other driver was considered tougher by fans and peers alike.

It would be well into the 1980s before anyone suggested there was a driver who could match Yarborough – and his name was Earnhardt.

During the years Yarborough was heating his career to a boil, 1973-1976, another driver began his and operated pretty much out of the limelight.

Waltrip was barely noticed when he came out of Kentucky by way of Tennessee to start a Winston Cup career. He had only his own, one-car team.

But he won with it in 1975, at Nashville, and began to attract attention – probably enough to lure DiGard Racing Co. to hire him as a replacement for Donnie Allison later that season.

As you might expect, Waltrip won again and that set loose upon the NASCAR world something it had never before seen.

It was a man who was bold, candid and irreverent. If he had respect for the stalwarts of the day he didn’t show it. He touted himself, constantly, and said he was the man who would beat the establishment.

You have to understand that during this time to affront the five or six superstars that dominated the sport – or to make snide remarks about virtually anything – was unheard of.

So when Waltrip did it, boldly and willingly, fans and competitors were astonished.

Some hated him for it – Yarborough was no fan – while others relished it. In Waltrip they saw the sport’s first refreshing presence in years. They began to cheer for him, even if they spelled his name “Waldrop.”

As much as many would have loved to see this brash upstart shut up and, more important, fail on the track, neither happened.

Waltrip began to win regularly. He became a consistent championship challenger and in that role, as you might imagine, he was a master at baiting his rivals.

With Johnson, he earned three championships and his ascension to superstardom was complete.

Many might have considered him something of a loudmouth but with his success, and time, he became accepted and respected.

He never shut up. But, interestingly, he spoke more often about what could be done to improve NASCAR and its races than to question the ancestry of another driver.

Yes, he mellowed with age.

He has parlayed his experience, wit and gift of gab into his successful television career.

With your kind tolerance, there’s a bit more to come.

Darrell Came On Board In 1981, But It Really Took Some Doing

Before the end of the 1980 season driver Cale Yarborough announced that he was leaving Junior’s team after eight seasons and three consecutive Winston Cup championships.

The final year together was a good one although another championship was not attained.

That was something of a bother for Junior but he had a bigger problem. In Cale, he was losing one of NASCAR’s top drivers of the 1970s – in fact, ultimately one of the best of all time.

He would be hard to replace.Junior had a good idea of the competitor he wanted and that

driver also wanted, desperately, to join Junior. By the end of 1980, Junior and Darrell Waltrip, once Cale’s archrival, would unite. But it was not easy – and it involved arrangements never before seen in NASCAR.

 

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

 

While Cale and I were trying to win a fourth championship, which we would lose by just 19 points to Dale Earnhardt, another driver and team were making headlines in NASCAR.

But they weren’t making them on the track.

Seems Darrell Waltrip was pretty much fed up with DiGard Racing Co., even though his greatest achievements had come with the team he joined in 1975.

Darrell made it pretty clear he wanted to leave DiGard. But in order to do that, he had to break his contract, which was originally structured for several years.

It was on Sept. 9 of 1980 that Cale announced he was going to leave Junior Johnson & Associates to join M.C. Anderson’s team and run a limited schedule.

It wasn’t long after that when things began to heat up. I knew that once Cale made his intentions known it wouldn’t be long before I’d hear from Darrell.

I was certain he wanted to drive for me. And to tell you the truth, I had already figured that, some day, I would like to have him do that – if I could afford him.

Sure enough, Darrell came by to see me later in the early fall. He wanted our ride. He might have been under contract, but he sure wasn’t getting along with his team owner, Bill Gardner.

I told Darrell he would have to negotiate his way out of his contract, which, I learned, had three years remaining.

Let me add something here. The type of contract Darrell had with DiGard was something very new to NASCAR.

I remember that drivers used to be hired with a handshake. Sure, in time there were contracts, but most of them were for one year only – and were pretty simple stuff, to tell the truth.

But it appeared the contract Darrell had was for an extended period of time and was very complicated. It’s the type of thing that is routine now. Back then, however, it was almost one-of-a-kind.

Late in the 1980 season, when it came to Darrell and Digard, things got ugly.

On Oct. 2 Darrell told the press he had to get away from DiGard. He said the team would eventually ruin his career. Those were pretty harsh words.

The next day Gardner said he would hold Darrell to the contract. He added that he would add a second driver, and give Darrell junk to drive, if it came to that. Those were pretty harsh words.

Then I got involved. Well, let’s say Gardner got me involved.

Team owner Bud Moore and I got letters from Gardner’s lawyers telling us to stay away from Darrell. Gardner said he would not only hold Darrell responsible for breaking the contract, he would also hold anyone else involved responsible.

I reckon I don’t have to tell you this didn’t sit well with me – not at all. I responded. I had my lawyers send Gardner a letter. I told him to refrain from trying to hire some of my people right out from under me.

He had tried to get three or four of them earlier in the year. As far as I was concerned, Gardner had been a troublemaker ever since he got into the sport.

I hoped Darrell could get out of his contract. But I was far from certain that he would.

But it happened less than a month after Darrell’s Oct. 2 gathering with the press. He and Gardner met for two straight days, Oct. 28 and 29. Then Darrell announced he was a “free man.”

He would run the last two races of the season with DiGard and then be free to race somewhere else.

There was a catch, however. Darrell had to buy his way out of his contract. It was the first such a deal in NASCAR history. At the time I had never heard of it, and I’m sure no one else had, either.

But I got right in the middle of it all. Darrell and I, and our lawyers, met in North Wilkesboro and hammered things out so he could race with Junior Johnson & Associates in 1981.

The financial arrangement Darrell made with DiGard was never disclosed. Rumors said he had to pay anywhere from $320,000 to $500,000. Most folks believed he paid a little more than $300,000 and Darrell never denied that.

But I’m going to bust a bubble here and re-work some NASCAR lore. Darrell never paid that much. The amount was about half that.

How do I know? Because I paid it. I loaned Darrell the money. I did it because I knew he had talent. I had seen him race many, many times and he was one of Cale’s primary rivals during his championship years.

Yes, he was cocky. I once called him “That mouthy little ol’ boy from Tennessee.” But I always felt he had the talent to back up his talk and I wanted him to do that with me.

Which is what Darrell also wanted. He said that he always wanted to drive for me. He added that when he was a kid he watched me drive and that I was his hero.

I signed Darrell to a three-year contract. Yes, it was something I had never done, or thought I would, but I accepted the fact that it was good for the team and the sponsor – which was going to be Mountain Dew in 1981.

When all was said and done, at the start of 1981, it was up to Darrell to help us get the job done.

And, let’s face it, I needed a good return on my investment.

When the year began I had no idea just how good that return would be.

The Story Of The ‘79 Daytona 500? I Still Don’t Like The Ending

After Junior and Cale Yarborough won a third consecutive Winston Cup championship in 1978, they started the ’79 season with a great deal of optimism and a new sponsor.

The odds of achieving a fourth-straight title were long, but Junior Johnson & Associates had already bucked the odds with a trio of championships.

Many NASCAR observers felt the team, long established as perhaps the best in stock car racing, certainly had what it took – driver, equipment, and personnel – to win another title.

Things started out well enough as Yarborough finished third on the road course in Riverside, Calif., the first race of the season.

Then it was on to the Daytona 500.

No one could have predicted what would happen in that race, considered one of the greatest in NASCAR’s history and credited – because it was broadcast nationally on TV by CBS – as the force that propelled stock car racing into the national consciousness.

To be honest, in 1979, Junior could not have cared less about any of that.

 

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

 

 

 

For me, when it comes to the 1979 Winston Cup season, believe me, I know the story everyone wants to hear.

I’ve heard it, told it and even seen it about a million times and, to this day, I still don’t like the ending.

Before we get to the 1979 Daytona 500 – reckon you knew that’s what I was talking about, right? – I’d like to tell you about a major change at Junior Johnson & Associates that took place before the season began.

We would continue to race Oldsmobiles and roll out a Chevrolet at selected races, but they would have new colors – mostly blue and white, since we landed the sponsorship of Anheuser-Busch and its product, Busch Beer.

It was quite a coup for us and it was, for me, the beginning of a relationship with Anheuser-Busch that would last for many years. The company also became a big player in NASCAR itself.

On to Daytona …

Everyone was aware that the Daytona 500 was going to be broadcast nationally by CBS. It was going to be flag-to-flag coverage, a first for NASCAR.

On the morning of Feb. 18, the day of the race, we learned that a massive snowstorm had struck most of the country. People stayed home and to pass the time, millions of them decided to tune in the race and see what this NASCAR stuff was all about.

We were about to race in front of the largest audience in NASCAR’s history.

If there’s not enough motivation to win the Daytona 500 simply because it’s NASCAR’s most prestigious race, believe me, there’s more than enough when that many folks are watching.

We figured we could win. Why not? We were coming off three straight championships and Cale was the 500 winner in 1977.

It wasn’t going to be easy. Buddy Baker, who loved the superspeedways, was the pole winner in an Olds with a record speed of 196.049 mph.

Donnie Allison, in Hoss Ellington’s Olds, was also on the front row. Then there was old nemesis Darrell Waltrip, who had already won earlier at Riverside, along with a 125-miler and the Sportsman 300 at Daytona.

As optimistic as we were, I thought it was all over not long after the race started. On just the 32nd of 200 laps, Cale, Donnie and his brother Bobby crashed along the backstretch.

Donnie lost a lap. Cale got stuck in the mud and lost three laps. I figured we were finished and so did just about everyone else.

But, fortunately, some timely caution periods allowed Cale to return to the lead lap. Donnie got there, too.

With 50 laps to go Cale and Donnie hooked up in the draft and they were gone. They left the field behind. It was obvious they were going to determine the outcome.

Remember, this was in the day of the “slingshot” pass, which the guy running second could utilize to quickly take the lead.

I had figured that out myself nearly two decades earlier.

Sure enough, on the last lap the two drivers came out of the second turn and headed down the backstretch. Cale was exactly where I wanted him to be – right behind Donnie.

He moved to the low side of the track to make the pass. Then, well, I could hardly believe what I saw – Donnie moved down to make the block. But he did a lot more than that. He forced Cale into the grass.

Being the type of driver he was, Cale did not back off – and I darn sure didn’t want him go.

But he did call me on the radio earlier and told me that he thought Bobby had been waiting on him and was going to wreck him – stuff like that.

I wasn’t entirely sure what Cale was talking about but I think he thought Bobby was going to wreck him to keep him from catching Donnie.

I told Cale, “Just win the race. Catch Donnie and do your job.”

The next thing I knew, those two Oldsmobiles were bouncing off each other. They would split and then hit again. Then they locked together, hit the wall in the third turn and slid into the grass, where they stopped.

Richard Petty was running a distant third and with Cale and Donnie out of the way, all he had to do was keep Waltrip at bay to win the Daytona 500 – which is exactly what he did.

Of course, I didn’t hear Ken Squier’s call on CBS about a fistfight in the infield. I didn’t know, at first, that Bobby had stopped in the third turn – for reasons I can’t imagine – and that he, Cale and Donnie had gotten into it.

I didn’t know any of this until somebody came running up to me in the garage after the wreck and said all three of ‘em where over there fighting.

Naturally, I was very upset. Here my driver had made up three lost laps and had put himself in position to win the race – and he didn’t.

The person that told me about the fight asked me if I was going to do something about it. Dumb question.

“Hell no,” I said. “Let ‘em kill each other as far as I’m concerned. This day is over for me.”

A day after the race, NASCAR put the blame on Donnie – and in my opinion, that’s exactly where it belonged. And as for Bobby, he didn’t have any business stopping and instigating the fight, as far as I was concerned.

Bobby, Cale and Donnie were all fined $6,000. Donnie was given a severe probation. Then he and Bobby filed an appeal and NASCAR changed everything.

The fines stood at $6,000 but $1,000 would be given back per race over the next five events. The remainder of the money would be put into the point fund.

Huh?

The facts spoke for themselves. Donnie ran Cale plumb into the grass. Then Bobby steps in and it ain’t none of his business. He should have let Cale and Donnie settle it between themselves. Some people stick their noses in places where they ain’t got no damn business.

I knew some of the people who made the judgment and their first call was the right call. Fines all around and, at the least, probation for Donnie.

This business of returning money just didn’t make a lot of sense to me, especially where the Allisons were concerned.

They say because of the race’s conclusion – and all that was involved – and the massive audience that had seen it, NASCAR became more popular than it could have imagined.

You know, I believe that.

But at the time I really didn’t care. All I knew was that we had lost a race we shouldn’t have.

And that’s not a good way to start any season.

1978: It Started Differently But Ended The Same – And Then Some

After a second straight Winston Cup championship in 1977, Junior, Cale and the team were primed to go after a third title.

As it had been over the last couple of years, everything remained pretty much intact at Junior Johnson & Associates. There was no reason to think another championship wasn’t within grasp.

But changes happened. When NASCAR decreed that all General Motors models could run the engine once reserved for Chevrolet, Junior had to make a decision.

And that was to switch to Oldsmobile. It would be the first time since 1972 that Junior would not campaign a Chevrolet – a car he helped bring back to NASCAR.

Things started out well enough with the Olds, but they soured quickly.

It reached the point where Junior Johnson & Associates, with Cale behind the wheel, was going to have to salvage the second half of the 1978 season if another title was to be attained.

 

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

 

Although I would have liked it to be otherwise, the 1978 NASCAR Winston Cup season didn’t start routinely for Junior Johnson & Associates.

By that I mean we just weren’t able to pick up where we left off in 1977, when, with Cale, we won our second consecutive championship.

I reckon I’m like every other team owner. When things work you don’t really want to make changes. Understand, you have to keep up with technology and try to improve on the things that have worked for you.

But you don’t want to tilt the ship. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

As a team we sure weren’t broke. But there was something we were going to have to fix.

NASCAR enacted a rule that allowed other General Motors cars to use an engine previously restricted to Chevrolet. Now, I played a very big role in bringing Chevy back to NASCAR six years earlier – and, with Cale, we raced it to two straight titles.

NASCAR approved the Chevrolet GM-LM1, 350 cu. in. engine for Oldsmobile, Buick and Pontiac.

I suppose I could have stayed with Chevrolet and made things easier for myself. But then, I thought it might be better to look at the other GM products and at least have the chance to adapt to some new technology.

I decided Junior Johnson & Associates was going to make the switch to Oldsmobile. It just looked like a better car. I thought it was aerodynamically sound. Its design was better suited for what we wanted and I thought it was the best of the General Motors cars at that time.

I wasn’t alone. Team owners L.G. DeWitt, Hoss Ellington, Harry Ranier and M.C. Anderson all shared my opinion – which was that the dropped-nose, sloped-back 1977 Oldsmobile 442 would be the best car on the superspeedways.

Of course, not everyone agreed. Just about every car you could think of was going to race in 1978, and they included the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Malibu, the Mercury Cougar and Montego and the Ford Thunderbird.

Even Richard Petty had to switch. Cars dated from 1974 and earlier had been phased out of eligibility. This was a real problem for Petty Enterprises because from 1974-77, Richard had won 31 races and a couple of championships in his ’74 Dodge Charger.

However, he could no longer race that car. He had to go with the new, bulky Dodge Magnum. It turned out to be a nightmare. He had a tough year. I almost felt sorry for him – almost.

We started out with a bang when the season began on the road course at Riverside in California in January. Cale won the race to give Oldsmobile its first NASCAR victory since Lee Petty won at Martinsville on June 14, 1959.

Man, I thought we had made the right choice with Oldsmobile and we were in for a heckuva season.

It didn’t take long for me to drop that line of thinking.

When we got to Daytona no one liked the Olds. We might have thought its design would be perfect for the big tracks. The problem was it moved around too much at speed. It was real jittery.

Drivers didn’t hesitate to point that out. Donnie Allison, driving Ellington’s Olds, said flat-out he didn’t like the car.

As for Cale, he went out and won the pole with a speed in excess of 187 mph. He remained true to form – he wasn’t going to let anything, especially a car, stand in the way of going as fast as he possibly could.

Thing was, he posted that speed on his first lap and didn’t bother to take a second.

“I couldn’t hold my breath any longer,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe how unstable that car is. I don’t know what’s going to happen when we get on the track with other cars.”

To tell the truth, I didn’t either.

I remember ol’ Darrell Waltrip was his usual mouthy self. He said that since he was racing his Chevrolet he knew what he had and was ahead of the rest of us with new cars.

He might have been but in the Daytona 500 he wasn’t around long enough to prove it. He, Petty and David Pearson were wiped out in an early crash.

Bobby Allison won the race in Bud Moore’s Thunderbird. He snapped a 67-race losing streak. Cale finished second. He did a good job of psyching himself up.

A win and a second place was a darn good start to the season. But we went months without another victory. We didn’t even win on the short tracks, where we were usually at our best.

Cale finally won in the Winston 500 at Talladega on May 14 when he slingshot past Buddy Baker’s Olds on the last lap.

Maybe, I thought, the Oldsmobile was going to be the car we thought it would on the superspeedways.

But was it going to be good enough to win a championship? By the start of June, Cale had won only two races yet was hanging around in the point standings.

It all changed at Nashville on June 3. Cale led all 420 laps of that race and vaulted into first place in the standings.

Believe me, it was all “go” after that. We had a great second-half season. Cale won eight races – we returned to form on the short tracks with victories at Nashville, Martinsville, Bristol and North Wilkesboro –and notched the title with a win at Rockingham, three races from the end of the season.

Cale became the first driver in NASCAR to win three consecutive championships, which, as you know, is a record since broken by Jimmie Johnson.

I admit that at the time, I didn’t think any driver would be able to match, or beat, three straight titles.

I also didn’t think too much of the fact that a kid named Dale Earnhardt replaced Dave Marcis on Rod Osterlund’s team at the end of 1978.

Nor did I pay much attention to the reports that Waltrip wanted out of his contract with DiGard Racing Co.

After all, what in the world did that have to do with me?

Another Title Year, But Along Came “Jaws”

After the successful 1976 season, in which he won his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship, Junior felt his team had finally reached its stride. He had no doubt 1977 would be another banner year.

There was reason for Junior to be optimistic. His team and driver remained intact and would campaign a new car approved by NASCAR.

It was the slope-nosed Chevrolet Laguna S-3, judged by nearly everyone to be the car to beat on the superspeedways.

Of course, Junior Johnson & Associates wasn’t the only team that would race the car in 1977. Another was the fledgling DiGard Racing Co., which had Darrell Waltrip as its driver.

Waltrip won two short-track races for DiGard in 1975 and 1976. But he was far from happy. His team failed to finish 16 of 30 races in 1976.

That did not sit well with the ambitious, brash Waltrip, a Kentucky native who had never shied away from expressing his opinions.

Crew chief Mario Rossi was gone before the season started. Replacement David Ifft lasted a month and the job was handed to Buddy Parrott.

As much turmoil as there was at DiGard, all went smoothly for Junior’s team – for the most part, anyway.

For the first time there was discord between Junior and Cale. Also, despite its internal problems, DiGard became a NASCAR force.

It and Junior Johnson & Associates won the most races.

It was just a matter of time before the teams, and their drivers, were at loggerheads.

 

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

 

My faith in Cale and the team was rewarded just as the season began.

We won the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s most prestigious race and followed that with a victory at Richmond one week later.

Then we went on our usual short-track blitz, winning at North Wilkesboro, Bristol and Martinsville. To be honest, everyone thought our team was the one to beat on half-milers, but that didn’t happen often.

Then we went on to win at Dover and Michigan. Cale led the point standings for the first 17 races of the season and, to tell you the truth, I was feeling pretty cocky.

But at Daytona on July 4, we suffered a broken transmission and finished 23rd, 14 laps down, to winner Richard Petty, who had been dogging us in the points all season long. Cale’s lead shrank to 17 points over Petty.

Twelve days later at Nashville, Cale finished a respectable fourth as Darrell Waltrip won. Waltrip, by the way, had been steadily improving – and piling up victories – with DiGard.

We came out of that race with a 12-point lead over Petty.

Then we lost our advantage at Pocono. Cale finished sixth and Petty was the runnerup to Benny Parsons. We lost the points lead for the first time that season as Petty swept into an eight-point lead.

As disappointing as that was I knew it was a lead of little substance. We could get it back in the very next race.

Which we did at Talladega after Cale finished second to Donnie Allison, who had to get out of Hoss Ellington’s Chevrolet after the heat got to him

His relief driver? Waltrip. A bit ironic don’t you think?

Everyone on our team was happy that we had retaken the points lead by 32 over Petty. That is, everyone but a single individual – and that was Cale.

For some reason he thought our Chevrolet was junk. He sounded off about it afterward. He said he had the sorriest Chevrolet in the race and that if he had won, “I’d be in court Monday morning for stealing.”

I thought to myself, “What the hell?” Here we finish second, retake the points lead and Cale has the audacity to criticize our Chevrolet? I admit I was pretty steamed.

I told the media, “Here we are in the middle of a championship battle and if Cale starts to running his mouth, he’ll be looking for another car.

“We don’t have to listen to a bunch of lip from him.”

And I meant it. I wasn’t going to tolerate any of Cale’s guff. I know for a fact he was never one not to speak up when things bothered him. But he knew I meant what I said.

We didn’t know it at the time, of course, but Cale would lead the points standings for the remainder of the year and win a second consecutive Winston Cup title.

For us, that was the end of the verbal confrontations, but not those on the track.

In the Southern 500 at Darlington, Cale and Waltrip went head-to-head, and lip-to-lip, for the first time.

They staged a terrific battle for position until, on lap 277 of 367, they finally crashed. Waltrip tapped the rear of D.K. Ulrich’s car, sending him into our Chevrolet. Terry Bivins became involved in the four-car melee. Everyone suffered extensive damage.

Afterward, Ulrich went up to Cale and asked, “You knocked the hell out of me. Why did you hit me?”

Cale told him the truth. He said he wasn’t the culprit, Waltrip was. “I didn’t touch you. Ol’ Jaws hit you.”

“Who?” Ulrich asked.

“Jaws,” Cale heatedly said. “It was ol’ Jaws Waltrip.”

Cale had given Waltrip his lasting nickname – that of the famous movie shark.

I thought that was pretty funny. But I knew Waltrip well enough to know he wasn’t going to take it. He would, somehow, retaliate.

At Martinsville in intense, searing heat, Cale won. But he was completely physically spent. He was red-faced, drenched in sweat and, to be honest, looked like a prisoner of war.

He told the media the length of Martinsville’s races should be cut from 500 laps. It had gotten to the point where driver fatigue was more dangerous than actual racing.

He added that, as far as physical punishment, Martinsville was the absolute worst.

If Cale had asked my opinion, I would have told him to shut up. I knew that the track’s bulldog president, Clay Earles, wasn’t going to stand for his remarks.

He didn’t. He said he would not reduce the length of his races and if drivers didn’t like it, they could stay away.

A week later at North Wilkesboro, Waltrip got his chance. He outran Cale to win and promptly fired the next shot in the verbal war.

“I’d have to say this was a one-and-a-half or two on the ‘Cale Scale’,” he said. Everyone knew what he meant.

“I think Cale’s problem could be his years. I know I’m finding out I can’t do the things I did 10 years ago.”

They weren’t that far apart in years. Cale was 38 years old, Waltrip 30.

Me? I thought the whole thing was funny. I could see where Waltrip was coming from. Cale was on top of the heap and Waltrip did everything he could to knock him off, one way or another.

I got a few chuckles but I stayed out of it. I could easily afford to. After North Wilkesboro we had a 293-point lead over Petty. We won the championship three weeks later at Rockingham, two races before the end of the season. Cale won nine races that year.

Waltrip finished fourth in points with six victories, his best season with DiGard. I knew he was going to be a force in the future.

What I didn’t know is that within a short time, I would become more involved with him than ever I could imagine.

“Brooksie” Was Symbolic Of The NASCAR Driver That Once Was

Many years ago, when NASCAR was much younger, far more informal and not nearly as popular or wealthy as it is now, the competitive environment was different – needless to say.

Most guys who raced acted on a whim and competed only when they thought it might be fun or somewhat profitable.

Sure, the sport had its heroes, guys who got the backing it took to compete for championships and earn the glory and the headlines.

But they were always in the minority.

NASCAR got a bit more sophisticated in the 1970s when R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. came on board and established the Winston Cup Series, which included a championship point fund that grew steadily, and impressively, over the years.

As for the competitors, they remained pretty much the same. There were the stars, of course, like Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison – but the majority of the drivers they beat were still a rag-tag bunch.

Like their predecessors most came around when it suited them. Others competed regularly in hopes of making a profit through the points system.

They came and went. They had names like Eddie Yarboro, Dean Dalton, Henley Gray, Walter Ballard, Earl Brooks, George Althedie, Joe Frasson, Travis Tiller, Carl Adams, David Sisco and Alton Jones.

I daresay you haven’t heard of most of them.

As mentioned, there were regulars – guys out to make a buck by competing on a full schedule and hope to finish as high in points as possible.

Among this group were the more familiar names of Richard Childress, James Hylton, Buddy Arrington, Cecil Gordon and Frank Warren.

There was one other – and he was unique.

The late Dick Brooks was an anomaly. First, he was far removed from the Southern “good ol’ boy.”

He hailed from Porterville, Calif., of all places, where, as he would tell us all, he led a pretty hardscrabble life with a family that learned how live off the land.

Brooks would tell tales about killing bear for food. The meat would be stuffed into a jar, which was then placed in a running creek to keep cool until it was eaten.

Brooks drove fast cars hither and yon until he came to NACAR in 1969 at age 27. He did well enough, with 13 top-10 finishes in 54 races, to earn rookie of the year honors.

But it wasn’t so much his driving skill that drew folks’ attention. Brooks was, well, different.

Forget the crewcut and T-shirt with the rolled up sleeves. Brooks had long, styled hair and a decent wardrobe – although that often gave way to bib overalls.

He was good-looking, so much so that many figured that since he was from California, he was a product of Hollywood. Certainly he never lacked for female companionship.

Brooks was down-to-earth. He was quick to smile, had a terrific sense of humor and could make friends with just about everybody – including the media.

He was very accessible to the press. Brooks and several media guys became pals. They did things together, including attending horse races.

Brooks tried to compete regularly in his own cars but it wasn’t easy. By 1972, he entered only 14 of 31 races.

By 1973 Brooks was often looking for work. Then something happened just days before the Talladega 500 on Aug. 12.

Jimmy Crawford, an Eastern Airlines pilot, had entered his Plymouth in the race. But NASCAR determined that Crawford did not have enough superspeedway experience to tackle the massive 2.66-mile Talladega track.

Three days before the race Crawford struck a deal with Brooks, who was, obviously, available. Brooks would drive the Crawford Plymouth in the Talladega 500.

Brooks produced one of the biggest upsets ever in the history of what was then known as Alabama International Motor Speedway.

Unbelievably, he won the Talladega 500. It was a stunning triumph. Think of the scenario – a journeyman looking for a job gets a one-race break and whips ‘em all.

Brooks was triumphant in one of Talladega’s strangest, and most tragic, events.

A crash that didn’t look very serious took the life of 1972 Rookie of the Year Larry Smith.

Bobby Isaac, the 1970 champion, radioed car owner Bud Moore and told him to find a relief driver. Isaac came down pit road, exited Moore’s Ford and walked away.

A voice had told him to get out of the car.

“Something told me to quit,” Isaac said. “I didn’t know anything else to do but abide by it.”

Isaac never again got a competitive Winston Cup ride.

While Brooks’ victory might have given him the opportunity to get a competitive ride, that really never happened.

In 1975 he hooked up with owner Junie Donlavey’s middle-of-the road team. They remained fixtures at every race. If nothing else, Brooks had a regular job.

It seemed Donlavey, now a member of the National Motorsports Hall of Fame, and Brooks were liked by everyone. They were very popular.

Donlavey was so gracious and polite was nicknamed “The Southern Gentleman.”

The outgoing Brooks was known by most as simply “Brooksie.”

Their union lasted until 1997. Brooks tried his hand elsewhere until 1983, when he and Donlavey reunited and promptly finished fifth in the Daytona 500.

It all came to an end after the 1985 season. While Donlavey continued to compete with other drivers for years afterward, Brooks called it quits after five events.

He didn’t leave racing, however. For many years he served as a pit reporter for MRN Radio, most often doing interviews from victory lane, where his signature phrase became, “There sure are a lot of happy people here.”

He also became a successful businessman who owned car dealerships. He never failed to hook up with, and entertain, old racing buddies.

But he had his problems. His wife left him. He was in a motorcycle wreck that left him severely physically and mentally debilitated for a long time.

As if that wasn’t enough, he suffered more complications from an airplane crash, which contributed to his premature death of pneumonia on Feb. 1, 2006. He was 63 years old.

Other than for his upset Talladega win Brooks’ name won’t be in the record books. He’ll never be remembered for his achievements on the track. Maybe, in time, he won’t be remembered at all.

That should not happen.

What should be known is that he was, now and forever, one of the true characters that added so much what was once the carefree spirit of NASCAR.

It All Came Together For Cale, Team In 1976

After the somewhat disappointing 1975 season, Junior was nonetheless convinced his team and driver had what it took to win a Winston Cup championship.

He thought, correctly, that three years’ worth of seasoning with driver Cale Yarborough, while it had already paid benefits, could provide bigger ones to come – and more of them.

It evolved that Yarborough and Junior Johnson & Associates did win their first title in 1976. While Yarborough captured nine victories, it was the team’s astounding consistency that brought the Winston Cup home.

The fact that Johnson, Yarborough and the team put together a string of four consecutive victories late in the season certainly didn’t hurt the cause one bit.

 

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

 

 

When the 1976 Winston Cup season started, believe it or not, I wasn’t faced with a dilemma.

Unlike in the past I actually had a sponsor – Holly Farms, which had signed on early in 1975 after our team began the year without financial backing.

There was very little change in personnel and certainly Cale Yarborough was ready to go again in ’76. We didn’t have quite the year we expected in 1975 as Cale won only three races in 27 starts and we ended up ninth in the point standings.

But I was very optimistic, and there was a reason for that. We were in our third year together and I believed that it took all of that time for our team to mesh with Cale’s talents.

When we lost the championship in 1972 it kinda irritated me. I felt we had the right crew and that everyone, and me, associated with the team was doing their job to win the championship. They deserved to win it; they worked hard to win it.

But when we lost it like we did, I was determined to get back to the point where I had the driver and the team to win the championship.

We had some trial-and-error moments with Cale from the time he came on board in 1973, there’s no doubt about that. Yes, they were a good three years but they had some bad moments.

But, as I said earlier, I felt that starting in 1976 we had the team that could match Cale’s talents.

And I know for sure Cale’s only interests were winning races and championships. I never believed he had a hidden agenda, which I thought Bobby Allison had when he drove for us in 1972.

Cale won nine races in 1976, just one less than in 1974, and we won our first Winston Cup title by 195 points over Richard Petty, who was always in the championship hunt.

Even though Cale won fewer races than he did two years earlier – although three times as many as in ’75 – we were much more consistent. That made all the difference.

Cale had more finishes among the top five – 22 – and finished more times among the top 10 – 23 – than any other driver in NASCAR.

Finishes like that really pile up the points.

Cale wasn’t the dominant driver of 1976. That was David Pearson, who won 10 of the 22 races he entered with the Wood Brothers.

But David and the Woods ran only a limited schedule and were not in contention for the championship.

Let me tell you what consistency is all about.

When you have a guy who gives you 100 percent, who will hang the car on the wall every lap if he has to in order to win, then you are able to extend.

You extend the motors, the chassis setups, the gear arrangements and so forth and you don’t get into trouble when you do that.

That’s because you have a driver with determination yet who is smart enough to do the right thing under different circumstances.

Cale’s determination was unbelievable but he didn’t have to lean on a motor to the point where he tore it up. He didn’t have to hang himself out with the car and take a chance on tearing up the various combinations we had.

He pretty much stayed in the safety zone most of the time. You combine that with our ability to extend and try different things for different races, well, the results are going to be good – and good results always provide consistency.

That’s the way it was for us in 1976.

Now that I’ve said that it pains me to say that we started our season in the Daytona 500 with a blown engine after just one lap. We finished dead last.

It might have been the absolute worst beginning for any campaign, but we recovered nicely.

Cale won in the fifth race of the season, at Bristol. It was one of seven victories we earned on the short tracks in 1976.

We swept Bristol and North Wilkesboro. We also won at Martinsville, Nashville and Richmond. The only superspeedway races we won were the Firecracker 400 at Daytona (nice rebound for us) and at Dover in September.

But I think what really drove the championship home for us was the way we ran in September through the first week of October.

It started on Sept. 12, when Cale beat Bobby at Richmond. A week later he took the checkered flag at Dover ahead of Richard. On Sept. 26, Cale won the rain –shortened Martinsville race and then he followed that with his second win of the year at North Wilkesboro – where the governor, James Holshouser, had proclaimed “Cale Yarborough Day” in North Carolina.

That’s four consecutive victories in four consecutive weeks. Talk about consistency.

I reckon I don’t have to tell you how tickled I was over how everything turned out in 1976. I figured that because we had meshed as a team and were able to make the most of our cars and Cale’s skills, we could do it all again in 1977.

I certainly didn’t know it at the time, but things would turn out to be a tad different. For one thing, Cale and I had our first real disagreement.

Then we went head-to-head, toe-to-toe and lip-to-lip with a mouthy driver from Tennessee named Darrell Waltrip.

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.


 

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