The 1979 and 1980 Seasons Were A Bit Different – To Say The Least

Following a third consecutive Winston Cup championship with driver Cale Yarborough in 1978, Junior expected things to proceed as normal in 1979. Why not?

However, they did not. After the controversial loss in the Daytona 500 in 1979, Junior and Cale didn’t have the kind of season expected of them – good, but not enough. There would not be a fourth straight title.

Nor would there be a championship in 1980, although it went down to the wire as Cale lost it in the last race to a rising star named Dale Earnhardt.

That, however, wasn’t the only loss for Junior. The 1980 season proved to be unexpectedly transitional.

Yes, he lost a title. Worse, in Cale, he lost a championship driver who had made the decision to leave after the ’80 campaign.

The question became, who would take Cale’s place?

In 1980, even Junior didn’t know.

 

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

 

I would like to say that we recovered very nicely after the mess at Daytona, but if I did, I would be lying.

Now, it wasn’t a bad year – not by any means. It simply wasn’t the kind of season to which Cale and all our guys had become accustomed.

We won four races and had 22 finishes among the top 10. Those are the kinds of numbers of which most teams can only dream.

But we wound up fourth in points and our string of three straight championships came to an end. It was pretty much a shadow of what our three previous seasons had been.

The most interesting thing about it was that the championship was decided between two drivers who had been our most intense rivals over those three years – Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip.

Richard won the title by just 11 points over Darrell, which was, at the time, the closest finish in NASCAR history.

It was Richard’s seventh championship, which, although none of us knew it at the time, would be his last.

As for Darrell, as much as he had progressed since the start of his career, he had yet to win a title. I am pretty certain that it didn’t sit well with him.

Turns out I was right. More on that later.

NASCAR was really rolling in 1980. More sponsors and top quality drivers were coming on board. Its popularity had soared and the 1979 Daytona 500 had a lot to do with that.

With Cale I thought there was no reason, despite the slip in 1979, that we couldn’t win a fourth championship.

As always, it wasn’t going to be easy. In addition to the guys whom we always had to battle – Richard and Darrell – I thought we might have to fend off a kid named Dale Earnhardt, who had won 1979 Rookie of the Year honors and a race at Bristol.

I was right. Cale was in a battle with Dale for most of the season and it became obvious the championship was going to be decided between the two of them.

But then I got blindsided – and I think all of NASCAR did, too.

Cale came to me late in the summer and affirmed some gossip I had heard. He wanted to leave Junior Johnson & Associates.

He announced on Sept. 9 that he was going to join M.C. Anderson’s team. He had agreed to a three-year contract with the wealthy developer from Savannah, Ga., because Anderson would let him run a limited schedule.

Cale’s schedule would be cut back to 18 races from 31. That’s what he wanted. He told me he was tired of chasing championships and needed to spend more time at home.

In one way it surprised me because we were having a solid year and were in the thick of a points race for another championship.

In another way it didn’t and I understood. Cale had two daughters and he hadn’t been able to be around them as much as he would have liked over the years.

He wanted to change that. He wanted to run the major races only. He was a fine family man and I couldn’t really challenge the fact he wanted to offer more of himself to his daughters and wife Betty Jo.

It had to be a difficult decision for Cale. I wasn’t the only one to think that, heck, all of NASCAR did. He had won three straight championships and over 50 races with me over an eight-year period.

And we were still winning together. Remember, in 1980 we were in the hunt for a fourth title and in September, when Cale announced his intentions, we still had a great shot at it.

And some said: “He’s going to leave all this?”

Throughout NASCAR’s history when a driver and a team split for any reason – or even know they are going to do so at the end of a season – their level of performance has almost always dipped. It’s happened time and again, and, to be honest, it’s understandable.

That wasn’t the case with Cale and I. Quite the contrary. I think Cale wanted to go out with a fourth championship under his belt, in fact, I’d bet on it.

Heck, I wanted him to. Don’t think for a minute that, regardless of the future, I didn’t want another title for Junior Johnson & Associates.

I thought we might get it.

On Oct. 19, Cale won at Rockingham to move within 44 points of leader Dale, who, as I had suspected, was having a great year with Rod Osterlund’s team.

Cale chopped 77 points off Earnhardt’s lead. There were two races left in the season. “Do that again, Cale,” I thought, “and we’ll be in business.”

He came close. He won at Atlanta a couple of weeks later where Dale finished third. The result: Cale was just 29 points behind going into the year’s final race at Ontario, Calif.

On that 2.5-mile track Dale tried every way on earth to give us the title. He pitted too early in the first portion of the race and lost a lap.

He got that back as Cale and Darrell battled for the lead. Then, on the 183rd of 200 laps, Dale left the pits with only two lug nuts and was black-flagged. He lost nearly a lap to Cale.

But durned if he didn’t make up all that lost distance. I give him credit for an amazing accomplishment.

Cale did indeed finish ahead of Dale. He was third; Dale fifth. But it wasn’t enough.

Benny Parsons won the race. Ironically, he was the guy Anderson let go to make room for Cale.

We lost what would have been our fourth championship by a mere 19 points.

As distressing as that was for me there was a more troubling situation. I had no idea who my driver was going to be in 1981.

Now, I have to tell you that as much as the Cale and Dale’s championship war made headlines, just as many were made over Darrell, who made it clear and in no uncertain terms that he wanted out of his contract with DiGard Racing Co.

He had won a lot of races with that outfit but not a championship – as I’ve said.

I had a hunch where he wanted to go. So did others.

I was determined not to deal with a driver who was still under contract.

I didn’t know it at the time but that would change.

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.

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.


 

1974: The Year Of An Expanded Team And A New Ownership Deal

With Cale Yarborough on board as their driver in 1973, Junior and Richard Howard experienced a great season in which Yarborough won four races, five pole positions and finished second to Benny Parsons in the final championship point standings.

Howard and Johnson figured things could only get better in 1974 and, competitively, they did. But something happened; something totally unexpected.

For the first time in his career, Junior expanded his team into a two-car operation. Simply put, he got an offer he could not refuse and began to campaign cars for rookie Earl Ross of Canada alongside Yarborough.

It was a most unexpected development. But Junior felt that, given the terms of the business arrangement, it would be very lucrative for him for several years to come.

It didn’t turn out that way.

 

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

 

After our 1973 season with Cale, Richard and I were anticipating better things in 1974. We figured we had gotten things off to a terrific start and they could only get better. Again, we set out to win a championship.

In fact, Cale was leading the point standings in June when unexpected things began to happen.

Mind you, I didn’t start any of this. But I like to think I’m a pretty good businessman and, being that, it just made sense for me to listen to any offer.

Don’t mind telling you I got a doozy.

I hadn’t had any dealings with Carling Brewing Co. out of Toronto, Canada, but I had certainly heard of it and its past participation in NASCAR.

Carling had dabbled in stock car racing as early as 1972, when it sponsored rookie of the year Larry Smith, who lost his life in a crash at Talladega in 1973.

After that the company backed away from NASCAR and sponsored Canadian drivers Earl Ross and Norm Lelliott in Sportsman racing north of the border.

It was about halfway through the 1974 season that Carling apparently thought it was time to make a bigger mark in NASCAR. The company had been sponsoring Ross on a smaller team.

Company executives approached me with a novel idea. If Richard and I would field a second car for Ross, they would sponsor it. They went further. They said they would purchase the assets of Junior Johnson & Associates, with the intention of having Cale run for the championship and Ross beefing up his efforts to win the rookie of the year title for 1974.

Oh, there was more to it than that and I have to admit it intrigued me. Carling said it would sponsor the team throughout 1974 and at least the first part of 1975 – with options for three more years.

This was a completely unique situation. Sure, in NASCAR there had been many multicar teams in its history, but, to the best of my memory, none of them had been owned by the actual sponsor. As far as I knew, to have a business like Carling actually own a team was a first in NASCAR.

Richard certainly liked the arrangement. When Carling came on board he sold his interests in our team and was happy about it.

“Carling has bought my cars and has put together one of the most attractive sponsorships in racing,” Richard said. “Junior and racing will be the big winners. They day that one man can afford a first-class team is about over.”

I’m not sure that I agreed with Richard that one man could not own a first-class team, but I did concur that the financial windfall for me could be tremendous.

So here me and my guys were – part of a Canadian team, run by Canadians and wearing the logos of a Canadian company. Talk about culture shock.

For a while, things worked out pretty well. Both of my – uh, Carling’s – Chevrolets ran very well. Cale scrapped with Richard Petty for the championship all season long. He won six races but came up short of the title, which Petty won at Rockingham with two races remaining in the season.

I was pleasantly surprised with Ross. He won the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville in September, claimed the rookie of the year title and finished eighth in the final point standings. Not bad at all for a first-timer.

Then came the shocker. Several days after the championship was settled, Carling announced it was pulling out of NASCAR – for good.

Huh? This was a company that said it was going to be around for as many as four years. Instead, it lasted just four months.

Many folks thought Carling had done more harm than good, and since it couldn’t be part of a championship team, it didn’t want to be part of NASCAR at all.

Yes, I was stunned but I wasn’t angry. I liked the Carling folks. I worked well with them. Truth was we had fielded two pretty darn good cars in 1974.

Carling said its decision was based on higher beer costs and that it didn’t sell that much beer in the Southeast, where most NASCAR races were held.

That might have been true but I was told of another development. Seems an individual from South Africa, of all places, bought Carling. The Canadians supported the NASCAR effort but the South African pulled the plug on sponsorship anyway.

When that happened, well, it was up to the Canadian division to get me to participate in a buyback. If we worked everything out OK, I could repurchase the team for pennies on the dollar.

At first Carling offered me 25 cents on the dollar but I refused. I knew the company would to spend 15 percent on freight costs just to bring the assets back to Canada. That would leave it only 10 percent of its original offer.

So I offered 10 percent. And Carling took it. I reckon it figured that it would cost much more money to move the racing assets back to Canada than to drop the whole thing and forget about it.

 

It was all disappointing, but, again, I wasn’t upset. I made a profit with the buyback and Carling’s sponsorship efforts had served the team very well.

Ross, however, never raced again in NASCAR after 1974.

All of this left me in a bind, especially for 1975. I didn’t have a sponsorship package for the coming season for Cale and I sure wasn’t going to spend my own money.

Richard was no longer a partner and he became embroiled in a duel with Bruton Smith for control of Charlotte Motor Speedway.

It turned out that Cale and I started the 1975 season without sponsorship.

But that would change – and the results were almost unbelievable.

 

Cale Did The Job In 1973, A Year With A Bit Of A Fuss

At the end of the 1972 NASCAR Winston Cup season, Bobby Allison had departed Junior’s team. Richard Howard and Junior felt the ideal candidate to replace him was Cale Yarborough.

They turned out to be right. Yarborough had a great year driving Junior’s Chevrolets.

But the season was not devoid of controversy. At Charlotte in October, another competitor declared Junior’s and Richard Petty’s engines illegal.

Both powerplants went through a lengthy, convoluted and unheard-of inspection process that took more than 24 hours to complete.

The accuser? Bobby Allison.

 

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

 

 

When Richard Howard and I started to consider Cale Yarborough as a replacement for Bobby Allison at the end of the 1972 season, I reckon we thought there wasn’t much of a chance we couldn’t get him.

At the time Cale was pretty much out of work.

He had built up a solid reputation as a hard charger during his years in NASCAR – especially with the Wood Brothers.

But in 1970, Ford’s pullout hurt the Woods as much as it did me. Glen Wood told Cale he really didn’t know which direction his team was going to go and he couldn’t assure Cale things would be the same.

This kinda surprised me, but Cale left NASCAR altogether. He took an offer from Gene White, a Firestone Tire dealer, to race on the USAC Indy Car circuit.

Back in those days it was pretty common for drivers to aspire to Indy Car racing because of one thing – the Indianapolis 500.

It didn’t work out for Cale. He raced only 12 times in 1971 and in 1972, White cut his team from two cars to one. Cale raced in the Indianapolis 500 that year then made only five starts in his own stock car.

It sure didn’t take a genius to figure out that Cale would jump at any deal offered to him by a quality team.

Richard and I knew that but we also knew Cale was a determined hard charger. We saw that during Cale’s years with the Woods.

Lee Roy (Yarbrough) had been with us but unfortunately he got sick. We lost him. Then we had Bobby and with those two men we had gotten used to the caliber of drivers they were.

We didn’t want anything else.

Cale was exactly the kind of driver we were looking for. Now, if we could tie him to the ground and get out of him what we could get out of him, that we didn’t know.

Cale joined us before the 1973 season began. With him on board, we were in pretty good shape. Things happened fast. Cale led all 500 laps of the Southeastern 500 at Bristol on March 25, just the fifth race of the season.

Ol’ Cale said it was like being on a Sunday drive. That sure made me feel good because it said the team had prepared a near-perfect car for him.

Cale won again on May 12 at Nashville. Then he won the Southern 500 on Labor Day in Darlington.

It was the second time he won that race – the first was with the Woods in 1968 – but it was always special for him to win on the track that so captivated him as a kid growing up in nearby Timmonsville, S.C.

Our fourth win came in the National 500 at Charlotte on Oct. 7. But there were problems. Someone seemed to have issues with us – as if that was anything new.

Cale won the race by 1.4 seconds over Richard Petty. Both of ‘em were two laps ahead of, guess who, Bobby Allison.

Bobby, by the way, was driving his own Chevrolet sponsored by Coca-Cola. Imagine that. It’s exactly what I predicted he’d do after we split.

Seems Bobby was a bit upset that our car and Richard’s could put six to eight lengths on him going down the straightaways at Charlotte, a 1.5-mile track. He sought out Bill Gazaway, the chief inspector at the time.

Bobby put up $200 in protest money because he felt Cale and Richard’s engines were oversized. I don’t know about Richard, but I knew Cale’s was legal.

NASCAR didn’t take Bobby’s money and instead ordered a teardown of all three engines. This was new to me. Post-inspections did not exist as they do today. So what was up?

They rolled out Bobby’s car first, declaring the engine legal. Several hours passed and neither ours nor Richard’s car budged.

Richard Howard was furious. He claimed our Chevrolet had passed pre-race inspection and then, six hours later, NASCAR couldn’t confirm if the car was legal.

Richard was, you remember, the promoter at Charlotte. And he claimed he had been paying inspectors to be at his track all week and if some illegal cars had gotten past them, then he’d wasted his money.

And he also said that if the finishing order was changed he was going to sue NASCAR.

I liked what I heard. Those were fightin’ words. And he made a point: We were allowed to race, so weren’t we legal? Wasn’t it the same for the Pettys?

You won’t believe what happened next.

It was after 10 p.m. when Gazaway announced that all three engines would be sent to NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach and a final judgment would be made on Monday, Oct. 8.

It was the craziest thing I’d ever heard of. And, by the way, didn’t they already declare Bobby’s engine legal?

Well, it was 5 p.m. on Oct. 8 when NASCAR announced that Cale’s victory was official. I could have told them that a day earlier.

NASCAR said that the procedure used to check the engines in Charlotte was inadequate and, because the pre-race inspections determined that all the cars confirmed to the rules, the results of the race were official.

That sounded a lot like what Richard Howard had already said. Wonder if a threatened lawsuit had anything to do with it all?

It sure didn’t sit well with Bobby. He said NASCAR had just figured out a way to lie out of the situation because it knew the other two engines were illegal.

He threatened to quit NASCAR and withdrew from the next race, at Rockingham.

Bobby never was a good loser – I’ll say that for him.

But it all made national attention and the publicity for NASCAR wasn’t good. Bill France Jr., the president, made himself unavailable for comment.

However, a week later he and Bobby met in Atlanta. Afterward, Bobby said he would race at Rockingham and was confident NASCAR would take steps to avoid misunderstandings in the future.

NASCAR said that, starting at Rockingham, it would enforce post-race inspections to check carburetor plates, air cleaners, engine size and stuff like that.

Sure, I reckon there were folks who thought Cale’s victory was tainted. Believe me, it wasn’t. NASCAR didn’t really have the right kind of measuring equipment needed to pinpoint if an engine was legal or not. Every measurement was iffy.

Besides, if I was going to cheat I’d make it worthwhile. You wouldn’t even have to measure my engine to know it was oversized.

Our first year with Cale was what Richard and I expected. He won four races, finished second to Benny Parsons in the point standings and earned $267,513, more than any other driver. Now, I really liked that.

We were ready for 1974.

Didn’t know it then, but it was going to be a strange year.

 

Hall-Of-Famer Allison Helped Make The ’72 Season What It Was

After the 1971 season, during which Junior and Richard Howard brought Chevrolet back to NASCAR, the two determined that, rather than special appearances for the car, they would campaign it for the NASCAR Winston Cup championship in 1972.

But they needed two things: A sponsor and a driver. As fortune would have it the driver they hired also happened to have a sponsor.

He also had a lot more, as Junior thought he might. Thus the 1972 season was one of the most successful, and tumultuous, of Junior’s career.

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

 

I have already said this but I think it bears repeating. I am very proud that a man who drove for me, Bobby Allison, will be a member of the next class of inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

He came around at a perfect time – when he was needed.

After the 1971 season, during which Richard and I enjoyed so much success with the Chevrolet, we decided rather than charge promoters $10,000 to have our car enter their races, we’d just go for the whole thing.

We’d try to win the Winston Cup championship. That meant we would run every race, which, in turn, meant we had to have sponsorship.

We both knew about Bobby. He could drive anything and win in it. He knew all about cars and engines and had maintained his own stuff.

Turns out that he was with the powerful Holman-Moody team in 1971. However, that team folded at the end of the season and Bobby was out of work.

Now Bobby had $80,000 in sponsorship from Coca-Cola in his pocket. That, and the fact that he had the skill and determination to win races, made him an easy target for Richard and I.

We talked to him at Rockingham at the end of the season. We needed a driver and a sponsor. Bobby had a sponsor. Our regular driver, Charlie Glotzbach, didn’t. It wasn’t that we were trying to dump Charlie. Bobby had a sponsor and Charlie didn’t. It was that simple.

I felt the combination of Bobby and our Chevrolet was going to be hard to beat in 1972. Bobby was a cagey driver. When he could lead a race, he did. But more times I’d see him stalk someone else and just hunt him down, then go and pass him.

It was like whatever obstacle was in front of him, he’d do his best to get around it. When it came to winning I knew it was just a matter of time.

That came in the sixth race of the year, the Atlanta 500 on March 26. Bobby was third, seven seconds behind A.J. Foyt with 30 laps left. With five laps to go, Bobby passed Bobby Isaac for second place.

A lap later Bobby got around Foyt and went on to win by 0.16-second. It was the first victory for Chevrolet on a superspeedway since I won the National 500 at Charlotte on Oct. 13, 1963.

Needless to say, long-suffering Chevy fans went nuts. Even though Charlie had won a year before, this was the first Chevy victory as a regular NASCAR competitive model in 10 years.

I knew we’d win more races. What I didn’t know is if we would win the championship. To do that, we had to overcome a sizable obstacle: Richard Petty.

The championship he won in 1971 was the third of his career and most folks thought he’d win again in 1972.

I didn’t have to say a thing about Richard to Bobby. He knew the man he had to beat. I always thought that Bobby figured that red-and-blue car of Richard’s was the one thing that stood in his way and he really wanted to beat it. I never told him to back off.

Which Bobby certainly didn’t as the season came to a close with mostly short-track racing. Bobby and Richard staged some of the most vicious battles I’ve ever seen.

It started at Nashville on Aug. 27. Richard got black-flagged for ignoring the stop sign on pit road and lost by 10 cars lengths to Bobby. Richard was furious.

Two weeks later at Richmond, Bobby and Richard were the only contenders for the championship. Richard won despite the fact he slid sideways along the top of the guardrail, dropped off and bounced back onto the track.

We were at Martinsville two races later. Over the last 50 miles, Bobby and Richard just couldn’t stay off one another. Richard tried to pass once, hit the curb and whacked Bobby. When that happened, it knocked Bobby’s gas cap loose. He got the black flag from NASCAR. He ignored it. Good for him.

But in the closing laps Bobby sideswiped another car and cut a tire. That allowed Richard to pass for the win.

The final short-track race of the year was at North Wilkesboro on Oct. 1. Again, Bobby and Richard pounded each other.

They crashed together into the wall. They separated and durned if they didn’t do it again with just two laps remaining. Richard won by two car lengths.

Both their cars were smoking wrecks after the race and neither driver had a good thing to say about the other. They were mad and I can tell you a good many fans, of both drivers, were too.

I never got in the middle of it. I’ve seen two or three occasions where, I think, certain people were madder at the car than they were the driver and I think that’s the way it was with Bobby. He resented Richard’s car.

We lost three of those four short-track races and that didn’t help our cause. Richard won the title by 127.9 points.

We didn’t lose the title because of the short tracks. As far as I’m concerned there were many other reasons.

Bobby was a headstrong guy with his own opinions about car performance. Although I disagree to this day, he claimed there was a huge lack of communication between us.

I think Bobby had his own agenda, too. I suspected he was going to run his own team in 1973, or at least run for Ralph Moody once his lawsuit with John Holman was settled.

And I wondered about his commitment, especially after the Winston 500 in May. We burned an oil line early but got it fixed in plenty of time to go back out and earn a lot of points.

But we couldn’t find Bobby. He had left the track.

Hey, that’s all in the past. None of it matters now. What matters is that without Bobby in 1972, I don’t think Richard and I would have won 10 races and finished second in championship points.

Bobby helped make Chevy’s return to full-time NASCAR competition very successful.

And he went right on winning races in his own cars, and for other team owners, for many, many seasons after 1972.

Yep, I did, too, starting in 1973 when Cale Yarborough came on board.

That’s another story.

 

’62 Darlington: I Won But At Midnight, I Lost

The 1962 Southern 500 might have been the toughest race I ever ran.

The temperatures were scorching hot on Labor Day at Darlington Raceway of that year. The heat took a toll on both tires and drivers. There were several crashes due to blown tires and many drivers were on the verge of heat exhaustion.

Ok, let’s stop right there. That awful setting I described isn’t going to be anything like it is for this year’s Showtime Southern 500, set for Saturday night and under the lights.

The weather will, of course, will be much cooler – great for fans, competitors and fans alike. The track has been repaved and configured, which isn’t bad for tires, either, and should make for some much closer racing.

Wish all this had happened during my time. I’d have loved to see what I could do.

Frankly, I didn’t do much at that old, crusty Darlington, the one at which heat played such a role and the track surface was so rough it reminded me of a supersized cheese grinder.

But like every other driver, I wanted to win at Darlington. We all knew that if we beat that old lady we had really done something.

Back to that hot Labor Day of 1962. I mentioned how heat took its toll on tires. Sure enough, about midway through the race we experienced problems on Ray Fox’s Dodge and crashed midway through the race.

We spent two laps in the pits getting the fenders pulled back to prevent tire rub.

Turns out, NASCAR posted me the leader over the last one-fifth of the race. Then I was declared the winner, with Marvin Pinch second, Larry Frank third, Jim Paschal fourth and Richard Petty fifth.

I remember that old’ Frank was not a happy man. His Ford was running on a stream of sparks – he had lost a wheel – when he parked it on the grass just across from the press box.

Frank said he was the winner and that I wasn’t even on the lead lap.

Lee Petty filed a protest and Frank, did, too. He was so tired and blistered he had to go back to his hotel room.

It was up to NASCAR to deal with the situation.

Until it did, heck, I was still the winner and through I rightfully should be.

During the post-race interview I was asked what I was going to do with my winner’s share of the money, about $20,000.

“Shoot, I’m going to build more chicken houses on my farm,” I answered.

Well around midnight, NASCAR came back with the results. Frank was listed the winner, with me second, Marvin third, David fourth, Richard fifth and Paschal sixth.

Reckon I counted the chicken houses before they were built, huh?

NASCAR went to great pains to show me where the mistake was made. And they had a fairly convincing case.

But what upset me was NASCAR not catching the error sooner. They showed me in first place a long time. If I’d known I actually was running second to Larry, I think I could have caught him and passed him pretty easily.

Well, that wasn’t the case. It all ended up as one of the weirdest races I ever lost – and at Darlington, no less.

Three years later, I got a measure of satisfaction at the tough old track. I won the Rebel 500 – No protests about it.

 

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