Forty years ago today, Aug. 24, a little girl was born. The year was 1972.
Little did her parents know that one day she’d grow up to love NASCAR and write about it under the names Chief 187™ and her own, Candice Smith.
Forty years ago in July Bristol Motor Speedway – by no means anything like it is today – held its second race of the season. This surprised me as I was under the impression that the second Bristol race was always held in August; always on my birthday weekend. Turns out I learned a lot about racing at Bristol “back in the day.”
What startled me first and foremost, while looking at the finishing order of that July race 40 years ago, is that Bobby Allison started from the pole and handily won the race by full three laps over second-place finisher Richard Petty.
Mind you, not by three seconds, but a full three laps. I’m going to let that sink in a bit. Petty started second and finished there.
You see, I hear a lot of criticism about NASCAR – more specifically about the current state of competition – but I can tell you that, for my money, the racing is far closer and much deeper than “the good ol’ days”.
At Bristol four decades ago, Dave Marcis, presumably wearing his typical driving shoes – wingtips – finished third after driving his rear off.
He finished an astounding 11 laps down! As pitiful as that might sound, at least he improved from his starting position – he started sixth.
Nowadays there are fractions of seconds that separate first through third in many races.
Fourth place belonged to Benny Parsons. He started fifth and moved up to fourth by the end of the race.
He was a dismal 23 laps down – absolutely unbelievable.
For those of you who don’t know or remember BP, as he was widely known, he was a fantastic driver who won the 1973 Winston Cup championship.
In his “second career,” BP became the voice of NASCAR. He was a well-respected and much revered member of the media, which displayed the range of his talents.
But, in the second Bristol race of 1972, BP didn’t showcase greatness in the least!
It seems that this particular race at Bristol was a war of attrition for most drivers and, at least on paper, rather boring.
J.D. McDuffie moved up significantly in the race. Starting in 20th place, McDuffie raced his way to fifth, finishing … wait for it … 34 laps down!
Positions six through 10 in that race, called the Volunteer 500, saw John Sears start in 10th and finish sixth, 36 laps down. Raymond Williams brought home a respectable seventh place after starting in the 29th position. He was 39 laps down.
Cecil Gordon started fourth but found himself in eighth place at the end of the race, 41 laps down. Walter Ballard began in 19th place and finished in ninth for the day, 42 laps down.
Finally, rounding out the top 10, Ben Arnold had started in the 18th position but scored a 10th-place in the race, 43 laps down.
For most of the drivers who managed to finish among the top 10 in the Volunteer 500, it was a good race – and profitable.
See, the majority of them were what was then known as “independent” drivers, those without major sponsorship or factory support.
They relied a good finish in each race to make the bucks needed to keep their small, low-budget teams afloat.
So for Marcis, McDuffie, Sears, Williams, Gordon, Ballard and Arnold, to finish where they did at Bristol – regardless of how many laps down – meant a good payday.
I have the utmost respect for the pioneers of our sport, the heroes of yesteryear, and the stars and also-rans who populated the field in the bygone era.
But I find discrepancies in true competition existed. Domination of the kind that existed at Bristol in 1972 no longer exists.
At least each race I tune into has a large contingent of drivers who could possibly win. The last couple of seasons have seen an influx of new winners in addition to several different victorious competitors.
And I cannot remember a time, since I’ve been watching races, when the winner of the race lapped the entire field.
Perhaps NASCAR and I are finding we have “primes” in different stages of our life. Or maybe each stage of our existence is a “prime” for that moment.
I just appreciate the extremely entertaining and competitive NASCAR Sprint Cup racing I witness week in and week out.
Frankly, I think NASCAR and I are both getting better with age.