Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Making of a Champion, Part II

Just before the end of the 1964 season Bill France announced the banning of the Hemi engine and the Ford 427 High Riser. France was relenting to pressure from Ford concerning the potential dominance of the Hemi. Ironically the Championship for “64” was hotly contested with Petty only winning because he competed in two more events than second place finisher Ned Jarrett. The final point totals are misleading as during that time points were calculated by events entered and miles completed.

France’s decision made little since considering that Chrysler products won 26 out of 61 races in 1964 with Petty winning nine times, Ford and Mercury scored 35 checkered flags with Ned Jarrett winning 15 times. The Ford teams gave a good accounting and were very fast with great performance. The real story is that Petty’s embarrassment of the field at Daytona in February was not taken kindly by Bill France. He would pay for his decision dearly.

Chrysler responded to the Hemi ban by boycotting all Nascar events there by parking Petty and the other Dodge and Plymouth teams. They refused to run approved available engines to make their point. Ford was content with France’s decision knowing that their approved engine would be competitive.

Richard Petty and Petty Enterprises decided to go drag racing in 1965 and were very successful until a child was killed when Richard’s car lost control due to mechanical failure at a race in Dallas Georgia. This tragedy ended Richard’s quarter mile runs forever.

Without the very popular Petty on the track and no Chrysler product’s for fans to root for Bill France and Nascar took a huge hit at the box office and it is likely that the sanctioning body would have become bankrupt during the 1966 season with the loss of so much revenue. Bill France finally relented allowing the Hemi back into competition on July, 25th of 1965.

Richard and Petty Enterprises regrouped to finish the season with four victories. The fans were again going to the races, the track promoters were happy and Chrysler was back in the racing business.

Early in the 1966 Daytona 500 it did not look to be Petty’s day as he lost two laps to the leaders with tire issues. Once the tires woes were corrected Richard easily outran the field taking his second Daytona victory by over a lap with Cale Yarborough finishing second. Bill France must have winced as the electric blue Plymouth streaked under the checkered flag but there were no tears for France as he took a suitcase full of money to the bank after the festivities concluded at Daytona. The fans were back en force with Petty and Chrysler on top again at Daytona.

Richard had a relatively quiet and workman like year winning eight times with a third place finish in the Championship after David Pearson’s great season which included 15 wins and the title driving Cotton Owens Dodge. 1967 would be anything but quiet for Richard Petty.

The 1967 season has been well documented and surely is one for the ages. Why this happened is subject to speculation. What did happen will never be seen again. Richard Petty started the season with blistering the field by over 2 laps at Augusta’s half mile bull ring. At Daytona Petty fell short with a late race engine failure while Mario Andretti shocked the racing world by winning the 500 with a thrilling performance.

Mario’s great Daytona drive would soon be eclipsed by Richard Petty’s incredible season. The competition was showing up thinking about finishing second. An amazing 27 victories turned the racing world on it’s head as Petty ran the gauntlet that included four separate back to back wins, a stretch of three in a row and an eye popping ten victories in a row from August 17th at Winston Salem to October 1st in North Wilkesboro. Richard remarked of his 10 win streak by stating that the other drivers mentally were losing the race before it even started. The lowest finish that Richard recorded while running at the end of an event was 11th at Daytona in July and Petty managed an 8th place at Daytona in February while parked in the garage with a blown engine His other low finishes were due to mechanical failure or accidents. One can only imagine what Richard’s season totals would have been if not for 8 DNF’s. The legend was born with nicknames like the Randleman Rocket, Ole Blue and the King. The later stuck at Richard was on top of the racing world.

The 1966 Belvadere was so good that after crashing the car and damaging the front suspension during a short track race Richard told the crew to fix it instead of parking for the day. After repairs Petty maded up a seven lap deficit to win the event by two laps.

Supposedly nothing changed at Petty Enterprises between the 1966 and “67” seasons as Maurice Petty only re skinned a 1966 Plymouth with 1967 trim and of course fresh engines. When Maurice and Dale Inman were questioned about this huge turn around they only shrugged their shoulders and did not give an answer. Could it be that Petty received a phone call from Auburn Hills Michigan after blasting the field at Daytona in 1966 to Bill France’s chagrin ? Was Chrysler concerned about Nascar’s scrutiny of the Petty powered freight train after embarrassing Bill France’s marquee event two of the last three years ? Or did it all come together just right with great cars and great driving. It did not matter as Richard Petty made a statement that will forever be chiseled into the record books.

Richard Petty’s career up to this point was marked by consistent finishes with flashes of brilliance as he and Petty Enterprises took advantage of their opportunities on the way to becoming the first family of racing. The coming years would see more jewels added to the crown as there was much yet to accomplish.

to be continued


  1. Glad you're writing again. You're still featured on my myspace profile.

  2. Hey RL - Another fascinating chapter in the Petty story. Keep em coming, its a great way for me to learn this stuff!

    I saw on Twitter there was a bit of an ugly dust up after Kasey's win - something between Lee Montgomery and Austin Petty vs. Richard about Kyle not driving anymore. It was sad to see/read.

  3. Thank you girls

    The Petty writes came about since the Hall of Fame will announce the first entrants in October. Initially I intended to do this in three parts but it will take four.

    I heard about the twitter dust and forgot about it just is quickly. The thing with Kyle is that it is not being handled by Kyle.

    When Lee Petty got out he got out. Richard never left and Kyle never took control of the business. Losing his son surely did not help.

    You would expect that the Petty's would fracture at some point. To keep their racing business on top for three generations is unlikely or rather nearly impossible.