February 24, 1961: Nearly the end for Petty racing

TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
9 years ago
4,049 posts

What nearly became the end of Petty Engineering became the start of the greatness of Petty Enterprises.

In the first 100-mile Daytona qualifying race, Richard left the yard - sailing over the wall. For the most part, he escaped unscathed. But shortly after leaving the infield care center, he heard that his dad and primary breadwinner for Petty Engineering, Lee Petty, had also sailed out of the track.Coincidentally, Johnny Beauchamp - who Lee battled to the finish line 2 years earlier in the inaugural Daytona 500 - sailed over the wall with him.


Lee was critically injured and required months of hospitalization and therapy. Richard, Maurice, Dale Inman, and the crew had to haul home 2 wrecked race cars, no purse winnings from the 500, no hands-on leadership from Lee, and little clue as to where to go from there.

The Petty team could have folded right then and there. But with encouragement by Lee and hard-work ethic by Richard and Maurice, the team pressed on. Other experienced drivers including Jim Paschal and Buck Baker were instrumental in racing as teammates with Richard who was still trying to develop as a racer. Over time, Petty Enterprises thrived.

The Daytona crash ended for the most part the competitive racing of Lee AND Beauchamp. Lee only raced a couple of times after healing. And from what I can tell, Beachamp never did return - at least not to NASCAR Grand National racing.

Richard's car on the wrong side of the track (Jim Wilmore picture)

Lee and Beauchamp in their "Uh oh - this is bad, this is bad" moment (TMC picture):

Scrap left of Richard's car (CharginCharlie Putzer's pic)

Scrap of Lee's car (Ron Wetzler picture)

And what was left of the 42 to haul back to Level Cross (CharginCharlie Putzer pic)

I'm always stunned to see those 2 cars sail over the turn 4 wall. Having been to Daytona (though not since 1997), I can envision hospitality areas, parking, souvenir trailers, etc. perhaps being there now where Lee and Beauchamp came to rest back in 1961. Just amazing.

TMC




--
Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.

updated by @tmc-chase: 02/22/18 05:57:05PM
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton
9 years ago
9,128 posts

Imagine how different stock car racing history might have been had Lee's terrible accident not happened.




--
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
9 years ago
4,049 posts

A couple of fellow Petty fans have this discussion about every year or two -especiallyas we considered those 200 wins:

  • What if it had been Richard badly hurt in 61 vs Lee?
  • What if Joe Weatherly hadn't hit that wall at Riverside? Could he have 3-peated as GN champ in 1964?
  • What if Fireball's accident hadn't happened?
  • Fireball's career may have been winding down anyway. But if the accident hadn't happened, how much longer would Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett have continued to drive?
  • What if Chrysler hadn't boycotted in 1965? Could Richard have repeated as champ from 64 to 65? And maybe carried that momentum through 66 and 67?
  • What if Richard had another 6 inches of clearance on the 21 at Daytona in 1976?
And sometimes I go in a non-Petty direction:
  • What if D-Day played out differently for Bud Moore?
  • What if the Wood Brothers had replaced all the lugnuts at the 1979 Rebel 500?
  • What if Bobby Allison and Junior Johnson could have gotten along?

We don't try to focus too much on the darkness of racing's wrecks and fatalities. Yet, we still think how history and racing records would have been different.




--
Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.
Dave Fulton
@dave-fulton
9 years ago
9,128 posts

All of the above are exceedingly interesting topics. We'll never know, will we?




--
"Any Day is Good for Stock Car Racing"
Tim Leeming
@tim-leeming
9 years ago
3,119 posts

1962 was my first trip to Daytona so I wasn't there for the 61 accidents. But, my uncle Bobby, who had gottem me into racing back in 1952 was a huge Lee Petty fan and I remember him constantly trying to find out how Lee was doing. One day, about a week after the wreck, I remember Bobby calling the hospital in Daytona and after several tries he got through. That was before HIPPA rules and the only thing, and I'll never forget this, the person he talked with said Lee was "holding his own". There was little or no racing coverage back then in Columbia, SC, and it was hard to find out things. For Uncle Bobby to have made a long distance call was mind blogging as all of my family believed that long distance calls were far too expensive to make unless it was an extreme emergency. To my Uncle, find out how Lee was doing WAS an extreme emergency. Funny how these days we pick up the phone and call all over the country, or the world, with very little thought at all. My Uncle Bobby epitomized the passion of a true fan in 1961 and still does today although he refuses to tell you who his favorite is. I keep prying him on that but he just smiles! I have to try to imagine how MY life might have been had it not been for the passion for racing my Uncle Bobby has and how he took time to share it with me.

TMC Chase
@tmc-chase
6 years ago
4,049 posts

Still remarkable to me year after year that Lee and Beauchamp landed in 1961 where souvenir trailers are located today.

1961

2015




--
Schaefer: It's not just for racing anymore.
Sandeep Banerjee
@sandeep-banerjee
6 years ago
360 posts

I wasn't aware Richard also left the track that weekend. Thanks for the video links and pictures. I'd like to think we'll never see a car leave the track again but the way these guys race these days, nothing is impossible.