This morning, in Columbia, SC, it is rainy and cool. In fact, the rain is literally coming down in buckets and it's only 53 degrees. If they race in 'Dega today, I'll be kicked back in my recliner, warm and dry, watching the "edge of your seat racing" I expect. In 1974, however, I was in a rainy and cool pit area in Talladega while NASCAR tried to get in the scheduled 450 miler. Yep, that's right, 450 miles. NASCAR had shortened all its races by 10% in response to the contrived gasoline shortage in the country. In fact, as I recall, getting the gas to get to Talladega was a gamble but I did make it.
Much like the weather here today, the weather at the track that day was a rainy, cloudy, cool mixture that made me wonder why I had made that drive alone. Well, I was working for NASCAR that year on the local track level so I had credentials to be there so why not go and enjoy it. My friend who was to go with me got sick at the last minute so I did the trip alone.
The Wood Brothers Mercury, with David Pearson driving, started the scheduled 170 lap race on the pole. To his outside was Gary Bettenhausen in a Roger Penske prepared MATADOR. How many of you remember the Matador? The first 18 laps on the race were run under yellow flag conditions to further dry the track so Pearson is credited with leading those laps. The green dropped on lap 19 and it was Bettenhausen taking the lead for one lap. Lap 20 was led by Dan Daughtery, who had started fourth ina 1972 Ford. The race had 53 lead changes between 14 drivers so it would be burdensome to list the lead changes here but I will give you the names of those who led. In addition to the three previously mentioned leaders, Randy Tissot, Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, George Follmer, Coo Coo Marlin, J.D. McDuffie, Charlie Glotzbach, and Jim Vandiver, Sam McQuagg, Benny Parsons, and George Follmer all led at some point that day.
Of the 170 laps that day, 60 were run under caution due to the on and off again rain showers and a crash on pit road. On lap 105, a blown engine brought our a caution flag and the car with the blown engine continued to drop oil on the already rain slickened pit road making it as slick as an ice patch on a highway. Gary Bettenhausen, who was still a serious threat for victory in the Matador was pitting as rookie Grant Adcox slipped in the oil and rain and crashed into the back of the stopped Matador, pinning crewman Don MIller between the cars. Don lost his leg in that accident but he has never lost his love for the sport. Don went on to be instrumental in the career of Rusty Wallace and is now involved with the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame in Mooresville as well as "Stocks for Tots" each December. He is a prime example for a fine human being. Grant Adcox when into shock when learning of the seriousness of Miller's injury.
Pearson was leading when he made his final pit stop with 20 laps remaining. As he exited the pits, he appeared to be having difficulty regaining speed in what had been a most capable Mercury. Pearson would say, in Victory Lane, that he was just giving the Wood Brothers "time to get over to Victory Lane". In essence, that was a true statement because it took the Silver Fox only 11 laps to run down leader Benny Parson and blow by to take the lead. Benny tucked right againstt he rear bumper of David's Mercury but said after the race it was all he could do to "hold on" to that Mercury.
Fifty cars started the event with only 28 finishing. It is interesting to note that Hershel McGriff finished 12th in a Petty Enterprises Dodge but said he wouldn't compete in any more Winston Cup events. He felt NASCAR's convoluted rules which handicapped the bigger engine cars made him uncompetitive and he didn't feel racing was about restricting the ability of a car to go fast. Also, a young rookie driver, Neil Bonnett started his first super speedway race, finishing 45th after suffering a blown engine on lap 52.
The average speed for the 450 miles was 130.220 mph which was not that shabby considering all the caution laps.
Top five finishers were:
1. David Pearson, Wood Brothers Mercury, winning $20, 785.00
2. Benny Parsons, L. G. DeWitt Chevrolet, winning $15,015.00
3, Richard Petty, Petty Enterprises Dodge, winning $11,245.00
4. Charlie Glotzbach, Junie Donlevey Ford, winning $6,490.00
5. Lennie Pond, Ronnie Elder Chevrolet, winning $4,640.00
Sixth through tenth were Dave Marcis, Coo Coo Marlin, Sam McQuagg, Cale Yarborough, and Bob Burcham.
Richard Childress finished 11th, Marty Robbins 15th, Iggy Katona 20th, Cecil Gordon 21st, Dick Brooks 29th, Bobby Allison 31st, Buddy Baker 33rd, Travis Tiller 35th, Donnie Allison 36th, Buddy Arrington 46th, and Earl Ross 50th.
Some of you readers may want to research some of the names in this race as the field represents a composite of some of the finest race drivers of the day and some very interesting stories involving several of those driver. These guys are all a part of the rich history of the sport which will be showcased today, if it doesn't rain, before a huge crowd as always assembles at Talladega. While I will remember watching this race from the pits, the memories will be bittersweet at best, because it was such an uncomfortable day. I had gotten soaked twice during the rain showers and it was long drive back to Columbia that night with still damp clothers and really, and I mean REALLY wet shoes. But, it's a part of my memories. I was very thankful for my CB radio and all the folks willing to talk with "The 20th Century Drifter" as I made my "Smokey and the Bandit" run east bound and down.
Honor the past, embrace the present, dream for the future.
updated by @tim-leeming: 12/05/16 04:00:58PM