The one-mile moderately banked race track in Rockingham had hosted its first race on October 31, 1965, won by Curtis Turner, a very popular win. The second event to be hosted for the Grand National cars would happen on March 13, 1966. The race had the title of "Peach Blossom 500" which meant the drivers would once more race 500 laps.
Paul Goldsmith qualified at a speed of 116.685 mph to put his Nichels Engineering Plymouth on the pole. David Pearson qualified his Cotton Owens Dodge second. Curtis Turner was back to defend his October win and put the Wood Brothers Ford in third starting position. Bobby Isaac in the Junior Johnson Ford would start fourth, and Dick Hutcherson in the Holman-Moody Ford entry would start fifth.
Notably absent from the starting field was Richard Petty. Two weeks earlier Petty had won his second Daytona 500 but in the interim had surgery on the ring finger of his left hand which had been injured in a pickup football game at the Petty Engineering compound. The doctor had told Richard he needed the surgery or he would forever have an unusable finger. Richard was in the pits to oversee the race for his relief driver, Darel Dieringer. It was an early trip home for Petty after Dieringer crashed out on lap 52 of the race.
Goldsmith led the first 24 laps of the race before yielding to Bobby Isaac. Isaac was opening a substantial lead over second place for ten laps before he encountered a spinning Bub Strickler as he came up to lap Strickler. Isaac had no opening to escape the spinning car and crashed hard into Strickler, ending his day. Goldsmith went back out front at that point.
The crowd roared its approval on lap 36 when Curtis "Pops" Turner took over the lead and held it for five laps. LeeRoy Yarbrough moved past "Pops" to lead 16 laps in his Jon Thorne Dodge. The lead became a battle between Cale Yarborough, Sam McQuagg, Jim Paschal, David Pearson, Fred Lorenzen, Curtis Turner and Goldsmith.
Yarbrough was eventually sidelined with ignition problems on lap 89. McQuagg parked it on lap 131 with engine failure. Curtis crashed out on lap 376. Jim Paschal's Plymouth lost an engine on lap 276.
Cale Yarborough, who had been involved in an earlier altercation on the track, was driving his crunched up Banjo Matthews Ford as fast as it would run and would lead a total of 177 laps. Paul Goldsmith was his remaining competition but Goldsmith was not without problems of his own. Around lap 80, and encounter with another car knocked the gas cap off Goldsmith's Plymouth and he had to make an unscheduled pit stop, putting him far behind the leader. Goldsmith, the Midwestern driver from Indiana, was absolutely dirt tracking that Plymouth lap after lap to make up time. Problem was, the faster he ran and the more he closed on leader Yarborough, the quicker the tires were worn out. Before the race was over, Goldsmith would make 10 pit stops, most of those for required tire replacement.
It was on lap 452 of the 500 that Paul literally slid his Plymouth beneath Yarborough's Ford and Paul would lead the remaining 48 laps to take the checkered flag 3.82 seconds ahead of Yarborough. A crowd of some 40,000 fans watched Goldsmith average 100.027 mph for the 500 miles in spit of the 10 pit stops and 10 caution flags for 70 laps.
1. Paul Goldsmith, Nichels Engineering Plymouth, $14,340.00
2. Cale Yarborough, Banjo Matthews Ford, $7,875.00 (3.82 seconds back)
3. Bobby Allison, Betty Lilly Ford, $4,250.00 (12 laps down)
4. Harold Smith, Lyle Stelter Ford, $2,675.00 (20 laps down)
5. John Sears, L.G. DeWitt Ford, $1,750.00 (22 laps down)
6. Roy Mayne
7. Elmo Langley
8. David Pearson
9. Henley Gray
10. Worth McMillion
11. J. T. Putney
12. Neil Castles
13. Buddy Baker
14. Clyde Lynn
16. J. D. McDuffie
18. Curtis Turner
19. James Hylton
20. Jim Paschal
21. PAUL LEWIS
22. Tiny Lund
23. Gene Black
24. Wayne Smith
25. Buddy Arrington
26. Fred Lorenzen
28. Gene Cline
29. Dick Hutcherson
30. Sam McQuagg
31. Roy Tyner
32. LeeRoy Yarborough
33. Wendell Scott
34. Bunkie Blackburn
35. Darel Dieringer
36. Ned Jarrett
38. Larry Bolton
39. Joel David
40. Harold Dunaway
41. Tom Pistone
42. Tex McCullough
43. Bobby Johns
44. G. C. Spencer
PERSONAL MEMORIES: Our little band of brothers (race fan brothers) had traveled to this race in my bright yellow Plymouth Satellite. We parked up next to the fence in turn two and camped for the night. That was about the only place next to the fence that remained by the time we got there on Saturday afternoon. The view, as I recall, was most of turn one, all of turn two (duh) and down the back straight until almost turn two. For some reason I have memories of cars pitting on the back straight but I'm not sure about that.
Without Richard in the race, we were all pulling for whichever Mopar would be leading, but we were stronger for Pearson in the Dodge and Goldsmith in the Plymouth. "Goldie" already had one win for the season and seemed to be a good guy.
My "Goldsmith story" is that I tried to meet him and get his autograph all through the 1964 season but could never catch up with him. Because of the Mopar boycott in 1965, I didn't go to races. I was determined to add his autograph in 1966 but never got face to face. Funny thing is my brother was able to catch him at some point and had him autographmy autograph book.
Then, at the very first RacersReunion Hall of Fame Induction breakfast in Mooresville in, 2010, I think, I was standing outside the restaurant waiting for friends to arrive when someone tapped me on the shoulder to ask if this is where the breakfast for the Hall of Fame was to be. I turned to answer and was looking right into the eyes of Paul Goldsmith. I told him the story as we talked for about 10 minutes while I waited for friends and we both got a good laugh out of all. Now, for the REAL LAUGH. Even spending all that time with Paul that Sunday, I never once thought to ask him for his autograph. But, I had met the man of both NASCAR and Indy fame and was very impressed with his friendliness and the fact that he hardly looked much older than that day he won the race at Rockingham in 1966.
My most vivid memory of the day at "The Rock" was seeing and talking with Richard and seeing that finger in the bandages. I simply did not see how that would keep him from driving but the doctors had said "no" so Richard was doing what he needed to do and far be it from me to try to out guess the doctors. But, oh how times have changed! Now I question everything my doctor tells me!!!!
Rockingham was always one of my favorite tracks. It had an atmosphere seemingly far different than other tracks. The Darlington infield was a place where so many of my racing memories were made, having camped there every race weekend from 1957's spring race until the 1993 Southern 500. I started watching races from either the grandstands or the hospitality suite of a major sponsor. No other infield had the mystique of the Darlington acreage, but Rockingham had a mystique of its own. After we started going in the parent's motor home, the infield at The Rock was even more of an adventure as we camped with several other groups from around the southeast and although we camped with the same folks at the other major tracks, it was Rockingham and Darlington that held the magic for us. I miss those days and I miss Rockingham
Oh, and Paul, if you happen to read this, would you please send me your autograph? After all these years I think I should add it to my collection. Thanks.
Honor the past, embrace the present, dream for the future
updated by @tim-leeming: 12/05/16 04:00:58PM