50 Years of NASCAR Racing ~ Post 9

By Matt McLaughlin

Editor’s note: This article is part of a special reprise of Matt McLaughlin’s “50 Years of NASCAR Racing”, written and published  in 1998 in commemoration of NASCAR ‘s 50th Anniversary celebration that year. In keeping with the RacersReunion mission of passing the history of our sport down to younger fans, Matt has kindly granted us permission to run the entire series. Please, sit back and enjoy as you take a journey back through the pages of history and perhaps relive a memory or two. Many thanks to Matt for his generosity in sharing. God bless you, my friend.

Throughout NASCAR’s history there have been a lot of feuds between two drivers and even more heated discussion between two drivers with a different point of view of on track contact during a race, but none have ever been as fierce as the Richard Petty and Bobby Allison feud that boiled over late in the 1972 season.

The two men were very different in a lot of ways. Richard had, of course, been born into stock car racing’s premiere family, the son of three time Grand National Champion Lee Petty. By the point Richard began driving the family already had a close association with and financial support from Chrysler. The Pettys made their home in North Carolina, the cradle of stock car racing. Bobby had no such advantages. He earned his stripes on the short dirt tracks of Alabama in cars he worked on in dirt floor garages, usually on a shoe string budget. Petty began racing full time in NASCAR’s top division in 1960 after having run limited schedules in 58 and 59. Petty got his first win at the dirt oval at the Charlotte fairgrounds in 1960. Allison flirted with Grand National racing in 1961 with 4 starts that year, then didn’t appear on the circuit again until 1965. 1966 was the first time he made a push to race as often as possible. His first win came that year on July 12th in Oxford Maine of all places, driving a Chevy owned by JD Bracken, with no factory support. It was Chevy’s first win in close to three years. What both these very different men shared was a burning desire to win, fierce tempers and incredible talent .

While Richard had already proven himself by winning a championship by the time Bobby arrived on the scene, Allison had to earn the respect of the other drivers or have them push him around. On August 27th, 1966, Bobby showed the other drivers he meant business by going at it head to head with Curtis Turner, one of the toughest men ever to turn a wheel on a NASCAR track. Turner spun Allison early in the event. Allison spun Turner trying to get his lap back. And at that point all bets were off, with both drivers giving up the idea of racing and just having at each other in a veritable demolition derby, much of which took place under the yellow flag. When Allison’s car was finally too battered to continue he used it as a battering ram to finish off Turner’s Ford as well. The two hopped out of their cars and went at each other, with many of their fans jumping the fence to join into the fracas until the police intervened.

Petty and Allison had their first major dust up late in the 1967 season. Petty was cruising towards his second championship. Petty’s stunning success that year had ironically enough helped Bobby Allison get the factory ride that all drivers of that era coveted. He drove for the Fred Lorenzen team as the Ford Motor company backed a fleet of cars, trying to derail the Petty express. Allison scored a victory driving for Lorenzen at Charlotte in October and once again was battling for the lead in that season’s final race at Weaverville, North Carolina. Bobby and Richard were the cream of the field that day and creamed each other more than once during the event, trying to settle who would take the checkers. At one point Richard shoved Allison hard into the wall. Allison came storming back and knocked Richard out of the way to take the win. After the event their respective pit crews went at each other in the pits and had to be separated by NACAR officials.

Bad luck marred Bobby’s career as he searched for a first class ride for the next few seasons. But in 1971 he wound up as the driver as the powerful Mercurys entered by Holman and Moody, while Richard was, of course, still driving the fleet Petty Enterprises Plymouths . That year Petty won 21 events and Allison 11 with 27 top-fives. And along the way Bobby and Richard had an occasional disagreement over the same piece of real estate. At Atlanta that year,  Allison and Petty were clearly the two dominant cars, sharing a lap by themselves with the third place car nine laps behind them. Lapping that many slower cars while battling for the lead caused the two to swap paint more than once, but afterwards both were diplomatic… even Petty who wound up second. At Winston Salem, Allison opted to drive a Ford Mustang, one of the smaller Grand American cars NASCAR was letting run against the Grand National taxicabs owing to small fields at short track events, while Petty opted to remain in his big Plymouth. The two swapped more than a little paint on their way to another 1-2 finish, with Allison once again taking the win. After that event Petty chose to criticize the rules that allowed the smaller cars to run at all, rather than Allison. At Talladega in August the battle continued. That day Pete Hamilton joined Petty and Allison to dice it out for the victory, though Bobby and Richard did a majority of the bumping and grinding, especially in the last 10 laps. Allison had the lead with one lap to go and was trying desperately to break the draft so the two Plymouths of his rivals couldn’t slingshot by him. He may have tried a bit too hard, at least for Richard’s tastes, and the three came together going into turn three. Hamilton got the worst of it, spinning off the track, but Richard had to get off the gas to gather his car back up and Allison sped along for the win. After the race Petty was much less diplomatic . In fact he was downright angry and told the press, “I’ve been racing 13 years and the only cat I’ve ever had trouble with is Bobby Allison.”

Thus the stage was set for 1972, the year the hostilities between Petty and Allison peaked into an out and out war. It was a year of change in NASCAR’s top rank. Gone were the factories and the teams they supported. Instead, big money sponsors made their first appearance on the scene. Bobby and Richard had two of the best and richest sponsors. Richard inked a deal with STP to sponsor his Plymouths, a sponsorship that remains with the King to this day. Bobby Allison convinced Coca-Cola to leave the Holman and Moody team with him and up the ante. He signed on to drive Chevy’s owned by Charlotte owner Rich Howard and managed by the legendary Junior Johnson. Charlie Glotzbach had had that ride since Howard financed Chevrolets starting the year before, but Bobby had a committed sponsor and wound up with the ride. It was also the first year of the “modern day schedule” insisted upon by title sponsor to the series, Winston. The schedule was cut from 48 races in 1971 to 31 in 1972. The Petty / Allison duo continued to dominate, with Richard taking 8 wins and Bobby 11. Factor in six wins by David Pearson who only ran the big events in the Purolator Mercury and it was pretty slim pickings for the rest of the field. In fact, Petty and Allison finished 1-2 in 13 events out of 31 that year. With the two rivals running that close together both on the track and for the championship, there was bound to be fireworks and there were plenty, particularly late in the year.

The real war began at Richmond in September with Richard and Bobby eight laps up on the third place driver, Bill Denis and 18 laps up on James Hylton in fourth. On lap 392 Richard used the chrome horn (the front bumper… and they really were chrome in those days) to push Allison out of his way to take the lead going into turn one. Going into turn three, Bobby returned the favor and then some. Petty’s Plymouth slammed the guard rail and actually got up on top of it in a shower of sparks and for one frightening instant it appeared he was going into the grandstand. A support pole for the chain link fence intended to protect the spectators knocked the 43 car back onto the track….and Petty never even lost the lead. He went on to beat Allison by two seconds with a tire going down. After the race, both drivers denied any hard feelings, with Petty saying, “It’s over and done with as far as I’m concerned.” Not bloody likely as it turned out.

At the next short track race, two weeks later, Petty and Allison were once again in a class by themselves with two laps on the field. Petty cut down a tire and had to duck into the pits to get it replaced. Despite lightning fast work by his pit crew, he returned to the track with Bobby right on his rear bumper about to lap him. NASCAR waved the blue and yellow move over flag, but Petty ignored it. A caution flag waved soon thereafter and Richard restarted the race right on Bobby’s rear bumper. And of course he had a little score to settle after all the times Bobby had hit him trying to get Richard a lap down. In the latter part of the race the two drivers were bumping and banging while the crowd roared its approval. Richard tried to bull past Allison on the inside, struck the curb and ricocheted into Allison’s Chevy, damaging the quarter panel to the car so badly Bobby’s gas cap was dangling the chain that secured it to the car. NASCAR tried to black flag him for having the cap loose but Allison ignored the flag. Another caution allowed Allison to pit to get the cap replaced without losing a lap. Soon thereafter though, he sideswiped a lapped car and put a fender into his tire. Unwilling to yield, Allison kept driving as the car in pursuit of Richard even as the tire deflated. Eventually, when the tire disintegrated Allison lost control of his Monte Carlo and slammed privateer entry Ed Negre. The resultant yellow allowed Bobby to pit for tires and to have the sheet metal pried away but he lost too much time in the pits and wound up finishing second to Richard. To Allison’s great annoyance he was fined by NASCAR for ignoring the black flag, while Petty was not fined for ignoring the “move over” flag. Negre loudly complained to Allison that he had been a victim of the feud, and ever the gentleman (off the track anyway), Allison agreed to pay to repair the car. Negre chose a race shop to repair his bent up Dodge and Bobby got slapped with a $3000 bill he thought was outrageous. The repair shop? Petty Enterprises, of course. Allison was quoted as saying , “This thing started out at $1500. I feel like I paid for a Dodge and a couple of Plymouths, too”.

Both drivers once again went on the record as saying there was no feud. But the next race at North Wilkesboro proved otherwise…..dramatically . As per usual, Allison and Petty were a lap all by themselves and going at it for the win. In the final 40 laps Allison and Petty engaged in an epic battle, swapping the lead 10 times as the crowd roared. There was some banging and bumping, such was the nature of North Wilkesboro, but with three laps to go the feud peaked and it went from racing to assault by motor vehicle. Petty tried to use a lapped car to block one of Allison’s pass attempts. Allison never even lifted as he rammed Petty’s Plymouth, putting it up on top of the guardrail once again and the 43 car began shedding parts . Allison got by but Petty came after him with fire in his eyes. The impact had smashed the right side of Bobby’s car in so badly both tires were rubbing and smoking, and in fact, so much smoke was pouring into the interior of the 12 car Allison couldn’t see where he was going or the Plymouth bearing down on him from the rear. Petty got under Allison and forced him high. Bobby had to back off to swerve to avoid debris on the track . Ironically enough, the debris was the front and rear bumpers that fell off Petty’s car when Allison ran him halfway out of the track. Petty got by and took the win while Bobby limped his car home with three flat tires. Meanwhile, when Petty got out of his car in victory circle an enraged Allison fan hopped the fence and went after him. One of Petty’s crew members took Richard’s helmet and beat the interloper senseless. Petty was hustled off to do his winner circle interview at a safe location as the crowd got uglier. During that interview Richard stopped denying there was a feud and added, “If I had films of this, I could sue him ( Allison) for assault with to intent to kill or something.” Allison’s comments were no more polite. With a tight points battle and three speedway events to finish out the season… tracks where someone could get hurt if the feud continued… Bill Gazaway of NASCAR said he would have a talk with both drivers and “This stuff is going to stop.” Actually, according to the edited account I have in my files, he used a word a little stronger then “stuff” which would have got him fined $5000 today. Of course racing has changed. This year a lot of fans were shocked by the tap Gordon gave Rusty to get around him on the last lap. But back in 1972, Petty and Allison weren’t tapping. They were beating down the door in the greatest rivalry NASCAR has ever known.

AFTERMATH- There were no more blatant incidents that year. Richard went on to win his fourth championship while Allison finished second. Of course, Petty would go on to win seven titles in all. Allison had a rough few years and made a couple questionable calls in those days, the worst of which was deciding to campaign AMC products a couple years. As Richard’s career faded after 79 Allison continued to run strong and in fact was always a contender for the title, though he had a new nemesis, a certain Darrel Waltrip, with whom he had a whole other feud almost as colorful as his one with Petty. He would finish second in the points five times before finally claiming the Winston Cup championship in 1983. Tragically, a bad wreck at Pocono cut short Allison’s career in 1988.

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