Before I begin the Legendtorial tonight, I want to express my sincere thanks to Alex Nickerson for filling in for me last week. I listened to the show, Alex, and you did an awesome job, even with your little "ad lib" part. Thanks, Buddy, it was great.
I have just finished watching the 2017 version of the spring cars wreck fest at Talladega. I admit it was great to see a huge crowd in the infield and the stands close to full. I am guessing that is due, in large part, to Junior Nation flocking there in droves to see him win, which was expected and which could have easily happened. Well, it didn't this time, so that ups the ante for the July Daytona event and the fall race at 'Dega. Unless, of course, his fans are so disenchanted by now they don't want to spend the money for another let down.
Watching that race brought back two specific Talladega memories, of which I have many. First up is the spring race of 1970. As most of you know, Richard Petty was driving a Ford in 1969 and the only races I attended that year were the two at Columbia and the Southern 500. Richard in a Ford was not my cup of tea. That's how we were back then. Oh, believe me, Richard and I had a serious discussion over that. As for my race team, we were looking forward to the start of the 1970 season and the white number 83 Plymouth was completed, washed and waxed, and ready to go, so we took some time to head out to Talladega. I must admit the Talladega track looked MUCH bigger than Daytona when we pulled in.
1970 was the year of the winged Mopars. Pete Hamilton had won the Daytona 500 in the Petty number 40 and we were pretty sure the two Petty Super birds were going to reign supreme at Talladega. As it worked out, Buddy Baker in the winged Cotton Owens Dodge was the class of the field for most of the race while Hamilton and Petty lay back. Eventually, Richard would have issues which relegated him to a seventh place finish, but when Buddy Baker cut a tire which flew into his oil cooler causing a fire and having Buddy spin the car to put out the flames, Peter Goodwill Hamilton found himself in the lead. Pete was a full lap ahead with 13 to go but he backed off for insurance, which allowed Bobby Isaac to get back on the same lap to finish second. I was hanging on the fence at Victory Lane watching a very happy Hamilton celebrate his win. The following Thursday, we would be running our Plymouth at Columbia Speedway.
When the Grand Nationals returned to the track in August, my season was already over as we had blown the engine in my Plymouth and would be working on a new one for the 1971 season. So, we packed up and headed back to Talladega. The winged machines were out in full force but this time the Hamilton/Petty strategy would not be to pace themselves but to run out front. They started 50 cars in that race so we were expecting quite a competitive event. Instead, much to our joy, Pete Hamilton controlled the show. He led over 150 laps of the 188 and finished with an average speed of 158.517 (I had to look that up) which was, at the time, the fastest 500 mile stock car race ever run. The race was only slowed by four caution flags but those four cautions took up 30 laps of the race. Three things stick out in my memory of that event. First, it was HOT. It was very HOT. Probably not as hot as Daytona was for some July events, but it was hot and humidity was 105% (That's right Alex, I said 105%). Second was the relatively small crowd. When I was looking up the average speed of the race, I noticed the official crowd estimate (ah, those were the days) was only 38,000. The third thing I remember is Maurice Petty, The Chief, standing on pit road the last several laps with that blackboard on which he had chalk written "E-Z”. Whether or not Pete ever saw that blackboard is questionable, but he certainly wasn't taking it easy. He beat Bobby Isaac by 10 seconds for the win.
Oh, there are many other Talladega stories in the memory banks of this old time race fan, but I wanted to talk about the year the blue winged Plymouths, driven by Pete Hamilton, would rule the track at 'Dega. Guess seeing Aric Almarola bring the number 43 home fourth today really got me going.
Maybe one day I will tell you all about the great ticket caper. Or about pushing an out of gas Dave Marcis into Victory Lane. Or about making the front page, picture, and all, of the Talladega newspaper in a feature article. Or, maybe about that Boogity Dummy that tried to run me over heading to Victory Lane so I rolled in hanging onto his roll bar while giving him my opinion of his driving skills. Got a free Winston Cap and a bottle of free Gatorade out of that one. So many trips to 'Dega, so many memories. Now, the race Sunday will be a good memory to add to the past. The 43 was fourth, we had a first time winner, and Danica finally made it to Victory Lane, albeit as a hanger on. Back to you Jeff.