NASCAR Driver Q & A · John Potts · Thursday March 17, 2011
I got reminded this week of a story I’d heard several times which I think everyone will enjoy. What reminded me was the mention of it by a participant on a site I frequent who was there, and pretty much vouched for it.
At the 1970 Motor Trend 500 at Riverside International Raceway, which opened the NASCAR season that year, Parnelli Jones was driving for the Wood Brothers in a Mercury. He destroyed the track record in qualifying, but his time was disallowed.
The reason? He was using Firestone tires, and NASCAR had just signed a deal with Goodyear. NASCAR said the Firestones weren’t available to fit enough of the field, and thus didn’t fit their rules. A number of the NASCAR West cars were also on those tires. Parnelli was a Firestone distributor, and he appealed the rule, informing them that he could have enough tires to the track the next morning to satisfy the requirement. And he was right. A few truckloads arrived in time to be mounted.
NASCAR, however, stood by the initial ruling and said those cars on Firestones would have to start at the rear of the field. That put Jones in 35th spot for the green flag.
He worked his way to the front in 43 laps, and when going past the press box in the lead, “emphatically gestured” to Big Bill France. As the guy on the Web site said, “It’s almost lost to history other than a slight comment in print that mentioned Parnelli let everyone know what position he was in.”
To expand on the story a little, Jones had taken the lead from A.J. Foyt, and he lost it to LeeRoy Yarbrough on the next lap around. He eventually led a total of 88 laps, and was in the lead when he went out after losing the clutch at 168 laps, finishing 11th.
One question this week:
I wonder if you would share some stories about the famous Neal Sceva/Joe Ruttman battle at Salem. How did the ASA officials decide who to give the win? It was a race for the ages…” — Wayne Sulteen
Yes it was, Wayne. That was the third annual Midwest 300, in October of 1974. It was my first experience with using two flags at once, but it was a yellow flag with the checker. I’ve told the story before in the “Driven to the Past” column, and it’ll be part of the book I’m working on by the same title (shameless plug), but I’ll hit the high spots again…
Ruttman was leading the last 100-lapper when Sceva came up to challenge. Neal tried the outside. Ruttman blocked. Before the white flag, Sceva tried the inside going down the backstretch, but Ruttman blocked again and Neal’s Mustang was running in the grass when he decided to back out of that attempt.
On the last lap, he went down there again, and this time managed to elbow his way back up onto the pavement. They came under the bridge side-by-side, Ruttman on the outside, trading paint.
As I remember it, Ruttman moved to shove Sceva further to the inside again, but this time there was a guard rail in the way. Sceva fought back, and the whole thing ended with Ruttman’s Camaro going under the flags sideways with the Mustang planted firmly in his left side.
We had a meeting in the tower after it was over. My suggestion that we declare Ruttman the winner and then fine him the first place money wasn’t taken seriously.
The decision was made to penalize Ruttman five laps for “rough driving,” and that put him back to fifth place. When Milt Hartlauf, the ASA competition director, explained the decision, Ruttman said, “Milt, I gave him the whole outside back there!”
Apparently, the fact that Neal was already inside at the time didn’t enter into Joe’s thinking.
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