Editor’s Note: The following is part four of Matt McLaughlin’s 11-part series on the history of racing at Daytona. Miss the first three editions? Don’t worry… we have the links for you here. Enjoy!
The Hemi Chryslers had dominated the 1964 Daytona Speedweeks, but it was a very different picture when the 1965 event rolled around. The big Hemis had been outlawed and Chrysler was boycotting NASCAR racing. Besides the Dodge and Plymouth cars being out of action, so were their factory drivers, sitting on the sidelines at Chrysler’s insistence. As a result, attendance at the 500, which had approached 70,000 in 1964, was off to less than 59,000 and even at that some people think Bill France was overstating the number to make it look like less of a disaster. Darel Dieringer held off a determined charge by Ned Jarrett in the final corner of the first qualifier to take the win in a Mercury.
The second qualifier was another one of those carnage-strewn events Daytona sometimes produced. With the Chrysler teams sitting out, a lot of rookie drivers saw an opportunity to make the big show. Some of them had never competed on any track bigger than a half-mile before in their lives. One of them, Rod Eulenfeld, spun out on the very first lap and came back onto the track, triggering a 13-car pile-up that involved a lot of the other rookies as well. Buck Baker was also injured in the pile-up.
Throughout the track’s history, the Daytona 500 has been marred by terrible and occasionally tragic wrecks involving rookies running on the massive speedway in traffic for the first time. Conventional wisdom is a rookie who gets through his qualifier incident-free will be all right in the 500. Many times they do not. Fred Lorenzen appeared to have the second qualifier sewn up when he made a rare mental error. He passed Junior Johnson on the 39th lap of the event, and as he crossed the line thought the race was over and lifted off the throttle a lap early. Junior stormed back past him and won the race the next lap over a highly-flustered Lorenzen.
The day of the 1965 Daytona 500 dawned dark and dreary, with heavy rains in the forecast. NASCAR tried desperately to get the event in anyway. Johnson looked stout early but lost a tire and slugged the wall a ton, fortunately doing a lot more damage to the wall than his person, but unfortunately ending his day. That left Marvin Panch and Lorenzen to race each other and the rain. As the rain began falling Panch tried a desperate high-side move to get around Lorenzen getting back to the yellow fearing the rain would end the event. Neither driver could see due to the heavy downpour and Lorenzen drifted high. The two cars collided and Panch spun out while Lorenzen managed to regain control. The race was red-flagged five laps later on lap 133, and after a long rain delay was called as darkness fell. Lorenzen was given credit for winning the Daytona 500. Fords finished 1-13 due to the lack of Chrysler competition, a record that will probably never be broken. Eventual 1965 champion Jarrett finished fifth that rainy day.
The Daytona 500 was run under threatening skies again in 1966, both literally and figuratively. Rain was in the forecast for the afternoon of the big event, and while the Ford teams were present at the race, there were threats of a Ford boycott after the race if NASCAR didn’t approve the 427 SOHC engine. Both 100-mile qualifiers that year were decided by last-lap passes. Paul Goldsmith passed Richard Petty down the final straightaway to the checkers to claim the first race by a car length, leading another Chrysler 1-2-3 finish. In the second event, Earl Balmer in a Dodge passed Jim Hurtubise in a Plymouth on the final lap, while Dick Hutcherson finished third in a Holman and Moody Ford to salvage a little honor for the blue-oval brigade.
The story of the 1966 Daytona 500 was once again Petty in the blue No. 43 Plymouth. He took the lead for the final time on lap 113 and was never headed, once again finishing on a lap by himself. In doing so, he became the first two-time winner of the February Daytona classic. Rain washed out the event with two laps left to run to help end the other competitors’ misery. A side story involved tires which were failing left and right. Hurtubise seemed to have the worst problem chunking tires. Rubber shrapnel from his disintegrating tires smashed out the windshield of many frontrunners, eliminating them from contention. By coincidence, those rubber chunks took out more top-name Fords than fellow Mopar drivers. In a remark he probably later regretted making, Curtis Turner blamed it on Chrysler’s strategy.
Other than Petty’s dominance, the results weren’t all that lopsided. Cale Yarborough wound up second in a Banjo Matthews Ford, followed by David Pearson in a Dodge and Lorenzen in another Ford. Still, Ford was steamed that Petty had shown them up so badly and shortly thereafter began a boycott of their own, pulling their factory teams. Daytona ticket sales had rebounded nicely to an announced 90,000 mark with all the top drivers on hand, but once again a factory boycott crippled ticket sales throughout most of the rest of the season.
In 1967, Chrysler was once again considering a boycott, but their frustrated drivers, including Petty, announced they would not honor a second boycott. The focus returned to racing at Daytona. The first qualifier race that year was an exciting event with NASCAR regular LeeRoy Yarbrough passing Indy car legend AJ Foyt with five laps to go and holding off Foyt’s determined attempts to retake the lead. Tiny Lund, who was a lap down, moved over to let Yarbrough by, and in doing so blocked one of Foyt’s attempts at passing. After the race, Foyt showed that famous temper that reflared at Texas in the IRL victory lane, storming around insisting that Lund had purposely gotten in his way and threatening not to run the 500. He asked what a NASCAR official was going to do about that, to which the calm reply was, “Well… I guess we’ll just have to move everybody else up one starting place.” Foyt backed down and ran the race.
Team strategy won the race for Lorenzen in the second qualifier, as the thinking man’s driver played tortoise to the hares in the early part of the event, letting Richard Petty, Yarborough and Mario Andretti fight over the lead tooth and nail. They all had to stop for a splash-and-go in the pits, while Lorenzen ran the entire event without a pit stop and took the win. Turner, who had shocked everyone by taking the pole in a Smokey Yunick Chevelle, started on the pole of the first qualifying race, but parked the car after a single lap, not wanting to risk wrecking it before the big dance on Sunday.
The mechanical attrition rate in that year’s 500 was atrocious, with early frontrunners and favorites Yarbrough and Turner both sidelined by engine failures. Pearson also lost an engine in his Dodge on lap 159 while duking it out with Andretti for the lead. Holman and Moody teammates Lorenzen and Andretti were the cream of the crop that day, eventually running on a lap of their own. Everyone was waiting for crafty stock car veteran Lorenzen to slingshot by Andretti in the final lap or two, but Richard Petty’s Plymouth suffered an uncharacteristic engine failure with two laps to go, oiling down the track and ending the event under caution. Mario pulled his blue-and-gold Ford into victory circle that day for his first and only win in the NASCAR series. Andretti remains the only driver to win the Daytona 500, the Indy 500 and the Formula 1 championship. That Daytona 500 was one of the few races Richard Petty lost that year.
The 1968 Daytona 500 marked the debut of the Ford Motor Company’s aero-friendly Ford Torino and its sister car, the Mercury Cyclone, both of which had been designed with stock car racing in mind and were notably more aerodynamic than the taxi-cab Mopars. The Mercurys were thought to have an advantage over their Torino counterparts and many of the traditional Ford teams switched to the Mercs on the big tracks like Daytona. Petty had an unusual black vinyl top installed on his blue Plymouth at the 500 that year. Petty crewmen were whispering in other team members ears the vinyl roofs pebbled surface helped diffuse the air flow and made the car quicker.
Other teams began scrambling to install vinyl roofs on their cars. Petty was seen rubbing baby powder on his roof and again his team whispered the baby powder helped the car slip through the air. Other teams began rubbing baby powder on their cars. In later years Petty would admit it was all a prank, to play on the “monkey see-monkey do” attitudes other teams had taken towards the Petty crew after the way they dominated in 1967. Others still claim Richard’s guys did some surgery to the roof area of his Plymouth to make the car more aerodynamic and used the vinyl roof to help cover their treachery.
The qualifying races were rained out that year. That’s not to say there was no pre-race excitement. ’67 was the year Smokey Yunick tried sneaking the highly illegal Chevelle through inspection, and so disgusted with the list of things the inspectors said needed to be corrected, Yunick hopped in the car and drove it off down the beach with the gas tank still sitting in the inspection garage. I guess they didn’t find all of Smokey’s tricks. There was also a confrontation in the garage area the day the qualifying races were set to run. The rains stopped and Bill France told the drivers to hurry to their cars to get the race started. The drivers refused, saying the track was too wet. France went and got his personal car, pulled on a helmet and said there was going to be a race even if he was the only car out there, and the prize money would be paid. Dave Marcis, a rookie that year, was prepared to take up the challenge, though the other drivers refused. Heavy rain started falling again and washed out what could have been a pretty bizarre race.
Andretti looked stout again in that year’s 500, but got caught up in a wreck with John Sears that also wiped out Buddy Baker. Baker and Andretti had some heated words after the wreck. Meanwhile, out on the track there was a heated battle going on between the best of the Ford teams, Yarbrough in the Junior Johnson Mercury, Yarborough (no relation) in the Wood Brothers Merc, Pearson, newly transplanted from a Dodge to the Holman and Moody seat in a Ford, and Bobby Allison driving for Bondy Long, who had owned Ned Jarrett‘s ’65 championship car.
In the end it came down to Yarborough and Yarbrough, with Cale in the faster car but having trouble getting through traffic to get to LeeRoy. He managed the feat in dramatic fashion, making the final pass with three laps to go and holding on for the win. Cyclones or Torinos took four of the five spots, with only Indy car standout Al Unser Sr. in a Dodge spoiling the party by finishing fourth, behind Allison but ahead of Pearson. Richard Petty, vinyl roof and all, ended up eighth, two laps off the pace. The new Ford’s debut was a success.
The big pre-race story at the 1969 Daytona 500 was an unthinkable alliance making its southeastern debut, Petty driving a Ford. Mopar had attempted to design an aerodynamic car of their own, but it was no match for the Fords. Ford had re-upped the ante with the new Ford Talladega and Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II, even more aerodynamic versions of the previous year’s cars. Petty had decided it was better to switch than fight. Ford was also supposed to debut their own Hemi engine, the Boss 429, and in fact most teams had them under the hood when they arrived, but NASCAR was not satisfied the required number of street Bosses had been built, and the teams had to fall back on their tried and true 427s.
Defending Grand National champion Pearson put on a stunning demonstration of the new Ford’s aerodynamic capabilities by turning the first official lap at over 190 mph that year in his Talladega. If his competition needed a little demonstration of what that meant in race conditions, Pearson was kind enough to show them by charging from 15th to first in 18 laps and winning the first 125-mile qualifying race. Pearson was trailed by Yarborough in a Mercury, Donnie Allison in a Ford and Foyt in another Ford. Finishing off the top-five sweep for Fords was a rookie by the name of Benny Parsons in his first Grand National start. Of course Buddy Baker, one of the fastest Dodges, drove only two laps before following Turner’s logic, parking his Dodge rather than risking the car he had put on the pole for the big show. In a stunning reversal, Bobby Isaac won the second qualifier in a Dodge, leading a 1-3 sweep for the Mopars. Among those getting a chance to see the rear bumpers of the Dodge boys was Richard Petty in his new Ford, who finished sixth and admitted his team was still trying to figure out the Fords.
The Sportsman class, from which the Busch Series evolved, ran their first Daytona race the Saturday before the 500. Don Tavish was killed in a terrible eighth-lap wreck. Yarbrough won the event.
For the first time the crowd for the Daytona 500 exceeded 100,000 souls, 101,800 according to the official press release. They came to see the Ford/Mopar battle, but in the end it was tire strategy, not the make of car, that decided the outcome. Once again attrition rate was a major factor, with wrecks playing a major role. Yarborough broke his nose and didn’t do the car’s nose any good either, slugging the wall on lap 103 after blowing a tire. Tires would remain a major problem during the 1969 season. Petty made what he later admitted was a mistake in judgment and rear-ended Isaac while Isaac was trying to get around slower traffic. Isaac got the worse end of the deal and was eliminated in his Dodge that had won the second qualifier, while Petty soldiered on, though out of contention. Goldsmith, another of the strong Mopar runners, was also eliminated in a wreck.
Unlike today, in those days there were two distinct tire compounds, a softer one with better grip but high-wear characteristics, and a harder, more durable but less grippy compound. Charlie Glotzbach in a Dodge had taken the lead from Yarbrough in a Ford and was pulling away. On the final pit stop, Glotzbach’s team went with the conservative approach running the hard tires, while Johnson’s had his team roll the dice with the softer compound tires on LeeRoy’s car. The difference in grip was enough to allow Yarbrough to pass Glotzbach, and LeeRoy took the win in the same race that had slipped from his grasp the previous year. Glotzbach held on for second, ahead of Donnie Allison, Foyt and Buddy Baker in that order. Six Fords and four Dodges made up the top 10. Johnson had won the Daytona 500 both as a driver and a team owner.
The Mopar camp had a secret weapon of their own for the 1970 Daytona 500. Frustrated by the Ford dominance on big tracks they had developed the Dodge Daytona, named after the track it was meant to dominate when introduced midway through the 1969 season, and its sister ship the Plymouth Superbird. Both were odd looking contraptions with pointy beaks and high tail fins only a mother, and the wind, could love. The Superbird had been enough to lure Petty back into the Plymouth camp.
Despite the Ford’s Clark Kent appearance compared to the Superbird, the cars were almost equal performance wise. In the first qualifying race, Yarborough in the Wood Brothers Mercury and Isaac in the K and K Insurance Dodge Daytona seemed the cars to beat after Pearson retired in a Ford with mechanical problems and Pete Hamilton faded in a Superbird. The difference once again came down to pit strategy. Isaac took on two tires during his stop, while Cale’s team elected to go only with fuel. Yarborough had a five-second lead after the stop and managed to stretch it to a 5.5-second win over Isaac when the checkers flew. He averaged a blistering 183 mph-plus in the caution-free event.
There was a caution for a wreck in the second qualifying event and it was a bad one. Rookie Talmadge Prince blew an engine and got sideways in his own oil. Bill Seifert slipped in that same oil and was unable to avoid hitting Prince’s car broadside. Prince was killed instantly. Seifert was rushed to the hospital with chest injuries and bruising to his heart. Glotzbach and Buddy Baker, both in Dodges, took command of the event after the 13-lap caution period, and Glotzbach used the slingshot move around Baker to take the victory. Charlie’s win was a bit of a miracle in itself. He was starting his first race since being shot in an argument with an employee at the business he owned. Initially, no one thought Glotzbach would live. Since they were named after the track, perhaps it seems fitting Dodge Daytonas finished 1-4, with a Superbird and another Daytona rounding out the top six.
With the fierce competition between Ford and Mopar for dominance, both factories turned up the wick in the engine department, running their mills at the ragged edge to try to get every last possible bit of horsepower. As a result, there were a lot of mechanical failures in the 1970 Daytona 500. Donnie Allison, Lund, Richard Petty and Yarborough all popped engines. So did the newcomer with the odd name, Dick Trickle, making his first Grand National start. A major surprise was the strong performance of Petty’s teammate Hamilton, in another Superbird, also Petty blue, but carrying No. 40 with a red panel on the nose to help tell the cars apart and sponsorship from 7-Up, the first soft-drink manufacturer to play a major role in stock car racing. (They had signed on with Petty for select events in 1969.)
It came down to rookie Hamilton and the cagey two-time champion Pearson in a Ford. Richard Petty was calling the shots form the sidelines and ordered the team to go with four tires on the last stop. Pearson’s Holman-Moody team gambled on two tires. Once again the race was decided on pit strategy, but that year the more conservative approach won the day. As Pearson tried to slingshot past Hamilton, the tires of his Ford were so worn he got sideways. Hamilton also got out of shape, but recovered quickly enough to take the Petty Enterprises car to victory lane at Daytona, the third driver to do so. Pearson finished second, the only Ford in the top five. Bobby Allison, Glotzbach and Isaac, all in Daytonas, finished behind Pearson in that order.
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