50 Years of nascar racing ~ MPH, Not MPG~ The Michigan of Old (Post 79)
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. Matt has kindly granted me 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.
The ultra-wide, ultra-fast Michigan Speedway is perfect for high-speed three-wide racing with the outcome of the event seemingly always in doubt until the final lap. By the time the Winston Cup circuit returns to the Irish Hill's for their second annual visit in August the summertime sun is typically baking the area, but the action is even hotter on the track. Though a good number of races there as of late have featured less than exciting finishes based on fuel economy, there have been a number of memorable events through the years.
More than perhaps any other race track, there seems to be some secret to Michigan that once a team had mastered it, they are always in the hunt there. From the August race of 1972 until after the June race of 1977, Richard Petty finished in the top five every visit to the track. Bill Elliott won four straight races at Michigan from June of 1985 until August of 1986, and from 1983 until 1988 he always finished in the top five there. David Pearson was the Master of Michigan, with a record nine wins there, and a top five streak from 1973 until 1979 that also saw him chalk up six of those nine wins.
The 1971 running of the late summer race at Michigan was marred by no little controversy. As they usually were that year, Bobby Allison and Richard Petty were the cream of the crop that day. The King assumed the lead on lap 49 and either he or Allison led the rest of the event, exchanging the lead 15 times between them. Buddy Baker was a lap down running in third, driving the Petty Enterprises Dodge and trying to pass the fleet pair to get his lap back. Richard angrily motioned for him to back off to give him room to fight for the lead with Allison. Baker refused and kept right in there. A few laps later, Baker got a pit signboard message that said in no uncertain terms, "BACK OFF!" He shot the bird at Maurice Petty but finally complied with the request. Meanwhile up front, Richard decided he didn't have anything for Allison and with three laps to go simply backed off and broke contact with Allison and his Mercury. It was the King's way of protesting rules changes he felt gave the Ford products an advantage over the Mopars.
Richard Petty was involved in another exciting duel in the 1975 August Michigan race, but it was with David Pearson that year. Bobby Allison had made one of those odd decisions that sometimes had fans scratching their heads wondering what he was thinking, by agreeing to drive part time that year for Roger Penske in a less than lovely and not all that fleet AMC Matador that belonged in a circus as a monkey hut. Petty in his Petty Enterprises Dodge, and Pearson in his Wood Bothers Mercury were the stars on the superspeedways throughout the middle part of the 70's and they staged a fine duel for top honors that day. In the last five laps they swapped the lead between them five times, with Petty making the crucial pass for the win when Pearson got a little high coming out of the fourth corner. The King held David off by about four feet at the flag.