50 Years of nascar racing ~ The Bump And Grind (Post 89)
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 bump and grind might sound like a stripper's move or conjure images of a smoke filled disco in the late '70s, but at Martinsville it is how a driver wins races. You bump the car ahead of you or grind fenders to make a pass stick. It's a fact of life with that many cars out there on a short track, running that fast with all those drivers wanting to win, there's going to be paint swapping and fender bending from time to time, some frayed tempers, and cars with about as many straight panels as a Baby Ruth bar, charging down the straight-aways, fenders flapping.
Take the September race in 1960. Points leader Rex White and Joe Weatherly put on a fine show for the fans, and battled in close quarters rubbing fenders time to time. White held on to win by a car length after the classic duel. By scoring the win, White took a big stride towards his championship, especially since two of his main competitors were foiled by a crash. Lee Petty and Richard Petty both ended up into the wall… after hitting each other. Ironically, Lee Petty had clinched his championship at that same track the previous fall. Rex White had won that race as well, but the elder Petty's 10th place title was all he needed to clinch his third championship. Richard had run into trouble in that race as well. While he was in the pits, his crew chief, Red Myler, dove under the front end of the car trying to make a minor adjustment on that Plymouth convertible. No one else on the pit crew noticed and when they had finished servicing the car they hollered for him to go. Petty stormed out of the pits, running over his own crew chief. Fortunately, Myler received only minor burns and bruises, though the rear tire of the Plymouth rolled over his chest. While his first few starts didn't go that well, Richard later got the hang of the place. He went on to win 15 races there.
Standard practice in those days was to let a driver holding you up know you wanted to get past using the "chrome horn." The "chrome horn" was the front bumper of a race car (and they were indeed big heavy chromed metal slabs in those days) and a driver would bump the fellow ahead of him a few times with the frequency and severity of the bumping giving the driver who had the position an idea of just how badly the fellow following him wanted it. Of course, if done too frequently or too hard (or in some drivers cases if done at all) the fellow up front tended to get a little annoyed. Such was the case at the Martinsville race in the fall of 1962. Fred Lorenzen was a relative newcomer on the scene and he perhaps hadn't quite figured out the rules of bumper tag yet. On the first restart Lorenzen began applying the chrome horn to his own teammate Nelson Stacy, who eventually yielded position but was none too happy about it. That left Fred in second trying to get around Fireball Roberts for the lead and once again he began knocking, none too politely, on Fireball's car for lap after lap. Fireball waggled a finger at Lorenzen to indicate he better back off. Lorenzen struck Roberts a solid shot to indicate he better let him pass. At that point, Fireball shook an angry fist. At which point Lorenzen really began using the chrome horn loud. Finally tired of the game, Roberts came off corner two and as Lorenzen accelerated hard Fireball slammed on the brakes His rear bumper took out Lorenzen's radiator, ending Fred's day. Lorenzen's teammate Nelson Stacy took the win over Richard Petty. But Lorenzen was a quick study and he didn't make the same mistake twice. At the fall race of 1963, he showed uncommon aggression early in the race. While he normally hung back and drove conservatively, waiting for Junior Johnson who always charged hard from the drop of the green flag, to wreck or blow up, that day Lorenzen raced right from the get go, in response to letters from fans asking Fred why Junior always whipped him so bad at the start of a race, and the snickers of detractors that the Golden Boy couldn't run with a Good Old Boy like Junior. On lap 40, Lorenzen started knocking on Junior's rear bumper to let him know he would like to pass. Junior didn't think much of the idea. Finally after eleven laps of having his rear bumper beat up, Johnson tried the same trick Fireball had in 62 and stood on the brakes. Lorenzen was expecting the tactic and calmly ducked low on Junior and made the pass even while Junior was still hard on the brakes. Johnson got back in the throttle and began banging on the back of Lorenzen's car. Fred let him by, waited until lap 81 and passed Junior cleanly without any contact. While he led the rest of the laps, Fred's ride was not without incident. At one point a car ahead of him spun out and Lorenzen was knocked into the side of his teammate, Nelson Stacy. An enraged Stacy delivered a note to Lorenzen's crew chief that said, "I'm tired of being roughed up by Lorenzen. This is my last warning." Yes, short tracks can fray tempers.
Sometimes even the fans get involved with the rough stuff. The Grand National circuit arrived in Martinsville in the fall of 1969, not long after the infamous Talladega driver's boycott. Bill France had done a masterful job of public relations, portraying the drivers as the bad guys to the fans, and Richard Petty was the president of the Professional Driver's Association, which had staged the walk out. Throughout the race, angry fans threw beer cans at the drivers who had participated in the boycott trying to cause them to wreck. Late in the going Richard Petty was running a distant second to David Pearson, and some nitwit who decided he didn't like Richard threw a full can of beer and nailed Petty's windshield. Fortunately Petty was not injured and ironically the beer can helped him instead of hurt him. NASCAR threw the yellow flag for debris on the track. Pearson pitted and Petty remained on the track assuming the lead. Petty held on to the lead for the rest of the race as Pearson got boxed in by slower traffic and used up his brakes.
The Fall 1980 race was slowed 17 times for caution flags, totaling 79 laps…and a whole bunch of cars. One early incident involved at least 16 cars and wound up blocking the entire track. By the end of the day there were few cars that weren't badly banged up. Not all the cars were damaged in accidents. Sometimes drivers hit each other on purpose. Dale Earnhardt banged hard into Dave Marcis on lap 217. The veteran driver didn't much care for the sophomore driver's actions and responded by sending Earnhardt spinning in the next corner. The yellow flag flew and Earnhardt charged through the pack to find Marcis and knocked the heck out of his car several times. After a few laps Dale cooled off and motioned to Dave he was sorry. Amazingly enough, Dale went on to take the win rather easily when Buddy Baker's brakes gave out. After the race Earnhardt was booed but shrugged it off. He told reporters, "I'm not here to stroke. Cale, Benny and Petty don't stroke. I got here by running hard and I'll continue to do that." Dale was a man of his word if nothing else.
There was a tight points race between Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison in 1982 when the circuit reached Martinsville in the Fall. Waltrip was leading the race when Lake Speed spun in front of him and hit DW a solid shot as he tried to get past. Dale Earnhardt thought he saw an opportunity to pass and ran smack dab right into the middle of the mess. Darrell's car was badly bent up, the toe in knocked out, a ball joint bent, front end sheetmetal battered and the wheel leaning noticeably, but he kept right on charging. Allison dominated the race but his DiGard engine blew late in the going. Ironically, Darrell had suffered a steady stream of blown motors when he drove for DiGard. As bad as it looked, DW powered his way back to the front in what was left of the Mountain Dew Buick and went on to take the win, and another giant step forward towards the championship.
At the Fall race of 1985 at Martinsville, Dale Earnhardt once again put on a fine show, racing with Tim Richmond. Dale and Tim were friends and often socialized off the track together, but during a race, friendships don't count for much . The pair had been engaged in a stirring side by side battle with the crowd cheering them on. Richmond seemed to have the advantage until Earnhardt popped him one in the rear bumper, sending Tim up the track out of his way. Richmond didn't take too kindly to that and cut hard down into Earnhardt. Just at that moment when things really could have gotten ugly, Greg Sacks got into points leader Bill Elliott and spun him around right in front of Dale and Tim. Earnhardt managed to dive low, while Tim had to get out of the gas to avoid the wreck, and Dale led for the rest of the race. The toe in had been knocked out on Richmond's car in the banging incident and it was not handling well enough for him to catch up to Earnhardt. While Elliott's mishap was a break for Earnhardt, it was a disaster for Bill. Darrell Waltrip was mounting a late season charge to wrest the championship from Elliott, who had seemed to have it all but locked up after Darlington. The spin and lengthy repairs in the pits dropped Bill to 17th. Meanwhile, Darrell Waltrip, who had survived a six car crash early in the race, got around Richmond and sped on to a second place finish. Elliott's once formidable points lead dwindled to 23 markers. Richmond had to pit late and dropped to seventh. After the race he was clearly angry and told reporters he and Dale hadn't evened the score yet. He still owed Earnhardt one. Earnhardt was philosophical about the encounter. "Yeah, I bumped him in the corner… He gave me a shot to know he didn't like it. I grew up watching guys like Ralph Earnhardt, Tiny Lund, and Dink Widenhouse. If I hollered every time I got hit you'd think I was a crybaby."
The most famous of all bump and grind incidents at Martinsville took place during the Fall race of 1987. The race had been a three-way contest between Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte and Darrell Waltrip all day. Towards the end, Earnhardt seemed to assert himself while Darrell seemed to fall off the pace and in fact went a lap down to Earnhardt's torrid pace. Dale had to stop to for a splash and go which allowed Darrell to get back on the lead lap and he, Earnhardt and Labonte were the only drivers on the lead lap. In fact, fourth place Neil Bonnett was two laps behind. A caution flag flew with seven laps to go and bunched the threesome together. It came down to a three lap shoot out for all the marbles and the racing was furious, with Earnhardt clinging to the advantage. In turn one on the final lap Labonte decided to make his bid and tried passing Earnhardt on the high side. Earnhardt scooted up the track to try to block the bid. He in fact made contact with Labonte, who made a great save to keep the car off the wall. In corner three Terry tried to go low on Earnhardt, who slipped up the track just a bit. But at that precise moment, seeing one last chance to win, Waltrip ran into the back of Labonte. Labonte got sideways and rammed into Earnhardt while Darrell went to the far bottom of the track and passed them both, having used Labonte's car rather than the brakes to slow him down enough to make the turn. Labonte spun and Earnhardt got crossed up trying to save his car. That allowed Waltrip to take the checkers by a 1.8 second margin. After the race DW just grinned when asked by the press about the incident. "I shot into Terry, he shot into Dale and I shot into the lead." He laughed. Labonte and Earnhardt were in no laughing mood. Labonte was angry with both his competitors. That perhaps was understandable. But Dale's comments seemed unintentionally ironic. Speaking of DW's move he said, "They should have put him into the penalty box." But perhaps DW had grown up watching Ralph Earnhardt, Tiny Lund and Dink Widenhouse too?
Historical Footnote: Not all the top drivers were at the Martinsville race in 1951. Why? There were three separate points paying Grand National races held that day; Martinsville, Shippenville Pa, and Oakland Ca. And you thought the current schedule was tough ?
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