#58 - Temper, Temper!
(Editor’s Note) In 1997 - 1998, Matt McLaughlin penned a special Anthology of historical pieces in honor of the 50th Anniversary of NASCAR entitled "50 Years of NASCAR Racing." Matt has entrusted the entire collection, minus one or two that were misfiled back then and cannot be salvaged, to my tender, loving care.
As NASCAR turns 70, the Anthology itself will celebrate a 20th anniversary through 2018, and will run again here on Race Fans Forever. As before, there is no record of which pieces came first, so it will appear in the sequence presented earlier. Please, sit back and enjoy as you take a journey back through the pages of history and perhaps relive a memory or two.
As always, many thanks to Matt, and God bless you my friend. ~PattyKay
Pontiac was trying to make a comeback into Winston Cup racing in 1975, to compete with the dominating Dodges, Fords and Chevys. A gentleman by the name of Joe Frasson had been trying mightily to get his Pontiac up to speed all year, with little success. In fact, he failed to qualify for the World 600. Shortly after missing the cut, he called a hastily arranged press conference. Frasson took a tire iron and smashed his dog slow Pontiac to pieces, while telling stunned reporters, “I would like to announce Pontiac is retiring from racing."
Pontiac also tried to make a comeback of sorts in 1971. A gentleman by the name of Chris Vallo appeared out of nowhere onto the scene, and seemed to have an unlimited amount of funding at his disposal. Many people presumed that he was just a front man for Pontiac, so they could try getting back into racing through the back door, after Chevy had already found their way back into NASCAR. The team hired one of the era's great drivers, David Pearson, who had recently quit the Holman-Moody team he had been with for two championship seasons, over a dispute about appearance money. Pearson was slated to drive a Pontiac GTO of all things. Right from the outset, things did not go well. The team could not prepare cars quickly enough, and when they did manage to field an entry, it was dog slow. While the Vallo team tried to develop a competitive Pontiac, they were forced to field a Plymouth at that year's Firecracker 400. Before a race, a team owner normally has a pep talk with his driver about going out there and going for the checkers. Vallo told Pearson under no circumstances was he to try to win the race, because they were under contract to run Pontiacs. Naturally, Pearson was incensed and insisted if the car was capable he was going to go for the win. Vallo calmly told him, the first time Pearson took the lead, he would pull the pit crew and go home, leaving Pearson without any way of getting service. Pearson wound up eighth.
Curtis Turner could get pretty aggressive when he wanted to pass someone. His style might best be described as "Knock once, then kick in the door." Some drivers took exception to Turner's driving style, and Curtis was as ready to have a go at it in the pits after the race, as out there on the track. Turner had put Billy Myers into the wall at a bull ring at one race, and after the race, Myers went looking for Curtis. He was carrying a tire iron that he apparently intended to use to stove in Turner's noggin. Curtis was leaning in the car as Billy approached, but when Myers was a few yards away, he straightened up and turned around. In his hand he held a .38 pistol, aimed at Myers' mid-section. "Where are you going with that tire iron, Billy?" he asked Myers.
"Why I'm just looking for a place to lay it down." Billy said wisely.
Wendell Scott was a pioneer, one of the few African-American drivers ever to compete full time in NASCAR racing. Certain drivers didn't think much of a black man running out there on the race track, particularly Neil Castles. Castles would often pull up even beside Scott, stare over at him, and then purposely ram Scott's car, putting it into the wall and out of the race. Besides not having a lot of money to fix the car, Scott had to do all the work himself, and if things kept going as they were, he would probably have gotten hurt. Finally he had enough. Castles pulled up alongside Scott at a race at Bowman Gray Stadium and stared over at him, preparing to make the usual blatant hit. When he looked over he saw Scott aiming a big old handgun right back at him. Castles took the hint and wisely avoided wrecking Wendell.
It's one thing to call out a fellow after a race and have at it, but Darrell Waltrip once challenged 133,000 people to a fight. At that point in his career, DW was the driver the fans loved to hate, and they booed him every bit as loudly in driver introductions as they do Jeff Gordon today. Also like Jeff, a majority of the fans cheered Waltrip's misfortunes. During the running of the 1982 World 600, Waltrip was trying to rally back from a one lap deficit and get back into the fight. He pushed his Buick a tad too hard, and the engine blew, oiling down the rear tires and putting Darrell into the wall. The crowd cheered lustily. After the incident, the track announcers interviewed DW, who asked anyone who had cheered his misfortune to "meet me in the K-Mart parking lot, and we'll duke it out." He went onto say that the cheering showed the "mentality of a typical race fan." Humpy Wheeler wisely arranged to have security escort DW to his car, lest the fans tear him to shreds. There are no records kept of how many fans showed up in the K-Mart lot waiting for DW, but he thought better of going himself.
AJ Foyt's little outburst in victory lane at Texas may be the most well remembered moment of last year's IRL season, but it's not the first time Foyt has lost his temper. During the May race at Talladega in 1988, Foyt lost his cool, and purposely drove into the side of Alan Kulwicki's Ford. Later he apologized to Alan, and said it was a case of mistaken identity. AJ never denied the blatant hit was done on purpose, he only said it was actually Brett Bodine he was trying to put into the wall. But AJ wasn't done. NASCAR black-flagged Foyt for the incident, and told him to park the car. AJ said he would prefer not to, if that was all the same with them. NASCAR announced they were pulling his scorecard. Foyt was so angry that he drove into the pits and tried to run over a NASCAR official who stood there helpfully pointing out which way it was to the garage area. The fellow was able to leap out of the way in time, but Foyt was still fined a then record setting $7,500 for his misconduct.
Bobby Hamilton had never been a member of the John Andretti fan club. He often said over the radio that John was always getting in the lead lap cars' way while he was a lap down, or triggering "brain fade" accidents. Andretti was well aware of Hamilton's dislike for him, and didn't exactly wear a "Hooray for Bobby!" T shirt either. At the Richmond race of 1996, Hamilton was on the lead lap, and trying to make up positions when he happened across Andretti who was already a lap down. Rather than lose his momentum, Hamilton shoved Andretti's car roughly aside. Hamilton went on to finish 6th. On the "cool down" lap, and that term is grossly inappropriate here, Andretti decided to show Bobby how he felt about the rough pass, and nudged the Petty Engineering car Hamilton was driving in the rear bumper. When that didn't get Hamilton's attention, John hit the 43 car again a bit harder. That got Hamilton's attention. Bobby locked down the brakes as Andretti tried to hit him again. Both cars received extensive damage, and the race was already over! Hamilton started to dismount, wishing a word with Andretti, to as he put it, "Talk about the weather." Hamilton had about 5 inches and 40 pounds on the elfish Andretti, who wisely decided maybe it was time he head for the pits. Almost as annoyed as Hamilton, was his car owner, the King, Richard Petty. Petty went over to have a chat with Andretti, who had been the driver for the 43 team a few years before. Asked what he had told Andretti, Petty told reporters, "I told him, 'John we liked you when you drove for us. We still like you now. But we're going to stop liking you real quick the next time you go and tear up one of my race cars.'" The actual discussion was said to be a bit more pointed than that, with Petty pointing his long index finger that Bobby Allison once described as being the size of a shotgun barrel, hard into John's chest. Added Petty to the reporters, “He wants to beat on my driver, fine. Just don't take it out on my race car." In light of that day in Richmond, it seems ironic that Andretti is once again driving for the King this year.
You've heard about gracious winners and sore losers, but what about a sore winner? LeeRoy Yarbrough won a race in NASCAR's Modified division, but was incensed at the way the officials had thrown an unnecessary late caution to bunch up the field and make a race out of it. He used the traditional Winner's Circle interview over the Public Address system to loudly protest the officials call in the most profane possible terms. NASCAR promptly disqualified LeeRoy for unsportsmanlike conduct and awarded the win to the second place finisher. Not only did Yarbrough lose his trophy, he was fired by his car owner for the incident as well.
During the Grand National season's Northern Tour of 1966, one of the races was held at the Fonda Speedway, a half mile dirt track in New York. Built along the edges of the Erie Canal, Fonda was notorious for having drivers lose control and end up sailing out of the ballpark. Chillingly, those drivers often ended up in a graveyard… literally. A cemetery was located just outside the track, and a hapless driver who lost control would find himself running over headstones moments later. On the first lap of that race, JT Putney lost control coming out of turn two and went sailing off the track in the direction of the Erie Canal. Putney was able to regain control, and went roaring off down a dirt road that ran between the canal and the race track. When he got to the third turn, he tried to reenter the race track, but wound up directly in the path of Tiny Lund. Lund hit Putney broadside and they were both out of the race. Infuriated, Tiny, who was anything but, found Putney in the infield and hit him again… with his fist. Putney went out like a light. He had to be revived at a nearby hospital. NASCAR only fined Tiny Lund $100, deciding he had been "provoked" by Putney's ill-considered move. Sometimes you don't have to make a major blunder to wind up in trouble. A Tiny mistake will do.
*Matt can no longer field comments or email at Race Fans Forever. If you have comments or questions, please leave them below and I’ll do my best to supply answers. ~PattyKay Lilley, Senior Editor.