Richard Petty recalls last NASCAR dirt race
July 23, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
It was “the end of an era,” says Richard Petty, a man who has seen an era or two slide by during his day.
“It was just a rough old dirt track where all they had done was run horses around it,” Petty said of the Home State 200 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C. on Sept. 30, 1970.
Horse power meets horsepower.
“I remember some guy going into the first corner there, they had horse barns on the outside of the race track, something happened to one of the cars and he went tearing off and landed in one of the horse barns,” said Petty. “Luckily, there weren’t any horses in them. You remember stuff like that.”
It was the last time one of NASCAR’s top touring series competed on dirt, and while the dust has long since settled, it’s about to get stirred up once again.
The Camping World Truck Series’ inaugural 1-800 CarCash MudSummer Classic presented by CNBC Prime's 'The Profit,' scheduled for Wednesday, will be contested at Eldora Speedway, a 24-degree banked half-mile dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio. It will mark the first time a series has run on something other than asphalt or concrete since the Raleigh event, a span of 42 years.
As many as 40 races each season were held at dirt tracks during the early years of NASCAR. But by 1970, only three were run on dirt -- two on the half-mile at Columbia (S.C.) Speedway and the final stop in Raleigh.
Petty won two of the final three, at Columbia and Raleigh, while Bobby Isaac, who would win that year’s championship, was also a winner at Columbia.
The Raleigh race featured an all-Ellerbe (N.C.) front row, with John Sears on the pole and Benny Parsons on the outside. Twenty-three cars started the race; 12 were running at the finish.
Sears led early, but Parsons soon charged to the front and led 78 laps. Petty took over on Lap 89 when the engine in Parsons’ entry blew, and remained out front for the remaining 112 laps.
“A lot of times on dirt, the driver makes up more … than he can on asphalt, because the cars run sideways, run into holes and all that stuff,” said Petty, who scored 30 of his 200 career wins on dirt.
“I always felt the driver could make up so much more then. It was so much fun. On asphalt, they always got one groove, maybe around the middle, maybe outside. But on dirt, you could go anywhere you needed to run fast. You could run outside, in the middle, up against the banking. It was more of a challenge. The fun deal was (racing on) dirt.”
Lee Petty, Richard’s father, holds the record for most NASCAR dirt-track wins with 42. Herb Thomas (41), Buck Baker (40), Tim Flock (36) and Ned Jarrett (33) also were extremely successful. There have been 76 different winners in 490 previous NASCAR races contested on dirt tracks. That figure doesn’t include wins on the beach course used in Daytona Beach, whose layout included both asphalt and sand.
Don Robertson owned Richard Petty’s winning car for the Raleigh event, but Petty said it had originally come out of the Petty Enterprises shop in Level Cross, N.C.
With bigger, better-equipped paved tracks becoming more prominent and dirt tracks on the way out, teams had begun selling off cars that had been run on dirt. When the occasional need for such a car resurfaced, Petty said the teams stuck a bargain with those who had purchased the cars. Such was the case with his winning entry at Raleigh.
“We would borrow the car back from whoever we had sold it to,” Petty said. “… We would take the car back in, completely disassemble it, put all new suspension under it, all new brakes, motor, rear-ends, everything. Then we’d go run it on dirt.
“And when the race was over, we’d give them the car back. We didn’t rent it from them; we just upgraded their cars so they’d have all the new stuff. So they came out on top.”