Richard Petty and Bobby Allison...
Richard Petty and Bobby Allison (15) were often in close combat.
Rivalries in stock car racing are stories of legend. The noble, strong-willed locked in the throes of combat quite often in the early days of the sport, when rules were not strict and fines were less than a week's pay.
Feuds--quick and to the point--are numerous through NASCAR's history, but long-standing rivalries are few. NASCAR just doesn't tolerate this type of behavior.
"I used to think fighting was just a part of the post-race show," the late Bobby Isaac once said. "Then one Monday morning I got a call from Daytona Beach. The man on the other end of the line said, 'Bobby, we believe NASCAR can get along without you. Now, can you get along without NASCAR?' I took the hint. They never had another problem with me."
Buddy Baker says that a lot of would-be rivalries take care of themselves. "At Martinsville one Sunday afternoon I was so mad at Tiny Lund I didn't know what to do. I wanted to run right over the top of his car," Baker said. "Finally, the race ended. I was standing down in my pits and I saw him coming, walking toward me. Tiny was 6-7 or more and weighed about 300 pounds. When he walked, dust would puff from under his shoes.
"I looked over there about three feet from me, and there was part of an axle about the length of a ball bat. My first thought was to take the axle and whop him across the head. Then it occurred to me, what if I miss? He might really get mad then. Tiny kept coming straight toward me. He got within about 10 feet, and he burst out laughing. It was one of the sweetest smiles I ever saw. "That's the thing," Baker said. "Before you get into one of these scraps with another driver, make sure you know who you are fooling with."
The greatest rivalry in stock car racing's history matched the Pettys and Allisons and their crews. Nobody seems certain when it began, but it lasted three or four years.
The feud reached a boiling point on an October afternoon at North Wilkesboro (North Carolina) Speedway in 1972. Richard Petty and Bobby Allison used their race cars as weapons and beat on each other in the frenzied final three laps on the 0.625-mile track, an oval that on this day became stock car racing's Little Big Horn.
The two drivers were like roosters in a pit for most of the race, primed and ready for the fight. They chopped each other off and exchanged paint several times. Then, all hell broke loose on the final three laps.
Petty led on Lap 397 of the 400-lap event. Going into the first turn, Allison drove low to make the pass, but Petty shut him off, using another car to throw the block. Then, the two locked their machines together and crashed into the wall. Allison slipped by Petty and into the lead. Petty came right back, and the two cars went into the first turn side-by-side for the second time. Both slammed straight into the wall.
Allison talked about it in later years. "This time I cut right and held the steering wheel," he said. "I intended to drive him through the wall if necessary. I thought I had parked him. I broke loose and drove away. I was going through the second turn and starting up the backstretch. I heard this car to the inside of me, and it was Richard. I don't know to this day how he got off that wall."
Their cars hit again, and Petty slipped ahead to win by a couple of car lengths. Petty and Allison's cars, smoking from under the fenders and hoods, sputtered to the end like two warships trying to stay afloat with port in sight.
In those days there was no Victory Circle at North Wilkesboro. The winner simply stopped his car at the start-finish line to receive the trophy. Petty climbed from his battered race car and handed his helmet to brother Maurice, his chief engine builder.
About this time, a spectator came rushing up to get Richard's autograph. In his wild approach, Maurice thought it was an Allison fan trying to harm Richard. Maurice took Richard's helmet and slammed it over the spectator's head, knocking him down. Once Maurice realized he had decked a Petty fan, he helped the poor guy to his feet. Later, as most of the crowd was leaving the track, Maurice and the fan talked over "old times" at a concession stand. Maurice fed the guy hot dogs and soft drinks. Petty, meanwhile, met with the press. "This is carrying our differences too far," he said. "It must stop. He's playing with my life out there, and I don't like that."
Allison took a different approach. "Richard had to wreck me in order to win, and that's what he did. I had so much smoke in my car I could hardly see." Petty and Allison were like bulldogs on separate leashes. Each time they got close to one another, they growled, barked, and tried to bite.
When Bobby Allison came on the NASCAR circuit, he was as tough as an anvil. He didn't back down from anyone. In August 1966, he took on crusty veteran Curtis Turner on the quarter-mile, flat Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
The battle began when Turner hooked Allison's rear bumper, spinning him on Lap 8 of the 250-lap event. Allison lost a lap, but joined right back in running up front, and was trying to pass Turner to get back in the lead lap. Turner was blocking all comers. As he moved to the outside to block a move for the lead, Allison dove under Turner and the cars rode three abreast into the third turn.
Turner and Allison came together. Turner's Ford spun, and he returned to the track moving slowly, waiting on Allison's Chevrolet. Allison saw what was happening and did not fall into the trap. Rather, he cut back and hit Turner's car in the rear. After that, it was man versus machines for the next 10 laps. They hit each other like they were in bumper cars at the county fair. Some of the banging occurred under the yellow flag. Turner spun Allison, and Allison came back and spun Turner. Turner waited on Allison once again for another shot at his car. Allison aimed his wrecked racer at Turner and buried the front of his car into Turner's car.
They ran into each other until neither car would move. The drivers climbed from their cars, and Turner jumped over a fence and walked off up through the grandstands.
NASCAR fined each driver $100 for "rough driving."
"I didn't know what to expect, but I figured that Turner would be out to get me," Allison said.
"Finally, we were at another track, and I saw him coming toward me. He put his big, old right arm around my neck and whispered in my ear, 'You know, Pops, we ought to have a big drink and go somewhere and talk about old times.'
"We never had any trouble after that."
In 1974 the advantage was being in second place on the last lap at Daytona and Talladega because of the slingshot pass, which drivers used very effectively. David Pearson was leading Richard Petty in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona and couldn't shake him.
As the two lead cars crossed the start-finish line under the white flag, Pearson held up his arm as though he had car trouble and slowed. Petty drove by, and Pearson's problem was solved. He chased down Petty and used the slingshot draft to pass down the homestretch and win the race.
Petty was upset. "That could have been very dangerous," he said. "When a driver signals with a raised arm, it means he has car trouble."
A few weeks later, Petty beat Pearson by a car length to win at Talladega.
In 1976 Petty and Pearson drove off the fourth turn on the last lap of the Daytona 500. Pearson was leading, and Petty, right on his bumper, tried to pass on the inside. Their cars touched and both spun down on the apron of the track. Pearson, so the story goes, pushed his clutch to the floorboard and kept his engine running. When he stopped spinning, he let out the clutch and chugged across the finish line first.
Petty waved off his crew who ran onto the apron and tried to push his car. He knew that would be illegal. So he used the starter to move his car forward and across the finish line for second place.
Dale Earnhardt wasn't choosy...
Dale Earnhardt wasn't choosy about the people he chose to swap paint with. He was ready to take on anybody from the day he arrived in NASCAR.
Then, along came a driver named Dale Earnhardt. Half the drivers were afraid of him, on and off the track. He was a rookie in 1979 and soon earned the nickname, "Intimidator."
Geoff Bodine became Earnhardt's biggest rival in the mid-'80s. The two exchanged more paint than a body shop. Bill France, NASCAR president, realized the situation and stopped the fracas. He ordered both drivers and their team owners to Daytona Beach for dinner.
They all took their seats for the meal. France outlined what the future would hold. He emphasized that none of his plans included a feud such as Allison and Petty. The sport had grown too large for that, he said. France apparently got his point across, because Earnhardt didn't go out of his way to run over Bodine after the dinner.
Earnhardt had squabbles with several drivers, but nothing that lasted more than a few races. He treated them all the same. He would run over anybody, including a hunting buddy named Terry Labonte at a place called Bristol.
Darrell Waltrip once accused Earnhardt of trying to kill him. It happened at Richmond in 1986. Waltrip passed Earnhardt for the lead with three laps to go. As the two headed into the third turn, Earnhardt clipped Waltrip's right rear, turning him headfirst into the guardrailing. It set up a chain-reaction that took out the top four drivers. Kyle Petty puttered home first, coming from fifth place.
"Earnhardt is not choosy," Waltrip said. "He will run over anybody. He tried to kill me."
NASCAR fined Earnhardt $5,000 and placed him on probation. Earnhardt filed an appeal and said it was a driver error. "If I was trying to wreck him, I wouldn't have wrecked myself, too," he said. NASCAR cut Earnhardt's fine to $3,000 and dropped his probation.
Cale Yarborough brawled some during his career. In 1979, while the final laps of the Daytona 500 were winding down, Donnie Allison led off the second turn on the final lap. Yarborough ran second, ducked under Allison, and the two kept getting lower and lower on the track. Yarborough was right on the edge of the grass with their cars approaching the third turn. He would go no farther. Rather, both cars locked together and sailed up the track and into the third-turn wall. They hit and rolled down the high banking onto the apron between Turns 3 and 4.
Cale Yarborough (left) and...
Cale Yarborough (left) and Bobby Allison fought trackside following a crash in the 1979 Daytona 500.
Bobby Allison finished the race, then drove to the location of the two battered machines. He climbed out of his car, and the fight began. Yarborough took on both Allisons. Everybody escaped injury in the fight, and it wasn't long until Yarborough and the Allisons tolerated each other again.
Yarborough also had problems with Darrell Waltrip. It never got beyond a verbal war, but it was Yarborough who nicknamed Waltrip "Jaws" after an encounter at Darlington. The nickname stuck.