What they were doing in NASCAR at the end of 1976

Discussion in 'NASCAR chat' started by gone, Feb 12, 2019.

  1. gone

    gone Team Owner

    Made time to read another old Stock Car Racing magazine, this one dated March 1977. With publishing lead times back then, this issue mostly covered the end of the 1976 season. Here are some interesting points:

    • Rich Benyo reports that Humpy Wheeler noted that the Late Model Sportsman Division (now Xfinity) was a feeder / educator for the Grand National (now Monster Energy Cup) series, but that the Sportsman drivers and teams didn’t get much experience on the big tracks (that were mainstays for Grand National). So he suggests Sportsman races held in conjunction with Grand National races, and make those races 100 miles or longer. Which did begin happening more often in the 1980s.

    • Full page advertisement selling one square inch pieces of land, for $2 each, of the Petty family compound in Level Cross, NC, called “Petty Country”. It was to support The Chapel, Inc. and the racing ministry of Brother Bill Frazier. Frazier went on to found Motor Racing Outreach which brings church services to race tracks for racers and their families at Sunday NASCAR races.

    • Don O’Reilly reports that IROC races are basically run as a television show. “If somebody blows a tire or spins out, the competition comes to a more or less slow trot while that race car is fixed and running again.” Then the race resumes – the video is edited to be shown later on TV as one continuous race.

    • Dr. Dick Berggren reported about Bill Hite’s controversial 4-wheel drive Super Modified race car, which is worrying racers and promoters that it might obsolete the other cars. Competitor driver Steve Giola said he hates to say it, but “It’s not fair if a guy can come up with a better idea.”

    • After a dismal season for Richard Petty (by his own standards) there were strong rumors that he would leave Dodge. Although Petty did stay with Dodge for 1977, another dismal season caused him to switch to GM during the 1978 season. Strong running Dodge team Dave Marcis / Harry Hyde announced that they were going to switch to GM (Oldsmobile or Buick) due to scarcity of Chrysler racing parts. They had to resort to junkyard parts (particularly engine blocks), and those were scarce too. As it turned out, in 1977 Marcis drove mostly Chevrolets and occasionally a Mercury for Roger Penske / Travis Carter before finishing the season in the Rod Osterlund Chevrolet. Hyde ended up in an ill-fated deal for J.D. Stacy, with drivers Neil Bonnett and Ferril Harris.

    • Late Model Sportsman drivers complained about Grand National drivers invading their big money races. But there were differences back then – there were few high purse LMS races on tracks over a half mile, and the rules only allowed GN drivers who had competed in at least ten GN races so far in the season. Complaints centered on the GN teams having vastly more experience on big tracks. The top LMS teams were considered to have similar equipment to the GN teams participating.
    Marcingak, Racer1930, Seedy and 10 others like this.
  2. kyle18fan

    kyle18fan Proud member of Rowdy Nation Contributor

    Interesting stuff, thanks for posting it.
  3. Formerjackman

    Formerjackman Team Owner

    During this period, Chrysler had stop casting the Hi Performance 340 blocks that were used by NASCAR teams (particularly Petty) to make race engines. Chrysler started sending out young employees to cruise parking lots looking for Cudas and Challengers with HI PO 340 engines, making contact with the owners, and buying the cars. The HI PO motors were stripped out and sent to Randleman, and service replacement 340s were installed in their place and the cars resold. I don't know how long this went on, but it did at least for a short time. As the article stated, parts shortages, as much as anything caused Petty and Harry Hyde to move away from Mopar. Buddy Arrington and a couple others struggled on, using up all of the leftovers.
  4. MRM

    MRM Team Owner

    IROC races were shown on Wide World of Sports weeks later just like a few of the Cup races were. I remember going to Atlanta in 75 and 77 and hoping to see myself on TV weeks later. I never got on TV.

    Dodge was losing its grip in 76 as Chevy and Ford/Mercury were stepped up their game. I remember the rumors of Petty going to Ford after the 77 season. He stuck with Dodge as they rolled out the crappy Magnum, the worst car ever built for NASCAR racing. He switched to GM into the 78 season and was with them until he retired.
    FLRacingFan likes this.
  5. gone

    gone Team Owner

    Yep, Chrysler HI PO parts got scarce and expensive. At the same time GM was making Chevy racing parts plentiful and cheap. Many teams noticed that the Cale Yarborough / Jr. Johnson Chevrolet team had quickly come from relatively modest means to winning a lot of races and a championship (the first of what would become three in a row). There were also rumors that GM was going to make Chevy engines available in its other brands, and that NASCAR would allow teams to use that to race Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs and Buicks with Chevy engines - those bodies were considered better aerodynamically on the big tracks. Racers would have to wait until the early 1980s for that, but then it became common for GM teams to race different bodies at different tracks.
  6. TexasRaceLady

    TexasRaceLady Plank Owner Contributor

    Interesting reading, gone. Thanks.
  7. Formerjackman

    Formerjackman Team Owner

    The change in NASCAR rules that allowed Chevy engines in Buicks, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs occurred in I believe in 1978, which is when the Olds 442's began showing up on the circuit, and later on some Buicks too. This change in rules coincided with GM's public and not so public admission that they were now using engines from various GM divisions in cars made by other GM divisions. The Olds came into demand when the eligibility of the shovel nosed Chevy Laguna S3 model ended, as the Monte Carlo of that time was not particularly a good car aerodynamically, although they did win a LOT of races. There was a limited attempt in the mid-70's to run a Pontiac powered Pontiac, but it was a complete failure. By the 1981 car downsizing, you had three Chevy models, (Monte Carlo, Malibu and Caprice) two Pontiacs (Grand Prix and Le mans), Olds (Cutlass), and Buick (Regal) competing at the same time , all with the same standard issue small block Chevy. The Buick Regal became the defacto car to have during the 1981 season, with the Grand Prix next in the pecking order. The Le mans was the hot ticket with it's sloped roof, but NASCAR erred and allowed the car to be legal for competition when they really didn't want it and tried to legislate it out of existence, but it hung on long enough for Benny Parsons to be the first Cup qualifier at over 200 MPH in 1982, and Cale Yarborough to to win the 83 Daytona 500 with perhaps the same car after wrecking his new Monte Carlo SS in his famous qualifying flip. Tim Richmond also won at Pocono with a Le mans, but 1983 was the last year the car was legal because it had gone out of production in 1981. The downsized Monte Carlo was a dud, although several teams did use it on the short tracks. The Malibu and Caprice were short lived experiments. I believe Dave Marcis's rain shortened win a Richmond in 1981 was in a Malibu. When the Monte Carlo SS debuted in 1983, it became the class of the field, but DiGard and Bobby Allison found favor with the tried and true Regal, and won Buick's third straight and last driver's title. The Olds Cutlass never got much love, but various drivers did use it, including AJ Foyt, Dave Marcis (ex-Foyt car) and Mark Martin in a car fielded by the fledgling Morgan McClure team. A few of the backmarkers also ran Olds. Interestingly enough, sometime during this period, Oldsmobile promoted a NASCAR race engine based off of it's heavy duty diesel passenger car block, even having display engines at various car events, but I'm not aware of one of these motors ever seeing a race track. The rise of the Chevy engines in NASCAR was driven by several factors, including the fact that especially in the small block, they made really good power, they were thoroughly developed with tons and tons of factory and aftermarket parts as well as knowledge behind them, they were cheap and plentiful. Also overlooked is that after years of officially and even unofficially ignoring NASCAR, GM relented and started to offer more in the way of backdoor engineering and tech support, as well as sheet metal and engine parts, although this all stayed pretty covert until the mid-80's. Many of the GM cars in the early 80's carried no brand label on them at all , as the factory had yet to step up for more than a select few. A Iot of people conclude that during the 1960's the Big Block Chevy was no match for the big Fords and Chrysler Hemi's, but GM, by official and unofficial decree, didn't even TRY to compete or offer technical support to anyone to attempt to run Chevy races during that period, so we don't really know how competitive they could have been. One things for sure though, once Chevy got back in the game, even unofficially in 1971, the made up ground quick.
  8. Ventisca

    Ventisca Team Owner

  9. aunty dive

    aunty dive Team Owner

    Paragraph breaks encourage people to read posts.
    SlicedBread22 and Johali like this.
  10. gone

    gone Team Owner

    Another interesting result of the Chevy engines in other GM brand bodies was that some teams started fielding different brand cars at different races (mostly due to aerodynamic differences). Until then teams usually picked a body, or at least a brand, and stuck with it all season. Of course, teams without factory sponsorship or technical programs switched up their cars the most.

    If I remember correctly, Terry Labonte was one of the more successful drivers to show up with different car bodies at different tracks (Chevy and Buick)... he might have even driven a Mercury at one or two races - all for the same race team and sponsorship package. However, I need to research this some more... anybody who remembers Labonte or anybody else switching brands around a lot during the season please chime in here...
  11. StandOnIt

    StandOnIt Farm Truck

    All I remember was that some of the GM drivers weren't running Chevy's but either the Oldsmobile or the Pontiac and they were doing so because of aero advantage. During interviews, some drivers who didn't win would talk about this brand or the other that had an advantage over them and of course Nascar needed to do something about it.
  12. Racer1930

    Racer1930 Team Owner

    The 1976 race was awesome and hooked me on stock car racing. I'll never forget the TV announcer saying "Now there's a fight" :D
  13. gone

    gone Team Owner

    Yep, at first I was embarrassed (from being a longtime fan who was trying to legitimize it to my stick-and-ball friends)... but it caused interest in racing to surge so that was very good for the sport.

    Not sure how NASCAR would react today, with its blanding-down of drivers and teams. Even after saying a few years ago that they'd allow racers to be racers... I suspect publicly NASCAR would wring its hands and chastise the participants while secretly smiling in their boardroom.
  14. gone

    gone Team Owner

    I thought the most controversial point in my original post was the Steve Giola quote “It’s not fair if a guy can come up with a better idea.”

    It's against the whole idea of building and innovating cars to win races.... but maybe in this age of thick rule books and sanctioning body determined chassis people have grown to accept it...
  15. StandOnIt

    StandOnIt Farm Truck

    depends on who says it is a better idea I would think
  16. gone

    gone Team Owner

    Well, that was what shop time used to be all about - better ideas to give you an advantage... hopefully within the rules, or at least not bending them enough to get you penalized... that whole "pushing the grey areas" thing...

    With so many people complaining that NASCAR has become too cookie-cutter and contrived, and sparely populated grandstands as a result, I thought people would be at least a little surprised to hear even a racer saying that better ideas aren't fair...

    It's not just NASCAR - Indy cars have been heavily regulated over which engines and chassis they're allowed to use for a long time, and that was part of their reasons to decline. In my opinion, the only real reason that Indy cars have been rebounding recently has been because NASCAR has been declining so steeply and fans have searched for alternatives and rediscovered Indy.

    Oh well, sorry to be on my "build it rather than buy it" soapbox. It has always puzzled me when I see racers relying upon buying racing parts and cars, and ending up with the same stuff everybody else has, instead of designing and engineering their own better mousetraps - and then whining about not being able to beat everybody else because the cars are all the same...
  17. StandOnIt

    StandOnIt Farm Truck

    yeah you can keep that one alive for a long time.
  18. Formerjackman

    Formerjackman Team Owner

    In the late 70's you had a lot of the Chevy teams running the Olds 442, simply for aerodynamic reasons. Very late in the going, a few teams tried the Buick, it was either a Century or Regal, but they were rare. When NASCAR downsized the cars for 1981, nobody really knew which of the multiple GM models would be the best, and most had no real brand specific support, so they looked at the cars and made an educated guess, or built different cars and a compared results. Junior Johnson and Petty Enterprises among others latched onto the downsized Regal from the start. Once they had success, many others followed. Those that tried the new Monte Carlo were disappointed, which lead to the creation of the Monte Carlo SS for the 1983 season, as the Chevy management got tired of getting their butt handed to them by Buick. Even with the aero slick Monte SS, a few teams made use of the square nosed Monte Carlo on short tracks. I know Billy Hagen (Labonte) did, as did Mach One (Harry Gant). Perhaps even Junior with Waltrip.

    By mid 1981, most of the bigger teams had settled on one car, but often switched year to year. Mach One went from Pontiac to Buick for 1982, Petty Enterprises did just the opposite. Junior Johnson, Billy Hagen, and Ranier switched from Buicks and Pontiacs to Chevy for 1983. DiGard started 1983 with the Monte SS, and then switched to the old Buick very early on. One reasons was that GM had made DiGard arch rival Junior Johnson the official sheet metal supplier for the new Monte Carlo bodies, which irked DiGard. Eventually, Buick and Bobby Allison became joined at the hip, and they followed him first to Stavola Brothers, and then to his own team at the beginning. Mach One went from Buick to Chevy in 1984. MC Anderson had Buicks in 1982, and when he sold the team to Raymond Beadle, Beadle went Pontiac. Beadle used both Grand Prix's and LeMans in 1983, the last year of LeMans eligibility. Ranier probably changed the most. Between 1980 and 1985, the team fielded Oldsmobiles, then Pontiacs then Chevrolets and then switched to Ford for 1985. Of Course Ranier became Robert Yates Racing in 1987. Smaller teams often used whatever they could find early on, but by 1983-1984, most of the bigger teams were locked in with one brand, but sometimes switched at the whim of GM management, who liked to spread the love around.
    Marcingak likes this.

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