Petty On A Tear: Blurb: Chrysler chalks up victories in the ’67 USAC and NASCAR venues.
Story By Wm. R. LaDow Photos from “Conversations with a Winner—The Ray Nichels Story.”
When we last left off, Nichels Engineering was assembling their troops and equipment for the ’67 racing season.
Nichels Engineering still had the job of outfitting the entire Chrysler racing operation for all of NASCAR, USAC, ARCA and IMCA for the 1967 season. That meant wrecked racecar repair, parts support, along with continuing testing, engineering and design work. In the meantime, Nichels’ Charlotte, North Carolina operation was just getting off the ground. By being centered in Carolina race country Nichels was convinced he could significantly reduce the amount of time if took for full scale repairs of wrecked Chrysler team racecars. Logistically it was perfect, cutting the transport time of the wrecked cars substantially. His immediate challenge was staffing, and Nichels Engineering began hiring the best and brightest they could find.
Meanwhile, Ray Nichels’ aircraft business with Paul Goldsmith continued in the capable hands of Clarence Holycross. This along with other Nichels business entities, such as the Nichels & Goldsmith Safety Centers and new acquisitions such as a trucking company kept Ray running what seemed to be 24/7. Although Goldsmith continued to pilot his own trips, Nichels had hired full time pilots, so he could work while in-flight. Early mornings to late nights were the norm for Ray Nichels. When not traveling to Chrysler in Michigan or race tracks across the country, Ray was constantly meeting with his outside auto parts suppliers such Dow Chemical, Monroe, Union Oil, Goodyear, and many, many others. All this while the 1967 race season was unfolding.
In early March, Richard Petty piloted his Plymouth to victory in the 300 lapper at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway in Weaverville, North Carolina. The 150 mile race was Petty’s second victory of the season (he’d won the opener at Augusta Raceway on November 13th) and his 50th career victory. From Weaverville, the next stop on the race calendar was the 500 lap contest on the high-banks of Bristol Motor Speedway. Fords and Plymouths (save for Bobby Allison in a Chevy) dominated qualifying. Petty, Paschal and Goldsmith all qualified in the first four rows for the 250 mile race. The Southeastern 500 evolved into a battle of attrition. David Pearson, in his Cotton Owens Dodge, came from two laps down in the last nine miles of the race to gain his first victory of 1967. Pearson forged ahead after Cale Yarborough cut a tire with six laps remaining and couldn’t hold on to his lead. The Nichels entry, driven by Goldsmith, suffered ignition failure, ultimately finishing his day on lap 165. David Pearson won again the following week at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina to give Chrysler a total of five victories in the first nine races of the young 1967 season.
FORD’S A PAIN…AGAIN
The next major race for NASCAR competition was the Atlanta 500 at Atlanta International Raceway in Hampton, Georgia. But as race day was getting closer, Chrysler Corporation once again voiced their dismay over NASCAR’s approval of the new Ford intake manifold and cylinder head system, contending that the parts were illegal because they didn’t meet the minimum productions requirements as outlined by the NASCAR rule book. Chrysler was so unhappy with the NASCAR’s handling of the situation that they had Nichels Engineering, K&K Insurance and Cottons Owens submit “conditional” entries for the Atlanta race stating that “they would not compete unless NASCAR ruled the Ford parts illegal.” It was becoming clear, that the Chrysler cars were at a disadvantage and it appeared to be in the area of fuel economy. Paul Goldsmith publicly stated (to NSSN’s Chris Economaki) what many Dodge and Plymouth teams were thinking, that since the Chrysler engines were only allowed by NASCAR to use a single carburetor, it had become apparent that Ford’s dual carburetion system (approved by NASCAR) was somehow getting better fuel distribution and therefore better mileage.
Once again Ray Nichels was placed in a political position entirely out of his control. The “conditional” entries were returned to Nichels, Krauskopf and Owens with the explanation that NASCAR didn’t accept “conditional” entry applications. In the meantime, Chrysler asked their other teams to boycott the Atlanta race, but that request never gathered acceptance. Without exception, the team’s reply to Chrysler management was that racing was their business and racing was the only way they could meet their payroll. Chrysler corporate realized that their political position wasn’t gaining any traction, so they acquiesced. Chrysler did, however, force Bill France to get involved and open a dialogue about not only the Ford parts issue, but also Chrysler’s position that the body template inspection process was flawed and that Ford was able to get their cars through the process, while Chrysler entrants were always seemingly being forced to alter the body contours of their cars.
The Atlanta weekend came and it was difficult as always. First of all, it was a painful reminder for Ray Nichels. It was this weekend three years prior that Tiny Worley had passed away unexpectedly. During this time, Tiny was never far from Ray’s mind. Secondly, this time around the Nichels cars of Don White and Paul Goldsmith didn’t qualify well at all, starting 18th and 19th respectively. The top 10 qualifiers were equally shared among Ford and Mopar drivers with Cale Yarborough in his No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford on the pole. Yarborough not only started first, he finished there too after leading 301 of 334 laps. He was followed over the finish line by Dick Hutcherson in his No. 29 Bondy Long Ford. Chrysler entrants filled the next four finishing spots with Buddy Baker, Charlie Glotzbach, Bobby Isaac and James Hylton ending up third, fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. The showing by Glotzbach and Isaac was especially rewarding for Nichels, because it demonstrated continued success by Harry Hyde and the K&K Insurance team.
PETTY ON A ROLL
The next two races saw Richard Petty pickup his third and fourth victories of the season. He first captured the Columbia 200 at Columbia (South Carolina) Speedway on April 6th, finishing just ahead of Jim Paschal and his Friedkin Enterprises Plymouth in the 100 mile contest. Three days later, Richard won another 100 miler, this one by a two-lap margin at Hickory Speedway in North Carolina. That brought along the next match-up on the NASCAR schedule, the Gwyn Staley Memorial 400 lap race on the .675 mile, paved track at North Wilkesboro, North Carolina on April 16th. Nichels Engineering shipped in Paul Goldsmith’s Plymouth for this race, but it turned out to be a wasted effort with Paul qualifying seventh, but leaving the race after only 90 laps due to another failed ignition. Defending NASCAR champion David Pearson lasted a bit longer than Goldsmith, going out on lap 134. In fact, it was a tough day all around for the Mopar movers and shakers. Darel Dieringer took the pole (with a new track qualifying record of 104.603 mph) and never relinquished the lead during the entire 400 lap run. Dieringer in the No. 26 Junior Johnson Ford, powered by a new, lighter, more fuel efficient 372 cubic inch engine, led the way as Cale Yarborough and Dick Hutcherson followed him across the finish line in their Fords. Junior Johnson’s move to the smaller engine proved to be the key. The car weighed in at the absolute 3,500 lbs. minimum and it showed in reduced pit stop times and tire wear during the race. Early on race day, it became quite clear that the contest was going to be reduced to Junior Johnson’s car and the rest of the field battling for “best of class.”
The big news coming out of North Wilkesboro wasn’t so much about who had won the race though, it was about who wasn’t going to be together anymore as a race team. In a stunning announcement on the day following the race, David Pearson and Cotton Owens jointly announced that they were ending their racing relationship. The reason for the breakup of the 1966 NASCAR championship team was unclear. There were politely-worded statements made about how tough the season had been with only two victories to date, the doubling of the team’s racing expenses at Riverside due to the one-week rain delay and general mechanical difficulties encountered from race-to-race. What it amounted to was that both Owens and Pearson were gentlemen in the finest tradition of the south, both of them valuing their personal friendship much too much to really discuss why they were taking separate paths.
GOING LONG ON SHORT TRACK
Next stop for NASCAR was the Virginia 500 at Martinsville. Nichels and Goldsmith again decided to go short track racing, this time with much better results. Goldy qualified on the third row and finished the race in fifth spot, being the second best Mopar on the track behind five-time season winner, Richard Petty. Using a page out of Junior Johnson’s playbook, Petty ran a 404 cubic inch Hemi, saving an estimated 200 lbs. in total car weight. James Hylton came in sixth, maintaining his lead in the season’s championship points race.
Two races later, in the 125 miler at the Virginia State Fairgrounds in Richmond, Cotton Owens put Bobby Allison behind the wheel of his refrigerator white No. 6 Dodge Charger. It proved to be solid move as Allison led for a time before his two spinouts allowed Richard Petty to capture his 54th career victory, tying him with his father, Lee as the all-time winningest NASCAR Grand National driver ever. Paul Goldsmith once again ran into tough luck losing his brakes on the half-mile dirt track and finished 13th.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, more news surfaced regarding NASCAR driving assignments. First, it was announced by 32 year-old Fred Lorenzen, who had driven five of the first 16 races of the season that he was retiring immediately. Lorenzen, known as the “Golden Boy” of Ford stock car racing, cited stomach ulcers as the primary cause, but many in the racing community knew that Fred had been very astute with his financial investments, and over the course of the last year and a half had been preparing for this difficult decision. Holman and Moody quickly announced Lorenzen’s replacement in the H&M Ford and it was none other than David Pearson.
On May 13th, NASCAR staged the 11th Annual Rebel 400 at Darlington. In what was becoming a recurring theme, Richard Petty once again took the checkered flag. He battled David Pearson, now in the No. 17 H&M Ford, early in the contest, but pulled away leading 266 of the 291 laps on his way to becoming NASCAR’s all-time winner. It turned out to be a solid performance all around for the Chrysler teams, with Bobby Allison finishing fourth in Cotton Owens’ Dodge, Paul Lewis sixth in the A.J. King Dodge, followed by Goldsmith in seventh and Bobby Isaac eighth. Two more short track races, the Beltsville 200 in Maryland and the Tidewater 250 in Hampton, Virginia resulted in Mopar victories with Jim Paschal and his Friedkin entry winning the former, and Richard Petty winning the latter.
Nichels Engineering’s logistical improvements out of Charlotte were beginning to show. His crews were now shuttling 30-40 Hemi engines to each race, along with all of the drivetrain and suspension parts needed to support the series. These improvements came at an important time, as the USAC season was just about to begin. Nichels parts and logistical support for the 1967 ARCA and IMCA circuits was already more active with those respective seasons having already started.
WHITE SHINES IN USAC
A week later, on May 27th, Nichels Engineering was up and running in both NASCAR and USAC. Don White opened his season by taking the pole position at Indianapolis Raceway Park for the Yankee 300 (rained out from its original run date of May 7th.) He was joined by Paul Goldsmith, who always made it a point to come back and race at IRP, a place where he always ran fast. Goldy had been the pole sitter in 1966, so White continued a Nichels Engineering tradition. The Yankee 300 had originally been devised to attract NASCAR racers through the use of their FIA licenses, to create a north vs. south affair. But scheduling a created a problem. It worked well for the USAC racers because they were in Indy anyway for almost the entire month of May for the Indianapolis 500. But this year found the fifth Annual Yankee 300 on the very same weekend as NASCAR’s longest race, the World 600 at Charlotte, resulting in a somewhat smaller field. There was still plenty of American driving talent there with Mario Andretti, A. J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Al Unser, Norm Nelson, Goldsmith and White. This year’s race also contained the likes of Jack Bowsher, Gary Bettenhausen, Bay Darnell, Sal Tovella, Dave Whitcomb, Benny Parsons and Bill Kimmell. With 39 entrants it was a solid start of the United States Auto Club’s new stock car season.
Don White’s for run for pole was a statement that his lap speeds at Riverside in January were no fluke. The diminutive one pushed his No. 2 Nichels Engineering Dodge Charger around the IRP road course at a fantastic pace, and in the process broke Goldsmith’s 1966 qualifying record by over two miles per hour, establishing a new one lap qualifying record of 102.552 mph on the one and seven-eighths paved road course. Next to White on the front row was former Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones. Behind them were Mario Andretti and Al Unser who had taken over the Rudy Hoerr Dodge that the late Billy Foster had been slated to drive for the 1967 season.
To say that Don White was “chomping at the bit” to get the USAC season started was an understatement. White and Jones started banging fenders on the pace lap, no less. But Parnelli, coming off his NASCAR win at Riverside, was able to wrestle the lead from White before they even crossed the starting line. White’s car was damaged and he pitted on the second lap, immediately falling off the pace, while Foyt jumped into second place. Warm race day weather added to the woes of all the drivers as tires began to wear at an alarming rate. It got so bad for Goldsmith, that while running fourth, he was forced to pit on the 62nd lap for his third set of tires. On this stop, much to the dismay of the Goodyear staff, Paul demanded that his Nichels crew put Firestone rubber on his No. 99 Nichels’ Plymouth. As the race wore on, Don White ended up pitting six times, but somehow miraculously worked his way into third place. At the end of the day, Parnelli Jones was first to the checkers over Mario Andretti and White, who had battled back to earn third place money. Following the race, Paul Goldsmith and Ray Nichels hopped into their plane and flew to Charlotte for NASCAR’s longest race, the World 600, to be run the following day.
ULTIMATE NASCAR CHALLENGE
By the time the World 600 came up on the schedule, another driver change for Dodge was in process. In April, LeeRoy Yarbrough, in his second season driving for Jon Thorne, let it be known that he intended to tackle the Indy 500 once again. He had attempted to participate in 1966 race in the Pure Firebird Gerhardt-Offy, but the car was destroyed during practice. In 1967, he had gone back to Indy and qualified 26th in the Jim Robbins-Rolla Volstedt Ford. The Indianapolis 500 was the pinnacle of global racing and Yarbrough knew it. The 1967 race recorded an all-time list of 90 cars entered, along with nine foreign drivers. There was no bigger race, at no more important track than the 51st running of the Indianapolis 500. His last race in Jon Thorne’s Dodge Charger had been Atlanta. For the World 600, LeeRoy would be permanently replaced by Bobby Allison’s younger brother, Donnie.
The World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway presented the ultimate challenge for NASCAR racers. The high banks of the mile and a half Charlotte track, combined with the 600 mile distance separated the men from the boys. Starting on the pole was Cale Yarborough in the Wood Brothers Ford in a record 154.385 mph qualifying run. Even more impressive was that Yarborough captured the pole in between trips to Indianapolis as he too qualified for his second Indianapolis 500 driving the No. 21 Bryant Heating and Cooling-Rolla Volstedt Ford. Qualifying for the World 600 had a familiar ring as the first 17 cars on the grid were either Ford (Mercury) or Chrysler products. Nichels’ entry, Paul Goldsmith’s No. 99 Plymouth qualified in 11th spot. But more important than qualifying position was the status of the track surface. Charlotte had been recently repaved and this would be the first race on the new surface. Both front and back straightaways, turns one and two, and patches in turns three and four had new asphalt. That coupled with 90 degree heat and track temperatures of 138 degrees, spelled doom for tires.
The race got off to its predictable fast start with the pole sitter Yarborough done by lap 58 after blowing a tire and rubbing the wall. From there, front runners Darel Dieringer, Jim Paschal, Paul Goldsmith, Bobby Isaac and Buddy Baker all took turns leading. The Paul Goldsmith piloted Nichels Engineering Plymouth led the 400 lap race on three different occasions. So brutal was the day, that Goldsmith, considered one of the “iron men” of racing, had Charlie Glotzbach drive relief. With “Chargin” Charlie behind the wheel, the engine in the No. 99 Nichels Plymouth let go, surrendering the lead to Jim Paschal in the Bill Ellis prepped Friedkin Plymouth on lap 159. From there it was all Paschal who won his second World 600.
On the following Saturday, Don White set his second track record of the young USAC season when he established a new three-lap Trophy Dash mark at Chicago’s Soldier Field, while using the same Dodge Charger that Sam McQuagg won the 1966 Firecracker 400 in (and the same car the LeeRoy Yarbrough crashed at Riverside in January.) In the feature, White was lurking behind race leaders Sal Tovella and Jack Bowsher, when the two front runners tangled with five laps to go. Bowsher went into the wall and Tovella was loose just long enough for Don to scoot past him for the lead. Coming off the wall, Bowsher’s Ford emptied its radiator on the 3/8-paved mile track, forcing a yellow flag and ending the night’s racing.
The USAC stock car division returned on June 17th and 22nd to Soldier Field for the second and third of eight scheduled 1967 race dates. White in his Nichels Engineering mount won the feature race on the 17th, but failed to finish on the 22nd, eventually being credited with 19th place. Two days later, USAC was back in Indianapolis, only this time they were at the one mile dirt of the Indiana State Fairgrounds for the Indiana Classic. The change in locale was just what Don White needed as he picked up his third victory of the season. White celebrated his 41st birthday, while evening up the score with Parnelli Jones.
Don opened the race day’s festivities by setting a new all-time qualifying record of 90.772 mph on the one-mile dirt oval. At the green flag, the Nichels Charger sped out in front, instantly being chased by A. J. Foyt, who caught up with Don on the ninth lap. A.J. proved to have pushed too hard though, as his Ford lost its engine on the next lap. As White worked his way back into the lead, he then went wide into the soft stuff and was passed by Jones. They took turns leading with Don once again losing his lead on the 16th lap. Chasing Parnelli for the next 12 laps, White was on the tail of the Ford driver, when Jones checked up as he was passing a slower car. The gentle tap Jones got on his bumper from White was just enough to get him loose enough to almost end up in the fence. White then held the lead for the rest of the night. Parnelli finished second, Al Unser in the Hoerr Dodge third, and Butch Hartman in his own family sponsored 1965 Dodge, fourth. It was Don White’s second straight victory on the Indiana fairgrounds oval.
CHRYSLER CLEANS UP
Meanwhile, in NASCAR country down south, it was becoming all Chrysler, all the time. On June 6th, at the half-mile, paved oval known as Middle Georgia Raceway in Macon, Georgia it was Richard Petty the victor in the 300 lap race. On June 8th at Smoky Mountain Raceway, Maryville, Tennessee, it was Petty again, in a 200 lapper on the half-mile dirt track. At the Fairgrounds Raceway in Birmingham, Alabama, it was favorite son, Bobby Allison winning the 100 miler in the Cotton Owens Dodge on June 10th.
The next race to put NASCAR back on a high banked speedway was the second annual Carolina 500 on June 18th. Paul Goldsmith ran again in a “money race” qualifying in the fourth row behind his Chrysler Corporation teammates, Richard Petty, Buddy Baker, Jim Paschal and Bobby Isaac. The race evolved into another classic battle or attrition. After capturing the pole, Dick Hutcherson, in the Bondy Long Ford watched Richard Petty pass him before the first lap was completed. Right behind Petty was another Mopar, Ray Fox’s Dodge Charger being chauffeured by Buddy Baker. Even though Hutcherson and Bud Moore’s Mercury, being driven by LeeRoy Yarbrough, challenged for the lead, they couldn’t hold on. Buddy Baker led on five different occasions for a total of 214 laps and Richard Petty led nine different times totaling 249 laps, before Richard took the victory. Only 14 cars finished the race, with Goldsmith, who had also led the race, losing a differential, finishing in 12th spot.
The next two races, one at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina, won by Richard Petty, and the contest at Montgomery Speedway in Montgomery, Alabama taken by Jim Paschal, continued the Chrysler winning streak heading into the Firecracker 400 at Daytona. Check the next installment for all the fireworks and nail-biting details.