“The King’s” remarkable 1967 season may stand forever as NASCAR’s best
When it comes to any debate about unbreakable sports records, Richard Petty’s 1967 NASCAR championship season has to be included on several counts.
“The King” was so dominant en route to his second of a record seven NASCAR titles that he established two marks which, owing to many factors, will almost certainly never be eclipsed.
Driving a 1966 Plymouth Belvedere of all things, Petty started 48 of 49 races in what was then a much more elongated NASCAR season and won 27 of them. That’s one driver winning 55 percent of the events at a professional sports league’s highest level. Like we said, this probably isn’t going to happen again.
Along the way, Petty also reached another milestone that should stand for eternity—10 consecutive wins. From August 12, 1967, to October 1, 1967, Petty swept through the South like Sherman marching on Atlanta, winning races across Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia. In more than 50 years of NASCAR racing since, the only drivers to even come close were Petty and fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, who each won five straight races in the 1971 season.
To put it in prospective for non-stock car racing fans, Petty’s 27-win season was akin to legendary college basketball coach John Wooden’s 88-game winning streak at UCLA from 1971 to 1974 and his 10 straight race victories akin to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak for the New York Yankees in 1941.
Even “The King” has decreed his place in sports history.
“I enjoyed the 10 in a row,” Petty said in a 2017 Autoweek story highlighting his phenomenal ‘67 season. “I don’t think that will ever be broken.”
As mentioned earlier, NASCAR in the late 1960s was a much different landscape than it is today. In that era, the racing schedule routinely stretched to 48 or 49 races a year. It included several years that stretched to well over 50 races and, in 1964, Grand National drivers as they were called then ran an incredible 62 races in one season.
With the entrance in 1972 of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. as the corporate sponsor for the Winston Cup Series, the schedule was cut back drastically to as few as 28 races in some seasons and since 2001 has been set at 36 per season.
So the reduced volume of races annually is one reason Petty’s record is almost certainly safe. Another is the makeup of the tracks that constituted the NASCAR circuit at that time.
In 1967, Petty won 9 of 14 races held on dirt tracks. He won on the .200-mile dirt of Islip Speedway in Islip, New York. He won at the .250-mile Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, so named because it is laid out inside an old football stadium complete with the concrete bleachers serving as the retaining wall down the front straightaway. He won at the smaller staple tracks on the circuit like Bristol, Martinsville, and Richmond.
He also won twice on the 1.375-mile superspeedway at Darlington, South Carolina, and both were significant career victories for him. His win in Darlington Raceway in the spring that year was his 55th, tying him with his racing father, Lee Petty, for most in NASCAR history at the time. His victory at the track in the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend was the only win of his 200 that came in one of NASCAR’s most storied races.
That year, he also posted 7 runner-up finishes, 38 Top 5 finishes, 40 Top 10 finishes and won 18 poles. He also won a race on every day of the week except Wednesday (none were run on Wednesday) and led 5,543 laps of the 12,739 he ran.
In another nod to the era, Petty’s cousin, crew chief and fellow Hall of Famer Dale Inman, recalled in retrospect how remarkable it was that they put the same car in Victory Lane in all 10 races in Petty’s incredible winning streak.
“To keep the car under him for 10 races in a row and win them,” Inman told Autoweek, “I thought that was a feat.”
At the time, it wasn’t really that amazing, Petty said. It was just business as usual.
“They did it all,” Petty said of the eight employees of what was then called Lee Petty Engineering and later Petty Enterprises who worked on the car during the week and served as pit crew at the races. “We won a race, we took the car home, we got it ready for the next race. We used the same car over and over again. It was just the way it was done then.”
Yet even with all the modern technology and engineering in the sport today, it doesn’t appear history is bound to repeat itself in this case, which means the feats of “The King’s” magical 1967 season should help keep him on his NASCAR throne forever. H&A
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