Two Significant Richard Petty NASCAR Stock Cars To Be Displayed At Motorsports 2017
By HERB ANASTOR
OAKS, PA – The excitement of Richard Petty’s appearance at the Pioneer Pole Buildings Motorsports 2017 Race Car and Trade Show Fueled by Sunoco Distributed By Insinger Performance on Jan. 21 from 1-3 p.m. here at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center will be added to throughout the weekend by the display of two of his most-significant NASCAR Cup Series cars.
Each of these No. 43 Petty Enterprises-built racing machines – his 1967 Plymouth Belvedere and 1972 Dodge Charger – mark a special point in Petty’s long and colorful driving career (1958-1992) and they also help to tell important parts of the NASCAR story.
The Petty Blue No. 43 1967 Plymouth Belvedere holds a special place in Petty Enterprises and NASCAR history as it was the car that Petty used to win 27 then-NASCAR Grand National races, including an amazing and never-duplicated 10 victories in a row.
These efforts, of course, took place when NASCAR’s premier touring series raced on several dirt and asphalt short tracks, asphalt speedways of various sizes and on a road course or two. And this Stock Car is also unique in that Petty used it during the year that he became “The King.”
Although Petty started out 1967 with three brand new cars, they just didn’t perform as expected. So, after a few races Richard, his engine-building brother Maurice and patriarch Lee decided to hang some new sheet metal on one of their 1966 chassis and things quickly turned around.
Richard had done very well with his 426-cubic-inch Hemi-powered 1966 chassis and that continued once the 1967 sheet metal was added to it. But certainly no one expected the kind of results that the car recorded once the season was over.
With his “face-lifted” Petty Blue Plymouth, Richard competed in 41 of the season’s 48 races and won 20 poles, was in the top-5 an amazing 38 times and in the top-10 on 40 occasions.
The 1967 season was also special for the family operation from the small rural town of Level Cross, North Carolina, as Richard’s Rebel 400 win with the car at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway on May 13 was the first time a Petty had ever won on “The Track Too Tough To Tame.” Plus, it was his 55th victory, one more than his father’s previous career-record of 54.
Then, to show his Darlington win was not a fluke, Richard – who used a de-stroked 404-cubic-inch Hemi to save 200 pounds of weight and tires – won the pole for the September 4th Labor Day Southern 500 (143.437 mph) and led 345 of 364 laps to win the race by five laps over a very strong 44-car field in 3 hours 50 minutes and 15 seconds at an average speed of 130.423 mph.
As might be expected, Richard won the second of what would eventually be his seven (1964, 1967, 1971-1972, 1974-1975 & 1979) NASCAR Cup Series Championships with a car that ran under some different rules from previous years.
Now: the minimum weight of a NASCAR Grand National Stock Car was 3,500 pounds, a drop of some 500 pounds; the frames could be reinforced or altered for safety; and, cars with unit-body construction (like the 116-inch wheel-based Plymouth Belvedere) could have a purpose-built frame as long as the body’s original dimensions remained.
In addition: the hood height was lowered to 27 inches from the ground; engines had to use a production intake manifold, but the 426 Hemi could only use one 4-barrel carburetor; disc brakes were allowed; fuel cells were required; and, two sidebars were mandatory on the passenger side of the roll cage. And, interestingly enough, 1967 was also the second year that NASCAR made seat belts, crash helmets and shoulder harnesses mandatory.
Overall, the chassis under this historically-significant Plymouth Belvedere won 30 races in two years (the last part of 1966 and all of 1967). And when he was once asked what made it so special, Dale Inman – Richard’s cousin and crew chief – simply said, “Damned if we know.”
While the Petty Enterprises 1967 Plymouth Belvedere gets the gold star for its fantastic number of victories, its 1972 No. 43 STP Dodge Charger is rather noteworthy for the sponsorship that it had which forever changed the business model of American motorsports.
As the Pettys and all other teams knew prior to the end of 1971, 1972 was going to be a difficult year as all of the manufacturers were officially withdrawing from factory-backed racing. So how to move forward under such conditions was going to be a considerable task.
But something took place at the old 2-mile Texas World Speedway in College Station in early December which would help the Pettys with regard to their approaching lack of support from Chrysler Corporation.
There, while preparing for his December 12 victory in the last 500-mile race of the season, Richard had a casual Garage Area conversation with STP Corporation CEO Andy Granatelli.
Granatelli was an ex-racer and colorful character with lots of famous friends who was also a master self-promoter and promoter of his company’s products, especially at the Indy 500 where his pit crews wore pajama-like coveralls covered with STP logos.
But on a more-serious side, he and his brothers Vince and Joe were knowledgeable racers and mechanics who had been involved at the Indianapolis 500 for years, most famously in 1967 with the Parnelli Jones-driven four-wheel-drive No. 40 STP-Paxton Turbine that had victory in hand until a $6 transmission bearing failed with just three laps to go.
So, the day after their Texas talk, Granatelli called Richard and asked him to come to Chicago to discuss STP being the No. 43’s sponsor. And this plan was readily accepted, especially since Petty Enterprises was looking for more financing than what might come from local sources.
When Granatelli and Petty got together in the Windy City, they easily agreed on their initial $250,000 deal, plus a $50,000 bonus for winning the championship. But the flamboyant Granatelli wanted the car painted entirely in STP’s Day-Glo Red; a situation that Richard firmly resisted even though it would get him an extra $50,000. So the Petty Blue/STP Red color scheme was created and it is still one of the most famous paint jobs in auto racing history.
It must be understood that Petty Blue was something that was very important to Richard and his family. And it came about quite simply when Lee once didn’t have enough blue to paint one of his cars, so he mixed some white with what he had and the distinctive hue was born.
Now that the Petty Blue and STP Red livery was agreed to, things were able to move forward and Petty’s STP sponsorship proved to be a major motorsports milestone as it was the first such lucrative funding that was given to what was then a NASCAR Grand National team.
But the first car to be decorated in the iconic two-tone design was not the 1972 No. 43 STP Dodge Charger as Richard began the year in his 1972 No. 43 STP Plymouth Road Runner.
However, even though the Plymouth was doing quite well, on May 7 the STP Dodge – with a restrictor plate on its 426-cubic-inch Hemi engine – ran its first race at the Alabama International Motor Speedway in Talladega where Richard started third and finished seventh. And he went with the Charger body style as he felt that it had a slight aerodynamic advantage over the Plymouth; a brand that he had successfully raced for 14 seasons (1959-1972).
To that end, a look at the Charger shows that it is cleaner than the Road Runner with a smoother roof line and a sort of rear spoiler built into its deck lid, all of which helped with handling the air and corning at high speeds.
Originally built as a 1971 Dodge Charger for teammate Buddy Baker, Richard raced this 3,800-pound entry – with “The Racer’s Edge” in Petty Blue on its white front chin spoiler – 11 times during the 31-race 1972 NASCAR season. Yet while he did not win any races with it, he: won the pole (157.608 mph) at Michigan (August); was second in 500-milers at Dover (June) and Atlanta (July) and in the 400-miler at Daytona (July 4th); and, was third in the 400 at Michigan (June) and in the 500s at Darlington (September) and Texas (November).
With these results and the eight wins and two poles that he got in his Plymouth, Richard won the Winston Cup – the fourth of his eventual seven (1964, 1967, 1971-1972, 1974-1975 & 1979) NASCAR Cup Series titles – and that was a great way to start his association with STP.
STP’s Oil Treatment – and its other aftermarket products – was Richard’s primary sponsor for an unprecedented 21 seasons (1972-1992) as a driver (64 wins) and later through 2000 as a team owner. And that relationship continues today on a personal level with the seven-time (1964, 1966, 1971, 1973-1974, 1979 & 1981) Daytona 500 winner.
Plus, STP is an associate sponsor on the Ford Focus NASCAR Cup Series racers for Aric Almirola (No. 43) and Brian Scott (No. 44) and on Jeb Burton’s No. 43 Ford Focus NASCAR Xfinity Series ride that all come from Richard Petty Motorsports in Mooresville, North Carolina.