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Sunday, September 29, 2013

REMEMBERING DOVER's CASE OF PETTY LARCENY

Dover is the least interesting Chase race to me. No disrespect to Denis McGlynn and staff. I covered many boring 500-mile Dover marathons when I worked at the Philadelphia Daily News. With all the recent talk of NASCAR controversy, and Jimmie Johnson's track record win Sunday, it reminded me of a long-ago Dover race I covered. So, let's go back in time, to the Daily News story topped by my byline on Sept. 15, 1975.


DOVER, Del. -- Forget the mumbling about some boxing matches being fixed. Never mind the occasional inferences that there are pro football players who shave points in order to beat the betting-pool spreads.

Yesterday's Delaware 500 at Dover Downs International Speedway appeared to be a case of Petty larceny.

No one would point their finger directly at Richard Petty after his amazing win, coming from six laps behind the leaders after a pit stop to repair a broken steering arm with about 150 miles remaining. Rather, 37-year-old Buddy Arrington of Martinsville, Va., was said to be the driver wearing the black hat.

Petty, 38, the five-time NASCAR Grand National champion, was easily holding a one-lap edge over the field when Elmo Langley's Ford blew in turn three. The STP-Dodge driver was right behind.

"The crank, rods, pistons, you name it, came flying out," King Richard recalled after collecting the $14,725 first-place check. "I ran over it and it knocked a big hole, about like a good-sized cantaloupe, in the floorboard. They (his pit crew) had to reset the front end."

While Petty sat helplessly, Lennie Pond, Cale Yarborough, Dick Brooks and Benny Parsons diced for the lead on the high-banked, one-mile oval before a sun-warmed crowd of 28,000.

Showing the speed of a Saturn V booster lifting Apollo toward the moon, the Randleman N.C., rocket took up the chase and watched as Pond retired and Yarborough slowed with engine problems. Still, with 22 laps left, Petty was about 20 seconds behind Brooks and Parsons.

At that point, Arrington gently spun into the turn-four infield and waited for the yellow flag to appear. When it didn't, he drove through the pits and stopped next to the third-turn wall, like a frustrated center-city parker.

THAT brought out the day's fifth caution flag and allowed Petty to close on the two front-runners. When the green reappeared, he quickly zapped Brooks and Parsons and went on to take his 174th Winston Cup victory by two seconds.

"I don't think I would have ever caught up if it hadn't been for that last yellow," Petty admitted.

Brooks, who took second, and Parsons knew that. Heavens to Andy Granatelli, they knew that.

"I can't say there was teamwork or collusion, but I think we were robbed," Parsons, this year's Daytona 500 winner, said. "We didn't deserve to win but we should have been given a fair chance to win."

"I'd be glad to take his (Arrington's) car out right now and run faster than he did all day," said Brooks. "If I didn't, I'd give him my prize money ($9,000.)

"Maybe he was scared and just pulled off the track," Brooks said facetiously. "Or maybe he needed his truck paid for (Arrington recently purchased one of Petty's old transporters.)"

Bill France Jr., NASCAR president, and officials Lin Kuchler and Bill Gazaway inspected Arrington's racer and found no signs of the handling difficulties Buddy had used as an excuse for his actions.

Such shenanigans are not totally unheard of. One old-time driver remarked after the race, "I used to get paid more for spinning than for racing."



The media are calling it maybe the greatest comeback in American sports history. That's Oracle overcoming a huge win-loss record to claim the America's Cup. To me, though, the international sailing competition was an example of wretched excess where competitors get to write the rules on what is actually raced and thus the yachting sport lost touch with its base. Sound familiar, race fans? We saw it in CART. We saw it in the IRL. We saw it in NASCAR until the automakers got tough with Daytona Beach and the Gen-6 car was introduced this year, bringing back the visual connection between the showroom and the speedway.

What was generally passed off as "sailboats" (exotic catamarans speeding along on hydrofoils) in San Francisco had as much to do with what the weekend sailor pilots as NASCAR's CoT did with passenger models. Yes, I know, we live in a high-tech world and the younger generation is consumed with all-things tech -- but how many of them are out there actually sailing their own boats? Damn few, I bet. Meanwhile, the natural core base fan had zero emotional attachment to the America's Cup craft and crews. Competitor ego got in the way of common sense.

I much prefer the old days of sailing off Rhode Island with Ted Turner and Dennis Connor taking honors for the U.S. That seemed much more relevant. To me, last week's incredible Yankee Stadium ceremonies honoring the great and class act Mariano Rivera were much more important than some spaceship-cum-sailboat.


Let's just see how many of the low-information chatfans post apologies this week for all the inaccurate, nonsense, guesses about this Tuesday's Phoenix International Raceway announcement. As I've said many times, these days, you can't be a good race fan without knowing something about the business and politics of racing. That means you have to understand there is more to all of this than the actual racing. Let's see how many stand up (anonymously, of course)and say, "Boy, did I have that wrong." And use that as a lesson going forward.


I knew George Bignotti for many years. It was sometimes challenging to deal with him as a sanctioning body official. It was interesting to deal with him as a sponsor representative. I have to say that whenever I asked George to talk to a reporter, when I was with CART or repping Emerson Electric, he was gracious and did a great job. Bignotti died Friday at age 97 with the record of seven Indianapolis 500 wins and most Indy-series victories by a chief mechanic securing his place in the sport's history.


Breaking News: Marty Reid out at ESPN, effective immediately. Allen Bestwick to call rest of Nationwide series. New IndyCar host unannounced. (As first posted by me on Twitter Sunday.) Elsewhere: Jerry Archambeault, NHRA VP-PR and Communications, has left for an agency job.

[ more next Monday . . . ]