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1983 Miller High Life 500: Richard Petty Wins 198th Career Victory Amid Major Controversy

October 11th, 2012 at 9:45 AM
By Clayton Caldwell

When October 9,1983 began NASCAR fans around the country were preparing for an exciting race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. As 100,000 fans filed into the 1.5 mile oval little did they know exactly what would unfold. It is something everyone would remember for the rest of their lives.

It was a cloudy day at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and many people had their favorites on who was going to win the 500 mile event. Perhaps it would be Bobby Allison, who was making a bid for his first career NASCAR Cup title. Darrell Waltrip was the two time defending series champion and looked to have a strong car. Buddy Baker was the hometown favorite, driving for the Wood Brothers. His car showed some life in practice. Some people even thought youngster Bill Elliott would drive to victory lane for his first cup win. Elliott had finished second twice at Charlotte before and he had one of the fastest cars in practice.

Richard Petty appeared to be a slight dark horse in the race. Petty was coming off a 1982 campaign where he went winless. His 1983 season was a good one. He had won at Rockingham and Talladega. However, he was nearly 500 points behind points leader Bobby Allison when race began. Petty's glory years appeared to be behind him. He was still competitive but he wasn't the dominate driver of five years previous.

'Petty 1985 Pocono Photo by Ted Van Pelt' photo (c) 2008, Ted Van Pelt - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

When the race started it was indeed Buddy Baker, who had the dominate car. He would lead 31 of the races' first 42 laps. Petty methodically worked his way through the field. He started the 500 miler in the 20th position. By lap 10 Petty found himself in the 12th position. He worked his way into the top ten shortly after and he would stay in the top ten for most of the 500 miles. On the final restart of the day Petty found himself in the third position with 33 laps to go. Petty would move to the second position and had his eyes set on race leader Darrell Waltrip. Over the next 15 or so laps Petty would chase down leader Darrell Waltrip and tried to move his Pontiac past Waltrip. On lap 311, Petty moved to the inside of Waltrip in turn two. Petty pulled away from the Junior Johnson automobile and led the last 23 laps of the event for his 198th career NASCAR Cup victory. For Petty the win was just a one more notch up to 200 wins.

"198 is better than 197," Petty chuckled in victory lane.

Though the race was over the day certainly wasn't. Fans at the Charlotte Motor Speedway were long gone and the reporters just got done writing their stories when grumbling began about Richard Petty's racecar. Rumors were the car had an illegal engine.

Sure enough Bill Gazaway from NASCAR came out and made an announcement that  on the last pit stop Petty's #43 team had put left side tires on the right side of the car. The left side tires were softer, which helped handling. NASCAR had made a rule saying left side tires could not be on the right side of the racecar. Teams using left side tires on the right side of the cars had been a problem in 1983 and other teams were caught and penalized for the same thing. Unfortunately that wasn't the only issue on the #43 that afternoon.

The second issue on Petty's car was that his engine 24 cubic inches over the 355 cubic inch limit which was allowed in Winston Cup at the time. Immediately people began to wonder what the penalty would be an how NASCAR would handle it. Many thought they might even take Petty's 198 away from him.

In the end, Petty and his team were fined 35 thousand dollars and docked 104 points, for the infractions. The win however, stayed and Petty had 198 career wins. It was Petty's last win with his family ran Petty Enterprises operation.

After the infraction the team began to spat and have their differences. Richard Petty moved to Mike Curb's operation for the 1984 season, where he would record his 200th career victory at Daytona International Raceway. Petty Enterprises would resurface with Petty as a driver in the 1986 season, and have some success in the 1990's, but nothing like their glory days.

Richard Petty's 200th win is one that no one will ever forget, but his 198th was just a memorable for fans and people around the Charlotte Motor Speedway and it was/is one of the biggest controversies in the NASCAR history.

Tags: 1983 Miller High Life 500, Bill Elliott, Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Darrell Waltrip, Motorsports, NASCAR, Richard Petty, Wood Brothers

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