The 1972 NASCAR Winston Cup Season was interesting in many ways. It was the first season that NASCAR fans know as the "modern era." That's when NASCAR was sponsored by the RJ Reynolds company, Winston. All NASCAR races that were 300 miles and less were cut from the schedule and a new series known as the Sportsman Series would take over those races. That left NASCAR with 31 races to complete their schedule.
In that 1972 season two men showed they were above the rest of the field. Richard Petty was a three time champion in NASCAR already, running for his family run Petty Enterprise team. The other driver was Bobby Allison who was looking for his first NASCAR championship. Allison was driving for a man named Richard Howard in his #12 Chevrolet. Howard's number one man was Junior Johnson, who prepared all of Howard's cars.
Throughout the season Allison and Petty would have several battles including one at the Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway on September 10th where Petty beat Allison after Petty's car was sent into the guardrail and he would keep on going. Their on track battle was intense. It was even more intense when the series moved to the Martinsville Speedway for the running of the Old Dominion 500. Petty had the upper hand at Martinsville winning four of the last seven races there. Allison had never won at the tough half-mile paper-clip but new pavement meant it was anyone's game. Petty led Allison by 153 points after Allison had trouble at the previous weekend's race at Dover.
Although Allison had never won at Martinsville, he was still strong there. He had four runner-up finishes at Martinsville heading into the event. He was determined to gain points on Petty and get back into the championship run. Allison got off to a great start, putting his car on the pole for the 250 mile event. David Pearson's Wood Brothers entry sat on the outside of the front row, with Buddy Baker and Petty in row two. Fifty-six cars were entered for the 36 car field and after a 20 lap qualifying event that determined the last six starting positions the field was ready for battle.
Allison got out to an early lead but David Pearson and Buddy Baker's car would keep the race close early on. Richard Petty used five different Goodyear tire compounds and began adding weight to his Plymouth before finding the handling. It got so bad for Petty that he was about to be lapped by Allison and he was given the blue and yellow flag, meaning move over. According to Allison's book, Petty ignored the flag and got a caution and stayed on the lead lap.
Later on in the event, Pearson and Baker's charge would fall short and Petty would gain on Allison as the laps began to wind down in the 500 lap event. Petty charged back from an unscheduled pit stop that put him behind Allison by a lap. It appeared to be Allison's race. But with 60 laps to go Petty was right on Allison's tail and the two collided coming into turn three. Petty's car went into the grass and he immediately turned right and hammered Allison's left quarter panel. The damage was significant enough to have smoke coming from the quarter panel as the tires rubbed against it. Unfortunately for Allison that was the least of his worries.
The hit knocked Allison's gas cap off his Chevrolet and NASCAR officials black flagged Allison to have the cap replaced. Allison ignored the flag and continued on. Twelve laps later though, Allison's tires would blow from the damage and the accident collected Ed Negre's Dodge in the process. The accident caused the races' final yellow of the afternoon. Allison would pit for tires during the caution, but his car was no match for Petty after the accidents. Petty won the race with Allison finishing six seconds back in second. Allison was not happy after the race and the Petty and Allison rivalry would take to a new level.
Allison would lose the championship to Petty and he would move to Ralph Moody's team for the 1973 season. Allison would never win at Martinsville in his career, something he always wanted to do.
A lot has changed since 1972 . The turns are now concrete due to heavy breaking at Martinsville. That and the expansion of the grandstands are just a few of the things that have changed at the track, but you can bet that tempers will be flairing at Martinsville this weekend, just like it was in 1972.
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