THE 1970s: NASCAR OVERCOMES AN EARLY RECESSION TO BRING SPORT INTO THE MODERN ERA
Darlington Raceway is celebrating “7 Decades of NASCAR” for its Bojangles’ Southern 500 Throwback Weekend in 2018
DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA (April 30, 2018) – Darlington Raceway is celebrating “7 Decades of NASCAR” for its Bojangles’ Southern 500 Throwback Weekend on Sept. 1-2. As part of the celebration, the track Too Tough To Tame is highlighting specific moments in the sport’s history, continuing today with the 1970s.
As the sport entered the ’70s, few could have predicted the major culture shifts that would soon change the sport forever. A number of key moves – and one major moment – highlighted the decade, all of which provided much needed stability and longevity to the sport for years to come.
Most notably, the addition of Winston as the series sponsor in 1971, Bill France Sr. stepping down and turning the reins over to his son, Bill Jr., in 1972, and the addition of live television coverage of the sport in 1970, were all critical factors in propelling stock car racing into the modern era and ultimately to new heights from which the sport had never seen.
Winston, with their creative marketing strategy (Winston Million in the ‘80s and ‘90s) and influx of promotional dollars ($100,000 points fund in 1972), helped usher the sport to a bigger fan base outside the Southeast region. With the assistance of live telecasts throughout the decade, the NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National Series was becoming a must-see sport around the country.
“Through the visionary leadership of Bill France Sr., and Bill France Jr., NASCAR experienced unprecedented growth during the 1970s,” said Kerry Tharp, President of Darlington Raceway. “Their ability to bring in national sponsors and television coverage allowed the sport to explode onto the American sports scene.”
As the push for more popularity was being made throughout the ‘70s, the decade ended with arguably the most important race in the history of NASCAR.
After negotiating with CBS to broadcast the entire 1979 Daytona 500 live flag-to-flag, NASCAR was the benefactor of a perfect storm for the second race of the season.
With a snowstorm blanketing most of the East coast, giving the race a captive television audience, the 1979 Daytona 500 was a spectacular event. Although Richard Petty snapped a 45-race winless streak that day, it was the fight between South Carolina’s own Cale Yarborough, and the Allison brothers of Donnie and Bobby, that stole the ratings that day.
After battling throughout the day, Donnie Allison and Yarborough took the white flag with a half-lap lead on the rest of the field. After heavy contact on the final lap, both drivers found themselves wrecked and settled at the bottom of the track. With Bobby Allison pulling up soon after to check on his brother, the three proceeded to fight on live national television, generating some of the highest TV ratings in the sport’s history. Nearly 16 million viewers tuned into the telecast, which ultimately drew a 10.5 national rating.
The race was considered one of the most important in NASCAR history due to the fact that it got millions of viewers excited about stock car racing and generated a buzz around the country that got people talking about the sport.
Maybe just as important, 1979 was also the first full-time season for rookie Dale Earnhardt, who finished eighth in the Daytona 500 that year, won his first Cup race at Bristol, and earned Rookie of the Year honors that season despite missing four races with a broken collarbone.
He was one of many legendary drivers who began their careers in the ‘70s, including Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte and Harry Gant, among others.
Janet Guthrie was also introduced to stock car fans in the 1970s when she competed from 1976-1980 in the Cup Series. She was the first woman to start a Daytona 500 in 1977 and finished 12th in the race after starting 39th.
Notable historic drivers and moments in the 1970s include:
- The 1976 Daytona 500 was a finish for the ages as Richard Petty and David Pearson battled in the final laps with both wrecking in the final turn of the race. Pearson was able to restart his car and creep across the finish line at about 20 mph, while Petty could not get his machine restarted just 100 feet from the finish.
- The 1970s ushered in a new era of sponsorship. Winston was the primary sponsor of the series beginning in 1971, but many race teams also saw an influx of sponsorship deals for their cars. Company logos on hoods and quarter panels were becoming the norm in the ‘70s.
- Richard Petty won his seventh and final NASCAR Cup Series championship in 1979.
- The late Benny Parsons won his one and only NASCAR Cup Series championship in 1973. He mastered a new points system NASCAR introduced that year and won the title with only one race victory that season.
- David Pearson drove a part-time schedule that same year (1973) and won an astounding 11 of the 18 races he competed in with 14 top-five showings. Despite finishing 13th in the final standings, his total winnings of $228,408 that year was third overall just behind Cale Yarborough ($267,513), who finished second in the standings, and Richard Petty, who placed fifth ($234,389). They both competed in all 28 races that season.
- Cale Yarborough won three straight NASCAR Cup Series championships from 1976-78. It was a record until Jimmie Johnson won five-in-a-row from 2006-10.
Darlington Raceway’s award-winning throwback campaign is The Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR featuring the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500® on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018. The NASCAR XFINITY Series Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 will race on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. Deposits can be made by calling 866-459-7223 or visiting DarlingtonRaceway.com.
You can keep up with all of the latest news from Darlington Raceway at DarlingtonRaceway.com, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DarlingtonRaceway and on Twitter at Twitter.com/TooToughToTame. Fans are encouraged to post their Bojangles’ Southern 500 stories and memories at, #BojanglesSo500 and #SportClips200.