The Five: Biggest Controversies In NASCAR History
Asked once when the first automobile race took place, Richard Petty famously replied, "When they built the second car."
Racing is a sport that has always fueled emotions and passion, and wherever you have lots of passion and emotions, controversy is inevitable. Here are five of the biggest controversies in NASCAR's long and storied history.
1. RICHARD PETTY'S BIG ENGINE - NASCAR's biggest name, Richard Petty, saw his reputation as a good guy sorely tested in one of the most bitterly debated outcomes of any NASCAR race. It was October 1983 at the Miller High Life 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where "The King" would score his 198th of 200 career victories. But his car was far from legal that day. Petty won that race with left-side tires on the right side of the car, and an engine that measured 381.983 cubic inches against a maximum allowable limit of 358 c.i. Petty was docked 104 points, but the victory was allowed to stand, amidst great complaints from his rivals. The Junior Johnson-owned second-place car driven by Darrell Waltrip was whisked away from the track before it could be inspected.
2. TALLADEGA 1969 - Big Bill France built Alabama International Motor Speedway - the track now known as Talladega Superspeedway - to be even faster than Daytona International Speedway. But when practice began for the first NASCAR race in Sept. 1969, tires began to blister at an alarming rate. Firestone left NASCAR that weekend, never to return, while Goodyear struggled to find a solution. After several discussions with Big Bill France, Richard Petty led a walkout of the NASCAR regular drivers over safety concerns. The first Talladega race was won by journeyman Richard Brickhouse over a field of second-tier racers and backmarkers. And it would be the only NASCAR victory of Brickhouse's career.
3. JUNIOR JOHNSON, 1991 ALL-STAR RACE - NASCAR caught Junior Johnson with an oversized engine in Tommy Ellis' Ford Thunderbird in 1991 running of The Winston, now called the Sprint All-Star Race. Johnson's car was sponsored by Budweiser, the Official Beer of NASCAR, and title sponsor of three Winston Cup races that season. At the time, NASCAR rules called for a 12-week ban for anyone caught with an oversized engine. Ellis was a fill-in for the injured Geoff Bodine, not a permanent member of the team, so his suspension was lifted, while Johnson and Brewer were slapped on the hands with four-race bans. Amid howls of protests that he was circumventing the rules, Johnson transferred ownership of his team to his then-wife Flossie, changed the car's number from 11 to 97 and ran the next four races, two with Ellis behind the wheel and then two more with the recovering Bodine.
4. CURTIS TURNER BANNED - In the 1950s, Curtis Turner was one of NASCAR's first true superstars, a prodigious talent who could do things with a race car that few others could. The fact that he was a rogue and a party animal only added to his legend - he was Tim Richmond before there was a Tim Richmond. But in 1961, NASCAR founder Big Bill France banned Turner and fellow driver Tim Flock for life for attempting to unionize the drivers. Although Turned would eventually be reinstated, he was never again a major factor in the sport.
5. WENDELL SCOTT'S ONLY VICTORY - To this day, the late Wendell Scott remains the only African-American driver to ever win a race in what today is known as the Sprint Cup Series. Scott won once at NASCAR's top level, capturing a 100-lap feature at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla., on Dec. 1, 1963. But NASCAR initially awarded the victory and trophy to Buck Baker, who actually finished two laps behind Scott. The conventional wisdom was that in those days of the segregated South, officials feared repercussions from Scott getting a kiss in victory lane from a white trophy queen.