Minter: Here Is The Rest Of The 1973 Story
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
Talladega Superspeedway president Rick Humphrey is, in my opinion, an all-around good guy worthy of the support of both fans and the media. But I hope the Creek medicine man he got to restore balance to his race track turns out to be a quack. Even if the strange occurrences at Talladega are because the track was built on an old Native American burial ground, they’ve added a lot of intrigue to the events there.
Some of the events labeled as strange actually aren’t so odd, if you know the whole story.
Take the 1973 Talladega 500. That’s the race where Larry Smith hit the wall in Turn One, contact that appeared minor from my seat on the backstretch that day. But later word came that Smith had been killed.
Then Bobby Isaac suddenly retired from the race, parking Harry Hyde’s fast car, saying he heard voices telling him to quit.
And if that wasn’t enough, the finish turned out to be the biggest upset in NASCAR history.
As the late Paul Harvey would have said, here’s the “rest of the story” as it was told to me years later.
Like many of the folks from the Atlanta area, my group and I were closely watching one of the cars that many expected to be a back-marker that day. It was a 1972 Plymouth, painted in the black and gold colors and carrying the No. 22 made famous by the late Fireball Roberts. For today’s race fans, that would be like a start-up team showing up at the track with a black No. 3 Chevrolet.
The car was fielded by two Eastern Airlines pilots, brothers Jimmy and Peter Crawford. Jimmy, often the driver, had been discouraged by NASCAR from driving in the race because of a crash in his previous Talladega appearance. So a deal was worked for journeyman Dick Brooks to take the wheel.
From the chicken bone section, it was apparent from the start that Brooks’ machine was a fast one. Many a lap saw him drop to the inside of the long backstretch and blow by a string of cars like the rude motorist who ignores the “Left Lane Closed Ahead” signs on the highway and speeds by the slowing motorists in the right lane before darting in front just as his lane closes.
Brooks needed the straightaway speed because the car was a clunker in the corners, and his pit crew, a rag-tag bunch of amateurs, lost him a lap or so on most stops.
But when it counted, Brooks motored by the top stars of the day and drove the black Plymouth all the way to Victory Lane.
In a few years, the Crawfords had dropped off the NASCAR circuit. But one night in the late 1980s, Jimmy showed up in the pits at Senoia Raceway, where I was covering the weekly show.
We started talking about the Talladega win, and that’s when I learned the real story behind the Crawfords’ upset victory.
The win, it seems, wasn’t so unlikely after all. The Plymouth had been built originally by Mario Rossi, one of the top mechanics of his era. But the real secret to the speed was under the big black hood, the area where Peter Crawford worked his magic.
Peter Crawford, it turned out, was a mechanical genius. With NASCAR forcing the big- block engines of that era to run restrictor plates, Crawford set about to design an induction system that would maximize the air flow to his engine despite the plate.
He wound up designing his own intake manifold, which he built according to the specifications in the rule book. He submitted it to NASCAR, and it was approved, as long as he made similar manifolds available to the other Plymouth teams; which he did.
What NASCAR officials didn’t realize at the time was the effectiveness of Crawford’s creation. When the power plant was hooked to a dynamometer at an Atlanta-area race shop, the engine produced more power than the dyno could measure. So Crawford made his own dyno. Even with the restrictor plate attached, the engine cranked out far in excess of 600 horsepower.
So it was really no surprise that Brooks was able to run so fast on the straightaways, especially since the brothers had also used their aerodynamic knowledge to tweak the body. And this was in the days before trips to wind tunnels were commonplace.
The win wasn’t just a surprise to the fans in the stands that day, it was something that NASCAR founder and track owner Bill France Sr. didn’t expect – or appreciate.
According to the Crawfords, France summoned them to NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach for a meeting, where he informed Peter that his manifold was being outlawed.
Peter protested, saying his creation fit every spec in the rule book.
France, he said, responded that it didn’t.
So Crawford respectfully asked France to show him where he was in violation.
According to Crawford, France had him turn the rule-book pages back from the engine specs toward the front of the book. He had Crawford read the opening sentence.
It read: “All parts must be NASCAR approved.”
That was his violation, and with that ruling, one of the slickest parts ever run in NASCAR was never seen at the track again.
Bill France Sr. had done the job the modern-day medicine man seeks to do. He restored balance to Talladega Superspeedway.
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments