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Isaac Outraced Hard Times En Route To The Hall

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 5 2016
Bobby Isaac poses with Nord Krauskoph’s Dodge Charger Daytona at Daytona International Speedway. Isaac was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January. (Photo by ISC Images and Archives via Getty Images)

Bobby Isaac poses with Nord Krauskoph’s Dodge Charger Daytona at Daytona International Speedway. Isaac was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January. (Photo by ISC Images and Archives via Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Stock car racing’s early years weren’t financially lucrative when compared to today, but for NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Isaac, the sport provided a means to escape poverty and become a champion.

hallf of fame logo“He loved to win, but he hated to lose, and he used this passion to drive his success,” said Patsy Isaac, who was married to the Catawba County, N.C., native during his glory years in NASCAR’s premier series.

Isaac’s passion led to a single-season record 19 poles in 1969 and a career 37 victories. In 1970 when he captured the series championship, he won 11 of the 47 races in which he competed, posted 32 top-five and 38-top 10 finishes and earned 13 poles.

In the famous No. 71 K&K Insurance Dodge owned by Nord Krauskopf and overseen by crew chief Harry Hyde, Isaac also set speed records at Talladega and the Bonneville Salt Flats. His world closed course record of 201.104 mph set at the 2.66-mile Talladega track stood for 13 years. In September 1971, the team conquered the Bonneville Salt Flats with the sleek Dodge Daytona, setting 28 world speed records, many of which remain.

Isaac declined to boycott the inaugural Talladega race in September 1969 when the majority of NASCAR’s star drivers maintained the tires were unsafe and left the track with their cars. He qualified on the pole for the event with a 196.386-mph lap and eventually finished fourth. For his performance, then NASCAR President Bill France Sr. rewarded Isaac with an engraved Rolex watch that carried the statement: “Winners never quit; quitters never win.”  Patsy described it as her then husband’s most prized possession.

It was that never quit attitude that played an instrumental role in Isaac’s career. The second youngest of nine children, Isaac was on his own by age 12. He didn’t have the money to purchase a ticket at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway, so one night he watched the race from a tree outside the track. It was then Isaac realized racing was his opportunity for a better life.  

“Bobby soon realized that God had blessed him with the ambition and talent to be a race car driver,” Patsy said during her NASCAR Hall of Fame induction speech. “Those early years were difficult, but after bouncing around to various car owners, he found success in the sportsman and modified divisions of NASCAR.  It took him seven years to realize his dream of competing at the highest level in NASCAR.”

Smokey Yunick’s endorsement of Isaac as a talented race car driver in 1963 was instrumental in the young driver gaining the recognition he deserved. In the fall of that year, Isaac’s friend and race car mechanic Bud Allman convinced him to move to Highland, Ind., to work for Ray Nichels, building race cars. This provided him with the opportunity to race at Daytona, where he and Allman won a qualifying race. It was then that the racing community began paying attention to Isaac.

Isaac didn’t care for the spotlight because he didn’t like doing interviews. However, he knew he could always depend on fellow competitor and NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson, who became a close friend.

Isaac’s success in NASCAR’s premier series came to a screeching halt within three years after he earned his championship. On Aug. 12, 1973 at Talladega, Isaac was piloting a Ford for Bud Moore. Midway through the race, Isaac told his car owner he needed a relief driver.

After the induction ceremonies, Patsy confirmed the story that had circulated for decades that Isaac heard a voice telling him to get out of the car.

“Obviously, I wasn’t there with him in the car when that happened, but I will tell you that as soon as he got out of the car and was able to get to a telephone … he called me, and he repeated to me exactly what had happened to him in the car,” Patsy said. “He said a voice told him that he needed to get out of the car and so he radioed to Bud Moore. He said, ‘Find somebody to fill in the car.  I’ve got to get out.’

“I don’t know what that experience was.  I don’t know if he felt it, it was an intuition, or if it was actually a verbal voice.  I don’t know that, but I know that it impacted him enough that he was not going to stay in the race car.

 “He had always said that it was not because someone had gotten killed earlier in the race, and that person was from Catawba County, and he knew them.  That’s all I can tell you is what he told me.”

Starting with the 1974 Daytona 500, Isaac returned to NASCAR’s premier series for 19 events over the next three seasons with his final race coming in the May 1976 World 600.

Shortly thereafter Isaac returned to the short tracks where his career began. Ironically, his life ended at the same track where he first realized racing was his destiny – Hickory. On Aug. 13, 1977, he was competing in a late model sportsman race at the track when he became ill. He was transported to a Hickory hospital where he died in the early morning hours of Aug. 14. The official cause of death was listed as a heart attack, but at least one fellow driver suspected carbon monoxide poisoning.

Today, Hickory officials still honor their native son with the Bobby Isaac Memorial; a 150-lap late model sportsman race. This year’s event is scheduled for Sept. 3.  

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 5 2016
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