Open Today until 5pm


Open Today until 5pm


Open Today until 5pm

Curator's Corner / NASCAR 75th Anniversary

10 Tall Tales From 1973

In a topsy-turvy season filled with strange outcomes, Benny Parsons won the Cup Series Title.

The year 1973 was a big one in American history: The Vietnam War ended and the World Trade Center became the tallest building in the world. In politics, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigned, the Supreme Court took up Roe V. Wade and OPEC increased crude oil prices by 200 percent. Secretariat won the Triple Crown, the undefeated Miami Dolphins won the Super Bowl and “American Graffiti” mesmerized movie-goers.

In 1973, there was a lot going on in NASCAR, too. Here are 10 tall tales from the 1973 season.

At the urging of series sponsor R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., NASCAR reduced the number of races on the schedule, focusing on racing at bigger, faster tracks in larger markets. NASCAR Hall of Fame Permanent Collection, Gift of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

1. A Short Schedule

When R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and its Winston brand took over as the NASCAR Cup Series title sponsor in 1971, one of its first initiatives was shortening the schedule by eliminating short-track races in small markets. As a result, the Cup Series schedule went from 48 races in 1971 to 31 in 1972 and 28 in 1973. The 28-race schedule featured the fewest number of races in NASCAR’s top division since 1950, when a mere 19 races comprised the entire season.

Consistency was the key to Benny Parsons winning the 1973 Cup Series championship. NASCAR Hall of Fame Permanent Collection, Gift of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

2. The Champion Won Only One Race

In claiming what would be the only Cup Series championship of his career, Benny Parsons (Class of 2016) won just a single race, the July 7th Volunteer 500 at Bristol International Speedway (now Bristol Motor Speedway). And an impressive victory it was, as Parsons finished a whopping 7 laps ahead of second-place finisher L. D. Ottinger. Further back in the field, Parsons came home 53 laps ahead of 10th-place Henley Gray. For the season, staying on track was a key to Parsons’s success, as he was running at the finish of 21 races and completed more miles than any other driver in the series. Benny Parsons’ 1973 championship trophy is on display in the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Heritage Speedway.

Andy Granatelli (right), CEO of sponsor STP, was on hand to help Richard Petty celebrate his victory in the 1973 Daytona 500. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

3. Richard Petty Finished Fifth In Points

Despite winning six races, including his fourth Daytona 500, and leading more than nine times as many laps as Parsons, Richard Petty (Class of 2010) finished fifth in points. It was “The King’s” lowest ranking since 1965, when Chrysler teams boycotted NASCAR over a rules dispute with NASCAR founder and Chairman William H.G. France (Class of 2010). Although he finished second in number of races run and matched Parsons’ total of 15 top-five finishes, Petty plummeted in the points standings because he suffered 10 DNFs during the season.

Open-wheel and sports car star Mark Donohue gave team owner Roger Penske his first NASCAR race victory in 1973, capturing the Winston Western 500 at Riverside International Raceway. NASCAR Hall of Fame Permanent Collection, Gift of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

4. First Victory for Roger Penske

After years of racing Indy Cars and sports cars, team owner Roger Penske (Class of 2019) joined the NASCAR ranks in 1972, running an American Motors Corp. Matador coupe. After going winless in five starts with drivers Donnie Allison and Mark Donohue in 1972, the following season Donohue delivered Penske’s first NASCAR victory on the Riverside International Raceway road course in Southern California. There, Donohue lapped the field in a dominating performance, leading 138 of 191 laps to win the 1973 Winston Western 500.

The 1973 Southeastern 500 at Bristol International Speedway (now Bristol Motor Speedway) was the first of four victories on the season for Cale Yarborough. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

5. Cale Comes Back

In 1971-72, Cale Yarborough (Class of 2012) ran just nine NASCAR races total, instead opting to concentrate on the Indy Car circuit. But in 1973, the South Carolina native returned to NASCAR, running the full 28-race schedule and posting excellent results. Driving for car owner Richard Howard, Yarborough won four races, including the prestigious Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. In the final seven races of the season, Yarborough scored two victories, two runner-up finishes and two third place runs.

Speedy work by Dick Brooks’ pit crew helped him win the 1973 Talladega 500. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

6. Plymouth's Last Stand

After powering Richard Petty to so many victories in the 1960s and early 1970s, Chrysler Corp.’s Plymouth division was on its way out of NASCAR by 1973. The 191st and final victory for Plymouth came at Alabama International Motor Speedway (now Talladega Superspeedway) in August 1973 under unusual circumstances. Eastern Airlines pilot Jimmy Crawford co-owned a Plymouth with his brother Peter. Jimmy had expected to race at Talladega, but NASCAR would not let him race there, citing previous accidents. So the brothers hired journeyman Dick Brooks, who came into the race winless in 103 starts. Somehow, Brooks passed David Pearson with 8 laps to go to win his lone race in what would eventually be a 358-race career. Even though Plymouth’s last victory was nearly half a century ago, the brand still ranks fourth all-time in Cup Series victories, behind only Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford.

In the 1973 Talladega 500, driver Bobby Isaac radioed car owner Bud Moore and told him to find a relief driver because Isaac said he was getting out of the car. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

7. Guided By Voices

In the same Talladega race that Dick Brooks won, 1970 Cup Series champion Bobby Isaac (Class of 2016), quit mid-race after hearing voices in his head telling him to park his Bud Moore (Class of 2011) owned Ford or else something bad would happen to him. Isaac radioed Moore to get a relief driver, then pitted his car mid-race, got out and didn’t race again that season. He later said, “I don’t have anything to prove to myself or anyone else. I know how it feels to want to drive and I know how it feels to win and lose. I know how it feels to be a champion and now I know how it feels to quit."

Bobby Allison was convinced some of his rivals ran oversized engines in the 1973 National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

8. Your Cheatin' Heart

The penultimate race of the 1973 season, the National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, also was one of the most controversial. First, apparent pole-winner Charlie Glotzbach had his qualifying time disallowed, when his car was found to have an illegal “slider” carburetor plate that allowed his engine to take in more power-making fuel-air mixture. In the race, winner Cale Yarborough and runner-up Richard Petty finished three laps ahead of fellow Hall of Famer Bobby Allison (Class 2011), who insisted his rivals were cheating. Amid rumors of oversized engines, the race results were not made final until late Monday, more than 25 hours after the end of the race. In a rare admission, NASCAR issued a statement saying, in part, “… the procedure used to check all of the engine sizes in the pre-race inspection proved inadequate.” Afterwards, Allison fumed, but the results stood. Cale Yarborough’s trophy from his victory in the 1973 National 500 is on display in Heritage Speedway.

Driver David Pearson and the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Mercury didn’t enter every race, but they still won 11 times in 1973. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

9. 13th Place Driver Had Most Wins

In a typical NASCAR Cup Series season, the driver who wins the most races usually contends for or wins the championship. Not in 1973. Hall of Famer David Pearson (Class of 2011) won 11 of 18 races he entered yet finished 13th in points. Why so low? Pearson only appeared in just 18 of 28 races on the schedule, so he ended the season behind others that ran the full-time schedule, even if they won less. The fact that Pearson, driver of the Wood Brothers Racing Mercury owned by Glen Wood (Class of 2012) and prepared by brother Leonard Wood (Class of 2013), won more than half his starts is remarkable. On the season, Pearson had 4 DNFs, which means his car was running at the finish of 14 races. In the 14 races Pearson finished, he won 11, finished second twice and third once. Pearson swept both races at Darlington Raceway, North Carolina Motor Speedway and Dover Downs International Speedway (now Dover Motor Speedway). Pearson also qualified on the front row 13 times. David Pearson’s trophy from the spring 1973 Talladega race is on display in Heritage Speedway.

Despite having his right-side sheet metal torn off in an early crash, Benny Parsons made enough laps in the last race of the year to lock up the Cup Series championship. NASCAR Permanent Collection, Gift of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

10. The Championship

Benny Parsons held a narrow points lead coming into the final race of the season, the American 500 at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham. Disaster struck early for Parsons, as he was one of six drivers caught up in a hard crash in Turn 2, bringing out a caution on Lap 13. Johnny Barnes started the caution by spinning out, with the onrushing Parsons unable to avoid him. The contact tore the right-side sheet metal off Parsons’ car and heavily damaged the roll cage. Parsons’s day – and championship hopes – appeared over. Back in the garage, car owner L.G. DeWitt’s crew, aided by volunteers from other teams, made a Herculean effort to rebuild the wounded Chevrolet. Their hustle allowed Parsons to complete 308 of 492 laps, good enough for 28th-place in the 43-car field. Aided by an engine failure in Richard Petty’s car, Parsons was able to close out the 1973 season as NASCAR’s newest champion.

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen

Tom is the Curatorial Affairs Manager at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For more than 25 years, he has been part of the NASCAR media industry.

Related Articles