1969: NASCAR Gone Wild
by Tom Jensen August 16, 2023
When NASCAR raced at the end of the turbulent 1960s, anything could happen on track, and it usually did.
What a year 1969 was for American sports. Joe Namath and the New York Jets shocked the world by becoming the first American Football League team to win the Super Bowl, defeating the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, 16-7.
Nine months later, the Jets’ Shea Stadium neighbors, the New York Mets, produced an upset nearly as large as when they beat the Baltimore Orioles 4 games to 1 to win their first World Series.
In college football, No. 1 Texas beat No. 2 Arkansas 15-14, in what was dubbed the “Game of the Century.” The Texas Longhorns claimed the national championship with a 21-17 victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Cotton Bowl Classic on New Year’s Day in 1970.
Basketball was dominated by a pair of perennial powerhouses, with UCLA winning the college championship with a 92-72 drubbing of Purdue, while in the National Basketball Association, the Boston Celtics narrowly beat their archrival the Los Angeles Lakers 4 games to 3 to win yet another championship.
And in NASCAR, the action was fast and furious in 1969. Here are 10 things you might not know about the 1969 NASCAR season.
10. The 1969 NASCAR season began in 1968
Back in the day, the NASCAR season wasn’t strictly an annual affair. There were 54 races on the 1969 NASCAR Grand National (now premier series) schedule, but two of those races were run in late 1968, both won by Hall of Famers. Richard Petty (2010) won the Georgia 500 at Middle Georgia Raceway on Nov. 17, while Bobby Allison (2011) won the Alabama 200 on Dec. 8 at Montgomery (Ala.) Speedway.
9. The Daytona 500 was the sixth race of the season
Nowadays, the Daytona 500 opens the Cup season. The ‘69 season began with the aforementioned pair of races in late 1968, followed by the Motor Trend 500 road race at Riverside International Raceway in Southern California on Feb. 1, 1969. Then came the twin 125 Daytona 500 qualifying races, which back then counted as points races. On Feb. 23, LeeRoy Yarbrough made a stunning last-lap pass of Charlie Glotzbach to win the Daytona 500.
8. The NASCAR Cup Series still raced on dirt
Five of the 54 NASCAR Grand National races run during the 1969 season took place on dirt tracks: Columbia (S.C.) Speedway, April 3, won by Hall of Famer Bobby Isaac (2016); Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway, April 8, Isaac; Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway, June 21, Isaac; North Carolina State Fairgrounds, June 26, David Pearson (2011); and Columbia (S.C.) Speedway, Sept. 18, Isaac.
7. Richard Petty switched to Ford
After a disappointing 1968 season – at least by his own lofty standards – Hall of Famer Richard Petty (2010) shocked the racing world by signing a one-year deal to drive a new, limited-edition Ford Torino Talladega for 1969. Petty’s defection would directly lead to the aero wars between Ford and Chrysler. Still, Petty won the first race of 1969, which was run in late 1968, in his trusty Plymouth.
6. Four New Tracks Opened
As NASCAR racing continued its migration away from dirt tracks to longer, faster and paved tracks, four new speedways opened in 1969: Michigan International Speedway, June 15, won by Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough (2012); Dover Downs International Speedway, July 6, won by Richard Petty (2010); Alabama International Motor Speedway (now Talladega Superspeedway), Sept. 14, won by Richard Brickhouse; and Texas World Speedway, Dec. 7, won by Bobby Isaac (2016).
5. LeeRoy Yarbrough's Magical Season
Driving for Hall of Fame car owner Junior Johnson (2010), LeeRoy Yarbrough won the Daytona 500 and Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway, both races at historic Darlington Raceway and the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. All told, Yarbrough won seven premier series races in 1969, exactly half of his career total of 14.
4. Aero Wars
When Ford lured Richard Petty (2010) away from Chrysler to drive its swoopy new Torino Talladega, Chrysler struck back hard, building the wildest “stock car” anyone had ever seen. The high-winged, bullet-nosed Dodge Charger Daytona debuted Sept. 14 at Alabama International Motor Speedway (now Talladega Superspeedway), where Richard Brickhouse won his first and only premier series race.
3. David Pearson wins his final title
The 1969 NASCAR season saw Hall of Famer David Pearson (2011) win his third championship in four years. Driving for the powerhouse Holman-Moody Racing factory Ford team, Pearson won 11 times, with a remarkable 42 top-five finishes in just 51 races. Although he would keep racing for another 20 years, Pearson never again ran a full season after 1969.
2. Bobby Isaac sets a record
Hall of Famer Bobby Isaac (2016) set a record in 1969 that still stands today, winning 19 poles in the season. Driving Nord Krauskopf’s No. 71 K&K Insurance Dodge, Isaac won 17 races with 29 top-five and 33 top-10 finishes in the year.
1. Richard Childress Racing (RCR) Founded
Hall of Famer Richard Childress (2017) began his NASCAR driving career at the Citrus 250 Grand American Series race at Daytona International Speedway in February 1969. Childress made his premier series debut in the inaugural Talladega 500 at Alabama International Speedway in September. The NASCAR Hall of Fame paid tribute to Childress' success with the recent Great Hall exhibit: “RCR 50: Only in America.”