1970 Paydays, A Million Reasons to Smile
by Tom Jensen September 23, 2020
For the third straight decade, a Petty is NASCAR’s top earner, as the paydays grow exponentially in the 1970s.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Hall of Famer Lee Petty (2011) was NASCAR’s top earner in the 1950s, banking $199,850, while his son Richard Petty (2010) earned $789,363 a decade later, tops among all drivers in the 1960s.
Spoiler alert: Given that Richard Petty won five of his seven premier series championships and 89 races in the 70s, it’s hardly a shock that he would also lead NASCAR drivers in earnings for a second straight decade.
What might be a little more surprising is the fact that the 1970s marked the first decade in which a NASCAR driver posted earnings of more than $1 million. And, in fact, a whopping seven drivers broke the million-dollar barrier in the 1970s.
Here are the five NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees who earned the most purse money during the decade of the 1970s. (All stats courtesy of racing-reference.info). All five drivers listed here are represented in the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s exhibit entitled: “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions,” which was curated by Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2021).
5. David Pearson, $1,801,427
Finishing fifth on the money list might not seem so impressive at first blush, especially not for Hall of Famer David Pearson (2011), who ranks second on NASCAR’s all-time race-win list with 105 victories. But during the 1970s, Pearson only competed in about 55 percent of the premier series races. Still, 47 victories in 186 starts in the ‘70s means Pearson won 25 percent of the races he entered. In 1976, Pearson won 10 times in 22 starts in the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Mercury, earning a career-high $346,890.
4. Benny Parsons, $2,023,400
Consistency was the key to success for Hall of Famer Benny Parsons (2016) during the 1970s. While the former Detroit taxi driver deservedly earned a lot of recognition for his 1973 championship, Parsons’ biggest achievement might have been finishing in the top five in points for eight consecutive seasons from 1973-80. In 1977, Parsons scored decade-best results, with four race victories and $359,341 in earnings.
3. Bobby Allison, $2,385,029
In both 1971 and ’72, Hall of Famer Bobby Allison (2011) won 10 races, the only two seasons in his career when he posted double-digit victories. All told, Allison visited Victory Lane 40 times in the 1970s driving for a series of owners, including Hall of Famers Bud Moore (2011) and Roger Penske (2019). Allison also fielded his own cars for large portions of the 1970s. In 1979, while driving for Moore, Allison earned $428,800, at the time a career-high.
2. Cale Yarborough, $3,057,775
The 1970s were good to Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough (2012), the only driver other than Richard Petty (2010) to earn more than $3 million during the decade. The South Carolina native scored 52 of his 83 career race victories in the 1970s and set what then was a record by winning three consecutive premier series titles from 1976-78 when he drove for fellow Hall of Famer Junior Johnson (2010). In 1978, Yarborough earned a career-high $623,506.
1. Richard Petty, $3,575,379
With five championships from 1970 to ’79, Richard Petty crushed the competition in the 1970s. The King began the decade by winning 18 races in 1970 and 21 more in ’71, when he won his third championship. In ’74, Petty won 10 races, adding 13 more victories in ’75. Those were the last two seasons in which NASCAR’s all-time leading race winner posted double-digit victory totals and he won championships both years. Petty ended the decade by winning his record seventh championship in 1979, when he earned a career-high $561,933 in a single season. Petty earned more that season than he did in the entire decade of the 1960s.