6 Unreal 1972 Storylines
by Tom Jensen March 09, 2022
If you look closely at the history of NASCAR, few premier series seasons saw the kind of radical change that occurred 50 years ago.
The 1972 NASCAR season was the second with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.’s Winston brand as the title sponsor of the premier series. This year is commonly referred to as the start of NASCAR’s Modern Era because it marked a major transition in where the sport raced and how often.
Here are six unreal storylines from the 1972 NASCAR season:
Far and away the most important change in 1972 was the Winston Cup (now premier series) schedule, which was cut from 48 races in 1971 to 31 in ’72. Largely at the suggestion of their title sponsor, NASCAR took all tracks shorter than 0.500-mile off the ’72 schedule. All told, at least 14 tracks where NASCAR raced in 1971 were eliminated from the schedule the following year. The list of tracks that fell off the calendar included Meyer Speedway in Houston, which has the distinction of being the last facility to host only a single premier series race.
Hall of Famers Dominate
Three Hall of Famers combined to win 24 of the 31 races – a whopping 77 percent – on the 1972 schedule. Bobby Allison (2011) led the way with 10 victories, followed by Richard Petty (2010) with eight and David Pearson (2011) with six. This period marked the height of the long-simmering Petty-Allison feud.
But here’s a crazy stat for you: None of the drivers who finished fourth to 18th in points in 1972 won even a single race. Nine of them didn’t even have a top-five finish.
Nowadays, most drivers run the full premier series schedule. Not so in 1972, when only the top six in points competed in all 31 races. Still, some of the part-timers fared well. David Pearson (2011) won six times in just 17 starts, all driving the powerhouse No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Mercury fielded by team owner Glen Wood (2012) and prepared by crew chief Leonard Wood (2013). Buddy Baker (2020) won twice and like Pearson competed in just 17 of 31 races.
Piling up points
Here’s another astounding statistic: According to NASCAR records, a whopping 120 drivers were credited with earning points during the 1972 premier series season. Just to put that number into context, last year only 42 premier series drivers earned points, about one-third of the 1972 total.
The sport was clearly still a hobby for a lot of racers in 1972, as more than 20 drivers earned points while competing in only a single race.
Kentucky racer Darrell Waltrip (2012) made his premier series debut in 1972, driving the No. 95 Terminal Transport Mercury in five races, including a best finish of third at Nashville Speedway. The chassis that Waltrip used when he made his debut at Talladega Superspeedway in the May 7 Winston 500 was actually the very same chassis Mario Andretti used in winning the 1967 Daytona 500. The chassis was converted to a Mercury Cyclone body for Waltrip.
Less than one year after winning his first of a record 18 Indianapolis 500s, team owner and Hall of Famer Roger Penske (2019) raced in NASCAR for the first time in 1972. “The Captain,” as Penske is known, competed in 12 premier series races in ’72, seven with Dave Marcus behind the wheel, one with Donnie Allison and four with Mark Donohue. It was Donohue who gave Penske his first Indy 500 win. In his first year in NASCAR, all of Penske’s drivers piloted AMC Matadors.
Still The King
Once The King, always The King. The 1972 NASCAR season ended with Richard Petty hoisting his fourth of a record seven premier series trophies. The title was Petty’s second consecutive championship to go along with those he won previously in 1964 and ’67. During the ’72 campaign, Petty won eight races, with 25 top fives and 28 top 10s. His earnings for the season totaled $339,405.