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Curator's Corner / Hall of Famers

Bobby Isaac’s Burst of Brilliance

At the height of NASCAR’s aero wars, Bobby Isaac was frequently the fastest man on the track.

Bobby Isaac, a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2016, was born into adversity in Catawba, North Carolina, and died way too young. But for a brief moment, his star shone brightly as he dominated NASCAR in 1969-70, winning 28 races and earning 61 top-five finishes and 32 poles in just two seasons.

Bobby Isaac parlayed his skill on short tracks to a NASCAR Cup Series championship in 1970. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

The second youngest of nine children, Isaac's father died when he was six and his mother died when he was a teenager. Growing up in challenging economic circumstances, Isaac dropped out of school and worked at a sawmill when he was just 12 years old.

Like a lot of young men in the Carolinas, Isaac was fascinated by racing and by the late 1950s was racing full-time in the old NASCAR Sportsman Series on dirt tracks throughout the Southeast.

Isaac made his NASCAR Cup Series debut in 1961, completing just 2 of 67 laps in a preliminary 100-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. His first win would come in 1964, when Isaac drove a Ray Nichels-owned Dodge to victory in a 40-lap Daytona 500 qualifying race. Unlike today, back then the two Daytona 500 qualifying races counted for points in the standings.

Driving for Junior Johnson (Class of 2010) in 1966, Isaac ran just nine Cup races, collecting six DNFs, four for crashes and two for mechanical failures. But in the other three races, he finished seventh or better, which caught the eye of car owner Nord Krauskopf, who signed Isaac for 1967, pairing the driver with legendary crew chief Harry Hyde.

Driver Bobby Isaac and crew chief Harry Hyde proved to be a championship combination. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

During the 1967 season, Isaac went winless in a limited 12-race schedule. From there he exploded into the ranks of the NASCAR elite, winning three races in 1968 behind the wheel of Krauskop’s No. 71 K&K Insurance Dodge and finishing second in points to fellow Hall of Famer David Pearson (Class of 2011). In 1969, Isaac won a whopping 17 races and set a record that stands to this day, winning 19 poles.

The K&K Insurance team pulled out all the stops for 1970, fielding a fleet of Dodges for driver Bobby Isaac. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Although, the vast majority of Isaac’s victories in ’69 came at short tracks, the year marked the late-season debut of the radical Dodge Charger Daytona, a car specially designed for superspeedway racing, thanks to its pointy aerodynamic nose and its high rear wing. With its bright-red paint job, Isaac’s No. 71 Dodge was one of the most visible of the high-winged Dodges.

During parts of 1969 and ’70. Bobby Isaac raced this high-winged Dodge Charger Daytona. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

While Isaac didn't win as many races in 1970 as he did the year before, he won his first and only Cup Series championship, amassing 11 victories, 32 top-five finishes and 13 poles in 47 races. Ironically, in the height of NASCAR’s aero wars, all 11 of Isaac’s victories in 1970 came at short tracks of less than 1-mile in distance.

During the 1969-70 campaigns, Isaac's crew featured some of the most recognizable names in that era of NASCAR racing: Harry Hyde would later be portrayed by Robert Duvall as the crusty crew chief Harry Hogge in the film “Days of Thunder.” One of the other crewmen on Isaac’s car was Robert Gee, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s (2021) grandfather and one of the premier fabricators in NASCAR history. Buddy Parrott, who went on to crew chief for Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace (Class of 2013) and Jeff Burton, among others, was also on the team, as was Raymond Fox Jr., son of the famed car owner and mechanic.

A victory in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway was one of four wins posted by Bobby Isaac in 1971. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

Isaac’s 1970 championship was the result of having all the important ingredients in place: Right driver, right team, right sponsor, right car, right crew. Together, they made history.

The team even went to the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1971, where Isaac set 28 world speed records, including hitting 217.368 miles per hour in the flying kilometer in his winged Dodge. And that sharp red paint? It was actually a Ford color called "Poppy Red" that was used on the 1964 Mustang.

Some of the 28 world speed records Bobby Isaac set on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1971 still stand today. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center via Getty Images

Isaac's time at the pinnacle of the sport was far too brief. While driving for Bud Moore at Talladega Superspeedway in 1973, Isaac pulled into the pits in the middle of the race, got out of his car and abruptly quit, saying a voice in his head told him to get out of the car or something bad would happen to him.

Then, in the summer of 1977, Isaac decided to enter a late-model race at Hickory Motor Speedway, his hometown track in North Carolina. After running well initially, Isaac pitted with about 10 laps to go with what was believed to be a case of heat prostration.

Isaac was taken to the nearby Catawba Memorial Hospital in Hickory. There, he suffered a massive heart attack and despite the determined efforts of a second-year medical student named Jerry Punch, Isaac died. He was just 45 years old and died two days before Elvis Presley did.

For his career, Isaac earned 37 race victories, 48 poles, 134 top-five and 160 top-10 finishes in 308 Cup Series starts. And those numbers helped him secure a sport in the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2016.

Booby Isaac’s 1970 NASCAR Cup Series championship trophy is on display in Heritage Speedway on the top floor of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Plan a visit and purchase tickets at

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.

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