NASCAR Classics: Races to watch before Darlington

Throughout the 2024 NASCAR season, Ken Martin, director of historical content for the sanctioning body, will offer his suggestions on which historical races fans should watch from the NASCAR Classics library in preparation for each upcoming race weekend.

Martin has worked exclusively for NASCAR since 2008 but has been involved with the sport since 1982, overseeing various projects. He has worked in the broadcast booth for hundreds of races, assisting the broadcast team with different tasks. This includes calculating the “points as they run” for the historic 1992 finale, the Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The following suggestions are Ken‘s picks to watch before this weekend‘s Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway.

1965 Rebel 300:

Fred Lorenzen backed up his winning effort in the 1964 Rebel 300 with a pole-winning effort, besting Marvin Panch and his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford.

The humid 85-degree day mirrored the action on the track, as it didn‘t take long for some tough racing to take place.

Lorenzen and Panch battled door-to-door after taking the green flag, touching a handful of times as they entered the first turn with the field of 31 drivers behind them.

A few laps later, Wayne Smith’s No. 38 car crashed, ending Earl Balmer‘s day as he hit the wall while trying to avoid Smith‘s car.

Lorenzen‘s sleek No. 28 car started having engine issues early on, and he had to bring it into the pits twice before climbing out and thus ending his chances at a victory.

He lost a cylinder, and his team pulled all of the spark plugs to explore their issues. After losing four laps, they found a broken spark plug wire.

Chaos continued as Timmonsville, South Carolina‘s Cale Yarborough ran over debris, which cut a tire on his car and sent him into the guardrail. He attributed part of the issue to the hot temperatures and alluded that the rest of the race could be crazy.

Yarborough wasn‘t wrong as Bub Strickler‘s car soon turned over, sliding down the track on its roof before coming to a stop upside down. He quickly climbed from the car under his own power.

Throughout all the cautions, it was Junior Johnson who dominated the race. He led 197 of the race‘s 219 laps en route to his 42nd career victory.

Darel Dieringer came home second, racing the No. 16 Mercury for Bud Moore. Series points leader Ned Jarrett was third, while Dick Hutcherson and Bobby Johns rounded out the rest of the top five.

view of old nascar car driving
view of old nascar car driving

1970 Rebel 400:

The 13th race of the 1970 NASCAR Cup Series season was joined in progress by ABC Wide World of Sports as the No. 71 of Bobby Isaac, No. 17 of David Pearson and No. 43 of Richard Petty battled for the lead. They were the only three cars on the lead lap at the time, as 161 laps had already ticked by.

Within 10 minutes of being on the air, a horrifying crash involving Petty silenced the South Carolina crowd.

In one of the most eye-popping incidents in NASCAR history, Petty‘s No. 43 car made a beeline for the inside wall, slamming it head-on, as the wall exploded into the air.

This sent Petty‘s car airborne, before barrel rolling down the track. Petty ended the incident hanging outside of his car, seemingly unconscious as one of the red rags that he used during the race lay on the track underneath the wreckage.

Petty‘s team sprinted over the wall to assess the incident and help their driver, as smoke billowed from the car. They took him from the car in the rescue squad station wagon to the infield care center.

He was soon transferred to a hospital in Florence, South Carolina. His wife, Linda, climbed into the front of the station wagon for the ride.

His brother Maurice was interviewed and gave an update on his brother, noting that he had pain in his left arm, had bloody eyes but was conscious and alert.

Petty was admitted to the hospital and miraculously the worst of his injuries was a dislocated shoulder.

Only 13 cars were running at the finish of the race, which was won by Pearson. He finished three laps ahead of the second-place finisher, Dick Brooks.

RIchard Petty goes for a pit stop
RIchard Petty goes for a pit stop

1979 CRC Chemicals Rebel 500:

One week after Dale Earnhardt captured the first victory of his career, the NASCAR Cup Series traveled to Darlington Raceway for the annual Rebel 500.

The rising star put his No. 2 Chevrolet for Rod Osterlund 13th in qualifying, as Donnie Allison captured the pole position.

Attrition turned out to be the word of the day, as series points leader Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Terry Labonte and 11 other drivers saw their day end early due to some type of issue.

The finish of the race came down to an epic battle between Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty. The two drivers exchanged the lead multiple times over the final 80 laps of the race, in every way possible, setting up an unforgettable finish.

Petty was out front at the white flag but Waltrip soon dipped under the No. 43 car for the lead. Petty attempted to cross Waltrip over, as the No. 1 car of Allison closed in. Petty drove his car too deep into the turn as he passed Waltrip, sliding up almost into the wall as Waltrip checked out. Allison then caught up to Petty, as Petty finished inches in front of Allison for second.

Waltrip‘s victory moved him into first in the season standings, thanks in part to Bobby Allison‘s engine issues.

Darrell Waltrip looks on
Darrell Waltrip looks on

You can watch these three races and hundreds more by visiting NASCAR Classics.