Just a few months after the grand opening of Talladega Superspeedway in the fall of 1969, the decade of the 1970s for the world’s largest and greatest Superspeedway started with an historical event that changed racing forever and is a major part of the track’s 50th anniversary lore.
On March 24, 1970, Buddy Baker became the first driver to officially eclipse the 200-mph mark on a closed course while testing at what was then called the Alabama International Motor Speedway. Baker, who stood 6 feet, 6 inches tall and was known as “Leadfoot” because he loved to go fast, took his blue No. 88 winged Dodge Daytona Charger around the 2.66-mile, 33-degree banking at a speed of 200.447 mph.
Mission accomplished for what William H. G. “Big Bill” France, had set out to do – build a palace of speed. Baker’s record run would set the tone for the next 10 Talladega spring premier series races with high speeds, incredible competition, victories by some of NASCAR’s greatest names as well as a journeyman.
Below are those key ‘70s spring moments as Talladega Superspeedway prepares for its 100th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race – the GEICO 500 on Sunday, April 28.
- 1970: Dedham, Maine’s Pete Hamilton, driving a No. 40 winged Dodge Daytona for noted team Petty Enterprises, cruised to the victory after Baker, who was running second, suffered a blown tire late in the event. Hamilton would go on to win by more than 40 seconds over Bobby Isaac and would come back later to the track’s summer event to make it a Talladega Sweep with another triumph. This would be the only year Hamilton, who started out the year with a win in the Daytona 500, would drive for Petty. He would compete in just 64 races over a six-year stretch.
- 1971: Donnie Allison, in the famed No. 21 Wood Brothers Mercury, prevailed in a one-lap shootout over his brother Bobby to capture his first Talladega triumph. Ironically, it was his first start at ‘Dega, after being a part of the driver walkout for the ’69 track opener, and did not compete in either of the 1970 races.
- 1972-74: For three straight spring races at Talladega, David Pearson was the track master, reeling off wins but in different fashions. In ’72, he made a daring pass on Isaac with just over a lap to go and then held on for the victory, while in ’73, he dodged a host of wrecks and finished a lap ahead of the field. And, in ’74, he edged Benny Parsons by merely 0.17 second. The record of three consecutive spring victories, each in the Wood Brothers No. 21 Mercury still stands today.
- 1975-76: Baker finally got to Gatorade Victory Lane at Talladega as he blocked a last-lap rally of Pearson to win by a car length in Bud Moore’s No. 15 Ford. Baker would become the second driver to make it a Talladega sweep by winning later that summer, then came back in the spring of ’76 to make it three straight triumphs in dominating fashion, leading 135 of 188 laps at a then race record of 169.887 mph. Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke Baker’s consecutive race win streak by notching four-in-a-row from 2001-03.
- 1977: Darrell Waltrip, who made his NASCAR Cup debut at Talladega in ’72, broke the draft of what was a four-car pack (Cale Yarborough, Parsons and Donnie) on the last lap to win. In a turn of circumstances, after the race, Waltrip’s crew chief, David Ifft, quit after a disagreement with a fellow No. 88 DiGard Racing team member.
- 1978: This time it was Yarborough’s turn to take the checkers. The driver of the No. 11 Junior Johnson Oldsmobile made a calculated last-lap pass through the tri-oval on Baker.
- 1979: In a race that featured the largest margin of victory at Talladega, Bobby Allison, the leader of the “Alabama Gang,” dodged a massive 17-car pileup that took out many of the frontrunners, and captured his first spring race win at Talladega. It was his second TSS triumph (’71 summer event) and it came behind the wheel of Bud Moore’s No. 15 Ford. The winning margin? One lap and 50 seconds over Waltrip.
The drivers who were victorious at Talladega in spring of the ‘70s would win a total of 22 Talladega races before their retirement (Hamilton – 2, Donnie – 2, Pearson – 3, Baker – 4, Waltrip – 4, Yarborough 3, and Bobby – 4). Four of them – Pearson, Waltrip, Yarborough and Bobby are NASCAR Hall of Famers while all but Hamilton are a part of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, located just outside of Talladega Superspeedway. Who won the most poles for the spring events in the ‘70s? None other than Isaac (’70, ’72) and Baker (’73, ’75) with two each.
Who will place their name in the record book as a spring winner at Talladega, incidentally the 100th overall victor at TSS? Witness history on Sunday, April 28, with the GEICO 500. The weekend kicks off a motorsports tripleheader with the General Tire 200 for the ARCA Menards Series (which has been a staple of Talladega Superspeedway since October of ’69) on Friday, April 26, and the MoneyLion 300 for the NASCAR Xfinity Series on Saturday, April 27. For ticket information, log onto www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 855-518-RACE (7223).