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July 2, 1964-The Changing of the Guard.

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July 2, 1964-The Changing of the Guard.

On this day the face of racing changed forever.

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After fifteen years of relative safety, racing's foundation was shaken as fatalities hit not the back row but this time the headliners. Nascar's clown prince, two time and defending champion, Joe Weatherly, was killed in January at the second Riverside 500. But even more shock was in store for the good ol' boys when they rolled into Charlotte for the World 600, the season's longest race, in May. The sport's first superstar, Fireball Roberts, was involved in a fiery crash on the seventh lap that left him badly burned and fighting for his life as qualifying for the Firecraker 400, a race he won the previous year, was set to get underway.

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But this day would be remembered for the day we lost him and almost lost his HM teamate Fred Lorenzen in a savage crash in one of the qualifying races.

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As the pall fell over the speedway with the announcement of Fireball's passing, a somewhat subdued birthday celebration was marked as Richard Petty not only observed his birthday on the planet but also his emmergance as the driver who would take stock car racing into the future and set the template for what a hero driver should be.

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Unfortunately, before the season was over another competitor would pay the ultimate price for speed as "Gentle Jimmy" Pardue sailed through the guard railing during tire tests at Charlotte Motor Speedway in September.

Just as the fuel cell was developed and made racing safer, Jimmy's crash caused the speedway to reinforce the third and fourth turn guard railing.

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It's hard to tell just how many drivers were saved because of Fireball's death but it is easy to tell at least one who was saved by Jimmy's sacrifice. About a month later in the closing laps of the National 400 during a battle for the lead between Richard Petty and Fred Lorenzen Petty's car broke loose and took almost the exact path that Pardue's had in September. While Petty lost the race and took a very hard lick from the crash the railing held the car inside the track. If the rail hadn't been strengthened the face of stock car racing could have been changed forever.

With country boy charm and humility coupled with great driving ability and business acumen, Richard Petty carved out a niche that others tried unsuccessfully to occupy for decades.

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Posted · Report post

Wonderful. wonderful piece. A great appreciation of a pivotal time. The models and their settings aren't too shabby either!

B.

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Wow, I wish I had been a member of this forum when this was first posted, as July 2nd is my birthday!

The King has always been my hero and I never knew we shared a birthday. I was born and raised in Martinsville, Va, where he won 15 times - for 12 of those wins he received the famous grandfather clock, made by the nearby Ridgeway Clock Co., where my mom worked as director of customer service and quality control for many years. It was always a childhood dream that he'd need us to come down to Level Cross to work on one of those clocks, but it never happened!

Great post!

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Hey Brett, glad you found it. Here's a belated birthday gift for you. The king leads a pack of snarling wolves on one of the only two dirt tracks I know of that still hosts Grand National races and that never needs watering (even though it looks here that a couple of laps by the water truck wouldn't hurt) because it's made of styrofoam.

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Thanks!

Hey Brett, glad you found it. Here's a belated birthday gift for you. The king leads a pack of snarling wolves on one of the only two dirt tracks I know of that still hosts Grand National races and that never needs watering (even though it looks here that a couple of laps by the water truck wouldn't hurt) because it's made of styrofoam.

Funny, the other one doesn't need watering, either, cause it's now concrete and asphalt! Martinsville had long been paved by the time I was born, but I do remember when the stands were all concrete and about the size of a high-school football stadium. Used to be free to go to anything but races, I must have gone to watch testing and qualifying with my granddad a million times as a kid. He always called 'em Grand Nationals, too, but to me they're forever Winston Cup. I hate the term "NASCARS"!

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Thanks!

Funny, the other one doesn't need watering, either, cause it's now concrete and asphalt! Martinsville had long been paved by the time I was born

When I said "still dirt" I was referring to my "little" track and my brother's "little" track. :) Here's the only pic that I can find of his right now, under the lights. Obviously his water truck and sheep foot packer driver isn't as thorough as mine. LOL

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