Random Lugnuts: Same Old Story...
What is Random Lugnuts? It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan. The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop: you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
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December 31, 2007
The floodgates have opened, and top talent from around the open wheel racing world are finding their way to NASCAR.
For those of you who have read my columns before, you know my position on this is that it's a positive thing. For those of you who know me a little bit better, you know that I'm involved in chronicling the history of motorsports and cars in general. I've noticed over the last year more than a few references to open wheel drivers crossing over in NASCAR's past, and in the offseason downtime I did a little research.
Turns out, crossing over between open wheels and stock cars didn't start with Robby Gordon or Tony Stewart (although Tony's been the most successful so far). In the mid-to-late 1960's on through the early 1980's, as it is today, the NASCAR season starts earlier than most other major American motorsports series. Back in those days, it was also more common to see drivers in multiple series as each series didn't have the demands on a drivers' time that NASCAR or IRL racing does today. Nor were there the issues of the Top 35 rule or the amount of money required to put a competitive team together.
As such, there was room for part-time drivers, and often times Indy drivers would run some of the early NASCAR schedule. Especially the Daytona 500, which offered money and prestige, and was conveniently scheduled well before in the USAC season began and open wheel racers went to Indiana in May. It was different back then, as many of these drivers were dabbling in stock cars in their off time from open wheel racing, but nevertheless open wheel racing has had a presence on the NASCAR circuit for years.
This is nowhere near a full accounting, just a few highlights over the years:
Marshall Teague, 1959
Marshall Teague was one of NASCAR's first great drivers. One of the drivers of The Fabulous Hudson Hornet cars, he amassed an incredible 30.4% winning record in just 23 starts (by comparison, Dale Earnhardt won 11.4% and Richard Petty 16.9%). He went the other way, though, leaving NASCAR to run open wheels in 1953, but he returned, not to NASCAR competition itself but instead brought an open wheel Indy car to NASCAR's new shrine to speed: Daytona International Speedway. He died there in 1959, driving his modified Indy racer in an attempt at a new closed course speed record.
Mario Andretti, 1967
Mario Andretti might be most well known for his Indy Car career, but he was also the 1978 Formula 1 World Champion with 12 Grand Prix wins.
In 1967, Mario Andretti won the Daytona 500. He appeared as his '67 Daytona car, a Ford Fairlane, in the animated movie Cars. But he wouldn't be the only legendary Indy name to take checkers at stock car racing's biggest event...
A.J. Foyt, 1972
Despite his open wheel fame, this tough Texan and was no stranger to stock car racing. His 41 wins in USAC's stock car series are evidence enough. His stock car success also carried over to NASCAR, where his first NASCAR win was the 1964 Firecracker 400, in only his 10th Grand National event. After a strong performance, but falling short, in 1971, he would go on to win the 1972 Daytona 500.
He also won twice at Ontario Motor Speedway, in 1971 and 1972. The track, ironically, was shaped like Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He retired with a total of 7 NASCAR wins.
Janet Guthrie, 1976
If Danica Patrick makes the move to NASCAR, as many predict, she'll be following in the footsteps of Janet Guthrie, the first woman to compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.
She failed to qualify for the 1976 Indy 500, but went on that year to drive in 5 NASCAR events, finishing 15th in the World 600. In 1977 she would make the field at Indy, and race in a total of three Indianapolis 500 events (she attempted to qualify in 1980 but didn't make the field). Over four years from 1976-1980, overlapping her Indy career, her NASCAR career would consist of 33 races, with no wins, but with 5 top ten finishes.
Johnny Rutherford, 1981
Johnny Rutherford, 3-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, won his first NASCAR race, the second 125-mile qualifier for the Daytona 500 in 1963. In all, Johnny would make 35 starts from 1963-1988. In 1981, the year after winning his third Indy 500, he would make 12 starts in the Winston Cup, his most ever.
Tim Richmond, 1986
Tim Richmond was a very different type of driver for NASCAR. Born into wealth, with a playboy persona, he was one of the up-and-coming drivers of the 1980's, before his career was cut short. In 1986, the peak of his career, he won 7 races and finished third in the standings. In 1987, he raced only 8 times but won twice, before retiring. He died shortly thereafter.
This story is fairly recent, and pretty familiar to longtime NASCAR fans. What might not be known about this great talent, is that he started in a sprint car, and went on to become the 1980 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Race before switching to stock cars.
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