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He keeps rolling along
Kim Chapin
July 31, 1972
Bobby Allison is not exactly Old Man Racer, but he proved once again in the Dixie 500 that stock-car victories usually go to the veterans
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July 31, 1972

He Keeps Rolling Along

Bobby Allison is not exactly Old Man Racer, but he proved once again in the Dixie 500 that stock-car victories usually go to the veterans

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Pearson grew up in Spartanburg, S.C.—where he still lives—began racing automobiles in 1955 and by 1960 was Rookie of the Year in his first Grand National car. He rolled on to win the NASCAR driving championship three times, and when Glen Wood gave him a new ride this spring, he won four Superspeedway events in a little under three months—and nearly $70,000 in prize money. The sudden result: Pearson is second only to Richard Petty in career victories, 64 to 144, and second on the alltime money list, $772,000 to $1,275,000.

NASCAR's current big three—Petty, Pearson and Bobby Allison—have all but taken over the record book and the stock car purse strings in the past 30 months. Starting in early 1970 the three have won $1,305,000 in prize money and 28 of the 50 major races. This year alone they have accounted for nine of the 14 big races, and 15 of 20 events overall.

Allison is the most combative of the trio. As he assesses things: "I think Petty and Pearson are more like each other than they are like me. Although Petty has run some good races recently, he tends to run strong only if it's his day. Same with Pearson. I'm more of a fighter; I don't feel like a race is over until that checkered flag drops."

Allison also is a compulsive racer. He started 98 events last year. Occasionally he has scheduled six races in one week. He raced—unsuccessfully—in Birmingham, Ala. two nights before the Dixie 500, then flew back to Birmingham the next day to oversee a country and western show he was helping to promote at that track.

Said Hamilton: " Allison's hungrier, and that's helped him. Pearson is more of the old school. He can jump into anything and go—hard suspension, soft suspension, uncomfortable seat. It doesn't seem to make too much difference."

Race week itself also was a study in contrasts. On Wednesday night the drivers were invited to the mansion of Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter to sip sherry; two days later journeyman driver Neil (Soapy) Castles decked a newspaper reporter who inquired too closely about his arrest record for traffic violations. And during the whole time NASCAR technical inspectors and the assembled mechanics conducted their weekly cheater game—this time centered around the long-disputed carburetor regulations that limit the air flow to keep the fuel mix lean and the speeds down, and the rake, or tilt, of the cars. Chief Technical Director Bill Gazaway disallowed a time-trial run by James Hylton because of an illegal carburetor, and the matter of rake threatened to send just about everybody packing. A stock car is supposed to carry a relatively horizontal stance, since that is the way it comes from the showroom. But since speeds go up when the nose points down, through what one mechanic calls "Indian tricks," the cars often assume mysterious angles once they are on the track. Just as mysteriously, a few even manage to level themselves again when they return from the track for another inspection.

Still, all of that was mostly fun and games, for NASCAR has yet to disqualify the winner of a major race on technical grounds, and the fireworks didn't really start until Sunday afternoon when the 40-car field stumbled and belched to life beneath a steaming sky that kept drivers and fans sweltering in 90� temperatures.

Rolling fast out of his pole position, Pearson totally dominated the first 230 laps, running easily and right up front. It appeared almost certain that he was headed for season victory No. 5.

Then, with the race down to 95 laps (about 143 miles to go), car owner Glen Wood bet on the weather. He lost the bet, and the race. It happened like this. A rain shower—the second of the afternoon—brought out the fifth yellow caution flag of the race. Under NASCAR rules, if the race is stopped by weather, the leader on the track is declared the winner, Bobby Allison and Petty, the only other drivers in contention, pitted immediately, leaving the lead with Pearson.

Strategist Wood held out as long as he dared, hoping the storm would end the race. He did not call Pearson in for his final fuel stop until just before the field was ready to resume racing under the green. The big storm did not come, and the stop cost Pearson half a lap. Then he slowed with a sick engine and finally finished third. Allison, meanwhile, running in the 130s, slowly built his margin over Petty in the final laps to almost 12 seconds.

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