It was one of the most abrupt retirements in NASCAR history.
And even though he’d come back to compete in 19 more races over the following two seasons, the day newly inducted NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Isaac “retired” has been etched in the sport’s lore.
Isaac was racing at Talladega Superspeedway on Aug. 12, 1973. Earlier in the same race, another driver — friend and fellow Catawba, North Carolina, racer Larry Smith — had been killed in a wreck.
According to NASCAR lore, Isaac said a “strange voice” told him to get out of his car or something bad would happen to him.
Isaac told team owner Bud Moore to get a relief driver ready, came into the pits, climbed out of the car and went home.
His widow, Patsy, related the story after Saturday’s NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremonies:
“As soon as he got out of the car and was able to get to a telephone, because we didn’t have cell phones then, he called me and repeated to me exactly what had happened to him in the car.
He said a voice told him that he needed to get out of the car, and so he radioed to Bud Moore. He said, ‘Find somebody to fill in the car. I’ve got to get out.’
I don’t know what that experience was. I don’t know if he felt it was an intuition or if it was actually a verbal voice. I know that it impacted him enough that he was not going to stay in the race car.
He had always said that it was not because someone had gotten killed earlier in the race, and that person was from Catawba County, and he knew them. That’s all I can tell you is what he told me.”
Patsy Isaac was supportive of her husband’s decision to get out of the race car that fateful day at Talladega, noting: “I said, come home. That was fine with me.”
Isaac would not run another Cup race in 1973. But he did come back for 19 starts in the following two years, including one last go-round at Talladega.
Sadly, Isaac died at 45 on Aug. 14, 1977, one day after exiting his Late Model with 25 laps remaining in a race at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway and then collapsing on pit road. It was nearly four years to the day of his Talladega exit.