Pete Hamilton, who won the 1970 Daytona 500 driving a Plymouth Superbird for Petty Enterprises, died Wednesday. He was 74.
Hamilton ran 64 races in NASCAR’s premier series from 1968-73, winning four times. It is that Daytona 500 victory the Dedham, Massachusetts native is best known for in NASCAR.
“We ran two cars in 1970, and Plymouth helped introduce us to Pete,” Richard Petty said in a statement. “They wanted us to run a second car with him on the bigger tracks. ‘Chief’ (Maurice Petty) led that car and started in the Daytona 500. Pete and ‘Chief’ won the race, and it was a big deal. Pete won both Talladega races that year. It was great to have Pete as part of the team. He was a great teammate. We send our prayers to his family.’’
Said Maurice Petty in a statement:
“Pete was as fast as anyone on the superspeedways in 1970. We had support from Plymouth to run two Superbirds, and they connected us with Pete Hamilton. He was a good match for us, and we won three races together. I enjoyed being around him and will miss him.’’
NASCAR issued a statement Wednesday:
“NASCAR extends its deepest condolences to the friends and family of Pete Hamilton. Hamilton’s career may seem relatively brief at first glance, but a careful study of the gentleman racer makes it abundantly clear that Hamilton achieved excellence during his extraordinary tenure in NASCAR. Hamilton captured the NASCAR National Sportsman championship in 1967, the premier series Rookie of the Year Award in 1968 and an abundance of victories throughout a variety of NASCAR-sanctioned series. But, of course, he will be remembered most fondly for his stirring victory in the 1970 Daytona 500 while driving for the iconic Petty Enterprises race team. And for that, his legend will live forever.”
Hamilton signed to run a 16-race schedule for Petty Enterprises in the 1970 season and drove the No. 40 Superbird. Hamilton passed David Pearson for the lead with nine laps to go to win the Daytona 500.
“That was pretty damn thrilling for this Yankee boy,’’ Hamilton told NBC Sports last month about passing Pearson for the lead. “The last 20 laps or so, David and I fought our hearts out, slipping and sliding. We didn’t beat on each other, but we came damn close, and I was fortunate enough to get the best of that deal.”
Hamilton said even after crossing the finish line he didn’t slow.
“When I took the checkered flag, I made a decision at that point that I wasn’t going to let off,’’ he said last month. “I was going to drive an extra lap just to make damned sure that I was the one in front.’’
“That lap after the end of the race, I still was running wide open all the way around. Finally, when I got into Turns 3 and 4, I began to slow down. It was a pretty thrilling thing.
“When I got into victory circle I remember I couldn’t stop smiling. Maurice Petty was my crew chief. We had a big old hug and a big old happy time, along with all the guys that had worked on the car.”
Hamilton went on to win both Talladega races in 1970 and scored his final series win in 1971 in a Daytona qualifying race.
He retired after the 1973 season and began building race car chassis.
“I have a very vivid memory of racing that day with guys like Buddy Baker, Charlie Glotzbach, Bobby and Donnie Allison, and David Pearson,” Hamilton told NBC Sports last month. “It makes you feel real good and proud of what we accomplished together.
“It wasn’t a ‘me’ thing, it was a ‘we’ thing. It took everybody that was on the car to make the thing really go. I was just the driver, the pilot.”