David Pearson won the spring 1970 Cup Series at Darlington Raceway.
But that’s just interesting trivia compared to the lasting memory of the May 9, 1970 race at the “Track Too Tough to Tame.”
It occurred on Lap 176 when Richard Petty, after his steering failed, brushed the outside railing in Turn 4. That caused his No. 43 Plymouth to shoot to the inside of the track and slam into the frontstretch wall nose-first.
Petty’s car then went into a violent tumble, as it flipped roughly five times before coming to a rest on its roof.
Petty, who had been knocked out, could be seen hanging out of the driver-side window.
Red could be seen near Petty, and it was feared to be blood.
“At the time I used to run with a rag in my mouth,” Petty said years later. “Well, them rags got to coming out the windows and stuff. It looked terrible.”
Petty was rushed to the infield medical center before being taken to a hospital in Florence, South Carolina.
But even the drive out of the track in the ambulance was eventful.
”The cat driving didn’t know how to get out of the infield,” Petty said in 1992. ”He would have driven on the track if I hadn’t stopped him. He didn’t know about the tunnel under Turn 3 and didn’t know how to get to the hospital in Florence. Start to finish, it was quite a deal.”
Miraculously, Petty escaped with only a broken left shoulder. He would miss the next five Grand National races and returned on June 7 at Michigan International Speedway before winning the next two races, at Riverside and Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway. Petty would go on to win 18 of the 40 races he entered that season.
The incident led to NASCAR implementing the use of the window net in the driver’s side door.
Also on this date:
1964: Fred Lorenzen beat Fireball Roberts to win at Darlington Raceway, securing his fifth straight Grand National win. According to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom,” Bobby Allison was slated to start the race in a car owned by Ray Fox. But Allison, who hadn’t made a Grand National start since 1961, opted out of the race after just one practice session, citing his own inexperience. He’d make his return in the 1965 season opener at Riverside.
1981: Benny Parsons held off Darrell Waltrip in a two-lap shootout to win a Cup race at Nashville.
2009: Three days after Hendrick Motorsports announced he would return to the team full-time in 2010, Mark Martin earned his second win of the year, beating Jimmie Johnson in the Southern 500. Martin led only the final 46 laps and secured his second Cup win at Darlington, 16 years after he won the 1993 Southern 500.
2015: In a six-lap shootout and on old tires, Jimmie Johnson held off Kevin Harvick, who had put on two fresh tires under caution, to win at Kansas Speedway. The race saw Erik Jones make his official Cup Series debut as he substituted for an injured Kyle Busch.