Pete Hamilton

Photo courtesy of Daytona International Speedway

1970 Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton passes away

1 Comment

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.”

 and on Facebook

Where Are They Now? 1970 Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton

Photo courtesy Daytona International Speedway
2 Comments

It’s been 47 years but Pete Hamilton vividly remembers February 22, 1970 – the greatest day of his racing career – as if it was yesterday.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know if I necessarily expected anything grand to happen that day,” Hamilton told NASCAR Talk.

Having signed just weeks earlier to run an abbreviated 16-race schedule for Petty Enterprises, the Massachusetts native found himself in the 12th edition of the Daytona 500, driving the No. 40 Plymouth Superbird with its renowned high rear spoiler.

While the pressure of driving for team owners Lee and Richard Petty and in the “Great American Race” may have made other drivers nervous, such was not the case for Hamilton.

pete-hamilton-daytona-beach-journal
Photo courtesy Daytona Beach Morning Journal

In just the second Daytona 500 of his career (he finished 44th the year before), Hamilton was cool, calm and collected.

And it was those same attributes that led Hamilton to win NASCAR’s biggest race, beating the best of the best, including Petty, A.J. Foyt, Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison and David Pearson.

When Richard Petty’s engine expired just seven laps into the 500, Hamilton became the standard bearer for Petty Enterprises and he did not disappoint.

Having qualified ninth, Hamilton ran a patient and methodical race, slowly working his way up through the field. He led two times for four laps along the way until he got into a late-race battle with future NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson.

Pearson had dominated the race, leading 82 laps across five different points, including laps 176-191. But Pearson and his Holman-Moody Ford could not hold off Hamilton, who led the final nine laps en route to victory lane.

“We had ran fast, and I think we ran a little faster than Richard, but I knew that I had a lot to learn,” Hamilton told NASCAR Talk.

“By about three-quarters of the race, we were in third place, and then I passed Bobby Allison and got behind David Pearson and was able to pass him and take the lead. That was pretty damn thrilling for this Yankee boy.

“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.”

The 27-year-old Hamilton, with a winning speed of 149.601 mph, beat Pearson by three car lengths, the only two drivers to finish on the lead lap. It was the fourth time Petty Enterprises had won the “Great American Race” in its 12-year history at that point (it would eventually win the 500 nine times, including seven by Richard Petty).

Remember, this was 1970, so there was no radio communication between teams and drivers. Even though he was the first to take the checkered flag, Hamilton wasn’t completely sure he had won.

So he did something unique in Daytona 500 annals:

“When I took the checkered flag, I made a decision at that point that I wasn’t going to let off. I was going to drive an extra lap just to make damned sure that I was the one in front,” Hamilton said with a laugh.

“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.”

The 1970 season would go on to be the best of Hamilton’s NASCAR Grand National career. He also won both races at Talladega that season, and won the 1971 Daytona 500 qualifying race.

All told, Hamilton made 64 Grand National starts, won four races, and earned 26 top-five and 33 top-10 finishes plus three poles.

He retired as a driver after the 1973 season and began building race car chassis. He also built a seven-building warehouse and office complex in suburban Atlanta that he still owns today.

Former champion Darrell Waltrip (seen talking on tv screen) addresses a gathering of Daytona 500 winners in 2005 including Pete Hamilton (left) and Bobby Allison. (Photo by Getty Images).

Now 74, Hamilton is retired and splits his time between Georgia and New England. While he hasn’t attended a NASCAR race since the 50th Daytona 500 in 2008, he said “I’m still an avid NASCAR fan. I watch the majority of the races on TV.”

Then he added with a laugh, “My wife tells me I watch the start of the race, sleep through the middle and then wake up for the end. I don’t know how the hell I wake up for the end, but I manage to see the end of most of the races. She winds up watching most of the race instead of my sorry ass.”

Hamilton will be watching the 59th Daytona 500 this Sunday, but don’t be surprised if his mind goes back 47 years at some point during the day.

“I have a very vivid memory of racing that day with guys like Buddy Baker, Charlie Glotzbach, Bobby and Donnie Allison, and David Pearson,” he said. “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.”

Let us know who you would like to hear about from the past and email Jerry Bonkowski at jerry.bonkowski@Nbcuni.com with your suggestion.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Brad Keselowski looks to join NASCAR history at Talladega

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
1 Comment

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Brad Keselowski has the chance to join an exclusive club Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

A victory in the Hellmann’s 500 would give the Team Penske driver three wins in the four restrictor-plate races this year.

Winning three of the season’s four plate races would make Keselowski just the third driver to accomplish the feat. The others were Pete Hamilton in 1970 and Dale Earnhardt in 1990.

Hamilton won the 1970 Daytona 500 and swept both Talladega races. Earnhardt won three straight restrictor-plate races in 1990 when he captured wins in the spring Talladega race, the summer Daytona race, before closing it out with the fall Talladega event.

Keselowski enters Talladega having won the spring race at the 2.66-mile track as well as the July race at Daytona International Speedway.

In addition to becoming the third driver to win three of the four plate races in a season, Keselowski could join Earnhardt as the only driver to win three consecutive restrictor-plate races.

“That’s a cool stat, but I’m not counting any chickens,” Keselowski told NBC Sports after qualifying second. “We’ve got to put the work in and deliver on Sunday, so I guess maybe I’m not really thinking about that stat now because I haven’t done it.” 

With four Talladega victories on his resume, Keselowski is tied on the track’s win list with Bobby Allison and Buddy Baker. He sits behind Dale Earnhardt Sr. (10 wins), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (6), and Jeff Gordon (6) for the most Talladega victories. With neither Earnhardt Jr. or Gordon in Sunday’s field, Keselowski is the winningest active driver.

His first Talladega win in 2009 came after a memorable last-lap crash where Carl Edwards, who attempted to block Keselowski, flew into the catchfence in the tri-oval. At the time, Keselowski was competing on a limited basis for James Finch.

Keselowski’s second win came in the spring 2012 race while his third was a must-win situation in October 2014 in order to advance in the Chase. Keselowski also has one Xfinity win at Talladega in five starts.

“I don’t know if I would say there is one thing that’s clicked,” Keselowski said. “You have good runs and you build some confidence and you build good cars and that builds some confidence, and you pair that together and the next thing you know you win a few races. I don’t think there’s really any magic to it.

“As far as clicking, one of things that’s really difficult with this track is the techniques and styles are always evolving, so what worked here the first time I won doesn’t even close to work (now). I think you have to keep evolving as well.”

Follow @KellyCrandall