Anytime you see something by Tom Higgins READ IT. 1 of the best in this sport
David Pearson, the legendary Silver Fox who posted 105 victories, second on the alltime list, had a very long fuse and seldom lost his temper.
But in July of 1984 at the Firecracker 400 in Daytona Beach, the veteran Pearson was in no mood to listen to complaints from brassy Tim Richmond. After the race Richmond approached Pearson to voice displeasure about a tangle they'd had on the track.
Richmond got out about two words before Pearson punched him in the eye.
Richmond had to wear sunglasses for two weeks to hide the shiner.
Feuds raged regularly in the early 1950s when there sometimes were several races per week on short tracks, where sheet metal was beaten and banged almost constantly. Among the bitterest rivals were Curtis Turner and Bobby Myers.
One night they clashed repeatedly at a dirt track. After the race, Turner was washing the grit from his face near his car on pit road when Myers approached from behind, wielding a 2-by-4 board. Turner, sensing trouble, pulled a .38 pistol from his pocket and turned around with the barrel pointed at Myers' belly.
"Where do you think you're going with that board?" demanded Turner.
"I think I'm going to find a place to put it down," answered a surprised, but discreet, Myers.
And he did.
At the Talladega 500 of 1981 driver Morgan Shepherd got into an altercation before the race with a crew chief and team members--his own.
Car owner Cliff Stewart had brought in Darrell Bryant to lead the team. The morning of the race Bryant and Shepherd disagreed on procedures. They started a scuffle in the garage area that crewmen joined.
Three days later Stewart released Shepherd and hired Joe Millikan to drive the car.
Kyle Petty and the late Alan Kulwicki were racing for position at Michigan International Speedway in June of 1990 when they swapped sheet metal on the last lap.
Petty, feeling he was crowded too closely, accosted Kulwicki in the garage and pinned him on a work table. "Hit me again on the track and it'll be too bad," Petty stormed at Kulwicki, who wisely had kept on his helmet.
Kulwicki apologized, and two weeks later, after things had cooled a bit, he approached Kyle asking for advice. "Kyle," Kulwicki said seriously, "do you think I ought to take karate?"
Richard Petty and Bobby Allison clashed so frequently in the early 1970s that their crews began fortifying the cars to withstand the pounding they knew was coming.
The rivalry came to a head in the Wilkes 400 of 1972 at North Wilkesboro Speedway as they dueled for the victory. The two repeatedly smashed into each other over the final five laps. Petty was two car-lengths ahead of Allison's smoking machine at the finish.
"He could have put me in the boondocks," fumed Petty. "He's playing with my life out there and I don't like it."
Countered Allison: "The other competitor had to wreck me to win, and that's what he did. I had so much smoke in my car I could hardly see."
After the race an incensed Allison fan managed to reach Petty and attacked him. Maurice Petty whacked the intruder over the head with his brother's helmet as officers moved into make an arrest.
Team members fought fans in August of 1961 in the North Carolina mountains at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway, a track that no longer exists.
Disgruntled spectators blocked the exit from the infield when the Western N.C. 500 was stopped after only 258 laps because the asphalt track was disintegrating. Most teams were held hostage for four hours as a crowd of about 4,000 demanded more laps or a partial refund of theier ticket price.
A Barney Fife-type deputy sherriff who sought to mediate the dispute was picked up by the rioters and thrown into a pond.
Finally, Pop Ergle, a 6-6, 285-pound crewman for the Bud Moore-owned team, wrestled a board from a menacing fan and waded into the crowd, breaking the siege.
MY FAVORITE! Fans demanding their full 500 laps!
Two of the biggest stars in motorsports, Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace, faced off angrily at Bristol Motor Speedway following a night race in the mid-1990s.
Wallace had been spun while leading by a tap from behind by Earnhardt, who went on to win the race.
An angry Wallace, his face as red as his hair, accosted Earnhardt after they got out of their cars. NASCAR officials and crew members strained to keep them apart.
"I'm not forgettin' this Dale!" shouted Wallace. When Earnhardt grinned, Wallace became even more enraged and hurled an empty plastic water bottle at his rival. The bottle bounced off Earnhardt's nose.
I've always contended that Dale was lucky. In the '50s and '60s that water bottle likely would have been a tire tool.
Crews scuffled at the track then known as Charlotte Motor Speedway after drivers Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace tangled in The Winston all-star race of 1989.
Contact sent leader Waltrip spinning as the rich event wound down, enabling Wallace to win.
As Wallace headed to Victory Lane, a Waltrip crewman kicked the car. A spirited melee ensued until officials were able to break it up.
A quote that endures in NASCAR lore resulted.
"Somebody bit my little brother John's ear almost off," huffed Wallace's crew chief, Barry Dodson. "I think it was very unprofessional."
Among the fiercest personal rivals ever were NASCAR pioneer Lee Petty and the late free spirit, Tiny Lund. The strapping 6-7 Lund drove a second car a few races for Petty in the 1950s, but there was a falling out and hard feelings grew and grew.
At a race in Greensboro, the two passed on a stage during pre-race driver introductions. Words were exchanged, followed shortly by blows.
Lund pounded the smaller Petty, leading the latter's teenage sons, Richard and Maurice, to join the fray. Lund was knocking all three Pettys around until Lee's wife, Elizabeth, came to the rescue of her husband and sons. Mrs. Petty began thumping Lund in the head with her purse, raising pumpknots.
"It broke up pretty quick when Momma started swinging that pocketbook," Richard still recalls with a smile.
The purse was even more of a weapon because it had a pistol inside.
It was Cale Yarborough versus the "tag team" of Donnie and Bobby Allison in a wild fracas at the conclusion of the 1979 Daytona 500.
Donnie and Cale crashed each other while battling for the lead in Turn 3 on the final lap, enabling Richard Petty to zoom by and win.
As Petty took the checkered flag, Donnie and Cale squared off on the track apron. Bobby stopped to aid his brother. Fists, helmets, elbows and feet flew.
"All I know is that suddenly I found Cale Yarborough's nose pounding on my knuckles," Bobby Allison cracked afterward.
Coincidentally, it was CBS' first live flag-to-flag telecast of the 500. An estimated 20 million watched as a blizzard blanketed most of America, snowing folks in and creating a captive audience.
NASCAR assessed nominal fines against Yarborough and both Allison and put all three on probation.