1970 Alabama 500 (found footage of NASCAR Grand National Series race; 1970)

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1970alabama5001.jpg

Program for the race.

Status: Found

Date found: 23 Apr 2020

Found by: NASCAR

The 1970 Alabama 500 was the 10th race of the 1970 NASCAR Grand National Series. Occurring on 12th April at the Alabama International Motor Speedway, the race would ultimately be won by Pete Hamilton in a 1970 Plymouth. This race has television significance, as it was the first points-paying NASCAR race to be televised live.

Background[edit | edit source]

The 1970 Alabama 500 was the first instance of an annual spring event at Alabama International Motor Speedway (now Talladega Superspeedway), with the race typically lasting 500 miles.[1][2] It was one of two 1970 Grand National Series races at the speedway, the other being the Talladega 500,[3] which occurred on 23rd August and was won by Pete Hamilton.[4] The race also has ties to the modern GEICO 500, having dropped the Alabama title from 2018 onwards.[5]

On 17th December 1969, NASCAR made a $1,365,000 agreement with ABC Sports where ABC would televise nine races in 1970.[6] The contract was significant in that five of these points-paying events would be televised live, with plans for the new Alabama 500 to be ABC's first live presentation.[6][7][1] There were a few challenges that threatened this occasion, however. Firstly, ABC refused to show any races flag-to-flag, aiming instead to condense long events into a 90-minute timeslot.[8][6][7] According to NASCAR President Bill France, ABC would instead record the first half of the 3 hour and 17 minute race and televise about 30 minutes of highlights, with the remaining coverage then becoming live.[6][8] Another issue exclusive to Alabama was that the first Talladega 500, held on 14th September 1969, was heavily boycotted by the Professional Drivers Association due to conflict surrounding tyre safety.[1][6] Heading into the Alabama 500, ABC added a clause in the contract that essentially guarded itself against boycotts, warning that if fewer than 10 of NASCAR's top 20 drivers in 1969 ultimately competed, its payment would be considerably reduced.[6] Ultimately, no boycott of the Alabama 500 occurred.[6][2]

Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with Bobby Isaac winning the pole position in a 1969 Dodge with a speed of 199.658 mph.[2] Directly behind him was David Pearson in a 1969 Ford, with 1969 Dodge driver Charlie Glotzbach lining up third.[2] Hamilton qualified sixth out of 40 competitors.[9][2]

The Race[edit | edit source]

With the starting order decided, the 1970 Alabama 500 commenced on 12th April.[2] Buddy Baker, starting fifth in a 1969 Dodge, shot into the lead on the first lap.[2] However, the battle for the lead was an open competition in the race's early stages, with Baker, Pearson, Isaac, Allison, and 1969 Mercury driver Cale Yarborough primarily being the main contenders.[2] Indeed, with the exception of the end stages, there were few instances of a driver holding onto the first position for ten laps or more, contributing towards 32 lead changes in the race.[2] Meanwhile, Hamilton decided to wait until the late stages of the race to make a bid for the win.[10]

By lap 87, Allison was leading, holding it until lap 116 when Baker took over.[2] Allison would drop out of contention ten laps later because of an engine failure.[10][2] Baker defended his lead until Hamilton began to emerge as his main competition, the latter briefly leading on lap 140 before Baker would lead the next 30.[2] Hamilton achieved what would ultimately be the final lead change on lap 171.[2] Baker was undeterred however, and it seemed likely that a duel would emerge until the chequered flag.[10][11] However, Baker's car caught fire after 175 laps when a tyre blew and ripped off the oil cooler, with him deciding to spin the machine into a 300 yard slide onto the grass to try and put the fire out.[12][11][9][10][2] This allowed it to rest on the infield apron.[10] While Baker escaped the burning craft, he did suffer from burns to his face, hands and right leg, requiring hospital treatment.[12][10] Following the accident, Baker stated "It was the scariest thing that ever happened to me. I don't really mind losing this time; I'm just happy to be alive."[12]

Hamilton therefore faced no further competition, with second place Isaac being two miles behind.[10][11] He therefore claimed a 44-second margin victory and $26,650 in prize money.[11][10][2] Isaac took second, with Pearson finishing a lap down in third.[10][2] Yarborough finished fifth following him completing the final 11 laps without a windshield.[13][9][10][2] Post-race, Hamilton stated he coasted to the finish following Baker's retirement, explaining "There was no sense racing with anyone at that point. I just wanted to make sure my car finished and see if I could win the race." His plan was "to run as consistent as I could. I tried to run my own race rather than someone else's."[11]

The ABC Broadcast[edit | edit source]

While Hamilton's win was decisive, this was not apparent to either ABC, the television audience, and even for a time NASCAR officials.[14] The problems emerged even before the broadcast occurred. The plan was to broadcast the second-half of the event at 5:00pm, with expectations that the broadcast would wrap-up at 6:30pm.[14][7] Commentary would be provided by Bill Flemming and Keith Jackson, Bob Montgomery becoming the pit reporter.[7][14] However, the race was delayed for 38 minutes because of a rain, forcing ABC to overrun its broadcast by 13 minutes to counteract this, preventing any coverage of Victory Lane.[14][7] While Flemming was praised for being calm and for expertise, the coverage itself was panned by critics for its poor audio, over-reliance on close-up shots of the vehicles, and for the sense of speed not being showcased in the broadcast.[14][7] The broadcast also missed Baker's crash as it was airing commercials.[6]

The main issue emerged when, after Hamilton overtook Baker for the first position on lap 171, the ABC commentators still assumed Baker was leading because of an apparent scoring error from NASCAR officials.[15][14][7] When he retired a few laps later, it was now assumed that Isaac, not Hamilton, had moved up into first.[7][14] This was seemingly rectified with eight laps remaining when ABC received confirmation from the scoring that Hamilton was leading.[7][14] Just four laps later however, the officials informed ABC that a tape was being studied, as again there was doubt over who was leading.[15][7][14] This was caused because of a communications mix-up that resulted in ABC being misinformed; the scorers were never inaccurate in their reports according to Jim Foster, one of France's assistants.[15] ABC were only able to assume Hamilton won when he received the chequered flag, and Isaac the white flag.[7][14] But because of the need to transfer over to its planned schedule immediately following the race, ABC could not properly clarify that Hamilton was indeed the winner to the television audience.[14][15][7]

The following day, France apologised to the ABC Vice President in a phone conversation about the mix-up.[15] However, in a telephone interview, ABC Sports' Chuck Howard primarily blamed NASCAR's scoring for being inaccurate, claiming "A.B.C. Sports was hooked into the NASCAR official scoring system. I defy anybody to say that NASCAR knew at the time we were broadcasting, during the last few laps of the race, who actually was leading the race. They knew their scoring was not accurate, in the closing laps they just couldn't tell who was leading."[15] Despite the criticism surrounding the ABC broadcast, it was nevertheless a big step forward for the televising of NASCAR races.[14] ABC continued to uphold its contact with NASCAR, broadcasting several of the next races in 1970.[6][8] Progress in televising races from flag-to-flag continued to be throughout the 1970s, including CBS televising the 1979 Daytona 500 in that fashion.[16]

Recovery[edit | edit source]

Despite many other race broadcasts in 1970 publicly resurfacing, the coverage of 1970 Alabama 500 remained inaccessible for many years.[17][14] It was cited by Racing-Reference in 2017 as one of the most important lost NASCAR TV broadcasts due to its television significance.[17] Eventually, on 23rd April 2020, the broadcast was recovered when NASCAR would upload the entirety of the ABC coverage to its YouTube channel.[14]

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Videos[edit | edit source]

The ABC coverage of the race.
The MRN broadcast of the race.


Images[edit | edit source]

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Encyclopedia of Alabama detailing the history of Talladega Superspeedway, including the 1969 Talladega 500 boycott and the ABC broadcast of the 1970 Alabama 500. Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 Racing-Reference detailing the qualifying and race results of the event. Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  3. Racing-Reference detailing the 1970 NASCAR Grand National Series calendar. Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  4. Racing-Reference detailing the results of the 1970 Talladega 500 Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  5. The New York Times Stats detailing the history of the Alabama International Motor Speedway/Talladega Superspeedway races. Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 Archived Stock Car Racing History detailing how the ABC broadcast occurred, including the contract and the challenges faced. Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 NASCAR on TV detailing the ABC broadcast of the race and its controversies. Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Archived How Stuff Works summarising the ABC broadcast. Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Bench-Racing detailing the race and providing newspaper clippings of it. Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 10.8 10.9 National Speed Sport News reporting on Hamilton winning the race (report found on Bench-Racing). Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Daytona Beach Morning Journal reporting on Hamilton winning the race and his post-race comments. Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Archived Cotton Owens Garage detailing Baker's crash. Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  13. Spartanburg Herald-Journal reporting on Yarborough completing the final 11 laps of the race without a windshield (report found on Bench-Racing). Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  14. 14.00 14.01 14.02 14.03 14.04 14.05 14.06 14.07 14.08 14.09 14.10 14.11 14.12 14.13 nascarman noting the importance of NASCAR uploading the Alabama 500 coverage, and providing an article from Daytona Beach Morning Journal that critiqued the broadcast. Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 The New York Times reporting on the communication mix-up that caused uncertainty over who led during the ABC broadcasts. Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  16. Bleacher Report detailing CBS' coverage of the 1979 Daytona 500. Retrieved 15 Apr '22
  17. 17.0 17.1 Archived Racing-Reference listing the ABC broadcast as of the most notable lost NASCAR broadcasts in 2017. Retrieved 15 Apr '22