1966 Southern 500 (partially found footage of NASCAR Grand National Series race; 1966)

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Program for the race.

Status: Partially Found

The 1966 Southern 500 was the 42nd race of the 1966 NASCAR Grand National Series. Occurring on 5th September at the Darlington Raceway, the race would ultimately be won by Darel Dieringer in a 1966 Mercury, following a duel with 1966 Plymouth driver Richard Petty that culminated when the latter crashed into a guardrail with a few laps remaining.


The 1966 Southern 500 was the 17th running of the event, with the annual race typically lasting 500 miles in length.[1] It was one of two 1966 Grand National Series races conducted at Darlington Raceway, the other being the Rebel 400,[2] which in 1966 occurred on 30th April and was won by Richard Petty.[3] The Southern 500 was typically held around Labor Day weekend; after the two Darlington races were merged into one 400 mile race for 2005,[4] the Southern 500's legacy would continue in modern times under the current name of the Cook Out Southern 500,[5] having returned back to its Labor Day weekend date from 2015.[4]

Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with LeeRoy Yarbrough winning the pole position in a 1966 Dodge with a then-record speed of 140.058 mph.[6][1] Directly behind him was Petty, with Dieringer qualifying third.[1] The event was hyped because the $95,000 prize pot was the largest for motor racing in the South back then, and how six of the top eight starters, including Yarbrough, were deemed inexperienced, with more experienced drivers starting further back.[6] Thus, there was no clear favourite for this race.[6]

The Race

With the starting order decided, the 1966 Southern 500 commenced on 5th September.[1] 1966 Plymouth driver Paul Goldsmith had a great start, moving from fourth to first within the first lap, and held onto it until lap 5, when Petty took over.[1] Yarbrough managed to move back into the first position on lap 7 however, leading for 35 consecutive laps.[1] Nevertheless, the race's early stages were an open affair, with Curtis Turner, Sam McQuagg, Dick Hutcherson, Cale Yarborough, Marvin Panch, and Dieringer also leading considerable numbers of laps.[1]

On lap 185, Petty was still in contention, but ending up being involved in an accident also involving 1965 Dodge driver Earl Balmer.[7][1] While The King escaped after a collision with Balmer in turn 1, the latter ended up bouncing up onto the guardrail, which knocked it out and hit a now-unprotected television camera, throwing it more than 200 yards into a car park. Additionally, motorsports writer Tom Higgins, who was covering action in the pits for The Observer, wrote that only chicken wire "protected" the area, noting that small parts were thrown into the box and petrol leaked out from the ruptured fuel tank.[8] Thus, it caused the area to be evacuated,[7] with Higgins stating that "sports writers dived for cover like soldiers seeking the sanctuary of a fox hole.[8] While Balmer escaped with minor cuts and bruises that were treated at the infield hospital,[7] the accident angered the media present at the event, demanding that for future races, Darlington Raceway moves the press box so that it has better safety facilities and view of the race track.[9] This occurred, with a new press box being enclosed and situated much higher above the track, being being nicknamed "Balmer's Box".[10][8]

On lap 203, Petty overtook Panch's 1966 Plymouth to move back into the first position.[1] From there, it became a duel between Petty and Dieringer, with the two continually overtaking each other.[7][1] It seemed that Petty was gaining the upper hand from lap 293 onwards however, as he led for 65 consecutive laps.[1] With 30 laps to go however, Petty's Plymouth began to experience several issues, including an inoperable clutch and a lack of fuel, which resulted in a mandatory pit stop.[7] Dieringer closed the gap to five seconds, but it still seemed that The King was going to hold onto to victory.[7] But on lap 358, he brushed a guardrail, slowing him down considerably and allowing Dieringer to achieve the final lead change.[7][1] He extended said lead by 41 seconds by the time he crossed the line to claim victory and $19,200 in prize money.[7][1] Petty finished second, while 1966 Dodge driver David Pearson claimed third, three laps down from the leaders.[1][7] As he crossed the line, Dieringer received a standing ovation from the crowd, estimated to be around 60,000.[7]


According to NASCAR on TV, 45 minutes of highlights were televised by ABC on 17th September 1966 as part of its Wide World of Sports, alongside the Ireland hurling championships.[11] However, this coverage has yet to resurface, although six minutes of silent race footage was uploaded to YouTube on 2nd July 1966 by Team SC Midlands RacersReunion Chapter. Videos of Balmer's crash can also be found online. Additionally, photos of the event are also publicly viewable.



Silent footage of the race.

See Also

External Link