Daytona Beach, Fla. (February 8, 1976) - "It was the greatest race of my career," Lennie Pond said. "I couldn't believe it until I saw the checkered flag."
Pond stepped out of his familiar NASCAR Grand National circle Sunday afternoon to win the ARCA 200 at Daytona International Speedway.
For taking the checkered flag in the Automobile Club of America's biggest event, Pond picked up a pay check for $5,200,
"Everything just went perfect," the Petersburg driver explained, "I didn't have but one close call. I kept waiting for something to go wrong, but it never did."
Pond qualified his Pepsi Cola machine for the outside pole and enjoyed a comfortable lap and 23-second lead over Woody Fisher of Cincinnati, Ohio, at the finish.
"I hope I am starting a habit," Pond commented after his first of four races in eight days at the 2.5-mile tri-oval. This was my first victory ever at a super speedway and it is a great feeling."
Pond battled Ferrell Harris, who qualified at an amazing speed of over 188 miles per hour, and James Sauter in the early going. However, most of his competition retired early and Pond coasted to the big victory.
"There were four or five cars able to run about the same speed under racing conditions," the driver of the No. 54 Chevrolet remarked.
"They had trouble and we didn't," the happy Virginian added. "That was the real difference."
Harris, from Pikeville, Ky., jumped Pond at the start and the Petersburg native dropped all the way back to fourth after the first turn.
He slowly but surely worked his way back to the front averaging over 181 miles per hour for the first 25 miles, Pond passed with care as the lead pack roared by slower cars.
"I drove a very cautious race," the former five-time state late model sportsman champion admitted. "You don't win a race on the first lap…you win on the last lap."
Pond took the lead for the first lime about 75 miles into the event, but dropped back after the second caution of the race.
Driving the same car he finished sixth in a month ago at Riverside, Calif., Pond put the hammer down after Harris opened up a 200-yard lead.
Blitzing around the tri-oval, Pond shot under Harris in the third turn and took the lead on lap 41. Then, in heavy traffic, Pond was forced to let off the gas pedal and Harris re-gained the advantage.
Wasting little time, Pond, quickly moved back in front on lap 49 and led the rest of the way in the 200-mile event.
Pond's pit crew recorded a 19-second stop for gas and tires and then came through with a nine-second gem for gas late in the event.
With a commanding lead, Pond needed only two gallons of gas to finish the race with eight laps remaining. He returned to the track in time to hold his lap lead over Fisher.
"I didn't know I had that much of a lead," the Petersburg driver said. ''They told me that I had a lap lead with two laps to go. I knew I had the lead so I wasn't pushing the car hard."
The Pepsi driver received a real scare 58 laps into the race when Jim Hurtubise of Indianapolis blew the engine in his Plymouth in the fourth turn.
Pond was preparing to lap Hurtubise when a cloud of smoke erupted from under that car.
'"I slowed down almost to a stop," Pond commented. "I couldn’t see a thing…the track, the infield or the wall, I was just lucky nobody slammed me from behind."
Oddly, the ARCA officials didn't even drop the caution flag as Hurtubise gained control of his racer and headed for the pits.
Pond, who averaged 153.224 miles per hour, had just passed Jerry Mahle when he lost control and cracked the wall in the second turn.
"I was a good distance by him," Pond said. "I saw him hit the wall in the rearview mirror."
Pond made one adjustment to the chassis setup during the race after the rear end started to let loose in the turns. The crew quickly knew he needed adjustments under an early caution.
"I could run flat out with new tires," he stated, "after they heated up, I was a little loose, but not too bad."
The crowd favorite, Pond proved he can race at high speeds on a superspeedway. He turned some laps at over 184 miles per hour, in the high-speed draft.
1. Lennie Pond
2. Woody Fisher
3. Ferrel Harris
4. Dave Ecker
5. Delmar Clark
6. Joe Thurman
7. Glenn Gault
8. Salt Walther
9. Darrell Basham