Saturday, September 16, 2023

1972 – Waltrip Captures USAC 200 on Nashville Banks

A smiling Darrell Waltrip speaks with his crew chief after winning the 200-lap USAC stock car race at Nashville. It was Waltrip's biggest win of his career to date. 

Nashville, Tenn. (September 16, 1972) – Darrell Waltrip, a NASCAR late model rookie, score the biggest win of his career when he outraced 1968 Indy 500 winner Bobby Unser by a half a lap to win the 200-lap USAC-sanctioned late model stock car race on the high-banked State Fair Speedway.

It was a frustrating day for the Indy-based USAC set, which started with Waltrip winning the pole position with an 18.76 clocking (110.736 mph) in his Mercury. Unser’s 18.89 second time took the outside front row slot.

Late in the contest, Waltrip took the low groove going into turn one and breezed by the leader Unser. He extended that lead to a full lap on the 5/8-mile oval before the race was over.

“I knew if I didn’t make a mistake, I had it,” Waltrip said. “He was the one I was worried about. I was getting through the corners better than he was, but he was running real well.”

Waltrip was in command from the start. He had a 20-second lead over Unser’s Plymouth at 40 laps and was carefully picking his way past the slower cars. At 70 laps, only Unser was on the same lap as Waltrip. When Unser made a pit stop for gas on lap 132, this put Waltrip two laps up on the field.

Waltrip, the last pit stop for refueling, took a long time – 30 seconds – but he reentered the fray half a lap ahead of Unser.

By the 150-lap mark, Waltrip was chasing Unser. By lap 180, he was in a lap by himself. He widened that lead to a lap and a quarter.

Waltrip admitted that a rain shower during the morning gave him an advantage. The track was supposed to open for practice at 10 am, but at that hour it was raining, and raining hard. It was 12:20 before the track was dry enough for running. This gave the USAC drivers little time to set up their cars for the unfamiliar high-banked track.

“The rain was good luck,” Waltrip remarked. “They didn’t have time they needed to get their cars set up properly.”

“Their not being familiar with the track proved to be a problem for me as well,” Waltrip added. “We didn’t know how to run together, but after a while, we all worked it out.”

Unser’s brother Al was much less fortunate. During practice, he went straight into a spin on the back stretch and limped into the pits with suspension damage. He was not able to start the race.

Waltrip won at an average speed of 109.928 miles per hour. It was the first time in the history of the track that a race of this length was completed without a caution flag.

Results –

1. Darrell Waltrip
2. Bobby Unser
3. Gordon Johncock
4. Ramo Stott
5. Roger McCluskey
6. Butch Hartman
7. Ralph Latham
8. Jack Bowsher
9. Wayne Andrews
10.Terry Ryan
11.Harold Fair
12.John Reimer
13.Paul Feldner
14.Bay Darnell
15.Ron North
16.Ray Bolander
17.Sal Tovella
18.Ken Reiter
19.Fred Zack
20.Ken McEldowney
21.Clive Smith
22.Bob Wawak
23.Bud Schroyer
24.Jim Tobin
25.Lem Blankenship

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