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Magnums in NASCAR

It was towards the very end of Mopar's involvement in NASCAR (until recently) -- and they were not provided the teams with much help. The King, Richard Petty, started out the year driving a Magnum -- but hated the car and went to GM, driving a 77 Monte Carlo and 77 Cutlass for the rest of the year. He gave the Magnum to his up and coming son, Kyle Petty, who won Daytona in it.

 

Excerpt from: Petty, Richard with William Neely, King Richard I. Macmillan; New York, 1986.

1978
The 1978 season saw the Petty and Bonnett teams trying to make the Dodge Magnums competitive on the circuit, but they were never successful with the venture.

On the subject of car choices in 1978, Greg Fielden says: "In the Chrysler camp, there seemed to be only one choice--the big, bulky Dodge Magnum. A number of teams had campaigned for the Dodge Diplomat [to be approved by NASCAR], but NASCAR had turned thumbs down on the smaller intermediate car. 'We'll be racing full size cars in 1978,' was NASCAR's statement."

"Richard Petty and Neil Bonnett, principal Dodge drivers, had difficulty in getting the Magnum to run competitively. 'The Dodge Magnum is undrivable at 190 MPH,' said Petty."

The decision had been made by late summer of 1978 that the Petty team would change car brands. In a very sad event in the annals of Chrysler Corporation racing, on August 6, 1978 in the Talladega 500, Richard Petty competed in his last NASCAR race in a Chrysler vehicle. To that point in time, most of the driving careers of both Richard and Lee Petty had been in Plymouths, Dodges and sometimes in Chryslers. About that final race in a Dodge in which he finished seventh in his Dodge Magnum, Greg Fielden quotes Petty, "I'm glad it's over. We'll clean 'em [the Dodge Magnums] up and put 'em in the corner of our shops. We'll go with the Chevrolet for the next race."

The 1978 season was a winless season for Richard Petty. It was the only season that he did not score at least one victory during the 25-year span between 1960 and 1984, inclusive.

About the Petty decision to switch from Chrysler vehicles to General Motors vehicles, Greg Fielden says: "By mid-summer, Petty was still struggling with the Dodge Magnum. After 18 races, Petty had finished only six times in the top five. When he was running at the finish, he was usually a number of laps off the pace."

"He was lapped five times in the Winston 500 at Talladega. He was three laps behind at Martinsville, six laps behind at Dover, four laps in arrears at Nashville, and a lap behind at Michigan and the Firecracker 400 at Daytona."

"In July, he had announced plans to switch to Chevrolet for the remainder of the 1978 season. He purchased a Chevrolet Monte Carlo [the one at the Muscle Car Museum in Sevierville?] from privateer Cecil Gordon on July 17. Scheduled debut for the Petty-Chevy combination was the August 26, 1978 Champion Spark Plug 400 at Michigan. 'It just wasn't possible to get the Dodge Magnum consistently competitive with some of the other cars under the current NASCAR rules,' said Petty. 'We tried everything we could possibly think of. Even though there has been some improvements from the first of the year, everyone else is going quicker, too.'"

"NASCAR President, Bill France, Jr., said the sanctioning body could not rewrite the rule book to suit one team. 'We could not come up with a rule that would be beneficial to Richard and, at the same time, be fair to those campaigning other makes,' said France, Jr."

About the Petty change from Chrysler to GM, D. Randy Riggs said in Flat-out Racing, "It was the end of the line for Richard Petty and Mopar. The '78 Dodge Magnum was such an uncompetitive lump that Petty abandoned the Pentastar symbol for a Bowtie--as in Chevrolet."

About Chrysler's general attitude toward racing, Riggs said: "Over at Chrysler, fortunes were ebbing. Horrendous quality standards had caught up with the company, and styling the 1978 Dodge Magnum to resemble a rounded-off barn wasn't going to help a bit on the nation's stock car tracks. Chrysler's future lay with much smaller cars and a government bail out---NASCAR had become the furthest thing from their minds. It was the unfortunate end of Chrysler's most glorious performance days."

1979
One of Petty's Dodge Magnums that Richard had attempted to get competitive in 1978 was dusted off and campaigned by his son, Kyle, in 1979. Kyle won the ARCA race at Daytona in his racing debut.

The first time that Richard and Kyle were both in the field of a Winston Cup event was at Talladega on August 5, 1979. Kyle Petty had attempted to qualify the Dodge Magnum on several occasions prior to the Talladega race but didn't because of crashes and other problems. In that Talladega race, Kyle drove to a ninth place finish.
 

 

Other Nascar racers running a Magnum were C&W Star Marty Robbins (who as a side note gave up his number #42 to Kyle as a favor to Richard -- as The King was #43, his father Lee Petty had been #42, son Kyle later became #44, and his Grandson (Kyle's son) Adam Petty would years later become #45), Neil Bonnett, and Buddy Arrington.

 

I'll dedicate a page to each of the Magnums that raced in NASCAR. If you have more photos or information, please eMail it to me.

 

 

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