When Petty became the King

HEMI: A History of Chrysler’s Iconic Engine in Competition by Geoff Stunkard

The following text is an extended abridged exclusive for MoparMAX readers from Geoff Stunkard’s upcoming 192-page book entitled HEMI: A History of Chrysler’s Iconic Engine in Competition. The book will be released in July 2015, and we will have several short segments here as part of Mopar Musings or as stand-alone features. This issue, Stunkard recalls the 1967 efforts of Richard Petty, which resulted in a yet-to-be broken number of records, including 27 wins in a single season. Updates on the book are being put onto facebook under the name HEMI: Chrysler’s Unique V8 in Competition.

Circles. He was running around them in circles. The custom color the team had mixed up by accident in the early 1960s became known as Petty Blue permanently during the 1967 NASCAR season. Richard Petty, at 30, was in the process of winning his second-ever Grand National title for Plymouth that year, but was also rewriting the record books for NASCAR’s premier series in ways that still have not been challenged.

By the middle of the season, May 13, when he won the Rebel 400 at Darlington, Petty had taken home a record 55 career victories, surpassing the 54-win record formerly held by his father Lee. That race win was his tenth title of the year, but Richard and his well-traveled ‘Old Blue’ Hemi Belvedere were just getting started as summer began. He toppled Tim Flock’s 18-win single-season victory record from back in the Keikheafer Chrysler 300 era when he took home his 19th title of the year on August 12th at Bowman-Grey Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.; moreover, this occurred in the middle of a run of ten consecutive race victories on the GN circuit, another record which has never been equaled. Indeed, the 27 wins from 1967 alone comprise more than 10% of the 200 race crowns bestowed on the man who became recognized permanently as King Richard in 1967.

Chrysler’s Hemi engine in NASCAR was now technically four seasons old, but other than very minor changes for durability, it had not seen any big adjustments in terms of development since Petty had first scorched Daytona with it at its introduction. Development of the potential A148 race motor would never get beyond initial dyno testing; the sanctioning body’s limits on displacement had focused attention on higher-rpm durability. However, after two years of manufacturer boycotts in 1965-66, it was hoped things for NASCAR would finally settle down a little as both Ford and Chrysler found ways to race head-to-head. That Petty would dominate that year was not so much due to the Hemi engine as a superior powerplant but his natural talent as a driver. In retrospect, the rules had been rewritten in 1967 to allow Ford make some headway.