1971 Atlanta 500 (lost footage of NASCAR Winston Cup Series race; 1971)

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Program for the race.

Status: Lost

The 1971 Atlanta 500 was the 10th race of the 1971 NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Occurring on 4th April at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, in an event that almost never transpired because of the bankruptcy of the raceway, the race would ultimately be won by pole sitter A.J. Foyt in a 1969 Mercury after a tense battle with 1971 Plymouth driver Richard Petty.

Background[edit | edit source]

The 1971 Atlanta 500 was the 12th running of the event, with the race traditionally being around 500 miles in length.[1] It was one of two 1971 Winston Cup Series races conducted at Atlanta Motor Speedway,[2] the other being the Dixie 500,[1] which in 1971 occurred on 1st August and was won by Richard Petty in a 1971 Plymouth.[3] The Atlanta 500 also has ties to the modern Quaker State 400, which resumed the event at a 400 mile length in 2021 after not being held from 2011-2020.[4][5] However, the 1971 race almost never transpired; financial mismanagement in the 1960s led to the track, then known as Atlanta International Raceway, being declared bankrupt.[6][7] A successful bankruptcy petition from its board of directors was responsible for saving the race, as its running was a core aspect of the petition.[6][7]

Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with A.J. Foyt winning the pole position with a speed of 155.152 mph.[8][9] Directly behind him was Bobby Isaac in a 1971 Dodge, and Richard Petty.[9] Foyt was therefore deemed the favourite to win according to The New York Times, with Petty considered to be his biggest challenger for the event.[8] Before the event occurred however, Foyt made an apology to his fellow racers at the drivers' meeting over a story reported by Sports Illustrated that claimed he made disparaging comments to his fellow drivers.[10][11][7] Foyt denied he made said comments however, and sued Sports Illustrated's parent company Time, winning $75,000 in damages in 1973.[7]

The Race[edit | edit source]

With the starting order decided, the 1971 Atlanta 500 occurred on 4th April.[9] Foyt led the field for the first 36 laps, before Petty took over for the next 15.[9] While there would be several lap leaders,[9][7] the race would primarily be between Foyt and Petty, with The New York Times stating that "The race was essentially a private battle between Foyt and Petty, NASCAR's super star, with the 38 other starters simply providing background color and sound."[11] Indeed, Foyt and Petty proved evenly matched, with Petty holding an advantage by having his pit stops take slightly less time than his rival, with Foyt also hampered at one point because of a flat tyre.[11] With 25 laps still to run, Foyt made his final pit stop, allowing Petty to take over the lead.[7][9] While he tried to stay out for the remainder of the race, the Plymouth was forced to come in seven laps after Foyt so it could receive the fuel needed to complete the event.[7][11]

This enabled Foyt to close the gap, where he admitted post-race that chasing Petty was a gamble, as he nearly spun his Mercury on several occasions.[11] Ultimately, he completed the overtake on the back straight of the 316th lap, thus moving back into the first position.[11][9] He held onto it for the remaining laps to claim victory and $19,200 in prize money.[9] Petty finished second, 1.8 seconds behind, with fellow 1971 Plymouth driver Pete Hamilton a lap down in third.[11][9]

Availability[edit | edit source]

According to NASCAR on TV, the final hour and a half of the race was televised live by ABC under the title of ABC Championship Auto Racing.[12] However, this broadcast has yet to publicly resurface, with no footage of the race currently being publicly viewable. Nevertheless, a few photographs and newspaper clippings help document the event.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Images[edit | edit source]

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]