Richard Petty Scores Shocking Win With Ford in 1969

Jackson Wheeler
8 Min Read


  • When NASCAR showed up at Riverside, Calif., on February 1 for the 1969 Motor Trend 500, Richard Petty was in a Ford with backing from East Tennessee Ford.
  • The change from Chrysler Plymouth surprised some, but certainly not others.
  • After all, Petty had been unhappy with Chrysler Corp. since late in the 1968 season.

Few things shocked NASCAR in its formative years more than Richard Petty’s switch from tried-and-true Chrysler Corp. products to unproven Ford products between the 1968 and 1969 seasons.

Shocked… and for good reason.

The first 91 of Petty’s untouchable 200 career Cup Series victories came in the familiar Petty-blue, No. 43 Plymouths at the half-mile dirt Southern States Fairgrounds near Charlotte, N.C. in February of 1960. Before that weekend, 20 of Petty’s first 21 starts in 1958 and 1959 had been in Oldsmobiles. (That one-off was a Plymouth on July 4, 1959 in Daytona Beach).

Once Petty returned to Plymouth at Nashville in August, he stayed there for the next nine-plus seasons, a span of 409 races. The last of his 91 Plymouth victories was at Macon, Ga. in November 1968, officially the 1969 season-opener. His final Plymouth start of that era was in December 1968, when he finished second to Bobby Allison at Montgomery, Ala.

When NASCAR showed up at Riverside, Calif., on February 1 for the 1969 Motor Trend 500, Petty was in a Ford with backing from East Tennessee Ford. The change surprised some, but certainly not others. After all, Petty had been unhappy with Chrysler Corp. since late in the 1968 season. He’d gotten a look at the same basic Plymouth the manufacturer expected him to race again in 1969, and he was worried that the boxy car wouldn’t fare well against the new, aerodynamically superior cars from Dodge and Ford.

Especially Dodge, part of the Chrysler Corp. family.

Its teams were getting new Dodge Daytonas with a low-hanging front snout and elevated rear wing. Clearly, it was designed and built specifically to beat the Torino that Ford was rolling out for 1969. Tired of being outclassed, the Blue Oval was aggressively upping its NASCAR game through Holman-Moody Racing.

Concerned about being outclassed for the first time in his career, Petty asked Chrysler Corp. to design and build a Plymouth similar to the new Dodges. When it said no, he asked if he could move from Plymouth to Dodge. When the company refused that request, too, the future Hall of Fame star vowed to look around.

richard petty nascar riverside vl 1969

RacingOne//Getty Images

Richard Petty celebrates his Feb. 1, 1969 win at Riverside with Ford.

“I told them, ‘either build me a winged car or I’m walking across the street,’ ” Petty told reporters of that moment. “They said, ‘Sure, go ahead.’ So, I did. I don’t think they ever imagined that I’d actually do it.” He immediately offered himself to Ford and signed a contract for one year, certain that Chrysler Corp. would come back after enduring a season without him making weekly headlines.

Petty opened that year by winning on the Riverside road course in a Ford built by Holman-Moody. (After that, the Pettys built their own cars). He and crew chief Dale Inman won eight more times in 1969: twice at Martinsville and once each at Kingsport, Winston-Salem, Beltsville, Nashville, and Maryville, and on the new 1-mile track at Dover, Del. Petty was second to H-M driver David Pearson in championship points.

Ford won 26 of 54 races that season, 11 with Pearson, nine with Petty, five with LeeRoy Yarbrough, and one with Donnie Allison. As for the winged (and traditional) Dodge teams: Bobby Isaac delivered 17 of its 22 victories, Bobby Allison won four times, and Richard Brickhouse won the infamous “boycott 500” at Talladega in August. Petty and Bobby Allison each won an early-season race in Plymouths, and Cale Yarborough and Yarbrough each won twice for Mercury.

As expected, Chrysler officials offered Petty a deal for 1970. His only request was non-negotiable: build a winged Plymouth similar to what they’d built for Dodge drivers Isaac, Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, and James Hylton. Chrysler agreed, and the Plymouth Superbirds of Petty and part-time driver Pete Hamilton won eight races in 1970.

Petty spent the rest of his career jumping from manufacturer to manufacturer, chasing the success he’d enjoyed in his two earlier stints with Plymouth. He spent 1970-1981 going from Plymouth to Dodge to Chevrolet to Oldsmobile and to Buick. He spent the last 11 years of his career—from 1982 until his retirement in 1992—racing Pontiacs.

His 200-victory scorecard: 139 in Plymouths, 37 in Dodges, 9 in Fords, 6 in Chevrolets, 5 in Pontiacs (including his last victory at Daytona Beach in July 1984), 3 in Buicks, and 1 in an Oldsmobile.

Editor’s note: This year, the Petty family is celebrating 75 years of NASCAR racing, and Autoweek is coming along for the ride with a series of “Petty 75” stories written by reporters who have been covering the King and his family for more than 50 of those years. In addition, be sure to check out the Petty family’s own social media channels throughout the year and join in the party. Content will be featured on the @therichardpetty, @pettybrothersracing, @kylepetty, @pettymuseum and @pettysgarage social media accounts as well as a soon-to-launch YouTube channel.

Lettermark

Unemployed after three years as an Army officer and Vietnam vet, Al Pearce shamelessly lied his way onto a small newspaper’s sports staff in Virginia in 1969. He inherited motorsports, a strange and unfamiliar beat which quickly became an obsession. 

In 53 years – 48 ongoing with Autoweek – there have been thousands of NASCAR, NHRA, IMSA, and APBA assignments on weekend tracks and major venues like Daytona Beach, Indianapolis, LeMans, and Watkins Glen. The job – and accompanying benefits – has taken him to all 50 states and more than a dozen countries.  

He’s been fortunate enough to attract interest from several publishers, thus his 13 motorsports-related books. He can change a tire on his Hyundai, but that’s about it.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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