Richard Petty – the King – is most associated in NASCAR with his Petty Blue Plymouths which took him to the winner’s circle 85 times in the 1960s alone. But there is one chapter many Mopar faithful like to forget about in Petty’s driving career in that decade: One year he raced for Ford. Ironically, he did it because Dodge built a car that was faster than his Plymouth. And Plymouth didn’t think he would really race anything else in 1969.
In 1969, Dodge introduced the winged Charger Daytona. The aerodynamic, purpose-built race car would qualify as “stock” for NASCAR tracks but everyone knew it had been created to beat Ford. Chrysler built the cars in enough numbers to qualify them for the tail end of the 1969 season and 1970 looked to be a turkey shoot for the wings. But the car was announced much earlier than that – early enough for Petty to get a look at it and realize it was going to be a formidable race car. Petty called up his folks at Plymouth and asked if they were going to build a Plymouth version of the winged Daytona. “No,” came back the reply. “You’ve always won with Plymouth. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
Petty took a look at the Plymouth entries for 1969 and did not like what he saw. The boxy cars would have a hard time competing against the other, more aerodynamic entries from Dodge and Ford. Even though Ford had not built anything as exotic as the Daytona, it had been tweaking the body lines of its offerings in 1969 and its cars looked fast. Maybe not as wild as the Daytona but certainly cleaner than the Plymouth. Petty struck a deal to race Fords for the 1969 season.
Petty started off his Ford season with a bang at Riverside, winning the road course the first time he raced behind the wheel of his Ford. He would go on to win eight more races that season and do so well that he came in second in the overall point standings (losing out only to David Pearson, driving another Ford). The bigwigs at Plymouth realized the error of their ways and began planning on building a winged counterpart to the Charger Daytona, if for no other reason than to lure Petty back to Plymouth.
Which they did. 1970 saw the introduction of the Plymouth Superbird, the return of Richard Petty to Plymouth, and the NASCAR world was back on its axis. In fact, Petty Enterprises ran two Superbirds that season, with Pete Hamilton running the Petty Blue #40 alongside Richard’s #43. And, to prove that he was right to insist Plymouth build a winged car, the Petty Superbirds collected a good amount of hardware in 1970. Driving Superbirds, Hamilton won the Daytona 500, Alabama 500, and the Talladega 500, while Richard won the Carolina 500, Falstaff 400, Schaefer 300, Dixie 500, and the Mason-Dixon 300.
For a few more years, Petty and Plymouth would continue their relationship as if nothing happened in 1969. That ugly year-long dalliance with Ford would become a footnote that would best be forgotten by the Mopar fans.
Steve Lehto is a writer and from Michigan. He specializes in Lemon Law and frequently writes about cars and the law. His most recent books include , and . He also has a where he talks about these things.