I had heard of jaw-dropping sights, but never seen one.
This changed on Sept. 14, 1969, at Alabama International Motor Speedway, a track now known as Talladega Superspeedway.
With just 11 of the 188 laps remaining in the inaugural 500-mile race at the sprawling, high-banked new layout, Richard Brickhouse dialed up full speed for the sleek Dodge Daytona he was driving.
The difference from the pace Brickhouse had been running around the 2.66-mile facility was astonishing. I doubt there was anyone in a crowd announced at 64,000 who didn't gasp.
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It was as if Brickhouse had just flipped the switch on a JATO device. JATO, of course, is an acronym for jet-assisted takeoff, which was used on some military planes decades ago.
Brickhouse easily caught and passed Jim Vandiver, driving an older Dodge, and continued to the checkered flag, winning by seven seconds. However, to this day, Vandiver and his car owner/crew chief, Ray Fox, contend that Brickhouse was a lap down and that they were the true victors.
There were so many bizarre incidents – and so much confusion – during the wild weekend four decades ago that exactly what happened on the track perhaps may never be known.
This much is certain:
NASCAR never has had two days like those, and almost certainly never will again.
The hectic, surreal 48 hours return to mind because Sunday’s running of the Amp Energy 500 is being celebrated as the speedway's 40th anniversary.
The events of Saturday, Sept. 13, 1969, have been chronicled often.
Concerns caused by a dangerous tire problem boiled over between stock car racing's top stars and Bill France Sr., founder of both NASCAR and the awesome Alabama track. The tires couldn't take the strain of speeds just a tick under 200 mph. The tires were shredding after just four or five laps.
The drivers, including Richard Petty, David Pearson, LeeRoy Yarbrough and brothers Bobby and Donnie Allison, wanted France to postpone the 500 until safer tires could be developed. France refused, insisting that the drivers run at a reduced speed.
The leading drivers then made good a threat to boycott the race, taking their cars out of the garage area en masse.
France blamed the walkout in great part on his refusal to recognize the recently formed Professional Drivers' Association, which he called a union.
Petty, the PDA president, countered that the group had nothing to do with the boycott.
"It's our necks we are worried about," said Petty.
Fellow driver Buddy Baker agreed. "I like me," said Buddy. "I want to live a little longer."
With the stars gone, France began cobbling together a field, waiving rule after rule in the process. He put smaller cars from NASCAR's Grand Touring Division on the grid, along with ARCA machinery.
The GT cars had run a 400-mile race at Talladega on the eve of the 500. France even had a personal Ford entered for Tiny Lund, allowing the car to start although its engine was set back six inches and the vehicle wasn't required to go through prerace inspection.
Covering the race for the Charlotte Observer, I filled two legal pads with notes about what all was going on.
Several pages were devoted to Brickhouse, a 29-year-old farmer from the North Carolina coast who'd only been around NASCAR's major tour a year.
Brickhouse was being put under tremendous pressure to take over a winged, purple Dodge vacated by the regular driver, Chargin' Charlie Glotzbach. The car was nicknamed “Plum Crazy.”
Fellow reporter Benny Phillips of the High Point Enterprise and I lingered in the garage area well into the night to see what Brickhouse and other wavering competitors were going to do.
"I've never been so tore up in my whole life," said Brickhouse, clearly pained and upset. "I just don't know what to do. I promised the other drivers that I'd go along with a decision not to run, and I've never gone back on a commitment in my life. Then Dodge (officials) up and offer me a chance to run one of the factory cars.
"I've always dreamed of getting a factory car. ...Every driver does."
By 10 a.m. on race day, Brickhouse had made his decision.
He was going to drive.
"I was up most of the night trying to make up my mind," he said. "I decided I was giving up too much by not running."
Later it was learned that Dodge had promised Brickhouse he'd be taken care of with a top ride.
So the 500 rolled off with Bobby Isaac the only "name" regular from the NASCAR big time in the field. Also starting was former series champion Buck Baker, who had turned to running on the Grand Touring circuit. Another GT driver in the 36-car field was Richard Childress, destined to gain fame as a car owner for Dale Earnhardt.
Per France's orders, the drivers didn't go anywhere near full-bore, cruising around at approximately 150 mph on a track banked at 33 degrees and designed for 200 mph speeds.
In addition to the slow pace, a further precaution was taken. Every 20 to 25 laps the yellow flag was shown, ostensibly for debris on the track, but actually so the teams could change tires.
The fans bought this in large part because France had announced before the race that ticket stubs would be honored for free tickets to future events at either Talladega or its sister track, Daytona International Speedway.
Finally, it was time to go for the drivers in contention, and GO Brickhouse did.
Brickhouse clocked two laps at 195.4 mph, eliciting the jaw-dropping and gasps. Then, safely ahead, he dropped back to 177.6 at the urging of his crew in order to preserve the tires. Brickhouse averaged 153.778 mph.
"I knew what was coming," said Vandiver, who led 102 laps in only his third big-time start. "If a winged Dodge was in the same lap with me near the end, they'd catch me. They had superior speed.
"But Brickhouse wasn't in the same lap."
Whatever, Brickhouse got the beauty queens in Victory Lane and had a big wreath of flowers placed around his neck by France.
The giant of NASCAR had promised earlier there would be no recriminations against drivers who sat out the race.
However, he seemed to change tone.
"As far as I'm concerned, the boys who raced today saved this track and they saved NASCAR," thundered France. "They won a major victory.
"The boys who pulled out owe their future to the drivers who ran today – if they have a future."
Turns out it was an idle threat.
Within the next two weeks, Petty and the other stars were back for races at Columbia, S.C., and Martinsville, Va. No penalties awaited them.
And the promise of a factory ride for Brickhouse?
It didn't materialize.
He ran only five races in 1970, one in 1979 and two in 1982. He never came close to winning again.
"I could have spent my life being bitter," Brickhouse said recently. "I'm not made like that. I forget the past and move on."
The Talladega speedway has moved on, too, becoming known for tight, thrilling competition and for producing "The Big One," a frightening multicar crash, in almost every race.
It's known also for a long list of strange, spooky incidents and tragedies that have taken place through the years both on the track and on the grounds.
Somewhat scary, then, to contemplate that the 40th anniversary is being observed on Halloween weekend.