Reporter Notebook: As the 60th Coke 600 approaches, I’m thinking back to the 20th running and how things have changed

Reporter Notebook: As the 60th Coke 600 approaches, I’m thinking back to the 20th running and how things have changed
(David Whisenant-WBTV)

CONCORD, N.C. (WBTV) - I’ll admit it...I love Charlotte Motor Speedway. Whether as a news reporter or a fan, it’s one of my favorite places on earth.

My first visit was in 1971. My dad surprised me by taking me out of school early to go to qualifying. Charging Charlie Glotzbach won the pole that day in his #3 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. That was great, but all I cared about seeing was that Petty Blue Plymouth with the white #43 on the side.

Ever since then there have been dozens of races and qualifying sessions and press conferences at the track. My favorite memories involve all the years that I went to CMS with my brother and a few of our friends. Chris passed away 14 years ago this week, so his memory always coincides with race week at the track.

It’s hard for me to believe, but this month will mark the 60th running of the Coke 600. With that in mind, I started looking through my old race programs at some of the past milestone events. I settled on the program from the 20th running of the iconic race, mostly because it has a drawing of Richard Petty’s Daytona 500 winning Oldsmobile on the cover.

Thumbing through the pages, it’s interesting to relive the memories, and see how much things have changed since then.

In 1979, the race was held on May 27. The Sun-Drop 300 Open Sportsman Race was held on the day before the 600.

While today we have Speed Street and a lot of other activities leading up to the green flag, in ’79 there weren’t as many events. The All Nations Festival was held that year in Charlotte, but I’m not really sure what that involved. There was an “International Disco Party” held on Friday, May 25, along with the Can-Am-Jam.

The Grand Marshal for 1979? None other than TV’s Kojak, actor Telly Savalas. Other celebrities in town for the race included Bobby Troup of the TV series Emergency, and Pattie Clifton, who appeared in Billy Jack movies.

Olympian Suzy “Chapstick” Chaffee also made an appearance.

In 1979 CBS and WBTV broadcast the race, coming off the groundbreaking coverage of the Daytona 500 earlier that year.

There were ads for places such as Gus Original Forty-Niner, a restaurant on Highway 49 in the University City. The Peddlar steakhouse on Woodlawn Road and The Amber House on N. Tryon were enticing diners from the pages of the program.

Adam’s Rib Family Steakhouse on N. Tryon beside K-Mart and Staley’s Charcoal Steakhouse on Wilkinson Boulevard also promised tempting fare.

Arnold Palmer Cadillac was in business on S. Tryon, and a hotel called The New Manger Inn was open on N. Tryon at 10th Street.

Dodge County, Young Ford, Town and Country Ford, City Chevrolet, Sam Johnson Lincoln-Mercury, and Regal Chrysler-Plymouth were all selling cars in ’79.

As far as the race goes, well...I was a little disappointed with the outcome. Darrell Waltrip won by seven seconds, taking home $55.400. Richard Petty was second in his Chevrolet, followed by Dale Earnhardt. Those were the only cars on the lead lap at the finish.

It took 4 hours, 23 minutes, and 24 seconds to complete 600 miles that year, with the average speed checking in at 136.674 mph. There were 54 leads changes among 10 drivers.

40 years ago? Wow...seems like yesterday.

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