1966 Continued: Chrysler’s Domination of the USAC Stock Cars Rolls On

Our review of Chrysler Corporation’s domination of the 1966 USAC Stock Series continues on July 30, 1966 when the series goes north of the border to the Mosport International Raceway at Bowmanville, Ontario for two 50 lap, 125-mile events in the Kawartha 250.

For 240 miles, Don White appeared to be the man to beat at Mosport. He won the first 125-mile segment but not without holding off the challenges of Norm Nelson in his Plymouth and his own teammate, Mario Andretti behind the wheel of another Nichels Engineering Dodge. Jim Hurtubise was also in the mix early in a Nelson Plymouth before his engine gave out.

Andretti was lucky to make the show as he flipped the car four times in Friday practice and master engineer Ray Nichels spent hours getting the car back in shape just in time to make qualifications. Sal Tovella finished fourth in his Plymouth, which became a big factor when the overall winner was declared.

In the second 125-mile segment White was once again the dominate force but with just four laps and ten miles to go he experience engine woes and retired from the event. The lead changed three times in the last four laps but when the checkers waved it was Sal Tovella taking the win and with a fourth and a first he was declared the overall winner. Billy Foster came home second in his Dodge. In determining the overall finish, it was Tovella in a Plymouth, Nelson in a Plymouth, and White in a Dodge and Foster in a Dodge taking the top four spots.

On August 14, the series returned to the Milwaukee Mile and it was Norm Nelson back on top as he took the lead of the race for the third and final time on 70th lap and went to win the 150-mile event in one hour 35 minutes and 33 seconds and taking the lion’s share of the $10,150 purse.

The race was up for grabs the first 70 miles with Nelson leading then teammate Hurtubise, then Nelson, then white and finally Nelson for the final time. Chrysler products finished the race in first, third, fourth, fifth and sixth place.

Four days later the USAC Stocks were at it again at Milwaukee in a 200-mile event. Don White set a new track record in qualifying with a lap of 35.623 seconds. White lead the race for the drop of the green until he pitted under yellow for a Billy Foster spin on lap 74 for gas with Hurtubise assuming the point until lap 122 when he went pitside for gas and water.

White then took the lead of the race back and by lap 143 had lapped Nelson and had built up a 38 second lead when he pitted for gas on lap 169. White left the pits with a 15 second lead which he had no trouble keeping as he sailed to win. Once again Chrysler products dominated the event with White winning the race in his Nichels Dodge, and Nelson and Hurtubise finishing second and third in Plymouths. In fact, Chrysler cars finished in seven of the top eight spots.

The next day, August 19, the series headed to the Illinois State Fairgrounds Dirt Mile in Springfield where White continued his onslaught. At the drop of the green White charged from his outside front row starting position and took the lead then set a torrid pace which saw him lead 99 of the 100 laps of the Allan Crowe Memorial 100 to take the win in a record time of one six minutes and 30 seconds.

Forced to make a short pit stop on the 83rd lap due to a new USAC rule making a pit stop mandatory, White quickly regained the lead from Norm Nelson when Nelson made his pit stop a lap later. Despite overnight rains, which made the track both fast and slick in spots, White had no trouble in navigating around the dirt mile.

Norm Nelson set fast time of 36.72 second to shade out White who posted a lap of 38.76. The results of the race certainly should have sold a few cars for Chrysler as the top eight were; White in a Dodge, Nelson in a Plymouth, Foster in a Dodge, Tovella a Plymouth, JC Klotz in a Plymouth, Andy Hampton a Dodge, Hurtubise in a Plymouth and Butch Hartman a Dodge.

Don White finally picked up a win at the State Fair Century at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on August 26, but he had to survive a lap 99 spin to do so. White was leading by 2/3rds of a lap and cruising along when he spun twice in the third turn the result of oil dumped on the track when Hank Teeters blew an engine. “I got in the fence and killed the engine,” said White after the race. “Boy, I thought I was done.”

But the Keokuk, Iowa ace gathered it up and continued on to a record performance covering the 100 miles in his Dodge Charger in one hour nine minutes 26.99 seconds for an average speed of 86.3939 to pocket the winner’s share of $6,122.75.

Runner-up Norm Nelson was not close enough to challenge White for the win and finished second in his ’66 Plymouth with three-time and defending race winner AJ Foyt finishing third in his ’66 Ford the only other driver on the lead lap. Actually, Foyt protested the outcome of the race but it was disallowed.

Foyt was in a hectic battle himself the last 25 laps of the race as Jim Hurtubise in his ’66 Plymouth was on Foyt’s tailpipe every inch of the way from lap 75 on, but he simply could not muster up enough to get around Foyt. The duel ended with 2 ½ miles to go when Hurtubise ran out of gas. Foyt on the other hand coasted home on a dry tank. The late pit stop by Hurtubise cost him fourth place as Sal Tovella in his ’65 Plymouth was about to finish fourth and Hurtubise was relegated to fifth.

The race saw five leaders as Billy Foster led the first 15 circuits after setting a new track record in qualifying with a lap of 39.74 seconds. Foster ended up in the fence after trying to lap a lapped car and was forced to pit one lap later, he finished eighth.

Foyt then led for four laps before making his mandatory pit stops handing the lead to Sal Tovella who led for just one lap before he pitted. This gave the lead to Whitey Gerkin in his ’65 Chevy and Gerkin held the point for 14 laps before White got by him in turn one of lap 35 and led the remainder of the event. A paid crowd of 15,526 fans witnessed the race.

On September 4 it was another mile dirt track, this time at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds in Duquoin, Illinois and once again it was Don White leading a wave of Chrysler products that took the top ten positions of the vent. White set fast time with a lap of 39.45 seconds then sailed off to win the event with only the races three yellow flags giving runner-up Norm Nelson a change to get close to the fleeting White.

Five Dodges and five Plymouths finished in the top ten with White leading the entire 100 laps. Most drivers used the race’s first yellow to make their mandatory pit stop.

On September 11, it was back to Langhorne where the season started and it was again the Plymouth’s of Norm Nelson Racing dominating the show. Norm Nelson set fast time of 37.795 seconds but it was teammate Jim Hurtubise who left Langhorne with the big price as he drove a Nelson prepared Plymouth to victory in the 250-mile event.

Hurtubise waged a race long battle with teammate Nelson and Don White before getting the advantage when Nelson pitted on lap 193. White dropped out of the event on lap 180 when his engine expired. Billy Foster finished second two laps down while Nelson with a broken upper control arm limped home in third.

When the series made its fourth stop at the Milwaukee Mile it was Don White taking his third win in four tries at Milwaukee in a race that saw six different drivers lead the 250-mile event, but it was White, who lead three times for a total of 202 miles that dominated the event and brought his Dodge home 22 seconds ahead of Billy Foster in his Dodge.

Norm Nelson lead the first eight circuits before White took over and lead through lap 81, when Hurtubise grabbed the lead in heavy traffic only to surrender it back to White five laps later. White then pitted handing the lead to Foster, who pitted shortly giving the lead to A. J. Foyt in a Jack Bowsher Ford, Foyt pitted on lap 119 handing the lead to teammate Bowsher, who pitted giving the lead back to White on lap 125 and White drove off to his convincing win.

It all came down to the season finale at the 2.8 mile Mid-American Road Course in Wentzville, Missouri and Norm Nelson put an exclamation point on another USAC Stock Car Championship season by winning the 71 lap, 200-mile event in two 37 minutes 42 seconds.

Parnelli Jones claimed the pole in a Nelson prepared Plymouth with a lap of two minutes 3.07 seconds and may very well have won the race leading the first 20 circuits before retiring with a blow engine handing the lead to Nelson with White in tow. White was in the hunt until lap 51 when he retired with a broken timing chain. Sal Tovella brought his Plymouth home a distant second.

The 1966 USAC Stock Car season was really a battle between two drivers, Norm Nelson who claimed his third series championship and Don White, who after getting a late start came on strong at the end. Billy Foster finished third in points in his Dodge and Butch Hartman, who later laid claim to five USAC titles, was the Rookie of the Year in his Dodge.

But it was a season totally dominated by the Plymouth and Dodge racecars of Chrysler Corporation especially those Plymouths prepared by Norm Nelson Automotive and the Dodges of Ray Nichels Engineering. It was another example of the total domination of Chrysler Racing in the era of the late 60’s led by the genius of Ronney Householder.

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Lee Ackerman

Lee has been Mopar Connection Magazine's resident "Mopar historian" bringing us some of the best, most insightful glimpses back in the world of competitive history. Whether it's dirt track, oval track or the high banks of NASCAR, if MCM has published it, Lee likely brought it to us.

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