Bobby Allison Recalls his Magical 1975 Darlington Sweep

April 5, 2021

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In 1975, Team Penske fielded an AMC Matador in 19 of the 30 NASCAR Grand National (now Cup Series) events for legendary driver Bobby Allison. Allison had already notched 43 of his 85 career premier series victories entering the ’75 season, but the opportunity with Team Penske was one the Miami native couldn’t pass up.

“I always loved driving for Roger Penske,” recalled Allison, a NASCAR Hall of Famer. “A lot of times with other team owners my input on car setup and so on wasn’t always appreciated. When I started working with Roger, Mark Donohue walked in and told me, ‘we’ll put whatever you want on the car, set it up however you tell us you need it.’ They were really dominant in the Can-Am and Trans Am Series racing, but didn’t have a lot of background on the NASCAR side. So they appreciated what I could bring to the table beyond a driving perspective.”

After Allison won his first race for the team in the 1974 season finale, he opened the following year in style as he led 173 of 191 laps on his way to a season-opening victory at Riverside Speedway in the No. 16 AMC Matador. The team then raced in the Daytona 500 where Allison finished second.

“The AMC Matador was a great little car,” said Allison. “Aerodynamically, I felt like it was one of the best cars in the field. The grill on the car wasn’t the greatest, but the rest of the body lines and shape were really favorable. Every race we ran that year that we finished, we finished in the top-five – a total of 10 times to be exact, including the three wins.”

On Sunday, April 13, 1975, the team claimed a second victory on the season in the Rebel 500, the spring race at Darlington Raceway.        


“The 1975 spring race at Darlington is a race that’s really special to me because I was racing my brother Donnie at the end for the win,” said Allison. Included in the three-car, 17-lap shootout for the win was fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip.

“Darrell was good, but I was more concerned with where Donnie was in the closing laps,” said Bobby Allison. “He didn’t run near as many races as I did, but he was as tough and consistent of a competitor that I ever raced against. Had he run as often as I did or been in some of the situations I was in, he could have had a lot more wins.”

Allison and the Team Penske Matador passed Waltrip on lap 360, as he led the final eight laps to claim his third win at Darlington Raceway – the first win for Team Penske at NASCAR’s original superspeedway. The team raced through the summer of 1975, suffering five engine failures over eight races, before it returned to Darlington Raceway for the annual Southern 500. 

“The Southern 500 was always a race that I loved,” recalls Allison. “A lot of the other drivers complained about the track – the heat, the length of the race – and I’d just smile at them when they complained because I knew I was already in their head. I guess growing up in Miami made me a little more friendly to the heat than the rest of the guys. The Southern 500 is an extremely demanding race physically and mentally. Those demands and my preparation made me really good there.”

While many of the drivers in the field utilized a relief driver, including second-place finisher Richard Petty, who shared the No. 43 with Dave Marcis for a portion of the race, Allison powered through. In true Allison fashion, he saved his best for the closing stages of the race, as he claimed the lead for the first time at lap 246.

“The car wasn’t perfect, but the team made adjustments on it throughout the race and we got it right in the final third of the event,” said Allison. “From there we sort of set sail and led 119 of the last 121 laps.”

Allison’s recollection of the 1975 Southern 500 victory is a modest one. Only Team Penske’s No. 16 AMC Matador and the No. 43 of Richard Petty finished on the lead lap that day. Third-place finisher David Sisco finished nine laps down to the first- and second-place competitors, while fourth-place finisher Jim Vandiver finished 14 laps down.

The victory in the 1975 Southern 500 would be Team Penske’s last win in the legendary event until 2018 when Brad Keselowski returned to Victory Lane racing the No. 2 Miller Genuine Draft Ford Fusion.

“I’ll always admire the way Roger Penske approaches racing,” said Allison. “He builds his race teams with quality people and makes sure that you have everything you need to compete at the highest level. Mark Donohue was one of those and it’s really sad that we lost him in 1975, just a couple weeks prior to the Southern 500. He was a brilliant engineer, mechanic and an exceptional driver. Certainly, he was part of what helped set the team up for success that year, running as well as we did on a limited schedule.”

The win in the 1975 Southern 500 marked Allison’s final victory in NASCAR driving for Roger Penske’s team. In total, Allison won four races driving for Team Penske over a combined 56 starts in 1974, 1975 and 1976. The 1976 season would be the last time that Team Penske competed in a full NASCAR season until the formation of Penske Racing South in 1991. Allison went on to win another 38 NASCAR Cup Series races, as he earned the 1983 Cup Series Championship and was inducted into the second class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011.

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