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Dick May, NASCAR relief driver extraordinaire


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#1 Graham Clayton

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 06:51

I recently came across the career record of NASCAR driver Dick May, who started 185 races between 1970 and 1985.
He would be considered purely a journeyman driver like so many other "independent" drivers of the era,
except for his ability at short notice to relieve another driver in NASCAR races. He was the "pinch reliever" of his era
(to borrow a baseball term).

If his relief appearances were added to his starts, he would have chalked up over 500 appearances.

His high point as a relief driver came in the 1975 Mason-Dixon 500 at the Dover Downs International Speedway.
After quaifying 25th, May quit his own car after 43 laps, and did relief stints for 4 other drivers.

It was in a team's interest to do this. The starting driver of a car would be credited with any points if the car finished,
and apparently May was a very "kind" driver who would always bring a car to the finish once he took over.

I have one unanswered question though - why did May take over so many cars during his career?
Was NASCAR racing in the 70's physically demanding, and many drivers were unable to complete a full race
due to fatigue or other factors?
Or did team managers decide that if their car was uncompetitive on a particular day, they would give their regular
driver a break and employ May's services?

Were there any other NASCAR drivers of the same era who specialised in relief driving?

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#2 ensign14

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 07:49

There seems to have been a lot of relief driving that is uncredited, drivers like John Utsman and Friday Hassler won races as relievers but are uncredited - and probably never will be as that would give Petty 201 wins...

But I'm guessing that lugging around something that weighs as much as a truck for hours on end without aircon would indeed be physically demanding.

#3 arttidesco

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 08:20

In the last eight years that I have followed NASCAR reasonably closely relief drivers seem to come into play when the primary driver is carrying injuries, Casey Mears was lined up to stand in for Hamlin last year after a knee operation IIRC, I'm sure Ricky Rudd also stood in for Tony Stewart who had a hand/arm injury a couple of years ago. I imagine this has been the case for most relief drivers. Be interested to know how Dick May came to do 4 relief stints in one race ?

#4 jm70

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 13:00

No power steering for one thing. Longer race times due to slower average speeds. Seats with little to no support, carbon monoxide intake for long periods. No night races on the longer tracks the majority of races in the heat of the day. No cool suits, cooled and fresh air. Many more 500 mile races in the past that have been cut to 400. I can't remember the actual time but a 500 mile race at Riverside on the road course with a drum brake car seemed to take about 6 or 7 hours. I actually went to sleep sitting on the Turn 6 wall while working as an observer. The only saving thing about the 500 mile race was it was in January.
Lets face it nobody in NASCAR years ago worked on fitness like they do now.

#5 ensign14

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 14:17

One other thing with the Mason-Dixon 500...it was held over 2 days. Perhaps a driver who realized they would not be likely to make positions on speed was happy to let someone else have a go themselves. Why sap your own strength? There were 7 laps between 1st and 2nd...

#6 RS2000

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 19:52

One other thing with the Mason-Dixon 500...it was held over 2 days.


When was that?
I think I missed the last M-D 500 that actually carried the name (1978? - it was the CRC Chemicals 500 or something like it by my time near the M-D line. I do recall the Dover Downs 500s took 4 hours to complete, being, I think, the shortest track (1 mile) to host a full 500 mile GN race.

#7 ensign14

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 21:16

When was that?

1975, a mist rolled in and so most of the race was held on the Monday.

#8 Graham Clayton

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Posted 01 November 2012 - 05:13

On a slightly related topic, what was the situation regarding the employment of relief drivers in NASCAR and the Indy 500?
If a driver retired early from the race, did they let the other teams know that they were available to relieve another driver if so required?

#9 Michael Ferner

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Posted 01 November 2012 - 09:17

Yes, I guess that's pretty much the way it went. Most teams (at least in prewar years) had their "own" relief drivers, who practiced in the car like the regular driver (a requirement) and stood by on race day. However, if one of the heavy hitters retired and did not have a team car to fall back upon, he may even have been approached by other teams, or else any driver who was still game would make the rounds and offer his services.

#10 ensign14

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Posted 01 November 2012 - 10:39

There was an interesting thing in a book following Terry Labonte around for a season - he pulled in early in one race when he was tooling around at the back, and said he wanted to retire. The team looked for a relief driver but nobody would step in; they were all concerned that doing so would undermine Labonte's position with the team and cause longer-term problems.