1974 Old Dominion 500: Earl Who?

Earl Ross

If you asked the average NASCAR fan in September 1974, it’s not likely they would have recognized the name "Earl Ross." That changed after his trip to Martinsville Speedway. (Photo: ISC Archives)

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If you walked up to the average NASCAR fan in September 1974, it’s not likely they would have recognized the name "Earl Ross." After all, he had run less than 20 races in what is now known as the Sprint Cup Series.

Today - more than 40 years later, if you posed the same question to the same type of average fan, the answer would probably be the same. Perhaps, it’s all in whom you ask.

If you traveled to Ailsa Craig, Ontario, the same question posed to a Canadian race fan might produce an answer that included the words "an upset win." But maybe what happened on Sunday, Sept. 29, 1974, wasn’t really an upset after all.

If you were going to race on a short track, or anywhere else in the mid-1970s, you could have done much worse than getting your cars from Junior Johnson. A future member of the NASCAR Hall Of Fame, Johnson was known for building fast cars. After all, he won a driving championship on his own and would build the cars that took Cale Yarborough to three consecutive Cup titles from 1976 to 1978.

It takes about 13 hours to drive the 750 miles from Ailsa Craig to the half-mile Martinsville Speedway. Earl Ross, then 33 years old, made that drive for the 1974 Old Dominion 500. He arrived at the Martinsville crossover gate with a two-year-old Chevrolet straight out of Ingle Hollow, N.C. Johnson was listed as car owner of record. Ross' sponsor was a familiar one to Canadians: Carling Beer.

Yarborough was at the wheel of Johnson’s No. 11 Chevrolet, making him a teammate to Ross’ No. 52. In the race, Ross would end up benefitting from Yarborough’s problems.

Thirty cars made up the starting field. Yarborough qualified seventh, Ross 11th. Yarborough was the third driver to lead the race and by Lap 421, he had lapped the field.

"I was just riding along, knowing I would win this race," Yarborough said after he was sidelined with a blown engine.

Ross inherited the lead and held off Buddy Baker to take the win. The rookie’s margin of victory was more than one lap while Baker had an additional two-lap advantage over third-place Donnie Allison and fourth-place Dave Marcis. Richie Panch finished fifth.

"I can’t believe this, I really can’t," Ross said in Victory Lane. "I’ve always wanted to come down here and win, but I honestly didn’t think I would. I certainly never thought I would win this soon."

It would be Ross’ only Cup series victory. He would race only five more times in NASCAR’s top level.

Visit MRN.com on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. (ET) to hear the complete broadcast of the 1974 Old Dominion 500 from Martinsville Speedway, anchored by Ken Squier. Motor Racing Network – "The Voice of NASCAR" – features a classic race each week on "Throwback Thursday" only at MRN.com.

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