2016 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Isaac

Bobby Isaac won 37 times at NASCAR’s top level, plus the 1970 championship.
Bobby Isaac won 37 times at NASCAR’s top level, plus the 1970 championship.

Born: Aug. 1, 1932, Catawba; Died: Aug. 8, 1977, in a Hickory hospital of a heart attack after experiencing heat exhaustion in a race at Hickory Speedway.

Family: Son Randy, twin daughters Rhonda and Robin.

Career highlights: Won the 1970 Cup Series championship driving for team owner Nord Krauskopf and crew chief Harry Hyde. Set 28 world speed records in the team’s sharp-nosed, rear-winged Dodge in 1971 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers.

Statistics: Logged 308 Cup Series starts in a career spanning 1961-76, scoring 37 victories and posting 97 top five finishes, 36 more in top 10. He triumphed in 17 of 50 starts and sped to a record 20 poles in 1969, making the K&K team’s No. 71 “poppy red” Dodges famous. Had three superspeedway victories – the Texas 500 in 1969 at Texas World Speedway, Medal of Honor Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway in 1971 and the Carolina 500 at N.C. Motor Speedway in 1972.

Tom Higgins’ reflections

Retired Observer motorsports writer Tom Higgins on Bobby Isaac:

I first saw him: On July 28, 1963 in the Volunteer 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Raceway. He finished 11th.

My favorite memory of him: Isaac and the Krauskopf-Hyde team entered the Medal of Honor Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway only a few hours before deadline for the race on July 4, 1971. Driving a Dodge with an experimental engine, he rallied from 21st to the front of the field. He sped into the lead a final time on the 136th of the 160 laps. But trouble threatened. With five laps to go, two of the three hood pins on his car worked loose. The hood started flapping in the wind and with two laps left NASCAR showed Isaac a black flag. Realizing he had a cushion of two laps to obey the flag before pitting under rules in effect at that time, Isaac steadfastly stayed on the track and finished four seconds ahead of runner-up Richard Petty for the biggest victory of his career.

What people might not know about him: Isaac began his driving career at Hickory Speedway in weekly events at age 17 in 1949. Famed motorsports promoter Humpy Wheeler raced against Isaac a few times and says, “Bobby always won one of two things in those days, the race or the fight afterward.” In 1958 Isaac joined the late-model sportsman circuit full time, driving for Ralph Earnhardt and eventually winning 28 races. He made one Cup Series start in 1961 and returned to the big-time tour to stay in 1963. Isaac eventually tempered his temper, but never his competitive zeal. Introduced to golf by Richard Howard, a neighbor in Denver, N.C., and then the president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, Isaac played terribly as a left-hander. He taught himself to play right-handed and became a relatively good golfer. Isaac and Hall of Famer David Pearson were best friends.

Most memorable quote: “I heard a voice telling me to park this thing, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.” Isaac thus explained to an incredulous team owner Bud Moore why he suddenly pulled onto pit road and began un-strapping his belts just short of the halfway point of the 1973 Talladega 500. Larry Smith, the 1972 Cup Series rookie of the year and a fellow native of Catawba County, had been killed in a crash early in the race.