When the Monster Mile Had a NASCAR Cup Driver From Delaware
October 4th, 3:02 PM EDT
DOVER, Del.- On Sunday, NASCAR will run its 100th Cup race at the Dover International Speedway. Race numbers seven to 10 in its history occurred when the mile-long track had an asphalt surface and was known as Dover Downs. It was in those races that Milton's Eddie Pettyjohn became what is believed to be the first Delawarean to drive at NASCAR's highest level.
In the lead-up to the June 1973 race, Dover wanted to have a local driver compete. Pettyjohn seemed to be the natural choice. He was already one of the top dirt track racers in the Mid-Atlantic. His uncle, Melvin Joseph, built the race track at Dover. Pettyjohn agreed to drive the 90 car owned by Junie Donlavey. Approximately a month before his first NASCAR race, Pettyjohn received help from eventual Hall of Famer Bobby Allison who made the trip from Alabama to the First State and worked with Pettyjohn in a practice session.
"He would go out and make eight or ten laps then he would come in and we would talk about it," Pettyjohn recalled. "Then I would go out and run eight to 10 laps and we kept on doing that back and forth."
Pettyjohn would finish last at that race. However, three months later in his second Cup event, Pettyjohn ended up 10th.
At the race held on May 19, 1974, Pettyjohn had engine trouble and had to retire his car after 76 laps. Soon after that, the 83 car driven by Ramo Stott hit the wall. The crash caused its fender to rub against one of the tires and the smoke from it made Stott ill. Stott pulled into the pits unable to continue. Stott's car was owned by another Delmarva native, Norris Reed of Federalsburg, Md. His crew asked Pettyjohn to drive the remainder of the race. Pettyjohn worked his way through the field to finish ninth though officially Stott is given credit for the top 10 due to the fact that he started the race behind the wheel of Reed's car.
Pettyjohn's final NASCAR race was Sept. 15, 1974. He wound up 24th but did lead a lap. It was then that Donlavey asked Pettyjohn to drive the 90 car on a full-time basis.
"I would have to pay my own way traveling," Pettyjohn said. "After talking with my wife I decided I would not go that route."
Pettyjohn would continue racing locally on Delmarva, earning his final win in 2009 at the Delaware International Speedway at the age of 63.
Pettyjohn continues to work at PJ's Auto Repair, the Milton business he has owned for nearly 50 years.