CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Pete Hamilton, the champion of the 1970 Daytona 500 for Petty Enterprises, died Wednesday at the age of 74.
Hamilton, from Dedham, Mass., began his driving career at Norwood Speedway Arena, competing in the street division, and he also won the 1967 NASCAR Late Model Sportsman division championship and added 12 wins in the NASCAR Grand American division to his resume two years later.
He made 64 NASCAR premier series (now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) starts between 1968 and 1973, starting his Cup career off by winning Cup Rookie of the Year honors in his first season in 1968.
That year, Hamilton made 16 starts in the season’s 49 races, scoring three top-fives and six top-10s en route to a 32nd-place finish in the season points standings.
He won a total of four career Cup races, including three in 1970 in a Plymouth Superbird for the Petty squadron. That year, Hamilton won the Daytona 500 before sweeping the two races at Talladega Superspeedway later in the year.
“We ran two cars in 1970 and Plymouth helped introduce us to Pete,” seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “They wanted us to run a second car with him on the bigger tracks. ‘Chief’ (Maurice Petty) led that car and started in the Daytona 500. Pete and ‘Chief’ won the race, and it was a big deal. Pete won both Talladega races that year. It was great to have Pete as part of the team. He was a great teammate. We send our prayers to his family.”
“We are saddened by the news of the passing of 1970 Daytona 500 champion Pete Hamilton,” added Daytona Int’l Speedway President Chip Wile. “Driving Petty Enterprises’ winged Plymouth Superbird, Pete captured his first NASCAR victory in the 1970 ‘Great American Race.’ He made significant contributions to the sport and was the first driver from New England to win NASCAR’s biggest and most prestigious race. On behalf of everyone at Daytona International Speedway, I want to offer condolences to the family and friends of Pete Hamilton. He will be missed.”
Hamilton won his Daytona 500 qualifying race in 1971, the last year prior to 2017 that the twin events paid out championship points and the final time they were credited as official wins on the series’ all-time list, for his final career Cup victory.
A neck injury caused the New England standout to retire from full-time racing in 1971, but he continued to find scattered success at the short track level as well.
His biggest moment outside of NASCAR was his victory in the 1974 Snowball Derby at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., beating Dickie Davis and Neil Bonnett to the checkered flag after winning the pole for the crown jewel event.
After his retirement, Hamilton became a successful car builder. He was a founding inductee into the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame, honored as a member of their first class in 1998.
“NASCAR extends its deepest condolences to the friends and family of Pete Hamilton,” the sanctioning body said in a statement released on Wednesday. “Hamilton’s career may seem relatively brief at first glance, but a careful study of the gentleman racer makes it abundantly clear that he achieved excellence during his extraordinary tenure in NASCAR.”
“Hamilton captured the NASCAR National Sportsman championship in 1967, the premier series Rookie of the Year Award in 1968 and an abundance of victories throughout a variety of NASCAR-sanctioned series. But, of course, he will be remembered most fondly for his stirring victory in the 1970 Daytona 500 while driving for the iconic Petty Enterprises race team. And for that, his legend will live forever.”