Before there was Ryan Newman there was Bobby Isaac.
Early in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, Newman earned the moniker “Rocketman” for his propensity for posting blistering speeds during qualifying. In his first four full seasons, the Indiana native collected 34 poles, including 11 during the 2003 season.
Many years prior to the 2003 season (actually even before Newman was born), there was another driver setting the NASCAR world on fire with his qualifying clinics.
Bobby Isaac, of Catawba, N.C., arrived in NASCAR’s premier series in 1961 when he competed in only one race. He returned two years later to race partial seasons in 1963 and 1964. Although he posted his first win in the second qualifier for the 1964 Daytona 500, it wouldn’t be until the following season when he captured his first pole.
In 1965, Isaac only competed in four of the scheduled 55 races. In the final race of the season at Dog Track Speedway in Moyock, N.C., he had the fastest qualifying time with a speed of 68.143 mph. He led 172 of the event’s 200 laps in his Junior Johnson-owned Ford. Although he didn’t capture the checkered flag, he still finished a respectable second behind Ned Jarrett.
In 1968, the only season in which Isaac ran every race on the premier series schedule, he earned three more poles to go along with three wins. He won the May 3 Dixie 250 at Augusta (Ga.) International Speedway from the pole after leading 242 of 250 laps.
Then in 1969 magic struck.
On the morning of November 17, 1968,when the NASCAR world woke up to the start of the 1969 season (yes, the first two races of 1969 were held in late 1968), no one was sure what to expect in the upcoming season and they most likely didn’t expect history to be made in the way it was.
On February 20, 1969, Bobby Isaac captured his first pole of the season for the second Daytona 500 qualifier*. He went on to lead 22 laps in the 50-lap event and take home the win.
This was only the start to his historic season in which he posted a record 19 poles — a record that still stands today and will likely never come close to being broken.
What’s more is that Isaac didn’t just start the races in a good spot, he consistently finished them in just as good a spot as where he started them. He finished the season with 17 wins — fifth on the list of most wins in a season.
Even with all those poles and wins, Isaac finished sixth in the final standings, largely because he only competed in 50 of the season’s 54 races.
Some records have Isaac with 20 poles in 1969, instead of the more widely accepted 19. Most likely this is due to qualifying being rained out.
Of the 19 races in which he started from the pole, Isaac won 11 times. In two of those 11 races he led every single lap — all 250 laps in the April 6 Hickory 250* at Hickory (N.C.) Speedway and all 300 laps of the Beltsville 300* at Beltsville (Md.) Speedway on May 16.
Of the tracks at which Isaac grabbed poles, he was able to accomplish the feat twice at four different tracks: Augusta (Ga.) International Speedway — March 16’s Cracker 200 and October 19’s 100 Miles at Augusta International Speedway*; Hickory (N.C.) Speedway — April 6’s Hickory 250 and September 5’s Buddy Shuman 250*; North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway — April 20’s Gwyn Staley 400 and October 5’s Wilkes 400; and Asheville-Weaverville (N.C.) Speedway — May 4’s Fireball 300* and August 24’s Western North Carolina 500*.
Other races in which Isaac won the pole that season were the March 23 Southeastern 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, April 3 Columbia 200* at Columbia (S.C.) Speedway; June 19 Kingsport 250 at Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway, June 21 Pickens 200* at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina, June 26 North State 200 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, July 13 Northern 300 at Trenton (N.J.) Speedway, August 21 South Boston 100* at South Boston (Va.) Speedway, September 14 Talladega 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, October 17 100 Miles at Savannah (Ga.) Speedway* and November 9 Georgia 500 at Middle Georgia Raceway.
Asterisks indicate the 11 races in which Isaac won after starting on the pole. There were six races he won during the 1969 season that come from starting positions further back in the field; however, none as far back as seventh.
He won four races after starting second: the Greenville 200 at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.)Speedway (April 8), Mason 300 at Middle Georgia Raceway (June 1), Sandlapper 300 at Columbia (S.C.) Speedway (June 18) and Jeffco 200 at Jeffco Speedway in Georgia (November 2).
He won the Maryville 300 at Smokey Mountain Raceway in North Carolina from the third starting spot on June 5. He closed out the season strong, earning his 17th win in the final race — the Texas 500 at Texas World Speedway on December 7.
Although Isaac was never able to duplicate the number of poles and wins he earned in 1969, the following season he did well enough to earn his only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, beating out Bobby Allison by 51 points in the final standings.
That season, he landed on the pole 13 times and brought home 11 victories.
Isaac made only 90 starts over the last six seasons of his career, winning five times and starting on the pole in 13 races.
He finished his storied career with 37 career wins to go along with 49 poles. Earlier this year, he was posthumously inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.
Although Isaac’s incredible feat of 19 poles during the 1969 season will likely never be touched, it’s possible Newman took a page out of Isaac’s book on how to dominate qualifying.
If you’re interested in owning the just-released University of Racing die-cast of Bobby Isaac’s 1969 No. 71 Dodge Charger 500, please visit www.lionelracing.com or your local die-cast dealer to place your order today!