By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
He didn’t always have the best car on the track, and he hardly ever had the resources to run the full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, but Lennie Pond had more heart than arguably anyone who ever strapped on a racing helmet.
Wednesday we sadly found out that Pond died at the age of 75 after a fight with cancer.
Pond worked his way up through the local dirt tracks and later asphalt tracks in the Virginia area in the 1960s and 1970s. John Dodson, who is a retired judge in Virginia talked to Richmond.com about when Pond drove his late model race car back in 1969 and 1970.
“We won races together at lots of places,” Dodson said. “Lennie was fast and reliable. He brought the car back in one piece. He never wrecked once the whole time we raced together.”
Pond became a fixture in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for 17 years, mainly driving partial schedules for a slew of owners. A look at Pond’s box score nowadays won’t impress too many modern NASCAR fans, but what he was able to do with so little at his disposal was very commendable.
In 1973, Pond beat out Darrell Waltrip for Rookie of the Year honors. Waltrip did run less races, but Pond actually gave Waltrip a run for his money on track all season long.
In his only season running the full series schedule — 1976 — Pond finished the season fifth in the final championship standings behind three current NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers (Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, and Bobby Allison) and one future hall of famer (Benny Parsons). However Pond’s greatest season in NASCAR would come two years later in 1978.
Pond missed the season-opening race at Riverside, but finished 10th at the Daytona 500. After Daytona, Pond reeled off six-consecutive top-five finishes including a second place effort at Richmond where he led 142 of the 400 laps on the day. Pond would record his only five-career pole positions that season, as well as his lone Sprint Cup Series win at Talladega. Pond had to fend off a legendary field of drivers that day as Donnie Allison, Parsons, Yarborough and David Pearson rounded out the top five finishers.
“It was a long time coming,” Pond told MRN pit reporter Ned Jarrett in Victory Lane. “When I started the race today, I felt like the whole world was against me. I feel great that I won the race. I’ve got to talk to a whole lot of people and get a few things straight.”
Pond would make his final Sprint Cup Series start in 1989 at his hometown track in Richmond. Pond started 25th that day and finished 11th driving for Junie Donlavey.
In all, Pond started 234 races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he won once, had five poles, 39 top fives and 88 top-10 finishes. But the statistics only tell part of the tale. Lennie Pond was a true racer, and he will sorely be missed in the NASCAR community.
Image: RacingOne/Getty Images