The crown jewel of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is the Daytona 500. The Daytona 500 is scheduled for 4:30 PM ET on February 15, 2009 and if that start time holds up, it will be the latest green flag in the Daytona 500 history. The Daytona 500 is the kick-off race to the NASCAR season, which ends with the coveted Nextel Cup. The Daytona 500 is the most watched race of the year and is the most highly rated race with 200 laps and 500 miles of burning rubber. So what makes a champion Daytona 500 racecar driver and who are the greatest Daytona 500 champions?
Bill France founded NASCAR in 1948 to promote car racing on tracks. Several tracks existed at the time, but it was France who organized the sport and created uniform rules and regulations for racing. France is credited for turning a hobby into a national sport. It wasn’t long after, in 1960, that NASCAR would have its worst crash in the history of the sport and it was at Daytona. (Click here to view video). Today, despite the danger, NASCAR has millions of fans that all have their favorite driver and stories about their greatest Daytona 500 champion. Here are stories about three of the greatest Daytona 500 champions in history:
Richard Petty is the Father of the Daytona 500, and along with Cale Yarborough these two NASCAR drivers have to go down in history as the two greatest Daytona 500 champions ever. Richard Petty raced in the first Daytona 500 in 1959 and has won Daytona 500 races over a three-decade span. Richard Petty has won more Daytona 500 races than any driver, seven total. Richard Petty has started in 32 Daytona 500 races and is one of only three drivers, including Cale Yarborough, to win back-to-back Daytona 500 races in 1973 and 1974. Petty’s first Daytona 500 win was in 1964 and his last Daytona 500 win was in 1981. In 1984, Richard Petty became the first Daytona 500 driver to officially qualify for the race at a speed over 200 mph.
While Richard Petty has more memorable Daytona 500 moments, probably the most historic moment making the Daytona 500 a NASCAR crown jewel drawing millions of new fans is the famous Petty-Pearson rivalry at the finish of the 1976 Daytona 500. Richard Petty and David Pearson were in the final lap and exiting turn 4 when they crashed, sending them spinning into the grass. Petty’s car would not restart but Pearson managed to keep his car from stalling and crept across the finish line to win his only Daytona 500. It would be this dueling finish that is credited with putting the Daytona 500 “on the map” as NASCAR’s signature event.
Bobby Allison is a NASCAR Winston Cup driver and is named as one of the 50 greatest NASCAR drivers of all time. Bobby Allison is tied with Darrell Waltrip as the third all-time winning driver with 84 victories, including three Daytona 500 wins in 1978, 1982, and 1988. The 1988 Daytona 500 victory was a one-two win with his son Davey Allison. Bobby Allison is the oldest driver, at age 50, to win the Daytona 500 and the only person to have a father/son one/two win at the Daytona 500. Bobby Allison is one of eight NASCAR drivers to have won the racing grand slam: the Daytona 500, the Winston 500, the Coca-Cola 600, and the Southern 500.
When Bobby Allison began his racing career, his father asked him to quit. Allison and his brother, Donnie, just had the thrill of speed in their blood though, and went on to become the winning Alabama Gang. Bobby Allison would later pay the ultimate sacrifice by losing his own two sons in racing related accidents. In 1992, during a practice for the NASCAR Busch Series race, Bobby’s youngest son Clifford Allison, was fatally injured at Michigan International Speedway. In 1993, Bobby’s son Davey Allison was killed in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway. That same year, Bobby Allison would be elected to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
A. J. Foyt
Anthony Joseph Foyt, Jr. is the only race car driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A. J. Foyt is also named as one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers of all times, winning seven NASCAR races. A. J. Foyt was divinely lucky to take the 1972 Daytona 500 victory flag since he was pronounced dead at the crash scene of a 1965 race in the Riverside International Raceway track. Film footage of the crash is shown in the 1965 movie Red Line 7000 starring James Caan.
After the track doctor pronounced Foyt dead, fellow driver Parnelli Jones noticed Foyt moving and revived him. Foyt suffered a broken back, fractured ankle, and severe chest injuries in the crash, but that did not stop the racing champion from becoming one of the world’s most decorated and victorious race car drivers. You can watch Daytona 500 driver #51 A. J. Foyt, and other great Daytona 500 champions in the 1979 video Daytona 500, which was the first NASCAR race to be televised in the U.S. from start to finish. Do you want to know who won? No spoilers here!
Red Line 7000