Every February, in the midst of what is often the coldest part of winter, the first rays of sunshine are delivered with the roar of engines. The Daytona International Speedway opens its gates, brilliantly colored flags snapping crisply in the warm breeze, to fans and race teams alike. It is here that heroes will be made, legacies built, and dreams come true. It is a Speedway like no other, steeped in the rich history of American stock car racing, while offering the first glimpse of the season that lies ahead. As race fans prepare for the 2017 Daytona 500 let’s take a look back at the top five 500 finishes.
1. 1998: Dale Earnhardt finally wins the 500:
After 20 years of what seemed like the worst luck when it came to the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt finally won. For a multitude of years it seemed like everything that could go wrong for Earnhardt did—he had flat tires, wrecks, even a collision with a seagull. He won every other race at Daytona except the 500. He seemed to know how to run every line on the high banks except the one that would win the big race. Finally, on his 20th try, the checkered flag fell on the black No. 3 car and history was made. Every member of every team lined pit lane to congratulate The Intimidator on his way to Victory Lane. It was an epic end to an epic race for an epic Champion.
2. The 1979 Daytona 500—and the fight that followed.
In 1979 NASCAR had its first televised race—that year’s Daytona 500. The race was a wild one and as they neared the finish Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison were rubbing and racing side by side. The two wrecked and slid chaotically onto the grass. Tempers immediately flared and what ensued is one of the most famous—or infamous—events in NASCAR history. Allison and Yarborough threw down and started a fight that would be the envy of any Mixed Martial Artist: fists were swinging, helmets were used as weapons, and tempers rose in crescendo of fury much to the dismay of the broadcasters and the delight of fans everywhere. The fight helped to endear NASCAR in the hearts of Americans everywhere.
3. 1988: An Allison 1-2
In 1988, on the 30th running of the Daytona 500, Bobby Allison came across the line in first. What made the win so special was that his son, Dave Allison, came in right behind him in second. The win was an emotional one for everyone. The Allisons, often affectionately called The Alabama gang, were a beloved institution in NASCAR. On top of that, the win highlighted one of the pillars of the sport: family. Nothing like a father-son finish to make every fan feel like they are part of the NASCAR family.
4. 1976: Battle of Legends—Pearson Vs. Petty
In 1976 the Daytona 500 had one of its most famous finishes. It a race that had been a battle from the get go, Richard Petty and David Pearson banged their way through the race. As they came to the final lap both cars spun into the infield spewing grass and debris all around them. In the midst of the chaos Pearson managed to get his battered car started again and limp across the finish line as Petty watched helplessly from the wreckage of his mangled car.
5. 1959: The first official 500 and the Disputed Winner
The 1959 Daytona 500 was the first official race at the brand new Speedway. After years of racing on the fabled sands of the beach, now NASCAR had a state of the art facility and they were eager to show it off. The race did not disappoint and Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp fought hard the whole race, battling so closely that as they crossed the finish line it was almost impossible to see who the winner was. In fact, NASCAR named Johnny Beauchamp the winner on the spot and the call would have stood had Lee Petty not called upon reporters and photographers to dispute the decision. After days of pouring over the pictures the decision was reversed and Lee Petty was named the winner.
One thing is for sure, the Daytona 500 always delivers edge-of-the-seat, heart-pounding, engine-roaring excitement. From the very first race to this year’s chapter, the 500 is always history in the making.
Daytona International Speedway