1979 Daytona 500
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1979 Daytona 500

1979 Daytona 500
Race details
Race 2 of 31 in the 1979 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
Track map of Daytona International Speedway showing mainly the speedway.
Track map of Daytona International Speedway showing mainly the speedway.
Date February 18, 1979 (1979-02-18)
Location Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Florida, U.S.
Course Permanent racing facility
2.5 mi (4.023 km)
Distance 200 laps, 500 mi (804.672 km)
Weather Mild with temperatures reaching as high as 70 °F (21 °C); wind speeds approaching 14 miles per hour (23 km/h)[1]
Average speed 143.977 miles per hour (231.709 km/h)
Pole position
Driver Ranier-Lundy
Qualifying race winners
Duel 1 Winner Buddy Baker Ranier-Lundy
Duel 2 Winner Darrell Waltrip DiGard Motorsports
Most laps led
Driver Donnie Allison Ellington Racing
Laps 93
No. 43 Richard Petty Petty Enterprises
Television in the United States
Network CBS
Announcers Ken Squier and David Hobbs
Nielsen Ratings 10.5/29
(15.1 million viewers)
Radio in the United States
Radio MRN
Booth Announcers Barney Hall and Jack Arute
Turn Announcers Mike Joy (1 & 2) Gary Gerould (Backstretch) Eli Gold (3 & 4)

The 1979 Daytona 500, the 21st annual event, was the second race of the 1979 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season. It was held on February 18, 1979. Sports pundits consider the 1979 Daytona 500 to be the most important race in stock car history.[2]

The race was televised live beginning to end, a rarity in that era, and the first for a 500-mile race in the United States. Camera angles such as the "in-car" view were introduced to racing viewers from all over the United States.

On the final lap, race leaders Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison collided with each other on the Daytona International Speedway's backstretch. Both drivers' races ended in Daytona's grass infield. The wreck allowed Richard Petty, then over one-half lap behind both, to claim his sixth Daytona 500 win.

As Petty made his way to Victory Lane to celebrate, a fight erupted between Yarborough, Donnie Allison and his brother, Bobby, at the site of the backstretch wreck. Both events were caught by television cameras and broadcast live.

The race brought national publicity to NASCAR. Motorsports announcer and editor Dick Berggren said, "Nobody knew it then, but that was the race that got everything going. It was the first 'water cooler' race, the first time people had stood around water coolers on Monday and talked about seeing a race on TV the day before. It took a while - years, maybe - to realize how important it was."[2] Chip Warren was Chief Starter per CBS's Ken Squier.


The 1979 Daytona 500 was the first 500-mile race to be broadcast in its entirety live on national television in the United States.[3][4] Races were shown on television, but the Indianapolis 500, for example, was broadcast on tape delay later in the evening on the day it was run in this era and usually in edited form. Most races aired during this period were only broadcast starting with the final quarter to half of the race, as was the procedure for ABC's IndyCar broadcasts on their Wide World of Sports program.

CBS signed a new contract with NASCAR to telecast the race. Ken Squier and David Hobbs were the booth announcers with Ned Jarrett and Brock Yates[5] in the pits for that race, while other angles, such as an interview with race grand marshall Ben Gazzara and NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr., were handled by Marianne Bunch-Phelps. The day was fortunate for CBS as a major snowstorm known as the Presidents Day Snowstorm of 1979 bogged down most of the Northeast and parts of the Midwestern United States, increasing the viewership of the event. The race introduced two new innovative uses of TV cameras, the "in-car" camera and the low angle "speed shot", which are now considered standard in all telecasts of auto racing.

Motor Racing Network broadcast the race on the radio and their announcers included Jack Arute, Barney Hall, Mike Joy, Gary Gerould (who also hosted prerace ceremonies) and Dick Berggren.[6]


Buddy Baker and Donnie Allison qualified first and second and were the only drivers to do so, as only two cars qualify from time trials. All other drivers had to race their way through qualifying races.

Baker won his first qualifying race, with Cale Yarborough, Benny Parsons, Bobby Allison and David Pearson finishing in the top five, with positions 2-5 starting on the inside of rows 2-5, respectively.

In the second qualifying race, pole-sitter Donnie Allison had an engine failure (no penalty for failed engines in the qualifying race until 2018) midway through the race. Darrell Waltrip won the second qualifying race to start fourth. The rest of the cars starting on the outside of rows 3-5 were A.J. Foyt, Dick Brooks and rookie Dale Earnhardt, Sr. making his Daytona 500 debut.

Notable drivers who failed to advance from qualifying races or speed included USAC star Jim Hurtubise, French sports car ace Claude Ballot-Lena, Cup race winners James Hylton, Morgan Shepherd and future NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott.


The first 15 laps of the 200-lap race were run under green and yellow flag conditions to help dry the track from rain the previous night. This impacted Waltrip, as running at relatively slow speeds on the high banks of the track caused a lack of oil to lubricate his camshaft, resulting in a cam lobe wearing away prematurely and causing his engine to run on seven cylinders for the rest of the race.

On the start of lap 16 (the first green flag lap), pole-sitter Baker lost the draft and fell back. Donnie Allison raced with Yarborough and Bobby Allison, but lost control of his car on lap 31 and forced Yarborough and Bobby Allison to take evasive action. All three cars spun through the backstretch infield, which was slippery and muddy from the rain. Yarborough was forced to repair his car and fell two laps behind the leader, as did Bobby Allison, while Donnie Allison lost one lap. The track would remain under caution through lap 41.

While the field was still under caution on lap 38, Baker dropped out of the race with ignition problems. His team had made some minor welding repairs before the race and it was thought the primary ignition control box had been damaged as the engine was misfiring. During attempts to diagnose and repair the problem, the team switched to the backup box and replaced much of the ignition system to no avail.[7] When the team returned home after the race, engine builder Waddell Wilson determined that the crewman who had switched to the backup box by unplugging the primary ignition box and plugging into the backup box had plugged back into the defective primary box. When Wilson switched to the backup ignition box, the car fired perfectly.

When the caution ended on lap 42, the race became an 18-car battle. Neil Bonnett, driving an Oldsmobile, took the lead and was challenged by Foyt and Waltrip; he fought them off, but was soon challenged by Bobby Allison trying to unlap himself, Earnhardt and dark-horse driver Tighe Scott, driving a Buick Century prepared by Harry Hyde. A six-car crash on lap 53 eliminated Pearson and others. Donnie Allison raced to unlap himself and made his lap up when Bonnett blew a tire and spun in traffic. Other contenders were eliminated, as Bobby Allison fell multiple laps behind, Harry Gant crashed, Earnhardt over-revved his engine leaving the pits and broke a rocker arm and valve spring, Parsons' car overheated and Scott slid through his pits unable to stop when he hit a puddle of water from Parsons' overheating engine. Past the halfway point, Donnie Allison assumed the lead, but Yarborough used more caution flags to make up his lost laps. Yarborough was on the lead lap with Allison by lap 178.


Following green flag stops, Donnie Allison took the lead on lap 178 with Yarborough close behind. They pulled away during the final laps and led the next closest competitors by half a lap. Allison took the white flag and was leading the race on the final lap with Yarborough drafting him tightly. As Yarborough attempted a slingshot pass on the backstretch, Allison attempted to block him. Yarborough refused to give ground and as he pulled alongside Allison, his left side tires left the pavement and went into the wet and muddy infield grass. Yarborough lost control of his car and contacted Allison's car halfway down the backstretch. As both drivers tried to maintain control, their cars made contact three more times before locking together and crashing into the outside wall in turn three. The cars slid down the banking and came to rest in the infield. Richard Petty, who was over half a lap behind both drivers before the incident, went on to win,[3] beating Waltrip by one car length.

After the wrecked cars of Allison and Yarborough settled in the infield grass short of the finish line, the two drivers began to argue. Bobby Allison, who was one lap down at that point, stopped where the wreck was, offering Donnie Allison a ride back to the garage. Yarborough blamed Bobby for his defeat due to tensions they had with each other earlier during the race. He struck Bobby in the face with his helmet while Bobby was sitting in his car. Fuming, Bobby jumped out of his car and struck Yarborough in the mouth.

Yarborough knocked Bobby to the ground and struck him in the back with his helmet twice. Donnie Allison grabbed Yarborough from behind, shouting, "Hey!! You wanna fight?! I'm the cat you should be fighting with!" Donnie pulled Yarborough away from Bobby, who jumped up and threw a punch at Yarborough. Bobby grabbed Yarborough by the collar with one arm, shaking him as Yarborough tried to shove him away with his foot and kicking at him. Donnie also held on to Yarborough's arm and swung his helmet trying to defend his brother. A track safety official grabbed Yarborough, trying to pry him away from the Allisons. Yarborough fell to the ground and Bobby jumped on him, hitting him twice in the nose. More track marshalls arrived and restrained all three drivers, separating them after the 16-second brawl.

With Allison and Yarborough wrecking near the end of the last lap, the television audience was mostly shown footage of Petty crossing the finish line to win the race. Brief moments of the fight were seen on national television when the commentators and camera operators realized what was going on and switched to the scene.

Yarborough said, "I was going to pass him and win the race, but he turned left and crashed me. So, hell, I crashed him back. If I wasn't going to get back around, he wasn't either."[6] Allison said, "The track was mine until he hit me in the back," he says. "He got me loose and sideways, so I came back to get what was mine. He wrecked me, I didn't wreck him."[6]

In the aftermath, both Allison brothers and Yarborough were fined. Donnie Allison was put on probation for six months. Bobby Allison was also put on probabtion for six months, but it was overturned on appeal. Donnie Allison's probation was reduced to three months after an appeal. Yarborough was put on probation for three months. The initial judgment that the wreck was Allison's fault was amended to place blame equally on both Allison and Yarborough. $5,000 of their $6,000 fines were returned $1000 at a time over the next five races.

The story made the front page of The New York Times Sports section. NASCAR had arrived as a national sport and began to expand from its southeastern United States base and become a national sport, shedding its moonshine running roots along the way.

Play-by-play of the final lap

(The following is an excerpt from the CBS television coverage of the race)

David Hobbs: "The white flag is out, one lap to go. This is it; last lap."

The cars of Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison from the 1979 Daytona 500 in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Ken Squier: "Stand by, stand by for a photo finish. Two of the greatest fiddling here, fidgeting with first place, passing some of the stragglers; this is the last lap. Trying to take it home, it's all come down to this. Out of turn two, Donnie Allison in first. Where will Cale make his move?" (Yarborough attempts to slingshot) "He comes to the inside. Donnie Allison throws the block." (The two cars collide and hit the wall) "Cale hits him! He slides! Donnie Allison slides! They hit again! They drive up the turn! They're hitting the wall! They're head onto the wall! They slide down to the inside. Let's watch those third place cars. They're out of it! Who is going to win? Coming down third place, they're coming around for the finish between A.J. Foyt and Richard Petty. Down the back straightaway come the leaders now. Two cars are out. In the backstretch are the leaders, watching for the leaders to come - they're still up in three and four. The leaders are up in turns three and four. Coming down, Richard Petty is now pulling out in front, Darrell Waltrip is in second, A. J. Foyt is in third. Here they come, Waltrip trying to slingshot..." (but Petty blocks him) "...Petty is out in front. At the line..." (the checkered and caution flags wave at the flag stand) "Waltrip to the inside... Petty wins it !! ! Down on pit road it has gone crazy, the Petty crew is out there jumping up and down as Richard Petty has won it."

Hobbs: "Richard Petty has won his 6th Daytona 500 and the crowd here are going absolutely mad!"

Squier: "Well, there he is after a full year without a win as the two leaders tangle in the back straightaway. They threw the block; it didn't work. A.J. Foyt pulls up to congratulate Petty. No matter how hard A.J. fights, when it's over he is a gentleman. Let's look again at that crash." (Square-wipe to a slow motion replay of the Yarborough/Allison crash) "Here it is, they're into the turn already, spinning, sliding. The hopes for Donnie Allison vanish. Cale Yarborough trying to win his third, he's out of it. A sad moment for these people. But for Richard Petty, hurt all of last year, driving most of the year with a broken and battered body, he comes home a winner today after 45 straight losses. We... if we can, we should be down at pit road. Tell the folks in the truck just a moment. It's going to be some scene, just a moment. The 18-year-old son of Richard Petty, Kyle..." (who had just started his racing career) "...out there waiting for his father. They have both, they have both tasted success..." (Kyle had won the Daytona ARCA 200 the previous week. Square-wipe to the finish.) "Here is the finish again, ladies and gentlemen. Richard Petty."

Hobbs: "Darrell Waltrip absolutely fighting that car. He got the left wheels on the flat in the bank, and was really out of control there."

Squier: "And here comes a $60,000 car becoming a 22 passenger school bus to bring his crew to victory lane. Richard Petty, the great master, has just recorded his 186th career -" (Cut to the scene of the crash, where Yarborough and both Donnie and Bobby Allison are fighting) "And there's a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison !! The tempers overflowing; they're angry. They know they have lost. And what a bitter defeat." (Cut to shot from the Goodyear Blimp looking overhead at the crash site)

Hobbs: "A couple of very hard men, very hardly upset. And Bobby Allison has stopped by his brother to help. There's Bobby Allison's car number 15. They're leading them away there. They're upset, very upset. It's difficult to tell from here but whatever happened shouldn't really have happened."

Race results

Pos Grid No. Driver Team Manufacturer Laps Time/Retired Led Points
1 13 43 Richard Petty Petty Enterprises Oldsmobile 200 3:28:22 12 180
2 4 88 Darrell Waltrip DiGard Motorsports Oldsmobile 200 +1 car length[8] 4 175
3 6 51 A. J. Foyt A. J. Foyt Enterprises Oldsmobile 200 +3 car lengths[8] 4
4 2 1 Donnie Allison Ellington Racing Oldsmobile 199 Contact 93 170
5 3 11 Cale Yarborough Junior Johnson & Associates Oldsmobile 199 Contact 3 160
6 33 30 Tighe Scott Ballard Racing Buick 199 +1 lap 0 150
7 28 68 Chuck Bown Buick 199 +1 lap 0 146
8 10 2 Dale Earnhardt Rod Osterlund Racing Buick 199 +1 lap 10 147
9 37 14 Coo Coo Marlin Cunningham-Kelley Racing Chevrolet 198 +2 laps 0 138
10 24 79 Frank Warren Warren Racing Dodge 197 +3 laps 0 134
11 7 15 Bobby Allison Bud Moore Engineering Ford 197 +3 laps 1 135
12 15 67 Buddy Arrington Arrington Racing Dodge 197 +3 laps 0 127
13 35 40 D. K. Ulrich Ulrich Racing Buick 197 +3 laps 0 124
14 38 19 Bill Dennis Gray Racing Chevrolet 196 +4 laps 0 121
15 26 98 Ralph Jones Ford 195 +5 laps 0 118
16 19 44 Terry Labonte Hagan Racing Buick 189 +11 laps 0 115
17 31 3 Richard Childress Richard Childress Racing Oldsmobile 188 +12 laps 0 112
18 5 72 Benny Parsons M. C. Anderson Racing Oldsmobile 183 +17 laps 37 114
19 17 50 Bruce Hill Ballard Racing Oldsmobile 168 +32 laps 0 106
20 36 39 Blackie Wangerin Mercury 160 +40 laps 0 103
21 30 74 Bobby Wawak Wawak Racing Oldsmobile 152 Overheating 0 100
22 23 82 Paul Fess Oldsmobile 135 Engine 0 97
23 21 41 Grant Adcox Chevrolet 129 Wheel 0 94
24 12 02 Dave Marcis Marcis Auto Racing Chevrolet 119 Engine 0 91
25 29 70 J. D. McDuffie McDuffie Racing Oldsmobile 116 Engine 0 88
26 25 37 Dave Watson Chevrolet 115 Clutch 1 90
27 8 05 Dick Brooks Nelson Malloch Racing Oldsmobile 105 Transmission 0 82
28 22 00 John Utsman Chevrolet 101 Engine 0 79
29 16 47 Geoff Bodine Race Hill Farm Team Oldsmobile 99 Engine 6 81
30 40 54 Lennie Pond Oldsmobile 83 Brakes 2 78
31 11 90 Ricky Rudd Donlavey Racing Mercury 79 Engine 0 70
32 20 5 Neil Bonnett Oldsmobile 76 Suspension 12 72
33 14 12 Harry Gant Kennie Childers Racing Oldsmobile 72 Contact 0 64
34 41 25 Ronnie Thomas Robertson Racing Buick 64 Engine 0 61
35 27 87 Gary Balough Oldsmobile 53 Contact 0 58
36 32 72 Joe Millikan DeWitt Racing Oldsmobile 53 Contact 0 55
37 9 21 David Pearson Wood Brothers Racing Mercury 53 Contact 0 52
38 18 17 Skip Manning Hamby Motorsports Oldsmobile 53 Contact 0 49
39 34 75 Butch Mock Buick 38 Contact 0 46
40 1 28 Buddy Baker Ranier-Lundy Racing Oldsmobile 38 Engine 15 48
41 39 89 Jim Vandiver Oldsmobile 27 Engine 0 40
Sources: [9]

Race statistics

  • Lead changes: 36
  • Cautions/Laps: 7 for 57 laps
  • Average speed: 143.977 miles per hour (231.709 km/h)



The race was released on DVD in 2007. It aired again on Fox Sports 1 in February 2015 in a compressed 30-minute format hosted by Dale Earnhardt Jr..[10] It was the subject of the documentary A Perfect Storm: The 1979 Daytona 500, featuring interviews of CBS Sports commentators and 1979 Daytona 500 drivers.


  1. ^ "Weather of the 1979 Daytona 500". The Old Farmers' Almanac. Retrieved 2013.
  2. ^ a b "No. 1: An Ending For The Ages". tribunedigital-dailypress. Retrieved 2016.
  3. ^ a b Mark Aumann (January 23, 2003). "1979: Petty winds up in 'fist' place". Turner Sports Interactive. Archived from the original on May 25, 2011. Retrieved 2007.
  4. ^ "1979 Daytona 500". Amazon.com. Archived from the original on July 16, 2007. Retrieved 2007.
  5. ^ NASCAR Racing (Actor, Director). "1979 Daytona 500: NASCAR Racing: Movies & TV". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2019.
  6. ^ a b c Al Pearce (March 23, 2003). "No. 1: An ending for the ages". Daily Press. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved 2007.
  7. ^ "1979 Daytona 500". racing-reference.info. Archived from the original on March 11, 2007. Retrieved 2007.
  8. ^ a b Garrett, Jerry (February 19, 1979). "Petty Wins 6th Daytona 500". The Morning Call. p. C1. Retrieved 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ a b "02/18/1979 race: Daytona 500 (Cup) - Racing-Reference.info". www.racing-reference.info. Retrieved 2018.
  10. ^ "PRESS RELEASE: FS1 remembers '79 Daytona 500 with two specials". FOX Sports. February 6, 2015. Retrieved 2018.
Preceded by
1979 Winston Western 500
NASCAR Winston Cup Series Season
Succeeded by
1979 Carolina 500

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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