Risk vs. Reward: Daytona International Speedway

David PhillipsAnalyst IFebruary 15, 2009

As we all sit and watch the Daytona 500 on Sunday, please pray for the racers' families who have lost someone to Daytona.

Racing related deaths at Daytona International Speedway since the track opened in 1959:


1. Marshall Teague, NASCAR stock car practice, Feb. 11, 1959.

2. George Amick, USAC 100-mile race, April 4, 1959.

3. Dr. Bernie Taylor, powerboat race in infield lake, June 14, 1959.

4. Harold Haberling, NASCAR stock car practice, Feb. 21, 1964.

5. Billy Drew Wade, NASCAR stock car tire test, Jan. 5, 1965.

6. Don MacTavish, Sportsman 300 race, Feb. 21, 1969.

7. Wayne Harris Bartz, lightweight motorcycle race, March 12, 1969.

8. Talmadge "Tab" Prince, Twin 125-mile qualifying race, Feb. 19, 1970.

9. Joe "Rusty" Bradley, Daytona 200 race, March 14, 1971.

10. Davd Pearl, Paul Whiteman Trophy Race, July 30, 1971.

11. Friday Hassler, Twin 125-mile NASCAR qualifying race, Feb. 17, 1972.

12. Ricky Knotts, Twin 125-mile NASCAR qualifying race, Feb. 14, 1980.

13. Francis Affleck, ARCA stock car practice, Feb. 7, 1985.

14. Dr. Charles Ogle, stock car testing, injured Dec. 15, 1985, died Dec. 26, 1985.

15. Bruce Jacobi, Twin 125-mile NASCAR qualifying race, injured Feb. 1983, died Feb. 4, 1987.

16. Joe Young, Charlotte-Daytona Dash race, Feb. 13, 1987.

17. James Kolman, kart testing, Dec. 27, 1987.

18. Randy Glenn, motorcycle practice, Feb. 26, 1988.

19. Don Williams, Sportsman 300 race, injured Feb. 1979, died May 21, 1989.

20. Dale Robertson, kart race, Dec. 27, 1989.

21. Julius Johnson, ARCA 200 stock car race, injured Feb. 11, 1990, died Feb. 14, 1990.

22. Joe Booher, Florida 200 Dash race, Feb. 12, 1993.

23. James Adamo, motorcyle race, March 7, 1993.

24. Neil Bonnett, NASCAR stock car practice, Feb. 11, 1994.

25. Rodney Orr, NASCAR stock car practice, Feb. 14, 1994.

26. Michael Himes, IMSA Two-Hour endurance race, Jan. 31, 1997.

27. Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR Daytona 500, Feb. 18, 2001.

28. Roy H. Weaver III, Dash Series race, Feb. 8, 2003.

Is the Reward greater than the Risk?

For most of his racing career, Dale Earnhardt said the Daytona 500 didn't define a career. But that was a ruse to deflect 19 years of frustration.

It wasn't until his win in 1998 that Earnhardt admitted the obvious: The Daytona 500 doesn't just define a career. It creates legends.

That connection wasn't lost on his son. Dale Earnhardt Jr. watched his father die on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 from his rearview mirror. Three years later, Dale Jr. won his first 500.

Even now, he can't put the significance of the 500, good and bad, into words.

"You do anything in the world just to get in the Daytona 500," he said. "Once you're in the race, there's no feeling like it. It's an incredible feeling. There's no way to describe it. It's impossible to answer the question on what it's like to win the Daytona 500."

Former winners agree the 500 changes lives like no other race. They quickly learn a win is far more reaching that a record payday (today's winner will earn at least $1.4 million) or a big trophy. Winning at Daytona does define a driver's career. It makes him a legend.

"It's a special claim nobody can ever take from you," said 2002 winner Ward Burton. "As time passes, it gets bigger."

All 24 surviving former winners  will be at the Daytona International Speedway for the 51th edition of the Great American Race.

Five hundred miles later, somebody will join that elite group. Somebody will become a legend.

The race has had everything. The first in 1959 ended in a photo finish between Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp. It took NASCAR three days to finally pick a winner.

The 500 is Richard Petty and David Pearson crashing 500 yards short of the finish line in 1976. It's Donnie Allison, Bobby Allison, and Cale Yarborough fighting in Turn 3 after the 1979 race. It's Bobby Allison beating his son, Davey, by a car length in 1988.

It's Tiny Lund winning in 1963 without changing tires. It's Earnhardt Sr.'s flat tire in Turn 3 and Derrike Cope's stunning win in 1990. It's Darrell Waltrip's victory dance in 1989. And it's Kevin Harvick's photo finish win over Mark Martin a year ago.

"Daytona doesn't compare with anything," said 1986 winner Geoff Bodine. "For NASCAR, it's our biggest race. As winners, we feel that way. That's all that matters."

Previous Winners include -

1959Lee Petty135.520Cotton Owens143.198
1960Junior Johnson124.740Fireball Roberts151.556
1961Marvin Panch149.601Fireball Roberts155.709
1962Fireball Roberts152.529Fireball Roberts156.995
1963Tiny Lund151.566Johnny Rutherford165.183
1964Richard Petty154.345Paul Goldsmith174.910
1965Fred Lorenzen141.539Darel Dieringer171.151
Shortened to 332+ miles by rain
1966Richard Petty160.627Richard Petty175.165
Shortened to 495 miles by rain
1967Mario Andretti149.926Curtis Turner180.831
1968Cale Yarborough143.251Cale Yarborough189.222
1969Lee Roy Yarbrough157.950David Pearson190.029
1970Pete Hamilton149.601Cale Yarborough194.015
1971Richard Petty144.462A.J. Foyt182.744
1972A.J. Foyt161.550Bobby Isaac186.632
1973Richard Petty157.205Buddy Baker185.662
1974Richard Petty140.894David Pearson185.017
Shortened to 450 miles because of energy crisis
1975Benny Parsons153.649Donnie Allison185.827
1976David Pearson152.181A.J. Foyt185.943
1977Cale Yarborough153.218Donnie Allison188.048
1978Bobby Allison159.730Cale Yarborough187.536
1979Richard Petty143.977Buddy Baker196.049
1980Buddy Baker177.602A.J. Foyt195.020
1981Richard Petty169.651Bobby Allison194.624
1982Bobby Allison153.991Benny Parsons196.317
1983Cale Yarborough155.979Ricky Rudd198.864
1984Cale Yarborough150.994Cale Yarborough201.848
1985Bill Elliott172.265Bill Elliott205.114
1986Geoff Bodine148.124Bill Elliott205.039
1987Bill Elliott176.263Bill Elliott210.364†
1988Bobby Allison137.531Ken Schrader193.823
1989Darrell Waltrip148.466Ken Schrader196.996
1990Derrike Cope165.761Ken Schrader196.515
1991Ernie Irvan148.148Davey Allison195.955
1992Davey Allison160.256Sterling Marlin192.213
1993Dale Jarrett154.972Kyle Petty189.426
1994Sterling Marlin156.931Loy Allen Jr.190.158
1995Sterling Marlin141.710Dale Jarrett193.498
1996Dale Jarrett154.308Dale Earnhardt189.510
1997Jeff Gordon148.295Mike Skinner189.813
1998Dale Earnhardt172.712Bobby Labonte192.415
1999Jeff Gordon161.551Jeff Gordon195.067
2000Dale Jarrett155.669Dale Jarrett182.334
2001Michael Waltrip161.794Bill Elliott183.565
2002Ward Burton142.971Jimmie Johnson185.831
2003Michael Waltrip133.870Jeff Green186.606
Shortened to 409 miles because of rain
2004Dale Earnhardt Jr.156.345Greg Biffle188.387
2005Jeff Gordon135.173Dale Jarrett188.312
2006Jimmie Johnson142.667Jeff Burton189.151

Remember the ones we lost at Daytona and pray for a safe race.


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