I Dream of Daytona
Even if you don't know a stock car from a K-car, you've heard of the Daytona 500—"The Great American Race"—the biggest motorsports event of the year.
Daytona wasn't always the Super Bowl of racing, and if the brass at CBS hadn't opted to broadcast all 200 laps, all three-and-a-half hours worth (a brazen decision at the time), on Feb. 18, 1979, NASCAR would have remained a regional racing phenomenon, a Southern-state touchstone,not the second biggest sport in America after football.
In this slideshow are some of the most harrowing, heartwarming, and hard-charging Daytona 500 moments caught on film.
Viewers were treated to a hog-wild finish that has become folklore.
When the white flag flew, Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough, who had been tucked in behind Donnie for the last 20 laps, shot out inside and the two engaged in a door-to-door bumper car battle.
Both drivers refused to yield, and the fourth bang snookered both Oldsmobiles, sending them swerving into the retaining wall.
Donnie's brother, Bobby Allison, drove up and fisticuffs erupted on the track apron.
Richard Petty would win the race but it was the Dukes of Hazzard-esque wreck-turn-brawl that turned audiences on to a whole new kind of Sunday afternoon spectacle.
Dale Earnhardt didn't like Geoff Bodine because he refused to be intimidated by "The Intimidator."
If Earnhardt got into him, Bodine would bang him right back. So you can imagine what was going through the big E's head while chomping on Bodine's bumper with only three circles to go, only to find his throttle-slamming ways had caught up to him, and he was out of gas.
In the pits, Earnhardt's blue and yellow Monte Carlo wouldn't start, so racing team owner Richard Childress sprayed ether into the carburetor in a last-ditch effort.
Earnhardt roared out of the pits but then KABLAAM, the engine blew.
By the waning laps of the race, it became clear that someone with the surname Allison was going to take the checkered flag. The only question—would it be father or son, Bobby or Davey?
It was a close one, but on turn four of the final lap, daddy pulled away to become the oldest driver (50) to win the Daytona 500. Bobby Allison would never win another race.
By this point in his career, Dale Earnhardt had won everything except Daytona, but in 1990 everything was going his way.
The No. 3 car was hugging the groove like a dream and it looked like his day had finally come. A mile from destiny, Earnhardt's right rear tire, which had run over a piece of metal coming out of turn two, blew and he fell out of contention.
Former baseball catcher Derrike Cope, with Terry Labonte and Bill Elliot in tow, headed toward victory lane in a monumental upset.
It was like Fabian topping Elvis in the charts.
1991: Running Wide Open
Ernie Irvan's car was running fast, he qualified second to Davey Allison, 1/100th of a second short of the pole position.
He knew he was in the hunt and he was hungry.
"Swervin' Irvan" had a rep for being reckless so no one wanted to work with him, but his car was running faster on its own than those with drafting partners.
With five laps to go, Irvan gunned right by Dale Earnhardt on a restart following a caution, won the race, and showed NASCAR what he was made of.
Rick Hendrick was ill with leukemia.
Before Daytona, he made a wish that his racing team (Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, and Ricky Craven) would finish one-two-three.
NASCAR hadn't seen a sweep since the 50s.
With 11 laps remaining, Bill Elliot held the lead with Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon in hot pursuit, dueling for the two-spot. Going into turn two, Earnhardt was running dangerously close to the outside wall.
Common sense would be to concede to Gordon and avoid slamming into solid concrete at 190 mph, but Earnhardt didn't flinch. He hit the wall and bounced back into Gordon, who straightened out and got away. Earnhardt lost control and wrecked, taking out Dale Jarrett and Ernie Irvan.
Bill Elliot still led at the restart, but he had three Hendricks cars behind him, the physics of NASCAR and a sick man's wish against him.
1998: Bye- bye Monkey
Going into the race 0-19, a mystique had arisen around Earnhardt on par with the Red Sox's old Curse of the Bambino—many fans believed he would never win this race.
But when you're due, you're due, and this time it was Jeff Gordon who felt cursed, as a blown engine with three laps to go prevented him from winning back-to-back.
With a stuffed monkey tucked into his driving uniform on the winner's podium, Earnhardt crowed "I'm here...I've finally got that Goddamn monkey off my back," before flinging the plush toy at reporters.
1999: Perfect Circles
Considered one of the best driving performance in motorsports history, Jeff Gordon ran a perfect race, holding off 40 hard-chargers relentlessly attacking him from all sides.
In the grand finale, Gordon staved off Dale Earnhardt and Mike Skinner in a hair-raising game of high speed aero-push chess.
2001: Black Sunday
There were 50 lead changes and a 19-car injury-free smash'em'up the day the engines died.
It would have been just another awesome running of America's race had America's favorite race car driver not perished tragically in an accident on the fourth turn of the final lap.
Earnhardt was tapped from behind by an onrushing Sterling Marlin, whom he was trying to block.
There was just a little contact, the kind The Intimidator himself had employed so many times, but this bump in a blink of an eye sent Earnhardt hood-first into the concrete wall, where he would then bear the brunt of Ken Schrader's car smashing into his right side.
Sterling Marlin was leading with six laps to go and Jeff Gordon had just spun out to halt the race.
Sterling got out of his Dodge to pull away a damaged fender, violating a NASCAR rule prohibiting anyone from working on a car during a red-flag period.
The transgression sent Sterling to the tail end of the lead lap, allowing Ward Burton to take the checkered flag.
Sterling claimed to have seen Earnhardt pull a similar stunt at Richmond in 1987, but NASCAR officials have no memory of that ever happening.
With eight cars wrecking in the background, this was the wildest at-the-wire Daytona 500 finish yet, as Kevin Harvick edged out Mark Martin in the final straightaway drag race by 2/100ths of a second to take the checkered flag