My Top Five Daytona 500s: No. 3: 1979
It was 1979. It was Sunday Feb. 18, 1979 and CBS viewers had watch Kurt Russell play Elvis the week before. This Sunday was another premier.
It was live stock car racing for the first time, nationally televised. People all around America were able to watch what was the 19th annual Daytona 500.
CBS went and recruited the voice for CBS NASCAR races forever. Ken Squier, former PA announcer for the Daytona International Speedway, was called on to bring the CBS viewers some of the world's best racing. His perfect pronunciation, and northern voice, made the viewers from the north feel apart of it, in a sport that was mostly southern. Squier was an outstanding hire.
Popular, second-generation driver, Buddy Baker was on the pole piloting his No. 28 Oldsmobile, the very same car Baker would win in a year later. On the outside was Donnie Allison. He was driving for popular car owner, Hoss Ellington in the infamous No. 1 Hawaiian Tropic car.
The race started off like any other Daytona 500. There was a big crash involving future Daytona 500 winner Geoffrey Bodine amongst others.
Baker blew an engine early, and by lap 108, Allison and some unknown kid in the No. 2 car, named Dale Earnhardt, were swapping the lead back and forth.
Lap 142 was the last time Earnhardt led, and he fell a lap down shortly afterwards.
There was now really five main contenders. Donnie Allison, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, and 1972 winner, A.J. Foyt.
The lead was mostly Allison's for the last 58 laps, being traded back and forth some, but the longest was with Foyt and Waltrip for two laps.
The lead finally became Allison's for the last time on lap 178.
The laps from then on were Allison's. As the white flag was in the air, Allison had a small lead on second place Cale Yarborough.
It was going to be an exciting battle of Oldsmobiles to the finish, and Cale was just waiting for the right time to make his move.
As they went into one and two, Yarborough seemed to get loose, and slid back a little bit.
Cale got a great run off of two, and dove down low in the middle of the backstretch to make a run on Donnie.
In a move that would be illegal today, Yarborough goes below where the yellow line should be to try and get a run.
Allison goes down to block, and puts Cale into the grass.
When he does, they make contact, just slightly. It was enough to send Yarborough's car wild, and into Allison's again.
They both get sideways once again, and both look like they're about to save it, when they hit each other, yet again.
This was the hardest hit they both took. It send both cars right into the outside wall, and coming to a rest in the turn three grass.
Just before they come to rest, a shocked and excited Richard Petty, who was running third, passes them and goes onto to win it.
Squier was out of breath as he screamed, "Petty wins it!"
It was a great win for Petty.
Squier goes on to start saying how big of a win it was, as he had gone winless in 1978.
CBS was wanting Squier to wrap up the broadcast, as he was finishing he said, "As I was finishing up, I looked down in my camera's for the final time, and looked at the one in turn three and screamed, 'THERE'S A FIGHT! BETWEEN CALE YARBOROUGH AND DONNIE ALLISON.'"
It was actually Donnie, and his brother Bobby Allison, against Yarborough. These drivers were best friends before the incident, and everyday after. But their tempers were flaring in what clearly was a racing incident.
When asked about the incident today, Bobby Allison says, "Cale just insisted on hitting his face against my fist!"
Fans loved it. It showed these boys had guts and passion, and were exciting. This finish is what propelled NASCAR to what it is today. If it weren't for this it may never have came as far as it did. For that, this race is No. 3, with two more better races to go.
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