CONCORD, N.C. — The Daytona 500 is known as the Great American Race and has attracted the best stock car drivers in the world for more than 50 years.
Winners of the historic race include drivers such as Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Bill Elliott, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and most recently Joey Logano.
But for every driver who has won the Daytona 500, there are numerous others who were fortunate enough just to race in the historic event at some point during their careers. This week we’re going to highlight some of those drivers with six daily installments of a feature titled “They Started The Daytona 500?”
Pancho Carter – A legendary USAC racer and champion, Duane “Pancho” Carter is perhaps best known for his exploits in the Indianapolis 500. He made 17 starts in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and started from the pole at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1985. But did you know he also raced in the Daytona 500? In one of just 14 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, Carter made his Daytona 500 debut in 1986, driving a Ford fielded by Elmo Langley. Carrying Langley’s trademark No. 64, Carter started 29th and finished 34th after an early crash eliminated him from the race.
Rich Bickle – Best known for his exploits on the Midwest short-track scene during the 1980s and 1990s, Rich Bickle made two Daytona 500 starts during his career. He made his first Daytona 500 start in 1990 behind the wheel of a self-owned Oldsmobile, starting 29th and finishing 28th, five laps off the pace. He didn’t make it back to the Daytona 500 again until 1999 when he drove Tim Beverley’s No. 45 Pontiac. He started 22nd and finished 33rd after retiring from the event early. He also failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 in 1991, ’93 and ’94.
Mark Donohue – A legend in the sports car world and the 1972 Indianapolis 500 winner, Mark Donohue wasn’t afraid to test his limits in stock cars either. The New Jersey-born driver made six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts during his career, with one coming in the 1972 Daytona 500. Driving the No. 16 American Motors Matador fielded by Roger Penske, Donohue started 10th but completed only 18 laps before retiring because of a push-rod failure. He finished 35th.
Steve Kinser – Known as the “King of the Outlaws,” Steve Kinser made a brief foray into stock car racing through a partnership with Quaker State and NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein. In 1995, Kinser was tabbed to drive Bernstein’s No. 26 Quaker State Ford in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The partnership ended after just seven races, two of which Kinser failed to qualify for. Kinser started 42nd in the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona Int’l Speedway and was eliminated in a crash after only 27 laps. He finished 40th.
Don Tilley – Many recognize the late Don Tilley as a motorcycle racer and owner of a Harley-Davidson dealership in Statesville, N.C., but he also raced stock cars. He made his lone Daytona 500 start in 1965, driving a Dodge that was owned by Joe Keistler. He started 33rd and finished 22nd in the first rain-shortened Daytona 500 in history. It was one of six Sprint Cup Series starts Tilley made between 1964 and 1966.
Check back tomorrow as we highlight five more drivers you probably forgot raced in the Daytona 500.