SPEED SPORT has been covering auto racing for 85 years, and over that time, tens of thousands of stories from all forms of motorsports have been told in its pages, as well as online.
Last week, Richard Petty celebrated the 35th anniversary of his historic 200th NASCAR premier series victory. We look back at that race in this week’s edition of Torn From The Headlines.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Richard Petty reached a threshold July 4 at Daytona Int’l Speedway that may never be equaled in professional stock car racing.
Petty won his 200th NASCAR Winston Cup Series race in a thrilling showdown with longtime rival Cale Yarborough, topping the Firecracker 400 in front of an estimated crowd of 80,000 spectators.
The seven-time Cup Series champion led 53 of the race’s 160 laps in his iconic STP-sponsored No. 43, but it was the third-to-last tour of the 2.5-mile Florida superspeedway that had the fans on their feet.
As the leaders were coming around to complete lap 158, Doug Heveron crashed his No. 01 Chevrolet in turn one, necessitating a caution period for cleanup. Petty and Yarborough found themselves nose-to-tail at that point and began a thrilling duel for the win which continued all the way around the track.
Exiting turn four, Petty got a burst of speed inside of Yarborough and managed to nose ahead at the start/finish line, leading the final two laps under caution for the victory.
Yarborough passed Petty going down the backstretch before the yellow flag, but it was Petty’s response to that move that ultimately gave him the spoils of victory in the end.
“When Cale was following me on that last green-flag lap, I didn’t have the foggiest idea what I was going to do,” Petty said. “It was a circumstance where he would act and I’d react. We touched two or three times, but not enough to upset either car.”
Wednesday’s victory was Petty’s second Cup Series win of the season. His prior win came at Dover Downs Int’l Speedway on May 20.
The race was even more notable, not just because of Petty’s milestone victory, but because President Ronald Reagan was in attendance to see Petty make auto-racing history in the closing laps.
Reagan gave the command to start engines from Air Force One, which later landed at nearby Daytona Beach Int’l Airport.
He is the first sitting president to attend a live NASCAR event.
After his arrival, Reagan went to the radio booth and called a brief portion of the race alongside the Motor Racing Network’s Barney Hall, Ned Jarrett and Eli Gold before Petty made history.
Prior to going to victory lane for the customary celebration, Petty went up to the press box to meet with the president, then later joined Reagan for a Kentucky Fried Chicken picnic with drivers and teams.
Harry Gant was credited with the second-place finishing position after Yarborough pulled onto pit road a lap early and was passed by Gant’s No. 33 Skoal Bandit Chevrolet. Yarborough finished third.
Bobby Allison and Benny Parsons completed the top five, with Bill Elliott finishing sixth as the last car on the lead lap.
Petty earned $43,755 for his victory. He averaged 171.204 mph over the 400-mile distance, with only three caution flags slowing the pace and 28 lead changes occurring among eight drivers.
Richard Petty, Harry Gant, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Benny Parsons, Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Neil Bonnett, Joe Ruttman, Tim Richmond, Geoff Bodine, Phil Parsons, Tommy Ellis, Ricky Rudd, Trevor Boys, David Pearson, Dave Marcis, Jody Ridley, Rusty Wallace, Dean Roper, Mike Alexander, Dale Jarrett, Tommy Gale, Clark Dwyer, Ken Ragan, Connie Saylor, Doug Heveron, Ronnie Thomas, Kyle Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Dean Combs, Sterling Marlin, Ron Bouchard, Steve Moore, Buddy Arrington, Bobby Hillin Jr., Dick Brooks, Greg Sacks, Morgan Shepherd, Buddy Baker, Lake Speed.