February 18, 1973 : Richard Petty wins at Daytona
Richard Petty, the “King of Stock Car Racing,” won the Daytona 500 before a crowd of over 103,000 spectators, marking the first time a stock car race had drawn over 100,000 spectators. No longer would there be questions about NASCAR’s mainstream popularity. On this day in 1979, Petty became the first man to win six Daytona 500s. Winning the most prestigious event in any sport six times is enough to earn the nickname “The King,” but Petty is perhaps most famous for his 1967 season in which he won 27 of 48 races, including a record 10 straight victories. In a sport where mechanical failure is commonplace, Petty’s total domination was seen as superhuman. “The King” came from royal stock. His father, Lee Petty, was the first man to win the Daytona 500.
2001 : The Intimidator dies in Daytona crash
Dale Earnhardt Sr., one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, died on this day in a last-lap crash at the 43rd Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Florida. He was 49. Earnhardt was about half a mile from the finish line when his car, the famous black No. 3 Chevrolet, spun out of control and then crashed into a wall while simultaneously colliding with driver Ken Schrader’s car. He died instantly of head injuries.
Earnhardt, whose tough, aggressive driving style earned him the nickname “The Intimidator,” was involved in another crash at the Daytona 500 in 1997, when his car flipped upside down on the backstretch. He managed to escape serious injury. In 1998, he went on to win the Daytona 500, his first and only victory in that race after 20 years of trying.
Earnhardt, a high-school dropout from humble beginnings in Kannapolis, North Carolina, said all he ever wanted to do in life was race cars. Indeed, he went on to become one of the sport’s most successful and respected drivers, with 76 career victories, including seven Winston Cup Series championships.
In addition to his legendary accomplishments as a driver, Earnhardt was also a successful businessman and NASCAR team owner. The 2001 Daytona race which cost Earnhardt his life was won by Michael Waltrip, who drove for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. (DEI). Earnhardt’s son, Dale Jr., also a DEI driver, took second place in the race.
These pics are from my adventures at the Daytona 500 last year. Just a couple of track shots, my brother Joe and me, and the most entertaining thing about the Daytona 500…a guy in his early 20’s with no teeth. 😉