The 1979 Daytona 500 had it all.
When fans started arriving at Daytona International Speedway on the morning of February 18, 1979, they were anticipating a great race with plenty of action.
They got that … and a boxing match!
The fans at the track that day weren’t the only ones who got to see the action unfold. Due to a huge blizzard that had hit the East coast millions of people were stranded inside.
A Higher Power must have been looking down and smiling upon NASCAR that day. As luck may have it, CBS was planning to broadcast the 1979 Daytona as the first live flag-to-flag coverage of a 500-mile NASCAR event.
The race’s on-track action and extracurricular fisticuffs afterwards was enough to ignite an interest in a lot of the population who had never seen a NASCAR race. The 1979 Daytona 500 is considered one of the key factors behind the sport’s rapid growth during the 1980s and 1990s.
On the final lap of the 1979 Daytona 500, Donnie Allison, driving the No. 1 Hawaiian Tropic Oldsmobile, led Cale Yarborough, in the No. 11 Busch Oldsmobile, for more than half the lap. As the two drivers, who had a sizable lead over the rest of the field, approached Turn 3, Yarborough dropped to the inside of Allison. Allison tried to block Yarborough. They banged into each and rubbed sides for several hundred feet before they both hit the outside wall, eventually coming to a stop in the infield between Turns 3 and 4. Both cars were too damaged to finish the race.
According to Yarborough, he had the edge on Allison when he dropped down to pass and it infuriated him.
“It made me mad enough to fight, and that’s what I did,” Yarborough told Lionel Racing during an interview in September 2015.
Seeing the fight break out from the cockpit of the No. 15 Hodgdon/Moore Ford, Bobby Allison pulled his car off the track to help out his younger brother. As the three engaged in a fight that included several thrown punches and hurled helmtets, Richard Petty and the rest of the field flew by.
Richard Petty, driving the No. 43 STP Oldsmobile, held off a hard-charging Darrell Waltrip at the finish line to capture the win. Although the last quarter of the final lap was exciting, the race will always be remembered more for the fight that broke out between Yarborough and the Allison brothers.
The younger Allison finished fourth — the first car a lap down — while Yarborough end up one spot back. The elder Allison brother placed 11th.
The blue and white Busch Beer paint scheme that Yarborough’s Junior Johnson-owned No. 11 Dodge carried in the race was the same one he ran for the rest of that season, as well as 1980.
In the two years he drove the Busch Beer-sponsored Oldsmobile, Yarborough won 10 races: four in 1979 (Richmond, Nashville, Pocono, Charlotte) and six in 1980 (Rockingham, Texas World, Michigan, Bristol, Rockingham, Atlanta).
“It was Junior Johnson’s operation that made it good,” Yarborough told Splash ‘n Go recently when asked what made the No. 11 Busch car so special. “We worked well together and we just had a good team and had a lot of wins.”
During Darlington Raceway’s second-annual throwback campaign over Labor Day weekend, Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Chevrolet SS will carry a paint scheme inspired by Yarborough’s Busch car from 1979-80. The design of Harvick’s car will be almost identical to that of Yarborough’s with the main exception being the number.
“It’s quite an honor to have Kevin do that and I hope he wins the race with it,” stated Yarborough. “I got so many good memories. It was a good race car and we won a lot of races for Busch in that car.”
Harvick hopes to continue that winning tradition in the September 4 Bojangles’ Southern 500.
For more background information, photos and videos of the cars you’ll see on track during Darlington’s throwback weekend, and the cars that inspired them, please visit Lionel Racing’s Throwback Timeline.