, (June 11, 2008)
-- It has become one of the landmark dates in the history of NASCAR – July 4, 1984.
Richard Petty, driving the No. 43 STP Pontiac, captured his 200th and final NASCAR victory at historic Daytona International Speedway, all with the late President Ronald Reagan in attendance. Petty nipped Cale Yarborough at the start/finish line on Lap 157 of the 160-lap, 400-mile event to take the yellow flag and secure the milestone victory.
Petty’s 200th NASCAR win wasn’t the only historical moment that occurred. The Independence Day event marked the first time a sitting President attended a NASCAR race. Reagan gave the command “Gentlemen, start your engines” from Air Force One while en route to the “World Center of Racing.”
“It was a real special day,” Petty said. “You wind up in front of the President of the United States on July 4 and win the race in the (final laps). All of it could’ve been scripted. Nobody would’ve believed it. It did happen. I was glad it did.”
While the spectators at historic Daytona International Speedway wanted to see Richard Petty capture his 200th NASCAR victory, Yarborough, one of his greatest rivals, was trying to stop him.
“I think everybody was talking about his 200th win (before the race) but everybody was also thinking about not letting him get it too,” Yarborough said. “I didn’t have a problem with it. I didn’t want him to have it either. I wanted it.”
In the closing laps of the race, Yarborough was running second to Petty and had a plan to win the race. But when Doug Heveron lost control of his car in Turn 1 on Lap 157 of the 160-lap event, that plan was scrapped. Yarborough realized the race would probably end under caution and that his trademark slingshot move couldn’t wait until the last lap of the race.
“I had Richard set up to where I wanted him to make that slingshot on him on the last lap,” Yarborough said. “When the caution came out, I knew the race was over. We were going to finish under the caution. I was too far behind him to make the run I wanted to make on him. I got by him anyway. But I didn’t have enough momentum to keep him behind me all the way to the start/finish line. I could tell he was a foot ahead.”
Bobby Allison, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and 1983 NASCAR champion, was another of the drivers trying to stop Petty from winning his 200th NASCAR victory on that day. He says while he came up short, he really enjoyed meeting President Reagan.
“I was running really good that day,” Allison said. “I was really hoping to keep Richard Petty from doing that. But the President was very warm to me after the race was over. Ronald Reagan was one of my real heroes. For him to come and be a part of that was really special.”
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