Harry Gant On Petty's 200th: 'I Almost Followed Cale'
DAYTONA BEACH , Fla. – This is another release in a series focusing on memories from key figures who witnessed Richard Petty’s historic 200th and final NASCAR win on July 4, 1984 at Daytona International Speedway.
This year’s Coke Zero 400 Weekend Powered By Coca-Cola on July 2-4 will mark the 25th anniversary of Richard Petty’s 200th NASCAR win in the Independence Day holiday classic with President Ronald Reagan in attendance.
Daytona International Speedway is celebrating the 25th anniversary of win No. 200 with a number of special activities including having Petty pace the 43-car field of the Coke Zero 400, appearances throughout the weekend by Petty, displays of race-winning Petty cars and a special $43 ticket.
With three laps to go in the 1984 mid-summer classic, Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough were jockeying for position for a last-lap battle for the win. But with a car spinning out in Turn 1, both drivers suddenly realized it would be a one-lap dash to the caution flag and the victory. Petty nipped Yarborough at the start/finish line to secure his 200th win, but Yarborough didn’t finish second. With the field taking the white flag, he pulled onto pit road believing the race was over and Harry Gant took runner-up honors. Gant looks back on that day from his driver’s seat in the No. 33 Skoal Bandit Chevrolet:
On the wild finish between Petty and Yarborough
“That day, he (Petty) had a fast car. Cale had a fast car. It was just his day to win. I thought they were going to spin each other out maybe coming down to the start/finish line.”
What happen with Yarborough coming onto pit road before the checkered flag?
“I wasn’t paying attention. I went around the race track and (the pace car) picked us up and Richard comes around and Cale goes down pit road and I started to go with him. I thought that must have been the checkered flag. I almost went down and they hollered at me on the radio to stay on the track. I almost followed Cale right down pit road. He was running right in front of me.”
When Petty and Yarborough were side by side coming to the start/finish line, did you think that they might wreck each other battling for the victory?
“That’s what I thought. They made their move in the corner in (Turns) 3 and 4, one passed another and then the other one came back around, sort like Pearson and Petty (in the 1976 Daytona 500), and then they got side by side right off of (Turn) 4. You could see that from behind and see that they were together and they were going to bump more and maybe one of them would get loose but they didn’t. I didn’t really know who won. You couldn’t tell. I really had thought Cale had won it, but Richard picked up a pretty good push out of the corner and shot his car ahead.”
What did you do after the race?
“Richard’s car went to the winner’s circle and our cars went to the gas pumps. We were glad that we ran second. We just went on back to the trailer and changed clothes like everybody else and tried to get out of there real fast to catch the airplane. I didn’t talk to anybody but the crew guys and I was running to the truck when I was talking to them.”
On the impact of Richard Petty winning his 200th race in front of President Ronald Reagan
“It was big. It brought a lot of attention. That shot of the President’s plane coming in, he got there a little late and his plane was coming in on the (runway) and race cars were going down the backstretch. The photo had his plane and the race cars all together. I guess it had been the first time any President had been to a race and stayed for the race and Richard winning the race, it brought a whole lot of attention.”
Is winning 200 races an unbreakable record?
“Several years back I thought Jeff Gordon, when he was with Ray Evernham, was the only person that could win 200 races. He was winning about 10 a year. I said, ‘That’s the only person that could beat Richard Petty’s record if he wants to race that long.’ Even winning 10 races a year, it’s still going to take you a lot of years. They were doing real good but after him and Evernham broke up, that pretty much took that away.”
Tickets for the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola on Saturday night, July 4 are available on your web-enabled phone at mobile.daytonainternationalspeedway.com, online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.