The first summer race at Daytona International Speedway was called the Firecracker 250 – the forerunner of the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola – and held on July 4, 1959. The race ran its scheduled 250 miles with no caution flags, with Daytona Beach native Fireball Roberts winning in dominating fashion, leading 84 of 100 laps and beating runner-up Joe Weatherly by 57 seconds.
Moving decade-by-decade, we take a look at the succeeding 56 years of history at the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola.
The early years of the race were dominated by some of NASCAR’s most legendary drivers with winners including, David Pearson, A.J. Foyt and a repeat victory in 1962 for Fireball Roberts, who claimed the vaunted “DAYTONA Double” that season as he had won the DAYTONA 500 in February.
In only three years attendance had grown exponentially, as tourists flocked to the beaches for the holidays. In 1963, the race was expanded from 100 laps to 160 laps, for a distance of 400 miles, changing its name from the Firecracker 250 to the Firecracker 400. In that same year, Roberts drove his Ford to victory, becoming the first driver to win the event consecutively.
In 1964, Bobby Isaac and NASCAR rookie A.J. Foyt swapped the lead 15 times over the final 56 laps before Foyt edged out Isaac for his first career NASCAR win in just his 10th start. After Foyt won again in 1965, the race again saw a rookie win in the form of Rookie of the Year driver Sam McQuagg, who claimed his first and only NASCAR victory. The win was noteworthy for use of an emerging racing technology – a rear spoiler – as his 1966 Dodge Charger won the race by an astounding 66 seconds.
Cale Yarborough and LeeRoy Yarbrough closed out the decade in historic fashion. Each claimed the DAYTONA Double.It remains the only time in history that the feat has been accomplished in back-to-back years. Cale also joined Roberts and Foyt to become the third driver of the decade to win back-to-back events with wins in 1967 and ‘68.
In 1969, Bill France Sr. began a proud tradition by inviting all surviving Medal of Honor recipients to attend the race, dubbing it the Medal of Honor Firecracker 400. A total of 100 members from 31 states attended the race with Thomas J. Kelly, the president of the Medal of Honor Society, serving as the grand marshal with the heroes flown in via military aircraft. The speedway’s strong relationship with the military continues today as three Medal of Honor recipients will be in attendance for the 2016 Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola.
Most Wins of the Decade
2 (’62-’63) - Fireball Roberts
2 (’64-’65) - A.J. Foyt
2 (’67-’68) - Cale Yarborough
The 1960s account for the most multi-win champions in any decade. In fact, these three drivers are on an elite list of 10 all-time drivers to win the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola multiple times.
- Pontiac won the first four races of the decade
- David Pearson, who holds a record five wins in the event, claimed his first victory in 1961.
- In 1969, Cale Yarborough won his first of an event-record eight poles.
- The Wood Brothers won two of their record six wins in the race.
- The winner's average speed increased from 152.13 in 1960 to 190.71 by the end of the decade.
- The total of three DAYTONA Double winners during the decade is more than all other decades combined.
What was your favorite part of the Coke Zero 400 during the 1960's? Let us know by leaving us a comment below! Be part of the next chapter of history by attending the 2016 Coke Zero 400 -- the very first in the world’s first motorsports stadium. Tickets are going fast! Buy now or call 1-800-PITSHOP for tickets and information.